Recently, I’ve been chatting to a fair few companies about the challenges they’re facing as hirers.
One was consistent—employer branding. I actually found this heartwarming because it means more companies are beginning to think about how candidates perceive their brand, not only customers.
Off the back of those recent conversations, I decided to share some practical tips on how to establish a strong employer brand.
- What is employer branding?
- How to get started
- Running an EVP project
- Creating an employer brand
- Measuring results
What Is Employer Branding?
In the simplest sense, your employer brand is how you appear to the world as an employer.
It’s not just about the content you put out there. Employer branding, like "regular" branding, is a combination of your company values, reputation, perception, workplace culture, and unique point of view.
This is really important to potential employees, and also your customers, investors, and other stakeholders to know that your organization lives by its values. A study by Career Arc found that 64% of consumers stopped purchasing from a brand after hearing news of poor employee treatment.
A good employer brand attracts candidates, but a great employer brand attracts the right candidates.
How To Get Started
When they start thinking of employer branding, a lot of companies immediately think of the story they will tell candidates or the social media posts they will put out there.
That will come with time, this is about more than recruitment marketing.
First, we will need to dial it back to the foundation of what will eventually become your employer branding—the employer value proposition (EVP).
Figuring out your EVP, just like you have to do when marketing to a consumer, is vital. It really helps to distill your organisation's DNA, values, and unique challenges to solve, so you then have a clear vision of what to present to people.
Now, you may have heard that EVP exercises can take months and are usually only conducted when things go horribly wrong. This is sometimes true, but here are a few other use cases that can really benefit from even a quick check on the EVP:
- You are just starting to hire for a brand new startup—focusing on the kind of company you want to build will create a focal point for your EVP.
- Recent growth—quite a few people have joined at the same time, has that changed the culture? Does that change need to be acted upon?
- You are noticing that employee engagement is not where it should be, especially if the dip in engagement scores is in the first few months after someone has joined. Check with an EVP exercise. What are people being told when they are candidates and how does that differ from their reality as employees?
- Recent round of redundancies—something quite obviously went wrong, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate your ways of working.
Tip: One way to reframe the EVP for leadership is the employer promise: what will someone working here get for what they will give?
Taking care of the EVP is everyone's job but, when it needs to be re-evaluated, oftentimes it is best conducted by HR or Talent as people usually feel like they can open up more.
Running An EVP Project
As mentioned above, a project around setting or checking the relevancy of the EVP can take a while. But, with the right preparation, the project can be delivered within a quarter (start planning early and keep everyone updated on the time commitments you will need).
Here, broadly, are the step and what you need to cover in each:
Step one - surveys
To set the tone, create a questionnaire for leadership asking them to hold a mirror up to themselves and think about:
- What makes us unique?
- Why should people come to work here?
- What are challenges unique to our company?
- What are the unique opportunities/benefits?
- What is our ideal employee persona? (here you may need to explain that we are not looking for an example of a specific person, but the immutable qualities people have, such as curiosity, bravery or empathy).
- Are we attracting those people? If yes, what are we doing right? If not, why not?
- Are we at the place we want to be as a company? What is missing? What will take us there?
- What would you like the experience of every employee to be working here? (give prompts to be more specific so they don’t respond with “Good” e.g. “Challenging, but rewarding” or “A great opportunity to develop and learn”)
- How do you think we can appeal to people we want? How would you rate what we are currently doing?
- What would be the work tagline of our work environment? (e.g. Google is “Build for everyone”, Lego is “Succeed Together”)
- From 1 to 10, what makes the organisation an attractive employer?
- Great team
- Motivating supervisors
- Modern workplace
- Flexibility at work
- Ability to work from home
- Educational programs
- Ability to grow within the company
- The company culture
You can use these questions for the rest of the focus groups as well!
Then create another questionnaire for team leads (if you have that layer) asking similar questions. Often they are the between leadership and individual contributors so they have a unique perspective
Lastly, create a third questionnaire for individual contributors.
Tip: some useful tools here are Typeform, Google Surveys, Surveymonkey.
Step two - focus groups
Create and run a focus groupo for each of the groups above to discuss their answers (starting with leadership).
If you have a lot of new joiners, perhaps split the individual contributors group into tenure to see if there’s a difference.
Make sure to communicate widely that you’re also open to 1:1 chats with anyone who wants to have one (not everyone can participate equally in groups).
Tip: have a summary of each group’s results ready and a set of open questions to encourage a conversation.
Step three - analysis
Analyze the feedback from the surveys and focus groups. Look at:
- What are the recurring themes
- What are the areas of concern?
- What are we doing well?
- Quick fixes anyone’s suggested.
Tip: after analysis, present back the leadership team to help them understand the differences between what they thought the employee experience was and what it actually is.
Step four - creation
Decide if you’re going to lean-into the challenges or present the company you’re working toward.
Work with the marketing/design/product team to work out tone of voice, collateral, channels etc.
Tip: Keep track of the perceptions from candidates.
Running an EVP project can sometimes be a tough process as you are candidly holding up a mirror to your own organization, and what looks back isn't always pretty.
It is important to communicate widely and openly to everyone that this exercise is happening.
