Insights On How To Start A Career In Human Resources

During my time with the student organization AIESEC, I had the chance to get to know Florian Demmler, now former member of the national board of AIESEC in Germany. We came to exchange experiences once more during the last few weeks, and – sharing my passion for HR – he did not hesitate to answer some of my questions concerning the future role of Human Resources with special focus on young people choosing to pursue a career in this field.

Florian DemmlerFlorian Demmler is HR Advisor at Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, working on various projects such as the HR Graduate Program in Germany and Postbank integration. Being both a recent HR Graduate with Deutsche Bank himself and a former board member of an international student organization enables Florian to share his insights on how to start a career in Human Resources from both a student and company perspective.

Going forward, what do you think the main challenges will be for the Human Resources population, in particular, the junior population? Will there be a need to redefine our role as HR?

I feel that there are a number of challenges ahead. Just as an example, the diversity and demographic developments of our population and their subsequent consequences are the most pressing.

I think that the main challenge for young professionals is to contribute actively to shape the role of HR. Young professionals will need to be the ambassadors for a ‘new HR’; one that is much more proactive, constructive and value adding versus our historic administrative role. It is necessary to constantly challenge HR’s perception and develop it further. HR’s self-perception changed tremendously over the past years and considering that, the education at university has changed to reflect this. Young professionals are now, more so than ever, able to add valuable contributions to discussions and are also in a good position to influence and foster a cultural change within the HR community, with regards to our perception and role in the business.

And how will these changes impact the way we work?

In my opinion, there will be an increase in pace, the range of project work, and changes in the required skills. As a result of these changes, the working environment will, I believe, change dramatically. Work will be much more project related, which will require us to learn new concepts even quicker than before. The importance of professional networks will increase further and the ability to react in real time and respond to our constantly changing environment will be crucial. Employees will also need to adapt to these environmental / market changes, and this will provide a great opportunity for HR to drive and facilitate the shifts in the way we work and support our businesses appropriately.

What kind of skills and experience should students and young talent possess when they are planning to pursue a career in HR?

A number of skills are required to enable a successful career within HR, especially due to the need to be perceived by the business as competent and strategic partners. As such, knowledge and application of pure ‘HR’ topics is not enough. In my opinion, HR requires individuals to understand both our businesses, and the market in which we operate, in order to provide value to the businesses that we support. We need to be able to speak the business’ Being engaged in student organizations such as AIESEC provides you with opportunities to develop your social and organizational skills.lingo in order to highlight and hone in the value of our products and services in a manner they understand.

In general, the key here is to ensure that applicants have some form of practical experience, ideally via internships. In addition, it is also important to be engaged in student associations and extra-curricular activities – these will provide students with the essential social and organizational skills that will be required of them as HR professionals. Indeed, from personal experience I can vouch for this as I learned more hands-on skills during my time at AIESEC than I did at university!

In light of these recommendations I do appreciate that finding the right balance is tough, and it is critical that individuals ascertain early on where their interests lie, so that they can target their efforts accordingly.

Which steps do you recommend when it comes to choosing an entry-level position?

The reason why I chose to apply for the HR Graduate Training Program at Deutsche Bank is that it provides the full picture of HR. In general, a Graduate Training Program enables you to get a very good overview of HR in the respective company, provides a thorough learning experience, a strong professional network and equips graduates with the necessary tools and knowledge to build a successful career within HR.

On their careers page, Deutsche Bank point out the uniqueness and quality of their HR Graduate Scheme. What is so special about this Program?

The uniqueness and high quality of Deutsche Bank’s HR Graduate Training Program is evidenced by the global network that graduates are integrated into from the very beginning. The program offers an intense training schedule in relevant HR topics and skills through the rotational structure of the program.

Personally however, what made it special for me were the colleagues who put a lot of effort, attention and time in my development and personal growth once I was a graduate and even beyond that role.

Deutsche Bank's HR Graduate ProgramHow did you experience the building blocks of the program yourself? What were your personal highlights?

As a graduate at Deutsche Bank, you rotate through all areas within HR, with each rotation lasting around 2 months. This provides a deep insight into the tasks, priorities and challenges of each area and enables the graduate to gauge which area they are best suited to in order to request their final placement. The work itself is very diverse – it can be administrative, operative, conceptual, as well as strategic, and of course, challenging!

One of my personal highlights was the global HR graduate project regarding Deutsche Bank’s internal social media tools and how to increase the usage within HR to foster collaboration. The project was a great learning experience regarding global collaboration and project management and also helped to build our networks within the company as a result of access to very senior management.

All in all, what would be your best career advice?

In my opinion, there are three essential components of a successful career: passion, an open mindset and curiosity. Passion helps you to put a lot of energy into the tasks you are undertaking and allows you to enjoy your work and inspire others. An open mindset helps you to spot and to take advantage of opportunities, and curiosity is essential for both personal and professional growth.

Florian, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions!

Should you be keen on learning more about the HR Graduate Program offered at Deutsche Bank, check out their careers page. Moreover, take your time to compare the different offers on the market to choose and apply for the one program that suits your needs and interests best.


A Simple Answer To How To Provide Real Benefits To Candidates Online

How can Social Media or media enriched careers pages help to offer candidates real benefits? In my opinion, Jobsite UK provides a really appealing and simple answer to that with “Be My Interviewer”. Their ambition reads as follows: “We’ll provide you with valuable and practical advice to prepare you for the toughest questions and interview scenarios you are likely to face. Most importantly, we want to help you feel confident and ready to answer any question thrown at you.”

Jobsite UK - Be My Interviewer: Welcome Page

On the platform you will more than 20 recruiters and HR professionals from companies such as Shell, Ernst & Young or Accenture, introducing typical interview questions they use. Moreover, with click on the “Answer” button you gain some insight into what the question aims at and how you could prepare for it. Such a service should actually be a mandatory resource for jobseekers as there are still lots of questions related to interview questions coming up in communities and forums every week (e.g. in the German scholarship community

Societe Generale - Coaching Room I came across another example when following the presentation of Franck La Pinta during Social Recruiting Conference 2011, London on livestream (the slides can be viewed here). He pointed at the fact that Société Générale offers a “Coaching Room” on their website, “specially designed by professional consultants external to Société Générale, in order to help you in your job-hunting efforts, irrespective of your chosen sector of activity”. One of the applications, for instance, is a Virtual Coaching, which provides users with an interactive tool to follow interview tips while being able to take notes at the same time.

The activities on both sites aim not specifically just at regular Jobsite UK users or candidates who want to join Société Générale – infact, they put the candidate first! And this could lead to an overall increased Candidate Experience with a very positive effect on your company’s Employer Brand (of course the overall recruiting and onboarding process has to be engaging as well). Companies of all size should consider at least whether they would like to offer more transparency regarding their own requirements, thus providing the tools or insights relevant for their desired target group to perform well during the application process.

An example of the latter would be “BNP Paribas Backstage” (in French). I already wrote about that platform in one of my earlier posts (in German).

International Employer Branding Summit 2011 in Milan – Recap

In the HR community, people are willing to share new ideas and successful approaches. One of the guys creating such opportunities of sharing for the topic of Employer Branding is Brett Minchington. Being author of books on Employer Branding, he also established a global tour to which he invites several renowned companies who are willing to tell their stories. I was lucky enough to attend one of these meetings back in May, the “International Employer Branding and Engagement Summit 2011” in Milan. Apart of networking with Employer Branding professionals from around the world, the case studies provided all participants with valuable insights.  I can fully recommend you to join one of the future events!

This is is a short – and far from complete – recap of the presentations and discussions:

The Bosch approach to Employer Branding is typical for a high number of multinational companies: The Headquarter in Germany issues guidelines which are then impemented in all the countries and slightly adjusted to the local needs. In Italy, Bosch works closely together with universities although the cooperations vary in terms of quality. A very remarkable program is the so-called “Prisma Project”. This title refers to a German course for selected students at technical universities in Italy that also covers intercultural issues. The program does not only allow Bosch to contact students quite early, the students can also learn a useful language which would definitely be needed at some point of time when pursuing a career with Bosch. A second interesting initiative is the “women@bosch” project aimed at encouraging girls to enroll for technical study programs. In addition to that, Employer Branding begins at the very basis: make sure that you send a reply to all candidates!

