by Kate Russell

Your employer brand

The ability to attract and retain the best talent available is essential for any organisation. What is your employee proposition? What message are you putting out to possible recruits? Who are you targeting? Is your message consistent? The chances are that you have never even thought about these questions. Putting it another way, you wouldn’t dream of wasting money trying to position your brand to people not in your target market would you? But when it comes to building their dream team many employers don’t target the talent they want to attract.

Just as you seek to build a strong identifiable brand for your product or service, in today’s job market part of making a connection with the right talent is having a positive ‘employer brand’.

Your employer brand is what people say and think about your business as a place to work. It’s the view that employees, job seekers, and the public have of the business, from how you conduct yourself in the market, through to what they think it would be like to work for you. An effective employer brand presents your organisation as a good employer and a great place to work and can help with recruitment, retention and generally affect market perception of your company.

The employment branding process is the strategy and actions behind the employer brand, influencing internal and external perceptions, and building employee value proposition messages. It is a long-term strategy that can be tied to applicant quality and employee retention.

Good employment branding effectively communicates your organisation’s values, personality and culture to create the perceptions that you want employees and prospective employees to have. It affects every touchpoint the organisation has with the employee, starting with the recruitment and on-boarding process. It extends to every aspect of employment including training and development, support networks, the development of career paths and benefits and incentives, right through to their exit from the organisation and beyond.

The UK has lagged behind the US in using employment branding as a recruitment and retention tool, though it is starting to catch up now. Some examples of UK employer brands which align strongly with corporate brand values are Avon, Fitness First and VSO.

While a great advert can attract the attention of good quality candidates, to get people to want to work for you and attract applications it must be supported by a congruent employment culture, in other words: your employment brand.

Poor branding blinds candidates to what you have to offer. It’s like being in a supermarket and discovering that none of the products are labelled. All you can see are blank boxes, tins, and packets. You know what you’re looking for, but can’t work out what anything is. Are you picking up cat food, soup or chickpeas? It’s all too much like hard work so you leave.

This is what it’s like for job seekers researching your company, when you don’t have a clear employer brand. They have no way of knowing if your company is something they want to explore further. The way you market yourself as an employer to potential employees affects whether they want to work for you or not.

Having a clear message is vital. A survey carried out by US company CareerArc found that 75% of job seekers consider a company’s employer brand before applying for a job with them.

Don’t assume that employer branding is just for the big corporates. SMEs should make sure they are projecting the right employer brand too. Arguably the need to do so is greater than in large companies. There are some compelling reasons for doing so.

In companies where the culture, values and personality have been strongly embedded employers are likely to benefit from higher levels of employee engagement.

  • Strong employer branding can greatly increase application rates and improve the pool of talent from which to choose.
  • In the recruitment market where competition for the best talent is fierce it can help make your company stand out in a crowded market.
  • Companies with positive strong branding enjoy greater productivity because of the higher levels of engagement and motivation.
  • Strong employer branding results in higher retention rates, contributing to retaining skills and knowledge.

Getting and keeping good quality employees is expensive so it’s worth taking the time to get your employer branding right.

Developing Your Employer Brand

If you have employees you already have an employer brand. As long as you have employees, candidates and customers you have an employer brand, no matter how small your business. And as long as people can form an opinion (and express it to others), you have an employer brand. It is developed by default and simply means that your organisation has a reputation as a place to work. It may not be the reputation you would want, or that accurately reflects the internal reality of working for your organisation, but there is a brand.

What’s your employer brand? Jot down a few words to describe it. If you struggle to define it, prospective employees probably haven’t correctly understood your brand either. LinkedIn’s Talent Trends survey of employed people suggest that 56% of people say a reputation as a great place to work carries the most weight when they consider a job at a company. If you are not communicating your brand clearly it means you’re missing a trick.

Base your employer brand on research. Consider the following:

  • What are the most attractive elements of your business to both current and potential employees as a place to work?
  • What roles within the company are most critical to your success?
  • What do you need to do to attract and retain the best talent in these critical areas?
  • What are the typical characteristics and attributes of current employees?
  • What are the current perceptions of working within the organisation?
  • How are they affecting your current ability to recruit the best talent?

Find out what it is your audience wants. Ask people why they work for you. Understand what they identify with and what engages and motivates them. Talk to your current employees about what they like about working for your company and how they would sell their job to others. This can either be done as a one-off survey for a specific campaign, or as part of your ongoing employee satisfaction strategy. Coming out of this exercise you may well find you have to deal with some difficult responses. Be prepared to give some thought as to how to respond and whether it is appropriate to make changes. Keeping a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in your workplace is essential.

With a clear understanding of these areas you can then define an outline of where you are now, what you would like your employer brand to be and the steps required to get there, all of which form the basis for your employer brand strategy.

Be confident about what makes your business different. You can’t appeal to everyone so focus on what will attract the people who are the right cultural fit for your business. No one size fits all. Every company and every situation is different.

Be honest in the way you represent your employer branding. Don’t just say what you think people want to hear. Your existing staff won’t believe it and you’ll only attract and recruit the wrong person which could be very costly. Do what’s right for your organisation, not just what others have done for theirs.

Make your existing people part of your story. Some of the best employer branding tactics simply communicate high levels of employee engagement. Seeing people enjoy their work can be inspiring. Why not communicate some career success stories at the same time? For example, Deloitte’s @lifeatdeloitte Twitter account is managed by a new employee every week. Deloitte has taken the brave step of letting their employees share their stories, which publically reinforces the quality of the workplace. It’s brave but not foolhardy. Because there’s a good quality positive employer brand, it works.

Part of the employer brand story relates to benefits. Understand what matters to the people you want to employ and reflect their needs in the package. Not everyone is motivated by money. Being flexible and innovative with benefits can be highly appealing. Employers that help create harmony between work and home are magnets for top talent.

Remember that your employer brand can’t be forced onto employees. That means true employee engagement only happens if the brand is embedded into the culture of the organisation, lived and breathed by everyone and underpinned by a leadership team that leads by example. If it’s clear the management team don’t believe in the brand values, even the very best internal communication campaigns won’t be able to instill a change in culture throughout the company.

Align your Employer and External Brand

Both your employer and external brand must be closely aligned in order to present your organisation consistently and effectively. If there is a discrepancy between how you present yourself to the outside world and how your employees view the company and what it is actually like to work there, your brand will have a confusing message and will fail to engage both external and internal stakeholders. Remember your employees can either be your organisation’s strongest brand ambassadors, or your biggest critics.

Whilst your employer brand will focus on engagement with potential and existing employees, it’s important to remember that most relationships between employees and the brand can actually start even before the recruitment process begins. You don’t have to be a big business to be a great place to work. If you invest in your employer brand you will build an environment where happy and engaged employees spread the word, build reputation and help lower recruitment and retention costs in the process.

Once you have the attributes of your target market you can define your brand in your recruitment activity. Here are the key elements to consider:

  • Describe the culture and rewards.
  • Show what success in the organisation looks like.
  • Introduce current employees.
  • Promote awards and accreditations such as ‘Top 100 employers’ or ‘Investors in People’.
  • Set out your commitment to corporate social responsibility and how that manifests.
  • Promote your career development and training structure.
  • Remember to treat all applicants with respect and courtesy. Whether they are right for the role or not, they have invested time and interest in your brand and are potential brand advocates and their opinions should not be disregarded.
  • Show your personality. Quite often companies build creative and innovative product brands but are conservative in their recruitment brand. It’s essential to make sure the personality of the business and the personality of the work environment are congruent. Brand your reception, canteens, workstations, meeting rooms and other communal areas to create a consistent brand message.
  • Be consistent with your message across all social and recruitment channels. Don’t confuse candidates with mixed messages and visuals. Consistency and frequency are the foundations of successful brand awareness.
  • Make yourself available. The internet provides candidates with considerable access to the employees within your organisation, and their views about working there.
  • Encourage your employees to talk about the good things you do, and if there are any negative comments or campaigns, try to approach them in a rational way. Remember that what goes on the internet is available for everyone to see, and that failure to acknowledge an issue could make you look dubious.
  • Don’t just leave creating and/or promoting your employer brand to HR. Everyone in the organisation is responsible for your employer brand, particularly your senior management team.

