• Andrew Telburn

Game of Thrones: House of Recruitment. What This TV Hit Has Given Us to Fight the War for Talent



There are hit TV shows, there are smash hit TV shows, and there is or was (after this weekend's series finale), Game of Thrones. What began as a literary cult has become a television juggernaut, spawning huge numbers of blogs, predictions, and no shortage of controversy.


Consider the fact that GOT’s influence has extended into fashion, politics and even baby naming. In 2012, the U.S. registered 146 newborns under the name Khaleesi, one of the main characters in George Martin’s storyline. It’s a name that didn’t even exist before he scribbled it down, yet schoolteachers will be saying it during roll call before the decade is up.

It’s amazing that a series of books and TV shows has touched so many areas of life and culture. But hiring practices? Seriously? Isn’t a Game-of-Thrones-based recruitment strategy taking things just a little too far?


Apparently not.


In late 2014, the Chicago offices of Havas Worldwide pulled out all the stops. Playing on the phrase “winter is coming” (a well-known motto for one of the show’s clans), Havas announced a “Winternship" competition modelled after Game of Thrones. They wouldn’t bother with garden variety resumé and interview processing. Instead they would divide their own employees into seven “houses”—another emulation of the show—with each house representing a distinct trait, whether analytical and organised or creative and spontaneous.


Candidates were asked, directly through social media, to declare their allegiance to one of these houses, and perform related tasks to prove that allegiance. Each house would choose one winner, for a total of seven valuable 10-week internships at the company.

The Twitter hashtag for the competition, as you may have guessed, was #winternshipiscoming.


Creativity abounded. There were illustrations, memes, clever images with even cleverer captions. One candidate went so far as to commission a tattoo of his house’s symbol (yes, a real one). This may seem a little extreme. On the other hand, it was an extremely well-designed recruitment effort based on a TV show with a fanatical fan base, in which candidates were engaged with phrases like “prove your worth.” When you take those facts into account, it would almost seem strange if somebody didn’t end up with a tattoo.


In any case, the bold creative strategy worked. Havas ended up with interns who knew their social media, and knew how to think outside the box—which is a big part of what the firm does for its clients.


Paul Marobella, President of the Havas Chicago offices, summed up the madness like this: “The war for talent demands us to be more creative in where we find the next smart creative.”

This isn’t the company’s first time doing this sort of thing. Havas is exemplary in terms of social savvy, with big followings on both Twitter and Instagram, and they seem incapable of inane recruitment methods. But you don’t have to be a worldwide corporation with plenty of media firepower to play on this level. All you have to do is engage pools of creative talent on their own turf, in ways that matter to them. Embrace technology in a positive way, specifically targeting the right market. This allows the value of candidate to company, and vice versa, to surface with greater clarity.


Aside from this, it’s just plain compelling. The candidates in “Winternship” took the plunge to prove they really wanted to work for the company, and perhaps most importantly, that they believed in the brand. It’s a shining example of recruitment done not only in a highly unique way, but in a highly professional way. The brand is stronger as a result, and even those candidates who weren’t chosen will remember the challenge. Especially the one with the tattoo.


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