Job applications are starting to receive the same scrutiny as any other purchasing decision. Instead of reading reviews on Amazon, candidates are turning to social media and to websites like Glassdoor to get the real scoop on companies.
It’s up to recruiting departments to make sure candidates like what they see. This is where a carefully planned employer branding strategy becomes critical.
We’ve tried to create a single guide that tells you everything you need to know about building your employer brand. Hopefully, we’ve managed it.
(P.S. This is a pretty long read as a result..!)
So, what is an Employer Brand?
“When asked the question, what is employer branding? My answer is simple, what’s the feeling you want candidates to have about your brand?
That feeling. That feeling that permeates your organization… 1 part values, 1 part culture, 1 part experiences… in essence, employer brand is your unique scent.” – William Tincup, President at Recruiting Daily
Your employer brand is your company’s identity, as William Tincup puts it, it’s your unique scent. It’s everything that makes you different, everything that makes you stand out.
Employer branding then is defined as a company’s ability to differentiate and promote this identity to a defined group of candidates that they’re interested in hiring.
Branding has always been a core tool for marketers looking to win over the hearts and minds of consumers – the fact that it’s now a crucial part of the talent attraction formula shows us the influence that marketing is having on recruiting.
Why does employer branding matter?
“Employer Branding is nothing new. Though you may only now be leaping on the bandwagon you already have an employer brand – it might not be the one you want.” – Matt Buckland, Head of Talent at Lyst
Matt Buckland is right:
You have an employer brand whether you try to shape it or not.
Every company has a choice to make. Do they want to try and cultivate their brand, or are they happy for candidates to make up their own mind about the company?
With the competition for the best talent getting fiercer by the day, employer branding is an important tool for companies trying to stand out from the crowd and attract top candidates.
Little wonder then, that over 59% of employers say that employer branding represents one of the key components of the organization’s overall HR strategy, while 55% of talent leaders see employer branding as the top investment priority in 2017.
Data from the Harvard Business Review shows that CEOs and HR leaders expect to make an increased investment into their employer brand over the next few years. By 2020, it’s likely to be a key part of most recruiting teams’ long-term strategy.
How to build your employer brand
Building your employer brand doesn’t happen overnight. Not only are there a number of different moving pieces involved, but you need to get everyone in your team on the same page.
Fundamentally, employer branding is split into two core areas.
Things your recruiting team can shape and things they can’t:
Employer branding: what you can shape
I thought about using the word “control” here instead of shape, but that would be missing the point.
The truth is, you can never totally control your employer brand.
Companies can cultivate and guide their employer brand through messaging, but they cannot totally control it – your brand boils down to what other people think, what people say about you when you’re not in the room. You can only influence this.
For companies thinking about their employer branding strategy, there are a few areas that it’s critical to focus on:
1. Careers site
The company careers site is one of the first places that interested candidates go to learn more about your company.
You need a site that is easy to navigate and lets people learn more about your company, mission, and jobs.
It almost goes without saying that your careers site needs to be mobile optimized. 94% of smartphone job seekers have browsed or researched jobs on smartphones – you need to be ready for them.
Everything that candidates encounter on your website, from copy to jobs, reflects back on your brand. Make sure that your careers site:
i) Highlights your EVP
EVP stands for Employer Value Proposition.
It sounds a little like jargon at first, but all EVP really means is the unique policies, programs, rewards and benefits that you offer candidates.
Simply put, it’s why people would want to join your organization.
“I’m surprised how few companies have a really good message that captures the essence of the company’s mission and why working there and being a part of that is exciting.” – Todd Raphael, Editor-in-Chief at ERE
Your EVP needs to be communicated at every stage of the hiring process, but it needs to be particularly clear on your website. This is where candidates come to research your brand. Whether they know it or not, they’re looking for your EVP.
ii) Provides credibility
What do you think candidates respond to better, corporate messaging or the words of your employees?
Employee stories, testimonials, and videos give candidates a look at what your organization is really like, and it’s a great way to make a more human connection with someone on your website.
iii) Uses clear job descriptions
Job descriptions should never be an afterthought.
Alignment with hiring managers is crucial here. You need to make sure that everyone is on the same page. You’ve invested time, energy and resources to bring a candidate to your website – you don’t want them to fall at the final hurdle because the job description was unclear or unhelpful.
2. Application experience
“I spent three hours customizing my resume for the job opportunity and writing my cover letter. Then it took me over an hour to trudge through the online application process. I couldn’t believe how difficult they made it.” – Anonymous candidate (source)
Sadly comments like this are pretty common.
There’s a severe disconnect over the application experience – the average candidate spends 3-4 hours submitting a single application, while 70% companies think it takes them less than an hour.