The benefits of investing in your employer brand can be realised in financial, time and reputational improvements so there is a strong business case for implementing as many of the above tips as you can.

Benefits of a Great Employer Brand

  • Reduced cost per appointment, brought about by better responses to recruitment adverts reducing the need to re-advertise, along with less dependency on recruitment consultants (as candidates will be better aware and apply directly).
  • Reduced time per appointment. An attractive employer brand will help your adverts enjoy a better and quicker response, plus you’ll find the candidates you want in less time.
  • You’ll get more speculative applications – candidates see and hear what you are doing, what it’s like to work with you – and they come to you. That’s great for your talent bank and reduces your cost per hire too.
  • Employee brand advocacy – engaged employees are proud of where they work, they tell their friends, their social networks – then they become ambassadors for your organisation and that’s good for your reputation, bringing many of the above benefits.

You don’t have to be a big business to be a great place to work. If you invest in your employer brand it will only be a matter of time before your employees are your best ambassadors.

Collect and measure data about your current recruitment processes to establish how effective they are. If you can, work out your current cost per appointment, the number of days taken to fill a job, effectiveness of recruitment channels and numbers of speculative applications so you’ll be able to measure progress as you develop your employer brand.

Monitor your Employer Brand

Once you’ve done all the work of creating your employer brand, keep it fresh. Reinforce it and remind employees of the qualities that first attracted them to your business. Deliver on the brand promises you have made to those employees, whether through reward and recogn tion, training and development or a clearly defined career path. Your reputation as an employer is built on perceptions that are matched by the actual experience of engaging with the brand.

Your employer brand will continue to grow and develop over time. Recognise the changing needs of your workforce and shifts in perceptions, and adapt accordingly. Employee satisfaction surveys, employee workshops and exit interviews can all provide invaluable insights.

Ways to Improve Your Employer Brand

Here are some tips on how to build and manage your company’s public perception.

Make Sure All Employees Know the Company Elevator Pitch

“What do you do?” is one of the first questions asked upon introduction in any social setting. The “What do you do?” moment is a good opportunity for an employee to get across the employer brand. To be successful employer brand ambassadors, make sure your staff are well-versed in the company’s ‘elevator pitch’.

Agree an ‘elevator pitch’ for employees to use when asked “What do you do?” that encompasses what they do and who they are doing it for.

Focus on Retaining Current Employees

Nurture and retain your current employees. Make sure they’re on the right seat on the bus. Proactively plan employee development and succession strategies. The more specific you can be with available opportunities, the better.

Promote the Stories of Your Top Employees

If you have great people with great stories, publicise them. Set aside time and money for top performing employees to talk about working in your company on social media. Let them post photos, videos, and messages to demonstrate how they live the brand. The site could be internal facing with the option to migrate certain approved content to a publicly facing career page. The dynamic content will allow candidates to experience the brand and dramatically help with search engine optimisation.

Employees as Ambassadors

Encourage employee ambassadorship through industry communities.

Coordinate content and social media efforts for maximum Impact

Take an integrated and coordinated approach to leveraging social media channels. For example, if you’re launching recruitment videos, have everyone in the company do it on the same day via their Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts. This will make a big splash and get more attention versus the information slowly disseminating over time.

Use Photos to Promote Your Brand

Photos are an amazing branding opportunity because they drive high levels of traffic and interaction. They’re a social engagement powerhouse. Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat can all help your brand by posting company products, workplace, awards, accolades and company events.

Update Your Company’s Profiles on Social Sites

When is the last time you looked at your company’s profile on all the job boards and social networks? Updating your profile page is the easiest and fastest thing you can do to improve your employer brand.

Optimise Your Career Page for Mobile

The most popular time to search for jobs is between 11am and 2pm on a Monday, which means they are looking for jobs at work. And since most users realise their computer use is moderated, they do those searches on their mobile phone.

Use Video to Show, Rather Than Tell, the Employee Story

No other medium in the world combines culture, message, and mission in a ‘show, don’t tell’ fashion as well as video does.

  • Ask some of your best employees to discuss what they love about their job.
  • Invite your best customers to a meeting and talk to them about how much they love your company and why.
  • Get members of the senior management team to do a weekly video highlighting employees and teams that have done something to build the company brand.