Rich Peterson Asks: What’s in a Name?

A company’s name has a lot to do with its ability to attract good job candidates. A well-recognized name strengthens an employer’s recruiting efforts by creating a favorable impression in advance of the first communication.  A company’s name and logo, along with its consistent and thoughtful application, can convey the products or services offered, a cohesive vision, or even a corporate culture. Companies with high name recognition generally attract more candidates – both skilled job seekers and lower level workers – because they have had an opportunity to build an affinity and preference for a company that is familiar.

Lesser known employers must work harder to attract candidates because a baseline of knowledge may be minimal or possibly nonexistent. These companies must do more to market themselves and their employment opportunities since they cannot rely on name recognition alone to draw in the best candidates.

Some companies have names that are well known, but the public is either not familiar with or confused about their products or services. Name recognition alone may not be enough to overcome preconceived notions that the public or job candidates may have. Many larger companies are well known, but the public has no real basis to judge what type of employer they are.

Imagine the confusion in the marketplace for Sallie Mae and Fannie Mae when it’s time to recruit new employees. Neither one of these are people, but dynamic and thriving Fortune 500 companies right in the Washington metropolitan area. However, not everyone is clear on what they do, what job opportunities exist, or why anyone would want to work for them. What these companies have in common is that they were originally chartered
by Congress to provide financial assistance for education and housing. Now they are public New York Stock Exchange-traded companies. The SLM Holding Corporation, better known as Sallie Mae, provides help to people needing school loans. Fannie Mae, formerly the Federal National Mortgage Association, provides affordable mortgages for home buyers. Both organizations recruit and employ a host of information technology and other professionals. These companies, like those with lower name recognition, must face the challenge of educating or  even re-educating the public and potential candidates about what they offer both customers and employees.

Bethesda, MD-based U.S. Generating Company (also referred to as USGen) is experiencing a lack of name recognition even though it is one of the United States’ largest independent power providers. The 10-year-old company, a wholly owned subsidiary of PG&E Corporation, manages a $5 billion portfolio of power plants, yet it is not well known by potential job applicants.

“We have been able to sell our company to information technology professionals based on the technical opportunities themselves, said Liz Fricke, manager of recruitment services at USGen. “We’ve found that many IT people are driven by the types of projects offered and not just the company. These job seekers want more technical training and a chance to work on super projects, which is what we offer at USGen.”

According to Fricke, IT candidates are also sold on the entrepreneurial spirit of USGen. They are attracted by its team-oriented work environment and excellent benefits package, all backed by a large power company, but without the high level of bureaucracy associated with some larger companies. Add to that an information systems department that is small but growing, enabling IT pros to work on a variety of projects without being stovepiped into specific niches, and USGen becomes a company that candidates want to consider. Candidates are often only able to appreciate the excellent opportunities at USGen after speaking with some of the company’s recruiters, employees or visiting the website.

Mitretek Systems, Inc., a McLean, VA-based nonprofit research organization providing information, telecommunications, and environmental technology solutions in the public interest, is also dealing with name recognition issues. The organization, which employs nearly 700 people, compensates for low name recognition by using non-traditional recruiting methods such as advertising more frequently, seeking and participating in networking opportunities, providing speakers for conference seminars, inviting candidates to chat with managers, and distributing the company’s web address on business cards. The organization also uses traditional recruiting methods such as employee referrals, newspaper advertising, trade publications, participating in job fairs, and the Internet to. interest candidates.

“We’re working hard to get our name recognized by promoting employee involvement in the community. They are spokespeople for the company. Our referral program has developed into one of our best recruitment tools,” said Mosetta Blackmon, director of human resources, at Mitretek. “Also, as a nonprofit, we provide independent technical services which serve the public good.”

Candidates applying for positions at Mitretek Systems, Inc., are sometimes more familiar with the company’s predecessor, the Mitre Corporation, which also provides technical solutions for government clients. At times, when companies “spin off’ it can add to the confusion in the marketplace as they try to differentiate themselves. The new Mitretek is currently recruiting for a variety of positions, including infonnation security engineers, information systems engineers, environmental engineers, and telecommunications systems engineers.

“Candidates should always be willing to talk to companies with little name recognition. Like Mitretek, they may be diamonds in the rough,” said Blackmon.