Great suggestions and opinions can come from anywhere and, if someone is struggling, it lets them know you're making an effort and they're encouraged to speak up. Open yourself up to 1:1 conversations and encourage everyone else to speak openly about wins and issues as well.
When you've finished this exercise you have the information you need to go ahead and start building or rebuilding your employer brand.
Creating An Employer Brand
Now you have your target audience (candidates but also the ideal employee persona) and you have your strategy and data on what your organisation actually is (your EVP), what to do next?
Let's say you are in an organisation that has some great aspects, a purposeful mission for example, but maybe some of the cultural artefacts are still not where they should be?
Perhaps people feel a bit overworked, or it's been a tough period for the company.
How do you create an employer brand for these tough situations?
For starters: do not lie!
Speak to leadership and present them with these options:
- We can drastically change the way we work in hopes of turning the ship around and into the right course. After that we present the newly changed model as the model of work in the EVP (this could be a change of culture, way of working etc.), perhaps documenting our change as part of the employer brand story.
- We can own the challenges and lean into them by being transparent with people about what they will get working here, but also all the challenges and that it is perhaps not for the faint of heart.
- Give people an idea of where you are and where you strive to be. Again with transparency and humility and getting people to believe in the steps you have made so far, and the kind of organisation that can be built should they join you.
In all of these options, there is one common thread: transparency. You have to be honest because trying to paint a rosy picture, when in reality it is just a façade, will 1) attract the wrong people and 2) create a revolving door of disappointed employees.
This is the starting point of your story because an employer's story is not just about how the founders sat around a table once and created this business in a garage! It is the living breathing story of the people currently working there... as well as the story about the garage.
When deciding on how you want to come across that should also be something that informs how you structure the hiring process. Does your organisation value transparency? Live and breathe that with your candidates as well—employee experience starts with candidate experience!
Related Read: Best Recruitment Marketing Software for Hiring Staff
Tone Of Voice
Quick highlight on the tone of voice (ToV). I've seen a lot of companies recently try too hard with what they perceive will resonate with the widest audience (the meme of "How do you do fellow kids?" comes to mind).
Here are my tips:
It's OK to be exclusive with your tone of voice but it's not OK to be exclusionary.
What I mean by that is if you are a casual company in the way you communicate and work, by all means, reflect that in job descriptions, social media posts, etc. You use emojis at work and :partyparrot: is your every 3rd comment? Go for it!
However, if, for example, you are a UK-based company that wants to recruit globally, tone it down on the jokes that may rely on people's understanding of plays-on-words, puns in English, or understanding of British cultural tropes.
Want to be transparent about the current tough situation you are going through? Absolutely—talk about it and what you are doing to alleviate it (i.e. hiring people because you are undergoing such growth that the current team can't keep up!).
But don't go overboard on talking to people like they are about to join Fight Club! "Only the brave dare apply?" This isn't a reality TV show!
You can be honest and say “We’re still a growing company and you may need to wear many hats, but we will appreciate it and give XYZ in return (e.g. promotions, flexible time off, remote asynchronous working).
Don’t say something like “This will be the experience of a lifetime and, when you look back, anything else will pale in comparison with what you have achieved here at this company. You will need to work harder than you’ve ever worked before, but the reward will be the greatest addition to your legacy.”
The latter is a real example I’ve seen. It’s very exclusive and is also rather obnoxious. What people want to leave as a legacy is highly subjective and may not involve work at all.
Now that you have all the ingredients, it’s time to create a checklist to see if you’ve touched upon everything that may need a revision or change to line up with the new EVP and employer branding. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Job board company descriptions
- Job postings/job descriptions
- Guidance for interviewing (I’ve written an article about this)
- Guidance for everyone on how to tell the story of the company (recruitment, sourcing, leadership, interviewers, hiring managers)
- Any candidate-facing material, such as public-facing handbooks (Notion is becoming popular for that)
- Any internal-facing Wiki's, knowledge bases etc.
- Any marketing guidance for social media posts.
Just like with marketing there are a few ways to measure the contributions and effectiveness of an employer brand.
The more you get your new employer brand out there and it resonates with people, the more applications you should get and the easier talent acquisition will become.
Additionally, you should also be getting the right kind of applications, so you should see your conversion rate from applications to screens improving.
This is something perhaps to take a look at once people are hired, so a longer-term metric. Check if engagement remains the same or there is a dip after the "honeymoon period".
If you've done a full EVP and worked hard to fix some issues, another nice upside is that employee retention will likely increase as well.
If you haven't already, implement a candidate feedback survey (most ATSs should help you automate that), and perhaps you can build in a question like "What was your experience with what you thought the company and role were based on the job ad vs what things were once you spoke to us?"
Related Read: An Easy Guide To Employee Surveys (With Questions)
Creating an employer brand can be a really exciting time for reflection and the starting starting point for many impactful internal projects as well!
If you're in Talent, collaborate with human resources (if they’re separated), to make sure you're addressing anything that pops up that might need investigating.
A great employer brand is not only a window into your company, it is an open door that invites potential candidates in to experience working alongside you and solving the challenges in this world that you seek to overcome.
Good luck with your employer branding efforts, drop me a note in the comments or in the community if you need any advice.