Employer Branding, whilst not a new topic, is a subject that has garnered much attention in recent years as organisations seek increasingly sophisticated ways to distinguish themselves from their competitors and peers. In the simplest sense, employer branding is the art and science concerned with the attraction, engagement, and retention of talent. As such, most published literature on the topic typically focuses on how organisations should build their reputation as a great place to work, what strategies they can adopt to enhance their employee value proposition and how to increase their talent pipelines. Whilst this is a great starting place for companies that are new to employer branding, it often fails to address some of the more nuanced themes that can manifest over time.
Some of the more radical proponents of employer branding have started to advocate new concepts for companies to contemplate when devising their employer branding strategies, so we thought it would be helpful to address some of these key themes here.
In Bryan Adams & Charlotte Marshall’s 2020 Employer Branding book ‘Give & Get’, they challenge the notion that the best employer branding strategies should focus less on attracting more talent and should instead aim to repel the masses. This concept of deterrence is often overlooked by organisations pursuing the more traditional methods of employer branding, which focus on building bigger talent pipelines based on positive candidate attraction techniques.
So, what do they advocate?
Traditional employer branding strategies are broken, tedious and cliched.
These strategies often focus on creating positive sentiment, which typically articulates a company’s strengths and benefits. They emphasise curating optimistic content and upbeat stories, in order to “sell” the company, with the typical mantra of, “Hey look at us, we’re a great bunch and this is a fantastic place to work, come join us.” The purpose of this is to reach a wider audience, build bigger talent pools and create more market engagement.
The problem, they imply, is that this strategy has the effect of creating ‘vanilla’ employer brands. Companies end up with a herd mentality, often using the same bland terminology to describe their workplace culture, whilst establishing indistinguishable corporate values, which make it virtually impossible to sound authentic and, more critically, unique.
You only have to look at the overuse of terms such as ‘honesty’, ‘integrity’, ‘respect’, ‘customer-centric‘ and ‘ethical’ in corporate value statements to see the issue. Not only do these repetitive company mantras make it difficult for potential talent to distinguish you from everyone else, but In many cases, it has the adverse effect of portraying your company as some utopian workplace, creating an unwarranted perception that fails to address the harsh truths and realities of what it is actually like to work there.
Companies should focus on being more genuine, truthful, and frank.
Employers should concentrate on being assertively authentic when building employer branding strategies, and move beyond the traditions of fixating on capable strengths, benefits, and opportunities. They should do this by being more open and honest, addressing the potential adversity and challenges potential employees will face when joining your business, and describing what it takes to thrive in your company. This will make them stand out from the crowd.
Whilst trying to create a connection with your potential target audience is critical, it is also imperative that organisations consider what they don’t want or what they aren’t looking for, in order to save valuable time and effort further down the hiring process.
For example, if your employees are typically used to working extremely long or unsociable hours, you need to be fully transparent about this from the outset. Similarly, if you have a top-down autocratic management culture, driven by daily metrics and key performance indicators, you need to consider how individuals who are more accustomed to operating in a more laissez-faire / self-managing environment will adapt. Likewise, if your company needs individuals who can self-manage with little supervision or guidance, or you have a business where individuals often work in isolation for long periods of time, you need to make this abundantly clear and emphasise this as part of your employer branding strategy.
Rather than trying to appeal to the masses, concentrate on creating an employer branding strategy that ONLY attracts those candidates that fit your ideal characteristics and competencies.
Everyone is unique and will have different personal motivators when considering a potential future employer. Therefore, by presenting a more rounded and realistic employer value proposition that promotes both the positive and detrimental aspects of your company, you are actually using your employer brand as a smart resourcing filter. Organisations should focus less on identifying more candidates and instead focus their time and resources on distinguishing the right ones. Whilst appealing to the mass market enables you to build bigger candidate networks, you run the risk of creating flawed or unsuitable talents pools. The perception you therefore create needs to match the reality, otherwise you risk populating your talent communities with individuals who are not hireable or are culturally misaligned to your overall company vision and purpose.
