Employer Branding: Everything you need to know

Employer branding has grown in significance due to changes in job seeker behavior, and increased competition in the war for talent. The statistics are quite staggering with 72% of candidates spending over an hour researching a company, and 70% saying they wouldn’t take a job at a bad company even if unemployed. LinkedIn found that the number one reason candidates don’t apply for a job is because they don’t know what it’s going to be like. It’s not wonder that 86% of HR Professionals would agree recruiting is becoming more like marketing, it’s a necessity to compete for the best people.

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Job Seeker Behavior

Candidates research your company for an average of 2 hours before applying for a job. That means they are going to your careers page, checking out your social media, posts on review sites, jobs descriptions, etc. Because the amount of research has increased so much in the past few years, employer branding strategy has become more and more important within your company’s overall recruitment process.

To truly understand candidate behavior, let’s think about our consumer behavior before any sort of purchasing decision. Let’s say you are going to buy a new bike. My bet is you are going to go visit the company’s product page to see what they say about the specs, view any videos they have of people using the bike, and generally consume any/all info here. Then, you’ll probably check out reviews on the bike, Google it, poke around on social media, and ask any of your friends if they’ve tried it out. This is for a bike that you’ll use a few times a month…for your career, the stakes are a lot higher. And, this is why candidates go so in depth during their research phase.

It’s worth noting that employer branding is really geared towards the top tier of talent. The reality is that if you post a job online, you will get applicants. However, we’ve all spent hours sifting through CVs from resume spammers. Those people will always apply. Employer branding is all about the people who are doing the research, and who are swayed one way or another about your company after researching you.

Employer Branding becomes more important

Employer brand defined

Employer branding is made up of two parts 1) What talent thinks it’s like to work at your company, and 2) What it’s actually like to work at your company. These two are similar, but also quite different.

The first part, how people perceive your company as a place to work, is all about the information that you have online about your company. It’s the stories you have on your careers pages, the ease/mobile friendliness of your application flow, the content you share via social, the conversations that happen at the meetups you host, etc. If you’re not doing any of this, then of course you’re defined by what is out there online – and hopefully that’s not lackluster reviews/generic job postings. If so, there is very little chance you can win over top talent as your company culture is being buried or not shown at all.

The second part greatly influences the first. What your company is actually like is the basis for your employer brand identity. If you have a buttoned up culture and clear hierarchy, that is what will eventually seep out into the world. Working on game changing technology in a fun atmosphere? That’s what will eventually come to define you.

Now, it’s worth noting that being proactive in your branding is essential. We’ve heard of many companies that may have poor Glassdoor ratings simply because they haven’t managed this corner of the internet, but at the same time have through the roof internal employee engagement scores and NPS. If you’ve built an amazing culture, it’s time to shout it from the roof tops!

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Employee value proposition

Your employee value proposition is essentially why people come and work for your company. It’s your elevator pitch for working at your company and encapsulates many of your core values. Maybe it’s because you’re a mission driven company focused on helping out a segment of the population that needs it. Maybe you have an accelerated career path for top performers which allows them to circumvent going back to grad school.

Your employees are the key to understand your EVP. Sit down with a few of your colleagues (mini focus group) and ask them what drew them to the company in the first place, and what keeps them there now.

One pitfall here is that you almost certainly don’t have a single EVP across your various offices and roles. Why someone wants to work in engineering is quite different than what draws a marketer to your company, or a veteran for that matter. Remember to get specific about the stories that you need to tell in order to win over the right people.

Benefits of Employer Branding

Employment branding can be a huge competitive advantage to companies. Whether that’s helping your talent acquisition team convert passive candidates into employees, or helping human resources with internal marketing – employer branding is hugely important for talent acquisition and retention.

LinkedIn research has shown that companies with strong employer brands see a cost per hire that is 50% of that of other companies. These businesses also see employee retention that is 28% higher.

Think about that for a second. What is your talent acquisition budget currently? Cut that in half, how much did you save? What is the cost of a lost sales person? A lost engineer? Probably 1-3x their annual salary if you think about rehiring, training, lost time, etc. Imagine increasing retention by nearly 30%!

Employee referrals increase as a result of a stronger workplace culture, and your overall need to pay high salaries decreases considerably.

Why these benefits accrue

Remember our definition for employer branding? The second part is all about what it’s like to work at our company. If it’s a great place to work, then people will stay longer. That makes sense, right?

Let’s focus now on the first part of the definition – people’s perceptions of what it’s like to work at your company.

Your HR department posts a job posting. It drives 300 people to your careers page. These job seekers find generic job descriptions and a career page with thing content. 45 of them apply. But, these probably aren’t the 45 you want. Someone who doesn’t need any convincing to apply is not the person you want to hire.

Generic job sites and applicant tracking systems

Imagine you had a compelling employment brand with content explaining your unique culture, work-life balance, and perhaps melding in unique aspects of the corporate brand. Now all of a sudden you’re getting more applicants, and they are the more thoughtful people who need to be swayed by content like this. These are the picky job seekers you want to convert into applicants!

Taking a look at the second part of the definition, having a truly great place to work, and it should also be apparent that this will help reap rewards. Higher employee engagement leads to better employee satisfaction which leads to higher retention and therefore less time and effort spent trying to fill in the holes left by former employees. Beyond the economic benefits, everyone from human resources to sales and engineering are simply happier and more productive in a company with a strong corporate culture.

Employee authored content

One key element in defining your brand is employee authored content. In fact, 35% of candidates say it’s THE MOST VALUABLE piece of recruitment marketing content a company can put together. This comes in many forms, from an employee sharing a picture of your latest outing on Instagram, to long form blog posts about the latest addition to your product.

Employee content is so effective for two major reasons. First, your employees are credible. As Edelman points out, they are among the most trusted sources of information (sorry marketing, recruiters, and c-suite). Secondly, employees have all of the information that candidates care about. They can talk in depth about their day to day, skills they’re getting, and why they like working at the company. Recruiters are great at communicating the high level of what a role is like and vetting candidates, but realistically it’s hard to know the details of all roles – and details are what candidates care about.

Of course, beyond employee authored content, there is plenty room for higher level videos about culture and your EVP. Just don’t be one of the videos Fiverr or Twitter is poking fun at! Our advice is to create deep content that shows off the unique aspects of your company. Don’t just say “we’re innovative!” – show people why/how/the proof.

Authentic employee testimonials

Distributing content

Once a base of content is put together, we need to understand how to distribute it. Essentially, we want to get it in front of every place where candidates interact with our company, or research us.

This is where it’s very helpful to map out the candidate journey that talent is going on when researching your company, and going through the application flow. Obviously, this journey will depend on the type of role. For example, you may hire entry level sales candidates right out of undergrad, mostly through an internship program that leads to full time offers. In this case, the first exposure to the company may be through an on campus presentation. Afterwards, interested students will either request more information through a recruiter, or do their own research before applying for a role. Contrast this with a lateral hire, or a referral candidate. Clearly, there can be a lot of detail when mapping each of these journeys. The key is to lay out what touch points are most important, and make sure the right content is there to attract the right people.

While the average job seeker uses 18 sources to research a company, there are a few that are the most important.

  • Most importantly is your career page. This is the most trafficked source to research your company, and the most trusted.
  • Job postings are another key area that candidates use to vet companies. The expectation here is to see something overly generic, which means it’s a place where you can shine relative to your competition.
  • Review sites are more and more common with Glassdoor and Indeed leadng the way in the US. