Employer brand: A new weapon in the recruitment arsenal

Projecting a strong brand can ensure top candidates choose your organization
By Colette O'Neill
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 03/03/2015

Good talent, to put it simply, is hard to find. 

Identifying and engaging individuals with the skills and competencies to be successful and who fit in with the company culture should be easy enough. Just post your job openings and among the hundreds of potential responders should be a select few who have what it takes to be successful. But talent acquisition has become much more difficult in recent years, and it is something that organizations will continue to struggle with for the foreseeable future. The main reason? Competition for skilled, qualified workers is tougher than ever.

Whereas companies formerly just had to compete against others in their industry, today anyone can be the competition when it comes to attracting and engaging quality candidates. The impact of this competition is clear, namely in the resulting skills shortages. According to ManpowerGroup’s 2014 Talent Shortage Survey, 36 per cent of employers worldwide report difficulty filling jobs. And as the war for talent heats up, simply posting a position on a job board, placing an ad in a newspaper or allowing your jobs to be scraped by aggregators will not get the right people to apply in this day and age. To win the war for talent, organizations must hone a new type of weapon – their employer brand.

Why focus on employer brand

More and more, companies recognize the importance of employer branding and how it positions the company as an ideal place to work. By projecting a strong employer brand, which encompasses things like company culture, reputation as an employer and overall employee value proposition, the company can attract candidates who share the same values. Rather than relying on the now old-fashioned, text-based job descriptions that include the same corporate jargon as any other company, effective employer branding will show candidates the true experience of working for your company through dynamic content like videos and photos of the workplace. Not only will this help to engage right-fit talent, but with a strong brand and identity, it will be easier to retain current talent as well.

The importance of the employer brand was highlighted in a recent survey, which found that more than half of all job candidates research employers on Glassdoor to learn about a company and its culture before they apply. But as important as the employer brand is, candidates typically seek opportunities not just by the company but by occupation and vertical as well. Projecting what the company can offer employees is essential to account for this reality, but the most meaningful branding can and should be done on the vertical or occupational level.

As most people search for opportunities by a specific job title or group, rather than by the company alone, employers must meet them where they are. This means targeting audiences with information relevant to their interests and career aspirations — just as long as such messaging still aligns with the overall enterprise brand. So, how can today’s companies accomplish this? It’s important to understand the biggest trends in employer branding, what organizations can do to engage candidates at all levels and the best practices for winning the war for talent.

Why employer branding is so crucial

As organizations continue to struggle to find talent and – as turnover rates continue to rise – keep their existing talent, the experience they provide as an employer has become the biggest differentiator. Believe it or not, a strong culture can even trump salary. Research from Workopolis found that 36 percent of Canadian candidates would take a 5-to-10 percent pay cut for a job with a more positive working environment, and 31 percent would take a similar pay cut for a position offering more opportunities for career advancement. And as all companies scramble to figure out the best ways to attract the newest entrants to the workforce – the millennials – employer branding continues to become a major factor.

According to its “2014 Canada Student Survey,” Universum found that the top three things millennials want in an employer is a creative and dynamic work environment, a friendly workplace and respect for its people. The drivers that attracted previous generations, like secure employment, high future earnings and leadership opportunities, ranked lower on the list, showing how employer branding and its components have emerged as the top priority for attracting today’s talent.

When done correctly, employer branding can also help to streamline the hiring process – not only in getting the right candidates to apply, but also encouraging those who are not a good fit to avoid applying. Consider how employer branding enables companies to showcase the experience of working there. By seeing the company, its culture and values, as well as details of the job itself through video introductions by the hiring manager and potential colleagues, candidates gain more insight to help them decide if the job is right for them. This will enable those individuals who won’t be a good match to opt out early on, rather than discovering this after a phone screen or in-person interview.

Consider the example of an IT software developer looking for a job at three different employers: one’s a startup like Kik, makers of a mobile chat simulation, another one is an innovative company like Apple, and the third is a traditional employer like RBC. With the job duties and position requirements all the same, the issue comes down to the employer brand and what resonates best with him.

