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.
For example, 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. To streamline the process of attracting the right candidates, consider leveraging advanced recruiting software to enhance your talent acquisition strategy
How To Start Building Your Employer Brand Strategy
When they start thinking of employer branding, a lot of organizations immediately think of the story they will tell candidates or the social media posts they’ll 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).
Fundamentally, this is the value employees get when they work for you. Think of it like an employer promise: what will someone working here get for what they will give?
Figuring out your EVP, just like you have to do when marketing to a consumer, is vital. It helps to distill your organization's DNA, values, and unique challenges to solve, so you then have a clear vision of what to present to job seekers.
Now, you may have heard that EVP exercises can take months and are usually only conducted when things go awry.
This is sometimes true, but here are a few other use cases that can benefit from even a quick check on the EVP:
- You’re 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?
- 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’s time to re-evaluate your ways of working.
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.
How To Run 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 steps 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 ask questions such as:
- What makes us unique?
- Why should potential employees come to work here and why do existing employees stay?
- What are the challenges unique to our company?
- What are the unique opportunities/benefits?
- What is our ideal employee persona/ideal candidate? (here you may need to explain that we aren’t looking for an example of a specific person, but the immutable qualities people have such as curiosity, bravery, or empathy).
- Are we attracting those job candidates? 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 organization an attractive employer?
- Great team
- Motivating supervisors
- Modern workplace
- Ability to work from home
- Educational/development programs
- Ability to grow within the company
- The company culture
Hint - some of these questions can be used as part of a focus group as outlined in step two below.
Then create another questionnaire for team leads (if you have that layer) asking similar questions. Often they are the link between leadership and individual contributors so they have a unique perspective.
Lastly, create a third questionnaire for individual contributors as well. You will likely need to rework some of the questions and you can make it a bit shorter and focus on what you want to hear from the colleagues in the team and who they want to work with the most.
Some useful tools here for these surveys are Typeform, Google Forms, SurveyMonkey.
Step two - focus groups
Create and run a focus group for each of the groups above to discuss their answers (starting with leadership).
If you have a lot of new hires, perhaps split the individual contributor's group into tenure to see if there’s a difference in how they experience things like the work culture, perks, onboarding, and any other elements you want to explore more about (could be a great source of employee testimonials too so keep an eye out!).
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).
Top tip: have a summary of each group’s results ready and a set of open questions to encourage a discussion and for people to speak up further.
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 as an employer?
- Is there a gap between the ideal employee experience and current experience?
- Quick fixes anyone’s suggested.
Tip: after analysis, present your findings back to the leadership team to help them understand the differences between what they thought the employee experience was and what it actually is.
Step four - EVP creation
Until now you’ve been arming yourself and your leadership team with information. It's time to act on it.
Use the information that you’ve gathered to create the persona of the potential candidates you want to target, and the discovery around what make your company unique you are to tell them about you!
If you have a pretty big gap between where you are and where you want to be, decide if you’re going to lean into the challenges and be transparent or present the company you’re working toward in an aspirational approach.
From here you can create your EVP doc which should contain:
- Company mission, vision, purpose
- Company values and any other behaviours towards work that are tenets of the team
- Marketing details like target persona, tone of voice etc. so that any content created has a format to follow.
Running an EVP project can sometimes be a tough process as you're candidly holding up a mirror to your own organization and what looks back isn't always pretty.
It's 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/rebuilding your employer brand.
Now you have your target audience (candidates but also the ideal employee persona), and you have your strategy and data on who you are, what to do next?
Let's say you’re in an organisation that has some great aspects, a purposeful mission for example, but maybe some of the cultural artifacts 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 and your retention will be non-existent.
This is the starting point for your story because an employer's story is not just about how the founders sat around a table once and created the business in a garage.
It’s 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.
Is one of your organizational values transparency? Live and breathe that with your candidates as well—employee experience starts with candidate experience!
Once you have a direction you want to go in e.g. one of the three options above, you have the starters of what your employer brand guidelines should be. From there you can go with the classic marketing and look at tone of voice, etc.
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 to line up with the new EVP and employer brand.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Job board company descriptions
- Job ads/job descriptions
- Guidance for interviewing
- Guidance for everyone on how to tell the story of the company (recruitment, sourcing, leadership, interviewers, hiring managers)
- Any candidate-facing material e.g. public-facing handbooks (Notion is becoming popular for that), careers page / careers site.
- Any internal-facing Wiki's, knowledge bases etc.
- Any marketing guidance for social media presence and posts (don’t forget your company profile and description on platforms like Linkedin, Glassdoor and others).
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.
Employee Engagement and Retention rates
These are something perhaps to take a look at once people are hired, so a longer-term metric. Check if engagement remains the same or if there is a dip after the "honeymoon period", or worse people just end up leaving altogether! Retention and Engagement are often very closely related.
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?"
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 how 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.
Creating an employer brand can be a really exciting time for reflection and the starting point for many impactful internal projects.
If you're in talent acquisition, 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’s an open door that invites potential candidates 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.
More resources to help you attract and hire the best talent for you:
- How To Create An Efficient, Sustainable Growth Hiring Plan
- How To Create A Great Candidate Experience (Even Through Rapid Scaling)
- Recruitment Budgeting: Everything You Need To Know + Example
- Recruitment Marketing: What It Is And 10 Effective Tactics
- How to Create An Attractive Careers Page to Get Better Applicants
- How To Write A Zinger Job Description
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