Much like candidates applying for jobs, the employer branding game is constantly changing.
By Christa Elliott
To attract today’s top job seekers, employers need to put their best faces forward. This means not only offering competitive compensation and stellar benefits, but also cultivating an employer brand that tells candidates, “Your search is over! You belong here.” But the job market is constantly changing, and the job seekers and employees of today aren’t going to be wooed by yesterday’s branding tactics. Innovation in branding should be a strong and focused effort for maximum impact.
“[Job seekers want] excitement—will this be a job or an experience?” Lori Hock, CEO Americas, Hudson says. “They want opportunities for learning, growth, cultural fit, and alignment to the company’s values.”
Hock also emphasizes the importance of modern workplace considerations, such as a healthy work-life balance, to candidates. If a company makes an employer-brand promise, they must deliver; otherwise it won’t take long for a new employee to realize they’ve been tricked into coming on board. “Unfortunately, these are the stories they share with their friends and peers in the market as well,” Hock adds. This category of social sharing—made more accessible by employer review sites such as Glassdoor—has profoundly changed the way employers think about and utilize their brands. After all, the accessibility of review sites means that one employee’s negative feedback has the potential to deter hundreds of candidates from applying.
“Candidates are seeking transparency, a real glimpse into a company’s culture, and the amount of information available to them is unmeasurable,” says John Wilson, founder and CEO of WilsonHCG. “Organizations are now glass houses, therefore authentic, consistent, and accurate messaging is critical.”
In the past, when the concept of an employer brand was relatively new, the focus was almost exclusively on cultivating a company’s distinct “personality” and values and then using that brand to attract new talent. Although the talent acquisition function is still front-and-center, the marketing side is stronger and the target demographic for branding has expanded to include current employees.
“Talent acquisition professionals are increasingly becoming marketers,” says Barry Hirschman, head of talent acquisition at Linde Americas. “I see companies like Linde continue to increase their social media footprint for candidate attraction and divesting more capital expenditure to support, as well as investing in more retention resources as a result.”
The increased use of employer brand as a vehicle for employee retention is unsurprising. One 2015 study from Workforce Panel and Gallup found that 51 percent of employees are considering a new job. Many experts believe that lower unemployment rates and an increasingly millennial-dominated workforce make retention a critical branding consideration.
Developing a brand that speaks to an employee’s values and professional goals is an invaluable tool for keeping that employee on board, as is making sure that an employee is a good cultural fit for the organization before they’re hired. “There’s a greater shortage of talent than there used to be because the unemployment rates are lower, there are more people retiring, and there are more people changing jobs on a more frequent basis,” says NelsonHall HR Outsourcing Research Director Gary Bragar. “It’s more important than ever to have the right employer brand to help with retention because [millennials] change jobs more frequently than other employee populations. So, I think now there’s a focus on doing things that are more interactive with candidates.” Bragar cites human resources management software and services provider ADP as one example of a company taking an interactive approach to employer branding. Specifically, for one of its clients, Follett Corporation, to increase candidate engagement, the company upgraded its website to be more interactive by adding a gamified feature in the form of a virtual scavenger hunt that ask a series of questions and then rewards correct answers by moving candidates through a virtual maze. In addition, the interactive website allows candidates to instantly chat with recruiters.
And gamification is just the beginning. According to Hock, employers are finding many innovative ways to create memorable experiences such as adding story-telling videos and testimonials to their careers pages and even rethinking the online application.
“[Some employers] have created a more memorable job application process,” Hock says. “Once candidates complete a job application, they are taken to a landing page where they can select a charitable cause that the company supports, and the company will make a donation on his or her behalf. It’s a clever way to leverage charitable donations that the company is already giving in order to create a more memorable experience for a candidate.”
An interactive and personal brand experience must also be coupled with a strongly defined mission in order to appeal to job seekers. Doing so will ensure that incoming candidates understand and embrace organizational values, which can also reduce turnover in the long run. In fact, a 2015 Deloitte study, Becoming Irresistible, found that “mission-driven” companies have 40 percent higher levels of retention, and they tend to be first or second in their market segment.
Employers must work hard to ensure that their mission speaks to candidates and that every employee hired, regardless of role, is a good cultural fit for the organization. This means revamping the company careers site and cultivating an employer brand—not just a consumer brand— for the organization.
