Talent Acquisition Jobs To Be Done Theory; From Milkshakes To Employer Branding

In this blog post, we’ll explore the Jobs To Be Done theory to help solve your talent acquisition jobs to be done.

Back in the late 1990s, Clayton Christensen popularized the “Jobs To Be Done” theory. He used a milkshake to explain how consumers hire various products or services to get jobs done.

At the time, McDonalds was trying to increase sales of milkshakes. The thinking at the time was that people bought milkshakes as a treat or to fill the belly. But they were missing an important insight.

While doing some research, Christensen and his team realized that there was a large group of customers who bought their milkshakes in the morning – on the way to work. For them, the “job” of the milkshakes was to be a travel buddy or something “fun”. The team found a different group of customers who bought their milkshakes in the afternoon – but for an entirely different reason. These consumers primarily bought milkshakes as a special treat for their kids.

As Theodore Levitt said, “people do not want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.”

The morning milkshake was purchased to help the morning traveler stay awake, or to help make their commute more fun. These milkshakes were made thick and required more time to finish.

Also see: How to Develop Your Talent Strategy; Your Initial Steps

Whereas the morning milkshake was a travel buddy the one in the afternoon was viewed more as a replacement for something else – in this case, “stopping at the toy store”. Afternoon milkshakes were made thin and could be finished fast. With a thinner milkshake, parents were able to give their children an inexpensive and special treat that finished quickly so they could get home.

The job to be done for the thick milkshake was to keep the commuter busy and awake. The job to be done for the thin milkshake was to reward, appease, sooth, or calm a bunch of rowdy kids. The same item but for two very different reasons.

Also see: Beginners Guide to Understanding Your Employer Brand

Before doing their research, Christensen and his team might have been led to believe a milkshake was simply a milkshake. But by reframing the issue – by asking “what job are you trying to hire this milkshake for” – they improved their own understanding and were able to make recommendations on how to modify the ingredients, communicate the value, and promote the milkshake as a “niche” solution.

Talent Acquisition Jobs to be Done

Thinking through a jobs to be done lens helps to reframe issues and can provide us with a new way to think about a hard situation.

So, let’s talk about the employer brand for a moment – an important area where most companies fall short.

The employer brand can be an incredibly valuable tool to attract, engage, and retain our best people. It can serve as confirmation to employees that our company is the right place for people to work at right now. It can be your beacon – something to explain why or how our company will develop new skills and set people on the right career path. And it can be a great way to communicate a “true north” message, corporate aspiration, company culture, or a combination of desired performance, behaviors, and other talent criteria.

An authentic and strong employer brand can help to lower recruiting costs, improve pre-hire completion rates (forms, assessments, surveys, applications), reduce turnover rates, boost employee morale, strengthen overall company reputation, and so much more.

Also see: How to Conduct an Employer Brand Study

But getting it right is tricky stuff. A great employer brand can become a real competitive advantage, but give out the wrong signal and all you get noise and confusion.

So, how’s your own employer brand coming along? Not sure how to articulate it correctly so it resonates with employees and potential candidates? Struggling to translate data into insights you can use or not sure where to start? Maybe it’s time to reframe the issue around jobs-to-be-done. 

Take a moment to answer the following questions:

  • What profile or personas do we want to target for growth?
  • What “job” is the candidate trying to get done?
  • What are all the steps that comprise the candidate’s job-to-be-done?
  • What are all the associated emotional jobs the candidate might have?
  • What is the candidate’s most desired outcome?
  • What are the other acceptable outcomes?

Try using jobs to be done thinking and the results might surprise you. Reach out to schedule a call if you want someone to help you with this.


Christopher Mengel is the founder of TalentSum LLC, a strategic talent acquisition consultancy and best practices implementation firm. Some of the world’s most notable companies partner with TalentSum to activate a strong employer brand, attract more people who fit, improve engagement and experiences, and deliver high-performing cultures.

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