The world of employer branding is still relatively new, but it’s already inundated with superlatives like “best” and “leading.” Companies use these descriptors in an attempt to grab people’s attention and establish quick connections. The only problem? They rarely hold up.
Over the years, I’ve helped numerous organizations untangle fuzzy, ineffective employer brand stories. More often than not, I find during this process that employers have given little to no thought to what they’re trying to achieve by setting out to be “the best.” What constitutes “the best” anyway? The quickest recruiting? The highest-caliber talent? How do you measure that? Even simple questions such as these show how little weight the messaging really holds.
When companies take an undefined, unintentional approach to their strategic recruitment process, they suffer. They aren’t able to attract, recruit, and engage prospective employees even half as well as they should (or could with a strong employer brand). Those that hope to attract the right employees and keep them around need to dig deeper to find a better, truer North Star.
The Makings of a Strong Employer Brand
A strong employer brand — one that truly resonates with people — is backed by a point of view, a purpose, and a clear direction. When you’re thinking about how you can inject your own employer brand story with the specificity that attracts the right employees, use a multipronged approach comprised of three key elements: reputation, employee value proposition (EVP), and experience. These make up the anatomy of a strong employer brand, and much like the human body, they work best in unison.
Let’s break each one down.
What do you want to be known for in the marketplace? When it comes to defining and fostering your employer reputation, think in terms of the three C’s:
- Career catalyst: Employees of “career catalyst” organizations are growth-minded. They want an employer who will help them develop and accelerate their careers.
- Culture: Employees of culture-oriented workplaces see the brand as an extension of themselves. They take pride in telling people they work for the company.
- Citizenship: Employees of organizations that prioritize good citizenship are tuned in to the broader impact of their work. They strive to do well by doing good.
Identifying your desired reputation isn’t an aimless game of pin the tail on the donkey. Look at your business’s flow of talent. Who has left your company recently? Why did they choose to go? And where did they decide to work instead? Then, conduct a skills gap analysis to determine your team’s current strengths and weaknesses and develop employee personas to center your strategic recruitment process around.
Next, examine key employee engagement drivers. Audit the motivations, priorities, and preferences of employees and see where the chips fall. Then, it’s about actually personifying your identified reputation. For example, if you’re aiming to be a career catalyst, provide ample learning and development opportunities and chart clear paths to career progression.
Once you understand the kind of reputation you’re striving for, design an EVP that fulfills it. I like to think about the EVP as the “give and get” of working for your company: Employees give you their time and talents, and in exchange, you provide value in the form of salary, benefits, purpose, growth opportunities, etc.
Your EVP and reputation should always be aligned from a strategic business perspective. For instance, if you want to build a reputation for good citizenship, you might offer volunteer opportunities, provide chances for community engagement, and follow sustainable business practices. These kinds of citizenship-focused offerings are things that certain candidates, especially Millennials, can and will rally around.
It’s tempting to paint a rosy portrait of your EVP when you’re in the process of attracting and retaining talent. However, to ensure a fair exchange, you need to be realistic about the challenging aspects of the job, too. Some people will self-select out when they realize the mountain is too high to climb, but that’s OK. Done right, the bar will be set suitably high to keep out those who haven’t got what it takes to thrive in the environment that you need to succeed as a business.
The final layer of this framework is talent experience. You’ll often see organizations concentrate on the candidate experience because they over-index on attracting the right employees. However, while reputation is built in talent attraction, it’s solidified in the employee experience and amplified with the alumni experience. After all, no amount of money can buy you better PR than a past employee extolling the virtues of your workplace.
The specific reputation you’ve defined and the EVP you’ve outlined should determine where you invest in your talent experience — and it’s not always in the candidate realm. For example, McKinsey & Co. has a reputation as a career catalyst. Many of its employees go on to work for companies like Google and Amazon. As a result, McKinsey attracts lots of young people who crave experience.
Knowing this, McKinsey wouldn’t be wise to throw all its resources into candidate experience because its reputation and EVP go way beyond the hiring process. In fact, an arduous candidate experience might even validate just how special it is to work for the company. If you’re like most companies, you have a finite budget, so make sure you’re investing in the right category of experience.
Everybody wants to be “the best,” but few among us can actually define what that looks like in practice. Instead of grasping onto vanilla superlatives, dig deeper to tell an employer brand story that people can’t wait to be a part of — and one that serves you well.