International Employer Branding and Engagement Summit 2011Source: International Employer Branding Summit

Summit chair Brett Minchington presented first insights into his global research on Employer Branding. He pointed out that it seems a big challenge to sell Employer Branding concepts to executives in Europe. One of the biggest flaws of European companies also appears to be the lack of a proper induction process. Companies need to display their assets during the application process, so why should they not show their high-tech facilities or offer meetings with enthusiastic employees? Nowadays, companies face a transitional phase. A great chance for Employer Branding professionals! Now is the time to gather resources and get the systems in place to be ready when Employer Branding takes off to be critical for the company’s success. In addition to that, it is of utmost important to understand (potential) employees as whole persons, considering their fears (especially in times of desasters and crises) and communication habits. Concerning the ROI of Social Media activities and Employer Branding in general, Brett referred to projects being fully measurable. The other important element of an Employer Branding strategy should be the assets that will pay off after a longer period of time.

With a very energetic and professionally designed presentation, Adidas offered insights how to design a killer brand. The two speakers were true brand ambassadors, full of energy, in good shape and clothed in their product line. They presented Branding basics derived from employee research and summarized in shape of the buzzwords “Choice” and “Expectation”: How do we get our customers or potential employees to choose us? And do they get what we promise them? After being clear about these two elements, brand managers can start a three-step approach. First, you need to focus on the key differentiator (e.g. Google`s 20% rule). Second, you need to align everything you do with the message. The third step is about the full package: ensure that no one mixes your brand with another one. Additional tips were to think more like real brand managers in HR, leveraging on a great design and professional copywriting as well as a great candidate experience (based on fast response-time, maximum simplification and engagement on mutual terms). Finally, do not forget to present your brand to your customers: Adidas, for instance, have lockers on their career fair stands and they just seem to have a lot of fun working…

The following panel discussion dealt with the use of Social Media for Employer Branding. Two different approaches came up: You could either use short-term campaigns according to the trial and error method or carefully define your tone in Social Media first: Is your company more conservative and risk-averse or is it very authentic and risk-taking? Apart from that, all speakers agreed on the importance of establishing close relationships between HR, Communications and Marketing and on the need for a crisis management strategy as well as employees willing to be active in Social Media. Furthermore, the very basics were pointed out: you should enable your employees to use Social Media and you should listen to your target group first. How do they actually use Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.? Finally, it is not recruiting that drives HR professionals to consider and create an employer fanpage on Facebook – the true strength of Social Media platforms is the improvement of brand awareness. With all these new challenges coming up – what would be the key competencies future HR people need? – “Learning Agility” was the answer of Piotr Langer, UniCredit, “prepare them to be able to work in a future environment: to adapt, learn and change quickly“.

Group picture with Summit chairs and representatives of UniCredit and BaloiseSource: Employer Branding Online

IKEA‘s contribution to the Summit was mostly focused on diversity. A very strong claim they use is “To be one of us you’ve got to be yourself!Especially companies in the Retail industry have to consider that every customer could be a potential employee and vice versa. Therefore, the company’s initatives for diversity are closely linked to their communities: The recruitment should reflect “a wider base of candidates who mirror the community in which the store/location is operating“.

Piotr Langer, UniCredit, spoke about the difficult situation of the banking industry after the financial crisis. As customers and potential employees had strong reasons not to trust banks, the financial industry should now focus on “keeping the brand promise“. Before communicating a brand to the public, you should first invest in your employees to be able to create a brand grounded on a realistic base. UniCredit, in particular, used a joint effort of Employer Branding colleagues from all countries to setup an Employer Value Proposition (EVP) that is shared and aligned with the local realities in all countries. In terms of Social Media, a group of CEMS students supported the company by conducting a study among international students. The results were more or less surprising: Students still tend to prefer “traditional” ways of learning about job opportunities and potential employers (e.g. career fairs, career service, company website etc.) whereas Social Media were only of minor importance. There is still a need for making the target group comfortable with how companies communicate in the web. One possible approach could be to reflect offline events and experiences in the online world.

