Employer branding: don’t get taken in by the waffle
Every few years our business lexicon gets invaded by a new cliche. Management speak like “Big data” and “social hiring”………….. vague terms that no one can really define but are liberally trotted out typically by vendors, consultants and conference speakers trying to impress you. The king of the management cliches at present and one that makes my skin crawl is…...’employer branding’. There I said it, well wrote it, but I was cringing when I did.
If you ever hear someone wittering on about employer branding I dare you to interrupt them and say….’define employer branding’. I bet most won’t give you a very good definition and will be suitably aghast that you even questioned one of recruitment’s current sacred cows but challenge it you must. Prick the pomposity bubble that we get sucked into. I read one article recently that urged all companies to create a “compelling employer value proposition”. There were few details on what that meant or how to implement it. In short it was just waffle. Companies spend fortunes and waste thousands of hours (I know I was part of one) designing internal value propositions to allow company recruiters to become ‘front line brand ambassadors’. THIS IS NONSENSE. STOP WASTING YOUR TIME AND MONEY.
Ok so mini rant over. Let’s examine what exactly people are referring to when they talk about employer branding, cut through the waffle and look at some specifics that you can actually do to boost your organisation’s perception amongst job seekers.
Wikipedia probably has the best definition of what an employer brand is:
“Employer brand denotes an organisation's reputation as an employer”
and therefore by extension, employer branding is the proactive process of using marketing techniques to communicate a perception of your company as a great place to work amongst current and prospective employees.
The overpaid and not very analytical consultant from Typical Vendor Inc will tell you that their software, training programmes and social media this that and the other will dramatically improve your public image as a great place to work. Well yes and no. Don’t for a moment buy into the idea that implementing some of their ideas will suddenly create a Tsunami of applications or that you will be batting away a flood of unbelievably talented people begging to work at your company. Sorry, ain’t gonna happen. Not even close.
Now all these vendors don’t want me to say this, particularly if you’re about to spend stack loads with them but the simple fact is this:
Your employer brand is 95% determined by the wider perception of your company amongst the general public. Google receives tens of thousands of applications every month for 6 reasons:
1. They’ve got lots of jobs to fill.
2. They are very profitable and still growing quickly which means tasty salaries and share options.
3. Working for Google looks damn good on your resume as it’s very tough to get in.
4. Prospective employees will know they will be involved in cutting edge work as Google is at the forefront of many industries.
5. Social kudos: “I work at Google”. Nothing more needs to be said.
6. It’s perceived to be a fun, innovative place to work.
Same with Apple, Nike, Procter and Gamble, Facebook and many others. Of those 6 points point 3 and 4 are probably the most powerful. To quote Steve Jobs when tempting John Sculley to join Apple…..”Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”. Only a very small percentage of candidates applying to Apple will have done so on the back of any employer branding work conducted by HR. Much more likely, the driving force will be a wider perception of Apple as a great place to work from articles in newspapers, from news reports seen about a new product launch and most crucially of all, by the public’s positive interaction directly with Apple products.
Now if you trotted down the street and asked Jo Public if he/she thought Apple, Google or Facebook was a great place to work they would probably say yes. Why? Well because these companies have vast PR operations that can pick and choose the media outlets they let in to film/write about them. Pictures of 20somethings skate boarding to the free cafeteria where the Michelin starred chef has just started serving, being careful to not crash into the people playing table tennis in the hallway.……..we’ve all seen it on the news. This is employer branding that money just can’t buy. These media pieces aren’t focusing on recruitment they just make the company look like a pretty cool employer, and cool companies don’t struggle to attract people.
For the average company with very limited media coverage (and by average I include even very big firms), you can spend hundreds of hours creating a set of internal values you may well live and breathe by. You can spend fortunes offering your staff paid leave to work on voluntary projects. You can spend $thousands on a glitzy corporate video placed on your careers section and it is still not going to make a huge difference. All the employer branding work in the world couldn’t compensate for the PR disaster that followed BP’s recent oil spill. In contrast, the PR that Apple received when launching the iphone or ipad was infinitely more powerful than anything the Head of Employer Branding could do (no idea if they have such a person but you get the gist).
My point is this: don’t believe the hype that is peddled by employee branding consultants. Even the most fantastic programme you develop will make only a marginal difference. If you want people queuing up to work for you then you need people queuing for your products. Very few firms can generate the kind of PR buzz that Apple can.
So if you’re not one of these media darlings can you portray yourself as a great place to work? Yes.
Can you use conventional marketing techniques to make more people aware that you are a great employer to work for who might not otherwise ever come across you?
Will that make a huge different to either the volume or quality of applicants you receive?
A bit, but not much.
The harsh reality is this: for the vast majority of companies you can do all the employer branding work you like and it will make only a very small difference in the number of people applying to you but (and this is the good bit) you can convert more people who come to your website from “just browsing” to “yeah, I really like the look of this company. I want to join”. You’re unlikely to get more people visiting your careers site but you can increase your application to visits ratio…..which is generally a good thing. You do this by creating a top quality careers portal, and that’s where your employer branding comes in:
Give employees time off to do fully paid charity work and highlight it on your careers page
Make a corporate recruitment video.
Spruce up your careers pages with innovative content: “5 reasons to join us”
Details all the company social/sports stuff your staff do.
List interviews with happy new recruits.
Use Twitter and other social media to tell everyone what your employees get up to both in and out of work.
Incentivise your staff to blog about what they do at the company…...’Most number of retweets wins a BMW’ etc etc.
Here are some examples of companies who’ve done a great job with their careers pages.
If you want to improve your employer brand, copy what these firms have done.
But if you really want to attract more and better quality applicants you really need do just 2 things, and both are related to the first touch point a prospective applicant will have with your company……….the job advert:
1. Write a phenomenal job advert that sells the company and the role:
portrays your company as a leader in its field
tells people how fast your are growing
that you make money, and lots of it
stresses that anyone you recruit will have access to a mass of cool stuff from free meals, flexible hours, free child care, in house sports facilities or discount to nearby gyms etc
stress the opportunities for rapid promotion and variety of future roles available
sells the job as genuinely interesting and cutting edge working with great people
then drive them to your newly designed careers site which is packed full of cool stuff to make the employee go ‘Wow, this really is an exciting place to work’.
2. Pay a great salary. Great sports stars get paid a great deal to join a team for a reason: they’re the best. You want the best, you’re going to have to match the rhetoric with a market busting package.
But there’s one thing that many companies would do well to remember. No amount of employer branding, funky careers sites or expensive PR will ever make a person want to work for you if they’ve used your product or service and had a bad experience. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been left disappointed by a product or inefficient member of staff. Would I work for a company that produces awful products and employees? Not a chance.
So the ultimate employer branding is very simple. Make a great product or service that people love and admire and then they might, just might, want to work for you.