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    What’s Your City’s Story and How Does It Attract Talent?

    By Deborah Allen and Sue Jones


    America is teeming with cities that offer us treasures, experiences and opportunities that spark a range of emotions. A sense of curiosity, adventure and play abounds. The city can satiate our desires for new experiences or to repeat our favorite ones. We enjoy the diversity of things to do, places to see, and places to stay. These urban treasures attract the best and brightest of people for personal and professional reasons.

    For those of us who live outside of urban districts, we love to complete this sentence: "The city is where I go to..." Each of us has a meaningful response. The city is where I go to watch a play or attend a sporting event. The city is where I go to have a fine dining experience or eat a hotdog from a street cart. The city is where I go to visit an art museum, dance in night clubs, visit iconic sites, etc.

    Storytelling bring us to the city. Places are formidable. Finding the 'why'—why people go to the city for vacation and why people stay in the city to live and work—is imperative to understanding what attracts guests and what retains your talent.


    Branding and Cultural Fit

    Know your city’s brand. Visitors are attracted to cities for their brand. Economic developers and strategists focus on “reputation, quality of place, and the perceived brand of the city” to determine “where talent, capital, and tourism flow” (Fair, 2020). The Big Apple can be everything to everyone. Portland and Austin keep it weird. Miami gives you glitz and glamour, along with a seductive beachline.

    Your brand and reputation set the stage for attraction. Applicants are attracted to businesses for many of the same reasons that your guests are drawn to your properties. Your brand must attract applicants who feel positive about their city and who are knowledgeable about visitor sites, events, dining and transportation.

    Your employees need to have, at minimum, an interest in their city and be skilled at holding conversations on these topics. Ideally, your employees are pumped to live in their city and are bursting with ideas to share. For example, when I was in New Orleans after a late-night listening to music, the front desk attendee directed me to a pizza-by-the-slice place. Perfect, right?

    Incorporate language into your job postings that tell applicants that they must have a passion for your city and be able to talk about it persuasively. Ask interview questions about what the best routes are to take from your office to an iconic site, the beach, etc. Ask applicants where they would take a guest for a long weekend; what are the top three places they recommend for dinner and sites to visit?

    Not only will applicants’ answers reveal their interests and knowledge of their city, but you’ll hear if their style supports your brand. Evaluation of applicants’ cultural fit is as important as skills and experience.


    Recruitment Tactics

    Back in 2012, consumers influenced markets across cities nationwide with the launch of the “Vote with Your Dollar” campaign. Consumers wanted to (and still do) buy from businesses for ethical alignment and from people, who they believe, are ethical.

    Similarly, employees want to work for a great business and a great boss. But that’s not enough. Employees also want to work on teams filled with great people. Everyone wants to be a winner.

    Aligning your marketing and recruitment tactics will minimize duplication of work. Marketing tools and analytics assist to evaluate what guests want from a stay. Data identifies reasons from lifestyle to personality traits to target. The data spectrum highlights interaction opportunities to drive messaging.

    The same marketing concepts, tools, and data should drive recruitment tactics and messaging. Identifying interaction opportunities are critical to know where to spend your dollars to get the word out. Optimization, when done well, begins before you have a direct touch point with your applicants.

    Other data tools identify the most qualified applicants, who are aligned with your brand and service style. Drill down into the data because it will show which applicants are most aligned to specific positions. Hiring a rock star only works if they’re hired for the right position. Successful hires are contingent upon the alignment between the right people in the right positions. Additionally, alignment is critical to developing high-performing individuals and teams.

    Keep your eyes and mind wide open. Beyond online tools, there are opportunities out there every time you leave the front door. If I’m in line at the grocery store, coffee shop or restaurant, I chat people up because you never know where you’ll find your next great hire. Even when I’m tired and cranky, I practice this method. It’s surprising who you’ll find and what you’ll learn when everyone’s guard is down and removed from the formal recruitment context.


    Cultural Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI)

    Cultural diversity continues to rank as one of the top reasons people are attracted to cities for both pleasure and work. A diverse workforce has been labeled as the “incubator for innovation” by Stanford University, Harvard Business Review and Thomas Reuters as early as 1995.

    Tech giants and service industries leverage this concept to its fullest potential. The business case for workplace diversity and gender parity is tremendous. Chairwoman of Bookings.com, Gillian Tans, says that the “technology sector has been taking steps towards the advancement of women, who accounted for nearly 30% of the industry’s entry-level workforce in 2019.” They increased their overall female annual hiring rate to 27.3%.