Barilla – famous for its Pasta – started with a hint on the recent new branding: “The Italian Food Company. Since 1877“. Having developed strong and emotional connections to the people in Italy, the company strives to grow also outside the home country. For Italian expatriates, Barilla might feel like a piece from home, but people from other countries do not realize the same quality yet. This is the reason why Barilla focuses strongly on culture – both internally and externally.Culture is what is crucial to achieving all the other improvements.  So the Employer Branding activities aim at inviting potential employees on a journey instead of just getting a job. Students, for instance, are offered courses about nutritional knowledge and the Italian style of “saper fare” thus enabling them to get to know the company and the culture behind the product.

All in all, the Summit was a great event to learn about the Employer Branding activities of other companies, to connect to Employer Branding professionals and to gain insights into up-to-date and global studies that were exclusively given to the participants.

Before thinking about using Social Media Recruiting in your Company…

Christoph Athanas asked a great question on metaHR back in April: Is Social Media Recruiting still being hyped or already producing real profits? According to the Gartner Hype Cycle he presented three theses: Social Media Recruiting either approaching the “Peak of Inflated Expectations”, the “Trough of Disillusionment” or the “Slope of Enlightenment”. While some people followed only one of these options, others – including me – were hesitating when it came to simplifying the overall assessment of this question.

Wikipedia: The Gartner Hype CycleI would speak of hype whenever the major bloggers/players in external Employer Branding Consulting place “best practices”. It appears mostly as preparation of the market for their services. Companies following this hype without reflecting thoroughly on their future Social Media Recruiting needs and activities will find themselves disillusioned – especially compared to major brands. The third group are companies with attractive products and/or a supporting “cultural framework” (to be found in eCommerce, IT sector, etc.). Social Media Recruiting might feel more natural for them and also for their target groups.

Source: Wikipedia

So it is not that easy to proclaim that Social Media Recruiting might just work well for every company under any circumstances. The approach of people in HR/ Recruiting/ Employer Branding towards Social Media should be individual, well-informed and well-planned.

After having identified the suitable target group of prospective employees, the next step should not be to start thinking about how you could communicate with them. You are not the target group. You do not know! Of course you might possess studies about Generation Y, telling you to approach these young people in the web. Maybe you work closely with agencies providing ideas on what to do and the kind of messages to send. But these sources are not sufficient! Imagine you are a supplier for automotive companies desperately looking for female employees. So what would you do? Maybe you would create a visual for this very target group as shown in this example. In my opinion, this idea could go terribly wrong. How would you feel being addressed on basis of gender clichés? Would you consider this message to be an appropriate way to attract you to this company as employer of choice?

You should identify needs, interests and habits of your target group. And you should do that as thoroughly as possible. Are future Investment Bankers looking for a job on Facebook? Or might it be a better idea to address them on career fairs with focus on Finance?

Recently, Henner Knabenreich presented the results of a study about “Career + Social Networks” on both PR-Blogger and personalmarketing2null. Most of the respondents used Facebook regularly in private life, so one could argue that it might be a good idea to approach candidates on this platform. It is only half the truth, though. When it comes to the students’ habits, they are primarily using the careers website to learn more about a potential employer. Moreover, they prefer personal contact, and still print media, online job portals, employer rankings and career fairs to private as well as business-focused social networks. Personalmarketing2null: Which media do you use to gather information about an employer?

 Source: Personalmarketing2null

Are companies overestimating the online affinity of their target groups? In my opinion, they do not. But companies lack two things: (a) students that are well-informed about the possibilities they have in the social web to learn more about a potential employer and (b) reasons for the target group to approach the company’s Social Media profiles.

