Companies that consistently attract the best talent get one thing right: employer branding.
Today, job applications are undertaken with the same detailed research as any other purchasing decision (or perhaps more). Instead of reading reviews on Amazon, candidates are turning to social media and to websites like Glassdoor, Blind or Comparably to get the real scoop on companies. There’s no more hiding from the truth. The real key to having a strong employer brand is authenticity and transparency.
This is where an investment and focus on the employer brand is critical. It used to be the sole responsibility of the HR or recruitment functions to drive this message, but now we’ve seen the best employers make this everyone’s responsibility — with employer brand strategists leading the way.
In this article, we’ve tried to create a single guide that tells you everything you need to know about building your employer brand.
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… one part values, one part culture, one 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. Even if you haven’t defined your employer brand as a business, your employees and candidates have already defined it for you. This is called your Employer Value Proposition (EVP).
Employer branding, then, is defined as a company’s reputation and differentiation to their talent market.
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 how important it is for talent and HR professionals to have an understanding of marketing and branding.
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 minds 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 today’s top candidates.
Additionally, a strong employer brand can reduce the cost per hire by as much as 50%. And if the company has a negative reputation in the marketplace, that can cost the company as much as 10% more for each hire they make. If you need another reason to invest in your company’s employer brand, those who are already actively investing in employer branding can reduce turnover by as much as 28%. With retention being top of mind for all business executives, having a strong employer brand has never been more important.
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 on 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
We 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 and what people say about you when you’re not in the room. You can only influence this in part, and make sure your message gets in front of candidates.
For companies thinking about their employer branding strategy, there are a few areas that are critical to focus on:
1. Careers site
Your 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, culture, DE&I initiatives and, of course, your open roles.
It goes without saying that your careers site needs to be optimized for mobile. In 2021, 70% of job applications were submitted on mobile devices. So you need to ensure that your candidate’s application experience will be just as seamless on mobile, as it is on desktop. Everything that candidates encounter on your website, from web page copy to jobs descriptions, reflects back on your brand. To put your best foot forward, make sure that your careers site does the following things, and does them well...
Highlights your EVP
EVP stands for Employer Value Proposition. EVP is the unique culture, policies, programs, rewards and benefits that you offer to candidates.
Simply put, it’s why people would choose to join your organization over your competitors.
“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. When a candidate lands on your career site, they will form a first impression of the page in less than one second. You need to get it right the first time.
What do you think candidates respond to better: corporate messaging, or the words of real employees? Employee stories and written or video testimonials give candidates an idea of what your organization is really like, and it’s a great way to make a more human connection with someone who is experiencing your brand for the first time virtually.
Uses clear and inclusive 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 to lose them at the final hurdle because the job description was unclear or unhelpful.
A focus on inclusive language is critical. Companies like Textio and others are helping employers find ways to be more inclusive when writing their job descriptions.
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. Research shows that 60% of job seekers will actually abandon the application if the process is too long or too complex.
The length and complexity of your job applications are certainly things to consider, but technical issues are another. 56% of job applicants have reported running into a technical issue while trying to apply for a role. When you think about the time and resources that are spent getting candidates to the application form in the first place, it’s wild to think about how many companies are losing the opportunity to hire top talent because of their poor applicant experience. It’s like inviting someone to your house and then, instead of opening the door, making them crawl through the dog door!
One thing is for sure though — the people that take the time to apply to your company are well on their way to becoming brand advocates. An overly lengthy or complex process can change that and often leads to frustration and ultimately brand damage.
Filling out 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 application experience.
Does it make you more or less enthusiastic to work at your company? How does it make you feel about your employer brand? If you don’t believe us, ask your candidates (because they’ll tell you)! Companies like TalentHub and Screenloop make it easy for employers to survey their applicants to understand their application experience.
3. Candidate experience
Candidate experience has become a hugely important part of any company’s employer brand.
Why would you invite people to the party, when none of the drink or food has arrived? You can build a great employer brand, and drive many people to apply, but if they have a terrible candidate experience throughout your interview process, they’ll run for the hills!
It’s not enough to have a great applicant experience — you need to think about the subsequent steps as well, such as your interviews or any assessments that you require candidates to complete.
When it comes to employee experience, there are a few things that are out of your control, but there are some things you can help influence.
For example, providing candidates with a simple and digestible description of how your interview process works can give them a good understanding of what they can expect. Anything you can do to make your candidates feel supported during the process will go a long way.
And let’s face it. Recruiters reject more people than they hire. But it’s still possible to make sure everyone you reject continues to advocate for your brand. This is done by investing in a transparent, clear and positive candidate experience (even if you aren’t presenting a job offer).
