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 the recent conversations, I decided to share some practical tips on how to establish a great employer brand.
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 values, reputation, perception, and unique point of view.
This is really important to candidates, and also your customers, investors, and other stakeholders to know that your company 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.
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, especially if your company is not too big, the project can be delivered within a quarter (start planning early and keep everyone updated on the time commitments you will need).
Here is a process I’ve run before:
It can sometimes be a tough process as you are candidly holding up a mirror to your own organization, and what looks back is not always pretty.
Starting with leadership is always a great way to kick things and set the tone. Get them to think about things like:
What makes us unique?
Why should people come to work here?
What are challenges unique to our company?
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?
You can also delve deeper into specific aspects of the company and ask the leadership to rate how well they think the organization is doing. Then run the same exercise with the rest of the company and see if any differences occur.
Some questions to ask leadership to set the tone:
What are the specific challenges of working at this organisation?
What are the unique opportunities/benefits?
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”)
Who would the ideal employee persona be for this organisation e.g. are we looking for entrepreneurial, analytical, creative?
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?
Flexibility at work
Ability to work from home
Ability to grow within the company
You can use these questions for the rest of the focus groups as well!
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 a 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. 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!
Tone of voice
Quick highlight on the tone of voice (ToV). I have 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 or 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 it 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:
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.
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 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?”
Creating an employer brand can be a really exciting time for reflection and can be a starting point for many internal projects as well! If you are in Talent, collaborate with HR (if they’re separated), to make sure you are 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 people in to experience working alongside you and solving the challenges in this world that you seek to overcome.
As always, good luck, and drop me a note in the comments or in the community if you need any advice.