(a) On 11 May I was invited as a speaker to Jobmeeting Torino for the “Personal Branding Live Act”. Italian students had the opportunity to experience first-hand how they could put the Social Web to use, becoming visible to and learning more about potential employers. They were pretty much irritated by all the possibilities to get in touch with employers – be it on professional networks or on Facebook. But why should they use a business network without having a job first? Why should they look for careers pages on Facebook – a private platform where they fear the risk of recruiters screening their profiles? It is still a long way to go until the majority of students in Germany, Italy and probably additional European countries will really start using the social web in a natural manner to get in touch with employers, aside from specific jobs and industries.

(b) For one week, Andrew Blakeley exposed himself to all the brands that asked him to like them on Facebook (must-read!). This is how he describes the essence of this experiment: “As social networks slowly become the default online presence for brands to drive their consumers to, adverts, marketing and packaging has started telling us where to go. However, it hasn’t yet started telling us why to go there.” Andrew also discovered that great content on several sites just did not get the attention it deserved. His ultimate tip for brand managers is very simple: “Consider telling them why” – without a reason people would not bother following your Social Media activities. Nina Kalmeyer and I agreed that this observation also applies to potential employees and careers pages on Facebook.

  1. Before thinking about using Social Media Recruiting in your company...Get to know your target group first: You are the ones to define it as close as possible to your company’s specific needs. Start your own research!
    (for some hints you can also stick to the study mentioned earlier)
  2. Based on this research, does it make sense at all to use Social Media as one element in your HR marketing mix?
  3. If so, what can you realistically offer to the target group? What is the value added to follow your activities?
  4. And when you finally arrive at this point, you might start to push the idea of Social Media Recruiting within your company.

BNL (BNP Paribas) is pushing Social Media on their Italian Careers Page

Social Media in HR is a trending topic all over the world. Bloggers and companies look for good practices in Employer Branding and Recruiting – mostly in their own country. It might be better to take a look across borders and to take into account and identify first movers or remarkable initiatives there, too. Currently being in Italy, I passed by a branch of BNL – Gruppo BNP Paribas and decided to check out their careers website.

BNP Paribas Careers page - News: mentioned BNP Paribas earlier on my blog as they host a platform called “BNP Paribas Backstage” which is a social network-like FAQ. Moreover, they have about 5,800 fans on their “BNP Paribas Ace Manager“-Fanpage, a online business game also serving as recruitment channel. The French bank points to its subsidiary’s careers page with today’s news article “Web 2.0 Recruitment at BNL“: In Italy, they changed the appearance of the BNL careers page in order to place their Facebook and YouTube channels prominently. The whole site is now centered around Social Media activities – visitors will even be greeted with a video.

BNL Careers page - VideoThe video explains why it makes sense to attend the BNL Recruiting Day. Employees and executives present a short statement while the most important points are visualized next to them. Afterwards, the BNL employees are introduced briefly. The video finshes with links to both Facebook and YouTube so that you might even explore these platforms before proceeding to the careers page content. This is a quite courageous step as BNL – to a certain extent – accept a loss of control in terms of sending Employer Branding messages compared to using their “own territory”, i.e. their careers page. On Facebook, students will find about 4,300 fans of “BNL Job” who actively engage and ask questions or comment on events.

BNL Careers page - Upload CVThe careers page offers direct access to functional elements and additional insights such as a video about the company values (same style as the introductory video). It is pretty easy to upload or update your CV for the Recruiting Day as it is only one click away on every subpage (see picture on the right). A remarkable one among the subpages surely is “Progetto Contatto Lavoro” on which BNL describes how they have completely changed their Employer Branding and Recruiting strategy during project work with a group of students. They started to put emotions and experiences of current and future employees in the center of attention in order to leverage on the positive attitude of employees already present in the company. In 2009, a survey had shown that 87% of employees would recommend others to work at BNL due to its strength, reputation, ethics and innovation capability. So why not use it?

BNL Careers page - Welcome pageSource (last three screenshots):

The Candidate Experience – The Next Big Thing?

