Every organization has an employer brand. Your employer brand is the perception of your employee experience — and it can make or break your recruiting efforts. Whether you’re perceived as an employer of choice or a purveyor of bad employee experiences influences the number of candidates applying to work for your organization — and the length of their stay.
“Your employer brand is what someone thinks it’s like to work at your company,” says James Ellis, an employer brand speaker and host of The Talent Cast podcast. “Every single company has an employer brand, but it’s up to you to invest in it.”
Investing in understanding and communicating your authentic employer brand is one of the best things you can do for your recruiting strategy. Here’s how you can take control of your employer brand and attract the right talent for your organization.
Understand Your Unique Employee Offering
Job seekers today are looking for more than just a paycheck. They’re looking for a sense of purpose, professional development and career growth. As you activate your employer brand, tap into the unique value your company provides employees beyond competitive pay, Ellis suggests. For example, this could be paid volunteering hours or a healthy work-life balance.
Find out what your existing employees perceive as most attractive about your brand. “Start with research,” says Alyssa Bani, an employer brand strategist at exaqueo. “It doesn’t have to be costly; you just need to know, at a baseline level, what are the attractors, realities and detractors of your employee experience.” This could be as simple as talking to a diverse group of employees and recording responses or as in-depth as conducting surveys or focus groups.
You might find that perceptions of employer brand vary between job roles and departments. Just keep in mind that your senior leaders and stakeholders aren’t the target audience for most open positions at your organization, and they shouldn’t necessarily drive your employer branding decisions. “What resonates for the C-suite probably isn’t going to be the same thing that resonates with your larger employee and candidate audience,” Bani points out. For example, repetitive, physical tasks may not appeal to innovative thinkers looking for growth, but they could be the perfect match for candidates with an operational mindset and an interest in stability.
Top executives may want to purge aspects of your employer brand that they perceive as negative, but those are a part of your unique employee offering, too. “What you market as your employer brand has to be authentic to your organization,” Bani says. Don’t over-promise to appear better or simply repeat your competitors’ branding tactics. You have to be honest with candidates.
“The risk of selling false pretenses is increased turnover down the road, among other effects,” Bani says. You may move those candidates down the hiring funnel, but once they’re through the door and aren’t experiencing what they've been promised, they’ll feel disillusioned and leave. And they probably won’t have good things to say about your company.
Align Your Employer Branding with Authentic Experiences
To build on that authenticity, your brand has to be aligned across the organization, from external marketing and recruiting efforts to actual employee experiences. Your brand is limited by how employees perceive working for you. That often comes down to HR policies. “The policies developed by HR dictate what your employer brand can or can’t be,” Ellis says. “You can’t say certain things if the policies don’t back it up.”
Stringent policies, such as making employees come to work sick or being inflexible with leave, lead to a poor employee experience and, consequently, bad employer branding. You can’t advertise a great work-life balance if the actual experience doesn’t back it up. Conducting research to codify your brand may bring up bad employee experiences, and these are part of your brand whether you want to acknowledge them or not. To change the brand you have to change the experience, but until that happens don’t lie to candidates about what they can expect.
Conversely, make sure that candidates see what’s great about your employee experience. If you’ve recently upped your game on diversity and inclusion initiatives, for example, make sure that’s reflected in your landing page and branding. “When a candidate clicks on your landing page to see if it's a place where they want to work, they want to see people that look like them,” says Veronica Jenkins, head of global talent and co-founder of Hive Talent Acquisition Firm. “Every way you communicate, from images to text, is important.” This helps you attract candidates who align with your brand and initiatives.
Partnerships across HR can be beneficial as well, Bani says. In order to pull the employer brand through the entire employee lifecycle, stay in touch with the gatekeepers of employee experience at every level (such as compensation and benefits).
Even if you already have employer branding messaging out there, it’s important to evaluate it periodically, Bani says. This can be done when there are seismic shifts at the company (like a merger or acquisition), global impacts on the economy (COVID-19), or once every year or two as a matter of course. “Test messaging on employees to make sure that your brand still aligns with them,” Bani suggests.
To ensure maximum brand alignment, reach out to your organization’s marketing department. Your employer brand should complement your consumer-facing brand. And HR and recruiters can learn a lot about branding and creative from the marketing team, Bani points out.
Appeal to the Needs of the Modern Job-Seeker
Employer branding has to appeal to modern job-seekers, who are most likely to come from the millennial or gen Z generations. In fact, by 2025, millennials are projected to make up 75% of the global workforce. And as the decade progresses, more and more generation Z workers will enter the workforce. So what motivates those generations?
“Millennial job-seekers are more motivated by purpose and a desire to change the world than previous generations,” Ellis says. The past eight years of relative stability meant that people entering the workforce during this time largely had their needs met, he says. This gave many millennials the freedom to pursue a purpose outside of meeting their immediate needs. Gen Z job-seekers, on the other hand, are coming of age in chaotic times. Consequently they tend to be anxious and risk averse. They are looking for a job with stability and growth opportunities.
Tailor your branding to appeal to both a sense of purpose and job stability and development. For example, you might market an entry-level management role as a chance to build skills while guiding others to success and self-sufficiency. This taps into both self-preservation and a sense of mission.
These are some basic guidelines, but to be more specific requires research. “Once you understand the broad strokes,” Ellis says, “the real power comes from learning what speaks to your focus groups and finding your audiences’ specific wants and needs.” This could include asking existing employees what attracted them to that role or conducting external research on your candidate pool.
The candidate experience is another priority for the modern job seeker. After all, how you treat candidates is generally a reflection of your employer branding. “At the core it’s about being treated as a real person and not just an application,” Bani says. “Regardless of role or industry, candidates want clear communication and an honest hiring timeline.” Talking to your employees can provide value here, too. Ask recent hires what was most helpful about the hiring process and what you can improve.
Share Employee Experiences to Attract — and Repel — Candidates
An authentic employer brand is vital for both attracting and repelling candidates. Many employers are hesitant to repel candidates because they perceive finding the right candidate as a numbers game: accept more applications and increase your chances of success. But employer branding offers a better tactic for attracting the right talent that produces better results.
First, it’s important to leave perceptions of jobs as “good” or “bad” behind. “Companies think about employer brand on a linear spectrum from bad to good,” Ellis says. But what’s considered “good” is subjective. It’s better to think of jobs as being right or wrong for individual candidates. A retail associate position, for example, isn’t a bad job, but it may not be the right one for a particular person. But there are people out there who thrive in that position. Sharing authentic employee experiences helps you find those people.
“It doesn’t matter that 99% of people are repelled by what you offer,” Ellis says, “because there’s that 1% who are motivated and passionate about what they can do with you.” Be specific about what the job entails to help the wrong candidates self-select out of the process. Candidates need to know what they might hate about a job in order to make an informed decision about employment.
Video is a great way to show candidates what working in a particular role is like. Video job postings or realistic job previews following an existing employee in that role can have a huge impact on your employer branding, and your bottom line. “Candidates will have a better idea of what’s being expected of them if they get to actually see it being done,” Jenkins says.
Share employee experiences that demonstrate why employees are so excited to be part of your team and invested in your brand. This gives candidates a glimpse into the employee experience and helps them align themselves with the expectations of the position. “Sharing those experiences front and center gives candidates a good indication of what type of company they’re applying for,” Jenkins says.