4. Social media
Social media is one of the most widely used channels for companies looking to build their employer brand and attract applicants. This isn’t surprising when we look at some of the data:
- 25% of all job seekers use social media as their primary tool for job searching
- 90% of job seekers follow brands they are interested in on social media
And 79% of job seekers say they interact with brands they are interested in on social media.
A social recruiting strategy clearly drives results, but what is the best way to integrate it into your employer brand?
Social media platforms give candidates the opportunity to interact directly with your brand and employees, and they provide a window into what it’s actually like to work for your organization.
82% of job seekers consider employer brand and reputation before applying for a job. Your social media platforms are the first place they’ll go, and if your employer brand is not being actively maintained, it’s not going to leave the best impression.
“Active maintenance” of your employer brand 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. Your corporate and recruiting brand teams should share most of the same principles, and should be using the same brand guidelines to keep your messaging consistent.
Which social media platforms are important, you ask? From our experience, LinkedIn is still the dominant player in recruitment. However, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter (when used correctly), can be key drivers for talent demographics as well.
We’ve all seen social feeds populated by an endless stream of robotic job alerts. This is hardly the best way to engage with people and build an enthusiastic following for your brand.
It’s not all about promotion. Even if your ultimate goal of posting on social media is increasing job applications, you still need to interact with people and start conversations — social media needs to be social!
Before you post, think about how you can create value for your followers and always make sure your content is relevant.
Anyone who has spent time in marketing circles will be familiar with the expression ‘content is king’ (or queen!)
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 for recruiting as well.
Content (in the recruiting context) can be any piece of information that a candidate can easily consume and that could benefit them.
Here are a few examples:
- Blog posts
- Landing pages
- Job descriptions
- Company awards or milestones
- Employee testimonials
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
It takes up to 10 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 (or not to apply).
The hidden benefit of employer branding content: better applicants
The longer a candidate spends in the ‘decision-making cycle’, and 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.
53% of workers are planning to leave their jobs within the next year, which means there will be a lot of active (and passive) candidates on the market. So increasing the relevance and quality of your candidates through this self-qualification can’t hurt!
6. Employee advocacy
Your employees are your secret weapon to attracting talent. We live in an age of unprecedented transparency – your employer brand has never been more shaped by the genuine stories and perspectives from your employees and alumni.
Candidates see current and former employees as a window into the true nature of your organization. The way you leverage your team has never been more important...
The value of employee-generated content (EGC)
Is it any wonder that candidates trust the things that employees say more than your corporate messaging?
Let’s not forget that the voice of the employee is three times more credible than the CEO’s when it comes to talking about working conditions within a company.
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 and can help you win top talent in the future.
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 at in the past
The dangers of Glassdoor
Glassdoor is a bit of a mixed bag 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 on this platform. Poor treatment of employees, bad candidate experiences; everything is available 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 for a change.
Make sure that you respond to comments from candidates on Glassdoor.
There might be a lot, particularly if you’re working at a large organization, but actively engaging with candidates that have taken the time to write a review (positive or negative) shows everyone that you care and truly appreciate their feedback.
Well timed messages from your team will likely be able to fix many issues and complaints, and you’ll hopefully 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. Things like:
- Media: how do 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 put the candidate experience at the top of your priority list. Get this right and you should see a positive impact across all areas of recruitment from applications to offers accepted.
Measuring your Employer Brand
The last thing we’ll leave you with is how best to measure the impact of your employer brand. There are a number of ways to do this, and it all depends on what you’re trying to influence. Are you trying to drive more qualified candidates, or improve your interview pass-through rates? Are you trying to drive more diversity into your application process, or speed up your time to hire?
Always start with the ‘why’ and then look at the recommendations we’ve made in this article, and create your plan on how you can achieve your goals. Here’s some ideas of key metrics you track in each part of the funnel:
Attraction and reputation
- Social media engagement rates
- Brand sentiment by key talent personas
- Number of applications per job
- Career site traffic
- External market research vs. competitors
- Glassdoor ratings
Candidate experience and conversion
- Candidate net promoter scores (cNPS)
- Accepted offer rates
- Glassdoor interview review ratings
- Candidate quality
- Interview pass-through rates
- Cost per hire
- Time to hire
Employee experience and advocacy
- Employee NPS scores
- Employee referral percentage per hire
- Employee retention data
- Employer review site ratings
- Awards and recognition
- LinkedIn brand advocacy percentage
Employer branding resources: taking the next step
Hopefully this guide was helpful and answered questions you had about employer branding. If you’re looking to start improving or building your company’s employer brand, AI-driven Talent Lifecycle Management tools can help companies manage their entire talent lifecycle, including talent marketing. Tools like Beamery make it easy to tie employer branding in with all of your other recruiting efforts.