Some days ago, a group of authors and editors released a “virtual monograph” aimed at explaining “The Candidate Experience: What they say it is; What it really is; and, What it can be“. Gerry Crispin, Mark Mehler and others provide an overview of scientific studies about how applicants and jobseekers perceive the application process as well as blog entries out of the last few months. Being highly ambitious, they plan to refine the document at least quarterly. Moreover, they are even up to creating an Award for the Best Candidate Experience!

But what is this Candidate Experience? Here is the definition that Gerry Crispin proposes on page 11 of the monograph: The Candidate Experience are

“The attitudes and behaviors of individuals who aspire to work for a firm about the recruiting process, the stakeholders in the process, the work and the company itself as a place to work.”

So the experience of the candidate is stated to begin “when they have hit the ‘submit’ button”. But the employer can already do something to support the potential applicant before submitting his or her CV: Joseph P. Murphy has posted a video recently, referring to the project of Crispin and his colleagues, which has the goal to inform HR people and hiring managers how to “help the candidate make a more informed decision”. Randy Hood’s video commentary is summarized in four points (see the screenshot below).

Source: Embedded YouTube-clip by VirtualJobTryout on

Now that sounds a lot like Employer Branding, doesn’t it? As far as it seems, the Candidate Experience is an issue to be adressed by both Employer Branding and Recruiting professionals – but not so much out of a sales perspective. There is a need to put oneself in the position of a potential candidate. The fourth point is also connected to using “Realistic Job Previews” , a topic which was also elaborately discussed in Germany (e.g. on Recrutainment blog).

The authors’ research indicates a third and probably the most important group of company representatives when it comes to influencing the Candidate Experience to the better or the worse: the hiring managers. Therefore, HR professionals do not only need to provide a great Employer Brand, a streamlined and efficient application process, they do also need to establish a corporate culture aimed at treating a candidate as if he or she would be a future and welcome colleague. Well, recruiters can at least have a positive influence on the experience when they act enthusiastic, empathetic and helpful – in addition to being knowledgable about the job. But, as the group of authors explicates, recruiters only appear as the first point of contact and their efforts are in vain once the process takes too long or a hiring manager acts inappropriately.

On page 5, referring to Corporate Executive Board’s Recruiting Roundtable, best practice companies were analyzed in 2002. Those companies met “candidate needs as their expectations grew by providing status, interview prep kits, interview process primers and other resources”. Such additional information may still prove to be helpful – but also missing – on most career websites.

Employer Branding, Recruiting, Career Websites, Realistic Job Previews, … – the Candidate Experience is quite successful in integrating several important topics of current discussions in HR. You can also add “Social Media” to this list. Why? The authors are looking for a reason to care for the candidate experience out of business perspective. They find an approach developing some ideas out of “The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage” by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore. This book comes to the conclusion that the next step after the Service Economy would be the so-called “Experience Economy”, which is demanding from companies to “render authenticity” in order to be the most successful, as memory itself would become the most sought-after product. And this “authenticity” is also pretty much a trending topic for at least a lot of German blogs dealing with HR and Social Media like, e.g., (once more) Recrutainment, soziales Brand:Marken or personalmarketing2null.

Source: – page 13 of monograph

Crispin and the others decide to evaluate the Candidate Experience “by describing four types of experiences – Educated, Entertained, Enthused and Engaged” (page 12). These four types of experiences will be provided by the potential employer on its Social Media platforms, career website, during the recruiting process, on job fairs, etc. To tie in with the idea of “rendering authenticity”, authenticity may expand the matrix to a third dimension. All these provided experiences can only be successful as long as they appear to be credible and true.

In my opinion, this new monograph may be a catalyst for a more elaborate and scientific as well as empirically confirmed discussion about the Candidate Experience. And such a discussion would definitely help in improving the remake of career websites, using Social Media for Employer Branding and Recruiting as well as finding the right talent for your company. It would help to plan and carry out activities on a well-grounded concept instead of just following trends, buzzwords and advice from consultants…

What they say it is; What it really is; and, What it can be