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SRA International, Inc., is comfortable with the use of an acronym as its corporate identity as it works to further improve its name recognition. SRA’s core business is to provide systems integration and technology consulting services to business and government.  Because acronyms are so prevalent in the infonnation technology industry – EDS. AOL, CSC, TRW, and BTG, to name a few – SRA does not believe that an acronym name puts it at a disadvantage in the marketplace.SRA employs approximately 1,700 people nationwide, with nearly 900 working in the Washington metropolitan area. According to director of recruiting Kerri Morehart, the company is looking to fill several hundred more information technology positions before the firm’s fiscal year ends in July of 1999. The company uses many recruiting methods in tandem to attract professionals and receives approximately 600 to 1,000 resumes per month.Kerri Morehart, Director of Recruiting at SRA International, says the company uses newspaper ads as one way to attract potential employees.
SRA increases its name recognition by encouraging employees to use and wear items with the company logo. SRA shirts, hats and mugs are for sale in the company store.

“We use unconventional methods to brand our name as we recruit new employees,” said Morehart. “For example, we advertise on screen at movie theaters during the previews and we advertise in Washington Metro subway stations. We want the public, especially high quality potential candidates, to know our name and to think of us as a premiere employer.”

Morehart feels the SRA acronym has no impact on the company’s recruitment initiatives, partly because of an effort over the past few years to increase the visibility of the company in the media and in the community. For example, SRA has received prominent press coverage in publications such as Information Week, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

“We are fairly well known among IT professionals because they have either seen our ads or visited our web site,” said Morehart. “Our reputation in the community and the high tech marketplace has helped us to get job candidates at all levels, including senior staff, because of our creative approach to recruitment. ”


SRA International is using its creativity to kick off an Internet recruitment campaign featuring an animated penguin, which is also seen on hats, mugs, and t-shirts sold at “The Penguin Shop” company store. The popular penguin mascot, first used as an internal communication mechanism, will now be used externally to attract and recruit candidates in a full circle marketing process. Employees will be sporting these items as they work on company-sponsored community service projects for Greater D.C. Cares and a Partnership for Education with Key Elementary . School. Through Greater D.C. Cares, SRA employees have participated in activities such as refurbishing affordable housing and a women’s shelter, neighborhood and park cleanups, youth field trips, and meal preparation for the homeless. The partnership with Key Elementary School has resulted in more than 30 SRA volunteers that regularly tutor students and help implement the school’s computer technology program.Creativity in recruiting does not single-handedly ensure positive name recognition or a steady stream of good job candidates. The company’s commitment to its employees and customers is also driving their recruitment efforts.”We have a strong culture of honesty, service, quality work, and customer satisfaction,” said Laura Luke, SRA International’s director of corporate communications. “We believe in giving back to the community that has given so much to us. Our people are our business, our passion, and our future.”

Luke also believes that SRA International’s name recognition has increased in recent years because it has so many satisfied public and private sector clients.

“Our clients have helped us increase our name recognition because they talk about our high quality work to others in the industry.  This is one of the best boosts to our name recognition,” said Luke.

SRA International’s clients include securities finns CIBC Oppenheimer Corp., and Wheat First Union, which are using the firm’s Assentor e-mail message screening and archiving software to prevent insider trading and stock hyping; and work for nearly every federal agency, including the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, and Treasury. SRA International is currently working on the National Practitioner Data Bank, the federal national database of adverse information about physicians and dentists, and a year 2000 project for the U.S. Postal Service.

High name recognition does not necessarily mean that candidates flock to your company, inundating human resources managers with resumes and telephone calls. In 1990, the Clorox Company, a leading producer of household cleaning and other consumer products, needed a workforce for its new manufacturing distribution center in Aberdeen, Md. Although Clorox is an established national brand, it was unknown in Harford County as an employer at that time. The company, which has more than 6,600 employees worldwide, developed a community relations and outreach program to help the surrounding communities understand Clorox’s culture.

“We have a widely recognized name in the marketplace, but few people could know what kind of employer we are when we first came to Harford County.” said Jim Berger, plant manager. “We’ve worked hard for almost a decade to be a solid corporate citizen and participate in our community.”

In 1998 when Clorox expanded its manufacturing center and advertised to hire 50 additional employees, the company discovered that the outreach efforts are paying off.

“We got an abundance of high caliber candidates through our recruitment process even in a tight labor market,” said Berger. “I believe that our rapport with the community and the innovative things we’re doing with our employees is becoming known, helping us to become one of Harford County’s preferred employers.”

Name recognition is one of many important factors impacting an employer’s ability to attract and retain the best professionals. For candidates, not being familiar with a company is no reason to rule it out when searching for that next dream job. Candidates should use the Internet, family and friends, and other resources to find out if an employer is right for them. Job seekers may be pleasantly surprised to find that there are many good companies that are not household names but could take their careers to the next level. So it’s not, “what’s in a name?”  Find out what’s behind the name when seeking new opportunities.

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