There are numerous anecdotes of people leaving jobs prematurely because the culture was not right, the role described to them at interview was different from the reality, the expectations that were set were seen as unrealistic or simply their values didn’t align. This is an expensive waste of time, money, and resources, which can easily be avoided with a more honest and robust process.
Creating a more authentic perception of your business builds trust and weeds out inappropriate talent.
Think about it yourself, how often do you to search online when you are looking to make a hotel or restaurant reservation, or buy a product or service? When you check an online review, how often do you question the validity if you only ever see positive reviews? Do you make a more balanced decision by checking the one- and two-star ratings as well?
Consumers are likely to question the authenticity of a product or service with only 5-star ratings, and the same applies here. By only portraying your business as a ‘5-star’ company, you are not providing a balanced perspective. By being more transparent and open, and setting true, realistic expectations about your working environment, you will automatically filter out non-eligible candidates, allowing you instead to focus on nurturing and cultivating relationships with those individuals that have a more realistic chance of being the right fit. In short, companies should spend as much time as possible on identifying who should not apply, as well as on those who should.
By allowing individuals to assess the risk, harsh realities and challenges of joining your company, versus the perceived benefits and rewards, they can self-evaluate and determine whether the opportunity is right for them. This ensures less time is wasted during a subsequent interview process and offers a higher change of hiring success. Failure to consider this could not only lead to an increased number of negative reviews of your company on sites like Glassdoor – which is bad enough – but you are also, potentially, adding unnecessarily time and costs to your hiring process, especially if your post-hire attrition rates are unnecessarily high.
What are the potential benefits?
- It saves time and money – how many times have you interviewed someone who was not the right fit and how easily could this have been avoided if a more transparent process were adopted earlier in the process?
- It is more authentic – which will make you stand out from the crowd.
- It is disarming; being sold to makes you more defensive, so individuals will be less guarded and more likely to be open about their ‘true’ motivators, wants and needs.
- It is more likely to increase quality-of-hire – as your smart filter will weed out inappropriate and unsuitable talent.
- It builds better candidate engagement – Individuals will feel a more genuine connection with your brand.
- It creates mutual trust and builds respect – after sharing the vulnerable and less desirable aspects of your business, those individuals that are still engaged with your brand are more likely to share your principles, beliefs, vision, and overall sense of purpose.
Whilst employer branding and talent attraction goes hand-in-hand, companies often overlook the questions, ‘who are they attracting?’ and ‘why?’, instead favouring systems and methods that, at their core, focus on appealing to the masses, and concentrate on building bigger talent pools.
However, despite widespread belief, talent acquisition is, at its core, a rejection game, as the vast majority of individuals who interact with your business over the years will simply not be hired. Their personal experience of your brand will therefore, typically, be negative. By creating a great candidate experience you can insulate against the general negative sentiment that might seep into the wider market. In addition to this, by improving the chances of finding a good match before you even consider embarking on a specific hiring project, you can reduce the overall likely fail rate.
In order for companies to build more targeted, relevant, engaged, and enriched talent ecosystems, you should reevaluate your employer branding strategy and develop more sophisticated employer value propositions, which are more honest and authentic representations of your company.
Get in touch
If you have any thoughts or comments on the topic that you would like to share with us, or if you are looking for ways to implement, build or improve your Employer Brand or Employer Value Proposition (EVP) within your business, please feel free to get in touch with me at email@example.com
If you would like to read more on this topic of Employer Branding and are looking for practical ideas, tools and strategies to help develop a ‘Give and Get’ strategy, I’d recommend acquiring a copy of the book which can be found here.
About the Author
Iain Flinn has worked in the recruitment, talent acquisition and staffing industry for over 20 years and is one of the co-founders here at Animate Search, a boutique executive search and senior appointments company.
Over the past 10 years Iain worked exclusively in the enterprise software and technology industries, enabling fast growing start-ups, privately owned VC/PE-backed, pre-IPO, and publicly listed vendors to scale their sales, marketing, technical and leadership teams across the EMEA region.
To stay in touch, please feel free to connect directly on LinkedIn.
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