To attract Gen-Y workers, local companies recruit in unconventional ways


Charlie Reverte, left, Drew Stephens, Will Meyer and Stewart Allen prepare for Clearspring’s car competition. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

The video begins with the unmistakable tones of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” The black screen fades. The guitar kicks in. And a pair of Hula-Hoops swirl around Dan Yates’s slender frame.

This is no YouTube meme or college gag gone viral. It’s a recruitment video for Arlington-based Opower, starring the energy software company’s chief executive.

The tactic may seem peculiar and downright silly, but that’s exactly what the firm hopes viewers will take away: Opower is not your typical employer.

Unconventional recruiting efforts are taking hold at some local companies, particularly those looking to attract tech-savvy, Generation Y workers who often hunt for jobs digitally and seek different attributes in an employer than their older counterparts. Also known as millennials, the workers are part of a generation whose vanguard is largely in its 20s.

“There are some very key differences across the multigenerational workforce that lend us to have to be a little more attentive to the Generation Y as we reach out to both welcome them into the workforce, assimilate them to the workforce and keep them invested in our company,” said Michael Gelles, director of Deloitte Consulting.

Gelles, who has overseen studies on Gen-Y workers for Deloitte, said the job seekers will be shaped by their experiences at colleges and universities, which often encourage collaboration and problem solving.

“There’s something to be valued from the way universities have sustained and educated some of these folks,” he said. “If that’s replicated in some of these work environments, that may make the transition easier and contribute to retention.”

‘Hooptie’ culture

Like Opower, McLean-based Clearspring said its best bargaining chip with potential recruits is the company culture, something that can’t be completely conveyed in a simple job posting.

A handful of employees there have established the Clearspring Motor Club, a weekend and evening pastime during which they’ve spent $500 to purchase and restore their own “hooptie,” a kind of junk car made junkier. They plan to use it to compete in the 24 Hours of LeMons this summer, a tongue-in-cheek race for fixer uppers.

Will Meyer, senior vice president of publisher products, said the club allows employees with engineering and robotics backgrounds to indulge their hands-on nature while also building staff camaraderie.

“The motor club is a little bit of an attempt by me to brand an element of that culture,” he said.

After all, he said, Clearspring tends to compete against “smaller companies that are more focused on innovation from a product perspective. That’s an extremely competitive landscape,” he said.

The motor club, or even the idea of it, won’t resonate with everyone, Meyer admits. But the job applicants who can appreciate its purpose are the ones that are likely to be the best fit for the company.

“Whenever we tell folks about it there are two reactions,” Meyer said. “The first is sort of, ‘Why? That’s strange.’ And the second reaction is ‘Awesome.’ And my goal is that anyone who has that second reaction, I want to work here.”

An aptitude for risk

Steve Fredrick, an investor at Grotech Ventures, created StartUpHire in 2009 when a few executives at small, venture-backed firms complained about a lack of visibility compared to larger employers and how it stifled recruiting efforts.

The Web site lists jobs at venture-backed start-ups but will soon expand to include other fledgling firms as part of Startup America, the Obama administration’s initiative to spur entre­pre­neur­ship.

Fredrick said a job applicant needs a certain aptitude for risk and tireless work ethic to thrive in a start-up environment, so the Web site can serve as a landing pad for people seeking those opportunities.

“If you’re an employer, you really want employees that self-select to work at a start-up because not everyone is cut out to work at a start-up,” he said.

Fredrick added that he has also seen more start-ups cater to the Gen-Y crowd, whether by locating in urban hubs or promoting a casual dress code and foosball tables.

Indeed, Jeremy Faro, senior director of brand at Opower, said the company’s recruitment video aims to portray the company as a place where entry-level employees right up to the top management know there’s time to relax.

The chief executive’s performance in the video “is an authentic expression of Dan Hula -Hooping and not being self conscious about it,” he said. “This is the kind of company that Opower is.”

The video is part of a digital and print advertising campaign as the company looks to hire staff. The firm raised $50 million in November and has secured two contracts that stand to triple its footprint.

“We just raised a new round of funding last year in order to allow us to hire and one of the challenges to growing is finding great talent in the D.C. metro area and making them aware of Opower,” Faro said.

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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