Fashionably speaking

H&M Canada boosts recruitment by overhauling employer branding strategy

Fashionably speaking
Credit: Vytautas Kielaitis (Shutterstock)

Already recognized as one of Canada’s top employers, H&M Canada wanted to ensure it was attracting and retaining the best of fashion retail talent. While employee engagement was strong, like most retailers, it still saw an opportunity to communicate with current and prospective employees in a more impactful way.


The Canadian labour market saw big gains in 2016, with a significant spike in part-time work, which means talent acquisition and retention are becoming increasingly competitive. This holds especially true among millennials, who will make up 50 per cent of the global workforce by 2020, according to a 2011 report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, and are seeking the right fit while looking at brand reputation when making job decisions.

Everything from employee motivators, such as competitive benefits and salary, to cultural diversity play a role in shaping brand reputation, and having an effective employer brand strategy can result in increased ROI.

The competition in talent acquisition is especially evident in the retail sector. With an uptick in new market entrants in the last few years, Canadian retailers are being forced to invest in an employer branding strategy to ensure they stand out as preferred places to work, to attract and retain the best local talent.

In the digital age, tools have changed drastically for job-seekers. Fifteen years ago, the only place to learn about a company or apply for a job was through a company website or recruiter. In the digital age, job-seekers now have access to information on multiple channels, whether that’s Linked-In, social channels or friends.

Employers are no longer in control of conversations about their brands, but these conversations impact the brand directly — which makes positive brand reputation critical.

With H&M’s growth and store opening objectives, a real challenge was streamlining its recruitment process. Recruitment dollars were spread across a variety of channels, including recruitment events, paid job postings and out-of-home advertising, which resulted in a lack of consistency in regards to the volume and quality of the applicants.

H&M Canada, which has more than 3,000 employees, already had the foundation and tools to activate the employer brand to drive more impactful results, including a strong global corporate brand, a great careers website and social media platforms with large numbers of engaged followers.

To harness those strengths and use them strategically, a second look at its employer branding strategy was crucial.

Rollout of campaign

H&M Canada partnered with employer branding specialists Blu Ivy Group to begin building its employer brand.

Research was conducted to define the employer value proposition (EVP) — essentially, identifying what makes H&M unique and why employees want to work there.

 This involved discussions with internal talent, key stakeholders and management to bring in additional perspectives to marry the perceptions of employees with the overarching business strategy.

External research was also conducted to define the perceptions of H&M as an employer, and to identify the preferences and behaviours of local talent.

Once the EVP was developed and aligned with the company’s HR strategy, it was important to position it as an authentically Canadian message that would resonate with existing employees and potential local talent.

H&M already had a strong social media following and recognized there was an opportunity to harness the power of social media through targeted digital content. So the company decided to put employees at the front and centre of the campaign. Custom social content was developed featuring employees from across Canada and their career stories, and shared across the brand’s social media channels.

The foundational work conducted prior to the campaign launch was critical to informing digital strategy. By using employee sentiments and insights from the initial research — including how target talent seeks job opportunities and what social media platforms they use — H&M was able to create content that resonated with the right audience.

As part of the external launch, H&M Canada also prioritized public-speaking opportunities for its country HR manager at industry events, where she shared the employer brand journey and key learnings from the initiative.

The external launch also included an interview with country manager Toni Galli discussing the branding strategy — a critical component to illustrate employer branding is an effort driven from the highest levels of the organization.

H&M Canada also began to use custom talent “personas” to support recruitment. These were profiles of a specific talent demographic, including their preferences, job-seeking behaviours and social media activities. They are designed to more personally communicate career opportunities with potential candidates.

To reflect the EVP and support recruitment, HR and recruitment materials were updated, including offer packages and career booths. Recruitment networking events were launched at local venues close to retail outlets, called “Interview Us.”

Potential employees were encouraged to come in and ask questions about H&M, instead of traditional job interviews.

This refreshed approach drove high participation and yielded a significant improvement in the quality of candidates — both of which were challenges defined by H&M at the beginning of its branding journey.

Internal activation and results

As the strongest brand ambassadors of a company, employee buy-in was crucial for the success of the campaign. Employees were encouraged to support colleagues featured in the content stories and increase their social media exposure by liking and sharing posts.

Employees were excited to see themselves and their friends featured. They engaged in and shared the employer brand content, and began to co-create content along the same theme on their personal channels, such as Instagram.

Today, employees are more engaged, and the content is differentiated, compelling and receiving significant awareness in the Canadian retail industry. As for the business impact:

• Social talent applications tripled in three months.

• Streamlined recruitment efforts resulted in decreased spend on recruitment.

• The quality of applicants improved, reducing the time to fill roles.

• The company continues to elevate engagement.

In the end, H&M Canada recognized the difference and fluidity between employer branding and recruitment, and saw the value in opening itself up to the general public in a new and exciting way that was fundamentally rooted in research.

The campaign was a success because the company took the time to listen to the perspectives of employees from across the country and reflect on its values as an organization.

Stacy Parker is managing director and co-founder of Blu Ivy Group, an employer branding and employee engagement consultancy in Toronto. For more information, visit

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