This isn’t always easy. Establishing an employer brand can be especially challenging for organizations with well-known consumer brands because candidates may have an oversimplified idea of what the organization does. This was the case for Girl Scouts USA.
“Everyone knows the [Girl Scouts] brand but not the employment brand. They know the Girl Scouts and they know we sell cookies, but they don’t know what it really means to be working for the Girl Scouts. People still sometimes ask me do men work there?’” says Valerie Egan, talent acquisition leader for the nonprofit organization.
Despite this hurdle, Egan used distinct career-site branding, testimonials, and a strong social media presence to illustrate what Girl Scouts USA, as an employer, is all about. They came up with an employment tagline “Your career is our future” and fortified their career website on LinkedIn as well. All of these efforts served to strengthen the brand and improved the candidate experience for potential hires—and Egan has more ideas up her sleeve.
“The Girl Scouts have awards every year for certain people and projects, so what I want to do is take a picture of the person receiving their award and put that up on LinkedIn or the website,” she explains. “That way, when people look there, they can see all of the new things that are going on, other than the job posting.”
And social media sites such as LinkedIn are the perfect marketing outlets to keep job seekers and employees alike informed about the people, events, and initiatives that compose the larger brand.
Employers are now promoting their brands on an increasing number of online channels, and it is no longer enough to contain a brand to a single website or a candidate interview. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are just a few of the places to showcase employer brands, and social media can be excellent tools for recruiting passive candidates.
“Social media has become the primary touchpoint for interacting with an employer brand. In many cases, potential candidates may start following a company simply because they like a product, not because they’re actively looking for a job,” says Amy Wrocklage, director of transformation services for Seven Step.
“Regarding different social media platforms, we have found that when promoting a brand to passive job seekers, Twitter and Facebook are most effective. For active job seekers, LinkedIn is the best resource for networking and job searching.”
The reason why social media works as a branding tool is twofold: First, it brings the brand to channels that the job seeker is likely already using; second, because social media lends itself to frequent updates, using it shows job seekers that the employer brand is current. And regular updates may be the deciding factor for job seekers deciding whether or not to apply. A 2016 study from Glassdoor found that 69 percent of job seekers are likely to apply to a job if the employer actively manages its employer brand by responding to reviews, updating their profile, sharing updates on the culture, work environment, and more.
“If you’re not consistently updating these pages and engaging in conversations on them, you will absolutely lose out on talent to your competition,” explains Wilson. “These platforms are engaging ways to showcase employee engagement, team highlights and unique company information.”
He also recommends having a specific social media strategy with metrics attached: “The social media platforms that are most effective vary by industry and company. The only way to test this and see what works best for your employment brand is to invest in multiple channels and then measure your data to learn where you’re seeing the highest return rate. You absolutely have to measure and collect data on these platforms or you’re never going to learn what works best for your organization.”
Best Practices for Employer Branding
There are many effective ways to cultivate and market an attractive career brand, but organizations would be wise to consider certain tried-and-true strategies when setting out on this mission. Here are a few best practices to help get the process started:
Know the consumer brand. In order to set their employer brand apart from their consumer brand, HR professionals must have a solid understanding of what the public is saying about their organization. After evaluating the public brand, it will be easy to take the company values that align with expectations for incoming employees, while trimming away the public branding elements that are less relevant.
Get personal. Job seekers want to know how they will fit into the organization—not just in terms of their job functions, but also in terms of company culture and initiatives. For this reason, organizations should steer clear of stock photos and generic messaging and instead use real employee’s faces and experiences as the foundation of their employer brand. They should also communicate all of the unique benefits and perks—how being an employee will positively impact their life.
Ask employees. Not sure where to begin when building an employer brand from the ground up? Ask employees— and particularly top performers—what attracted them to the organization and why they love working there. This can be accomplished through surveys or focus groups, but ultimately, the goal is to attract new employees of the same caliber. After the brand is established, it’s also important that employers are familiar with it and can serve as brand ambassadors.
Spread the word. An employer brand is nothing if it’s confined to a single, sparse careers page. HR professionals can attract both active and passive candidates by disseminating branded content on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.