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Employer branding rewrites the rules of talent acquisition – again

Amy Wrocklage, executive director of transformation services at Sevenstep


Within the last year, it's become very obvious that every company should be paying more attention to their employer brands.


Not just because 78 percent of job candidates say the overall candidate experience they get is an indicator of how a company values its people (Talent Adore); or, that when making a decision on where to apply for a job, 84 percent of job seekers say the reputation of a company as an employer is important (TalentNow). Those are just the latest in an avalanche of statistics that point to the importance of brand in attracting candidates.


The more subtle factor at play is this: employer branding is as much about what you do as it is about what you don’t do. Half of all candidates (50%) say they wouldn’t work for a company with a bad reputation – even for a pay increase (TalentNow); and, according to the Harvard Business Review, having a negative reputation costs companies at least 10 percent more per hire. (If you need more stats, read this: The 28 Employer Branding Statistics Your Company Must Know.)


For years, employer branding straddled the line between human resources and marketing until rightfully earning its own claim to a category – as a separate branding strategy for the pure purpose of attracting and retaining talent. Like a value proposition that gets shared with consumers, an employer value proposition (EVP) actively works to tell the company’s story to candidates. 


Still today, employer branding lives in a fairly grey, in-between area where companies apply bits and pieces of talent acquisition-motivated activities and call them their employer branding strategies. Maybe they’ve created a careers site but haven’t started building a talent community; or, perhaps they’ve started submitting for awards because they saw that’s what their competition was doing, but they haven’t yet figured out how to tie the awards they’ve won (or the ones they target) to their corporate values, their EVP or into their candidate communications. (Or worse, they haven’t done anything to merit winning an award in the first place!)


Slowly, albeit steadily, the unemployment rate has continued to drop over the last 7-8 years. And now, the UK and the US both have historic low unemployment rates under four percent.


A talent-controlled market, like the one we’re in today, has only emphasized the need to get employer branding right – but it’s not the only reason why it’s important.


Recession proof: employment branding


Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported on the great lengths companies have taken to manipulate their reviews on Glassdoor. Instead of taking the trend in employer branding as an opportunity to share unique company stories and transparently relay the experiences of their employees, some companies have used employer branding as a way to exploit their own people.


Organisations that have adopted dubious approaches, like falsifying positive Glassdoor reviews by intimidating or paying employees to write them, are usually the ones with the most to hide. And people know that. The truth always has a way of revealing itself, but the act of even trying to pull one of these employer branding ‘fast ones’ ends up costing a company far more in the long run – including, primarily, the cost to replace employees who leave when a company does not live up to its fabricated employer brand.


Instead, building a positive, authentic employer brand requires four key approaches:


Know who you are – and who you’re talking to


  • It’s important to have developed candidate personas and to hire for culture fit as much as, if not more than, for hard skills fit. As long as a particular role does not require a license or some other non-negotiable prerequisite, it’s always a smart idea to put significant emphasis on candidates’ soft skills, shared motivations and compatibility with the company and its mission. You can teach the rest.


  • When it comes to employer branding, a one-size-fits-all mentality is not the right approach. Segmentation – by location, by line of business, and/or by profile type – means deliberately targeting talent and communicating how their work will contribute to the success of the company.


  • There’s a common misperception that brands must err on the side of professionalism, and in employer branding nothing could be further from the truth. As casual work environments become the norm, people are looking for an authentic look into what it’s really like to work somewhere. Imperfect content, like grassroots videos uploaded to Instagram or a Facebook Live session showing people around the office, can brings brands to life.


Take the good with the bad


  • Companies that only want to push employer branding content out – but aren’t receptive to feedback coming in – are missing a critical point about how employer branding works. It’s as much about what others say about you as it is about what you say about yourself.


  • It’s important to recognise that every brand has its naysayers – and it’s how you handle them that counts. Don’t shut off comments or ignore a negative Glassdoor review. Respond, without retaliating, and learn from what’s being shared about the company.


  • Don’t make employer branding decisions based on fear. In fact, seeing honest feedback, like that hours are long or that there’s a lot of transitioning happening, will ultimately attract the right people to the business.


Think global


  • If you’re just talking about the jobs you have available and your position descriptions are only about the work, you’re probably driving good candidates away. Today’s talent wants to know how they can get involved – in the job at hand but also in the community of the organisation.


  • Candidates are thinking globally, so it’s important for companies to be doing the same. How does one person’s job impact the company, and how does the company and its work contribute to the community and beyond?


  • Give people a sense of what your corporate social responsibility platform is like and what volunteer opportunities exist. People don't just want to clock in, they want to do meaningful work, effect change and help others. If you're not talking about how a job can make an impact on a candidate’s life, as well as the community and the company, you'll lose them to an organisation that does.  


Be consistent


  • Regardless of what the market may or may not do over the next two years, employer branding will still be important. Today, talent can pick and choose where they want to work, but even if the market shifts to become more employer-centric, it will be important – and economical – to retain good people.


  • Authentic EVPs are recession proof if you have the right message. Meaning, if it’s true to the brand, ups and downs in the market will have minimal impact.


  • Reducing employer branding efforts based on market conditions or shifting hiring demands creates inconsistencies that can end up deterring talent when you need them the most. To attract and retain talent that’s scarce to find, employer branding must remain constant. If you have good applicant flow, don’t get lazy. It probably won’t last forever.


Employer branding is outbound and it’s inbound, it’s the good and the bad, but most importantly it should be the truth.

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