Hardly surprising then, that 60 percent of job seekers quit in the middle of filling out online job applications because of their length or complexity.
When you think about the time and resources that are spent getting candidates to the application form, it’s crazy to think that most companies lose nearly 2/3 of applicants during the process.
It’s like inviting someone to your house and then, instead of opening the door, making them crawl through the cat flap!
High dropoff rates lead to the loss of top talent, brand damage from candidates frustrated with the process and the higher costs associated with abandonment in cost-per-click recruiting models.
Some companies are doing this on purpose:
Around 50% of employers believe that the length of application processes is a positive because it “weeds out” applicants.
Good talent should be dedicated enough to fill out complex forms, while the lengthy process should screen out apathetic applicants.
In reality though, the opposite is true – the best candidates have plenty of opportunities in today’s job market. They aren’t as willing to jump through hoops, and will happily go where the grass looks greener.
One thing is for sure though – the people that apply to your company are well on their way to becoming brand advocates. An overly lengthy or complex process can change that, often leads to frustration and ultimately brand damage.
Taking your own application is the easiest way to walk a mile in your candidates’ shoes and see what needs to change. Apply with a fake name and details, and take an honest look at your process.
Does it make you more or less enthusiastic to work at your company? How does it make you feel about your employer brand?
3. Social media
Social media is currently the most widely used channel for companies looking to build their employer brand and attract applications. This isn’t surprising when we look at some of the data:
This isn’t surprising when we look at some of the data:
- ¼ of all job seekers use social media as their primary tool for job searching
- Seven out of ten 18-34 year olds report having found their previous job through social media.
- 50% of all recruiters rated candidates sourced from social media as “highest quality”
A social recruiting strategy clearly drives results, but what is the best way to integrate it into your employer brand?
Social media gives candidates a channel to interact directly with your brand and employees and provides a window into your organization.
The value of this shouldn’t be overstated.
9 out of 10 candidates would apply to a job when it’s from an employer brand that’s actively maintained.
“Active maintenance” means that a member of your team is responsible for joining relevant conversations, responding to reviews and messages, and giving candidates an attractive preview of the work environment, culture, and available opportunities.
Social media is an area where alignment with your marketing team is essential. You need to make sure that your messaging is consistent with your corporate and recruiting brands (which should share most of the same principles anyway!)
If you run into issues around account ownership, a simple solution is to set up separate social accounts for your recruiting team. The #HootsuiteLife account run by social media vendor Hootsuite is a great example of this. They have an account dedicated to giving candidates a look into their culture.
We’ve all seen social feeds populated by an endless stream of robotic job alerts. Hardly the best way to engage with people and build a brand following.
It’s not all about promotion. Even if your ultimate goal of posting to social media is increasing applications, you need to interact with people and start conversations; social media needs to be social!
Anyone who has spent any time in marketing circles will be familiar with the expression “Content is king”.
Content is the medium through which brands educate and build relationships with consumers. It’s central to the marketing process, and it’s an area that’s fast becoming important to recruiting.
Content (in the recruiting context) can be any piece of information that a candidate can easily consume.
Here are a few examples:
Where does content fit into the Employer Branding process?
“In recruiting today, it’s not only recruiters who are doing the research. With 85% of job searches starting with a search engine, top talent is searching for a company the same way they would any other purchasing decision – which is why employer branding is so critical.” – Matt Charney, Executive Editor at Recruiting Daily
Forrester Research suggests it takes up to 8 brand touchpoints to influence a consumer decision, (a touchpoint is just a fancy word for any interaction that someone has with your company). People rarely arrive at your website ready to buy (or ready to apply).
As recruitment blogger extraordinaire Matt Charney puts it, candidates are thinking about applications in the same way as they consider buying decisions. They want to be able to educate themselves about your company. They invest time in researching your company, product or role before deciding whether it’s a good fit for them.
Content is extremely important during this awareness and education stage. It gives candidates the ammunition they need to learn about your employer brand and plays a crucial role in their decision to apply.
If you’re wondering which types of content to start with, Candidate ID put together a pretty neat content map which maps content suggestions to the stage of the process that candidates are at.
The hidden benefit of employer branding content: better applicants
The longer a candidate spends in the ‘decision making cycle’, the more time they spend engaging with your content, the higher the likelihood that they’ll be a standout applicant and make a great new hire!
Why does this happen?
Well, the candidate has had time to self-qualify. They actually understand your company, the role, and what you’re looking for!
At a time when recruiters admit that they wouldn’t re-hire 39% of their recent hires, increasing the relevance of your applicants can make a big difference.
5. Employee advocacy
Your employees are your secret weapon.
We live in an age of unprecedented transparency – your employer brand has never been more shaped by the genuine stories and perspectives of your employees and alumni.