    Urban luxury hotels like Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, Four Seasons and Marriott have recruitment collateral that advertises DEI. Their programs place foreign-born employees in a city different than their home country.

    My husband worked for Rosewood and on each location assignment, he was frequently the only native English speaker in his department. They talked about DEI initiatives externally during the recruitment phase and internally for training and development purposes. Affiliation between external and internal messaging and practice demonstrates integration and authenticity.

    Avoid lip-service statements. “We’re diversity-friendly” language and disclosure statements mean nothing unless you walk the talk. Workplace diversity and inclusion should not be a numbers game. If you base a system entirely on numbers to address initiatives, you may be designing a “race to the bottom” to achieve minimum obligations.

    Prior to publishing DEI initiatives in your recruitment plans, be sure that you design a program first. Your position of strength comes from the program design, education, implementation, measurement tools and, importantly, manager and employee training on workplace expectations and key performance indicators. Businesses can take steps to remove unconscious bias in hiring and in the workplace as well as remove physical barriers to inclusivity.

    Exciting augmented writing platforms are designed to mitigate bias in hiring and support businesses to build a recruiting strategy with a DEI focus. These tools can now create more inclusive job descriptions, run blind resume reviews by removing names (ethnicity and gender) and dates of experience and education (age and class) and create structured interviews.

    Textio is one of the first tools developed to better write more inclusive job descriptions through augmented writing. Gender Decoder is a free tool that reduces gender-coded language, e.g., ‘driven’ is a masculine word while ‘dependable’ relates to femininity. What I love about Gender Decoder is that it works; it helps write job postings to increase the number of women who apply. Research shows that management and leadership positions frequently use masculine language that detracts women from making application.

    At Bookings.com, 30% of their leadership team are women. And, for comparable work, they do not have a gender pay gap (Tan, 2020). Notably, diversity moves beyond ethnicity and gender. It includes multiple generations, LGBTQ+ status and disabilities. The first step to having a DEI initiative is to change your mindset; we must develop an internal culture of equity and empowerment that focuses on accessibility.

    DEI initiative integration will shine from the inside out, evidenced by data and a cultural shift within your organization. When you reach the tipping point, you’ll know. Managers and employees’ perspectives will shift, and then, grow to see and experience the benefits of a diverse team and its direct impact on outputs such as team synergy and quality and productivity of work.

    Songs like Lin-Manual Miranda’s Hamilton song, “I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot” teach us lessons and evoke how we all want opportunities to prove our worth and receive credit and pay when it’s earned. By the way, when I watched the play, this song resonated the most with the audience. The sentiment is universal!


    What’s Next?

    Cities are dynamic places acting as a hub for businesses, experiences and socialization. Your city’s brand is woven into the fabric of your workforce. Utilize this energy. Recruit people who act as business and city brand ambassadors.

    During recruitment, think about your attractors. Historically, city-based businesses advertise financial, infrastructure, and job opportunities as key recruitment tactics. What if you built upon those messages to illustrate what your city offers applicants in their personal time? Exciting city environments are infectious and are motivators just like business factors. Involve marketing employees, who are skilled at storytelling, to share these reasons in your recruitment profile.

    Build workplace DEI initiatives to attract the best and brightest. Don’t take my word for it. Read articles and check out the platforms and tools to create a more inclusive workplace. This is a process that, when done well, takes time. Slowing things down to create leadership and employee buy-in builds respectful workplaces that are poised to build DEI initiatives with authenticity and integrity.

    Storytelling engages and motivates us to do something and to be a part of something. Create stories that provoke applicants to apply for your open positions.


    For more information about the articles on city economic development and diversity, equity, and inclusion published by Resonance and We Forum respectively, visit:



    Untitled design - 2020-01-21T173620.913.pngDeborah Allen joined HR4VR this past July holding the position of HR Business Partner. Deborah thinks outside the box and has been driving organizational change and building high performing teams for over 20 years. Driven by results, she has developed a reputation for her unique approach that balances strategy with execution and relationship results. Deborah holds an art degree, a master’s in education, and a certificate in human resources, which gives her a distinctive approach to solving problems creatively.


    Untitled design - 2020-01-21T173854.494.png

    Sue Jones is the owner and founder of HR4VR, the vacation rental industry’s first and only dedicated human resources support services provider. Sue found her home in the vacation rental industry in 2011 and is passionate about providing HR programs and services designed to meet the unique needs of property managers. Sue is a veteran of the US Navy, holds a master’s degree in business administration and is both SHRM SCP and SPHR certified.

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