Employer brand is incredibly important in a competitive talent market. Top candidates receive similar offers from a great variety of companies and thus compensation packages and interesting work are often not enough on their own to seal the deal. Top candidates want to work at a company whose brand is welcoming and inspiring. “If your brand is not seen as a positive, your recruiting efforts will be doubled in terms of challenge, and the best talent will search for companies with better reputations, because they can” says Michael T. Denisoff, founder and CEO of Denisoff Consulting Group. A poorly managed employer brand can cost you access to top talent.
You also can’t opt out of having an employer brand. “An organization’s employer brand always exists,” says Tisha Freer, head of client partnerships at Evviva Brands, “whether they choose to promote it, change it, or engage their audience with it is another matter.” Since your employer brand will exist one way or another, it is in your best interest to manage your brand and make sure that it presents a positive image of your company.
The Basics of Employer Branding
At a minimum, your employer brand must make it clear what you stand for. Decide what you want your company to be and then be completely consistent about that message through everything that goes out about your company. “Your organization’s mission, vision, and values should be clearly defined and this should flow through to your employer branding communications” says Brett Minchington, chairman and CEO of Employer Brand International.
It isn’t enough to say what you want your company to be and leave it at that. “Employer branding is a philosophy” says Jody Ordioni. “It’s a framework built around the relationship between your organization and its employees. It’s the promise you make to your workers.” If you don’t follow through on the brand that you promise your employees, the word will get out and will overshadow anything you can say.
Following through on employer brand starts before you even make the hire. “Candidate experience is a two way street” says Biro. “Make sure yours is good and true to your brand, or you are setting the brand up for damage both upfront in the recruiting process and to your internal employees and stakeholders.” For the candidates you hire, your application process is their first taste of your company — a sort of pre-onboarding corporate culture training. The candidates you don’t hire might become your customers in the future, or develop into great candidates for future job openings, or simply tell others about their experiences with your company. Whatever the outcome, you want to make a good impression on candidates.
The initial impression you make during your application process should be reinforced for new hires during onboarding. “The companies with the with best employer brand have a strong onboarding process” says Heather R. Huhman, founder and president of Come Recommended. “Employees are immersed into the brand and culture right from the beginning in a multi-week orientation program. If you care about your employees, your reputation, and your brand, you will invest the time and energy into it to make sure it sticks.” If you teach your new hires what your company believes in at the beginning, you won’t have to try to make them unlearn bad habits down the road.
From there, you need to make sure that your company’s external brand matches your internal brand. “If you get a job and your workplace reality is as expected — the brand delivered on their brand promise — your engagement with your work and the company soars” says Freer. “If it’s not as expected — the brand failed to meet their promise — you are disengaged and it’s only a matter of time before you begin looking for a better fit.” Don’t promise a fast-paced, entrepreneurial environment if your reality is bogged down with bureaucratics and strict process guidelines. Again, word will get out about the mismatch and, in addition to that, you’ll have a high turnover rate and the high costs associated with high churn.
Even before poor fit drives new hires to leave your company, it causes them to produce subpar results. “In the end, the best career matches for employers and employees come down to fit” says Chris Perry, founder of Career Rocketeer. “The employer can quickly identify job candidates who fit their company brand profile, especially when the professionals know their personal brand and communicate it effectively and consistently. Job candidates are also trying to identify employer candidates that provide an ideal fit for long-term career success.” Optimizing fit benefits both parties.
So does that mean that you should just broadcast your company culture as it is, in order to optimize for fit? If you like your culture the way it is, then yes. But if your culture falls short of appealing, or just short of what you want it to be, improving your company’s reality is part of working on your employer brand.
Treat your employees well and go above and beyond in whatever ways make most sense for your company. “We pay for employees to take training classes and sometimes offer tuition reimbursement; we free up time on their schedule to study for classes; we also provide our employees with resources to help them find roommates, places to live, etc.,” says Michele Gonzalez-Pitek, director of human resources at The Unity Council. “These things could all be very valuable to a potential employee.” Think about how you can set yourself apart from your competition and then make sure that people know about it.
If you actively build a great environment for your employees, the word will spread organically. “Any company can provide a job, but how many provide a culture that people crave?” asks Sarah O’Neill, director of human resources at Digital Trends. “Human resources leaders can help build strong brands by focusing on making the culture great. This way, employees build the brand for you. Make them love where they work and what they do, and word will spread like wildfire.” You can, however, encourage your employees to share your employer brand.
Publicizing Your Employer Brand
To encourage your employees to speak up, you need to make them feel like their voices matter. “Employees have to feel empowered enough to want to speak up, which also means hearing what they want to say” says Biro. “They need to feel like they’re free to choose to represent the brand or not as well: you can’t, and don’t want to, require a plastered on smile.” A few authentic endorsements are worth much more than dozens of phony, forced ones.
Even without encouragement, your employees will likely talk about you. A 2013 global study by Weber Shandwick, which surveyed 2,300 employees around the world (ages 18–65), found that 50 percent of employees shared something on social media about their employer. If they like working for you, chances are that their networks know. “Based on circumstances, the synergy between employer and employee as brand advocate is a nice juicy handout; not only do we get people to work for us, we get them to rep us, too” says Meghan M. Biro, founder and CEO of TalentCulture.
Investing in developing, maintaining, and sharing a great employer brand can pay off with dividends. A 2011 LinkedIn study found that companies with strong employer brands had half the cost per hire of companies with poor or no employer brands, and a quarter less turnover. Decide what you want to be, become it, and spread the word. It could be your best recruiting move yet.