Candidates see employees as a window into the true nature of your organization. The way you leverage your team has never been more important…
i) The value of employee-generated content (EGC)
Is it any wonder that candidates trust the things that employees say more than your corporate messaging?
If you can encourage employees to share their own story, in either written or video form, it can be hugely valuable to your employer brand.
Here are a few narrative angles that are effective:
- “Day in the life” features that walk candidates through someone’s daily routine
- “Why I applied…” features where employees explain what prompted them to apply to your company
- “Why working at your company is different…” features that showcase an employee’s opinion on what makes you different from places they’ve worked before
For an interesting perspective on employee-generated content take a look at this weird and wonderful piece from James Ellis, Employer Brand Manager at Groupon that draws parallels between EGC and the political campaign of Donald Trump!)
ii) The dangers of Glassdoor
Glassdoor has been a mixed blessing for employer branding teams. Most company pages have a broad range of reviews; the good, the bad and the ugly!
There’s nowhere to hide. Poor treatment of employees, bad candidate experiences; everything is broadcasted for the world to see.
Most candidates will check your Glassdoor page during their job search. If your organization thinks strategically about the candidate experience and journey, then you should have nothing to worry about. If not, maybe it’s time to change.
Make sure that you respond to comments from candidates on Glassdoor.
There can be a lot, particularly if you’re working at a large organization, but actively engaging candidates that have taken the time to write a review (positive or negative) shows everyone that you care.
Well timed messages from your team will be able to fix many issues and complaints, and you’ll be able to harness the power of brand promoters more effectively.
Employer branding: The things that you can’t control
Your true employer brand includes factors that are outside your direct control.
- Media: how to different outlets talk about you?
- Friends and family: what does a candidate’s inner circle think about you?
- Consumer experience: what experience do people have when they buy from you?
- Consumer marketing: what is the messaging and approach of your marketing department?
- Word of mouth: what’s the word on the street?
The good news? Many of these factors are impacted by the things that you can directly influence.
Focus on aligning your recruiting brand closely with your consumer brand and providing a great candidate experience. Get this right and you should see a positive impact across these areas.
Employer branding definitions, terms, and glossary
Application dropoff – When candidates abandon your application process.
Candidate nurture – Communication sent to passive candidates or people that aren’t a fit for current roles. The goal is to keep them “warm” and engaged with your brand.
Employee advocacy – Active promotion of your company by your employees. This can be organic, or actively encouraged with advocacy programs.
Employer brand activation – Rolling out your employer brand strategy. Activation is often done in stages so that you can see the impact that your brand is having – is it generating the right kind of talent?
Employer branding agency – A third-party agency that you work with to articulate and execute your employer branding strategy and goals.
Employer brand maintenance – Active management of your employer brand and it’s perception by the market. In practice, this includes things like responding to tweets and Glassdoor reviews.
Employer branding campaign – An initiative with a clear branding objective (e.g. targeted events to increase diversity, employee testimonials to improve website engagement)
Employer branding strategy – Your goal. What you want to achieve by focusing on employer branding. Without a clear strategy, it’s all too easy to waste time and resources throwing different things at the wall, waiting for something to stick.
Employee generated content (EGC) – Content that is either created by your employees directly or ghostwritten on their behalf. This material gives your team a voice and is a very effective part of a successful employer branding strategy
Employer value proposition (EVP) – Your company’s unique value proposition. What makes you special?
Employer branding resources: taking the next step
Hopefully, this guide is something that has clarified the way you’re already thinking about employer branding. If you’ve enjoyed it, you’re probably asking what’s next.
What’s the next step?
Part of the issue with employer branding is that it can be pretty disconnected from the rest of the recruiting function.
You think that all of the time and resources that you’re investing into your brand are having an effect, but there’s no way to know for sure.
Recruitment marketing software like Beamery makes it easy to tie employer branding in with all of your other recruiting efforts. This isn’t the time or place for a sales pitch, but if you’re looking for ways to connect with more passive candidates, increase brand engagement and turn more website visitors into leads, then it could be worth taking a closer look here.
ii) Further reading
If you can stomach further reading after this beast, here are a few other resources that will help you think through your employer branding strategy:
- Recruitment marketing (10-day course): employer branding is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to master modern recruiting, you need to immerse yourself in recruitment marketing.
- Candidate engagement playbook: everything you need to know about communicating with candidates. From sourcing, to nurture, to re-engagement.
- Attracting better talent: actionable tactics and tools to help you improve the results of your employer branding campaigns.
We have an “ask”. If you found this guide helpful, we’d be very grateful if you shared it with your team or on social media. We spend a lot of time thinking about content here, and we’re always looking for more readers.
Even if we get just one more reader it will be worth it!