When researching the three companies, the candidate finds that the startup can offer an exciting entrepreneurial environment, but one with its fair share of risk. Working for Apple would provide him with the opportunity to be part of a world-famous brand known as a leader in innovation, while RBC offers a collaborative environment and support for long-term growth and development. Based on the individual’s own values and preferences, he decides against taking the gamble of working for a startup. And although Apple would enable him to work for one of the best known consumer brands, his career ambitions and goals convince him that RBC, with its numerous opportunities to grow professionally, would be the right choice for his career.

Employer branding needs specialists, not advertising generalists

The key to effective employer branding is to understand that, for the most part, candidates apply based on the job itself, rather than the company. Yet, a blanket approach to advertising positions won’t work to attract a diverse range of talent. Each candidate population will have different preferences based on the job they are looking for – what appeals to software developers won’t necessarily appeal to sales or customer service talent. And what appeals to Generation X won’t necessarily appeal to Generation Y.

That’s why employer branding should be managed by recruiting specialists and not advertising generalists. There have been a number of articles over the years that suggest the approach to consumer branding can be applied to employer branding. However, candidates are making a highly personal and emotional decision that will affect their lives and perhaps their families on a deep level; they’re not making a decision on the right brand of toothpaste or shampoo to purchase. To be effective, the employer brand must be projected in unique ways for each job group the company wants to attract.

This can be done by moving beyond text-based job descriptions to include robust, engaging content that resonates with the intended audience. For instance, pictures of the office environment, maps of nearby places of interest, and video introductions from the hiring manger and current employees will do much more to engage candidates, and project the employer brand, than the standard lists of job duties and position requirements. Of course, this content should be different for each job type; a generic approach will do little to make the personal connection needed to entice a candidate to apply. By offering robust, job-specific content, the company will stand out in a competitive market, while also creating a more positive and engaging candidate experience – another crucial factor in building an effective employer brand.

Employer branding done right

So, how can a company know if its employer branding will be effective? Take the example of a large, global shipment and logistics company that sought to revamp its employer brand. After finding that its traditional recruiting channels no longer delivered the needed volume and quality of candidates, the company sought to leverage social and mobile to create greater awareness and provide easier access to its many employment opportunities. The program also sought to develop a platform whereby applicants could engage with company recruiters, apply for jobs, share those openings with friends and, ultimately, drive hires in a cost-effective and targeted way.

Leveraging a comprehensive strategy to project its employer brand over social and mobile channels to diverse candidate audiences, the company was able to greatly improve its hiring process. Overall, it increased its mobile and social hiring from fewer than 100 in the first year of the program to more than 14,000 hires three years into the program. By projecting the employer brand over these channels and delivering targeted messaging at the job and company levels, the organization now benefits from greater quantity of hire and quality of hire from these sources.

There are a number of tools and strategies available that companies can use to replicate the success of this organization, including:

Engage with candidates wherever they are, whether Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube, to connect with like-minded individuals who may be a good fit for the company and its opportunities.

Ensure all content is mobile-optimized so candidates can learn about the company and its positions and complete the application process from start to finish on their favorite devices.

Identify the platforms active and passive candidates use most and implement creative strategies to communicate the employer brand over those channels.

Enable candidates to see what it will be like to work there; beyond sharing pictures and videos, this can include encouraging meaningful conversations between candidates and current employees over social media.

Deliver effective content marketing that makes even passive candidates take notice of the company and want to apply.

Leverage a technology solution that can facilitate connections with candidates at the job level.

The right path forward

As you begin the journey toward more effective employer branding, the most important aspect should be measuring the effectiveness of the strategy. This way, your company can see the strategies, channels and types of content that are most effective. For instance, all recruitment posts on social media should include trackable links, enabling you to determine applicant flow from each channel and identify the type of content that works best for each position type.

Moreover, measuring activity coming from paid (Facebook ad or promoted tweets), owned (company website or social media pages) and earned sources (when a member of the company’s social community shares a job posting). And you should be using any of the available tools, like Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, Klout or Google Analytics, to measure the growth of social communities, number of posts, level of influence and engagement to see how your employer branding efforts pay off.

As competition for top talent continues to heat up, the employer brand the company exudes on a micro and macro level serves as a significant differentiator. And the companies that understand how to identify, shape and project that brand will be best equipped to attract the right-fit talent they need to be successful and achieve the growth objectives of the organization.

Colette O’Neill is senior vice-president, Canada for TMP Worldwide. 

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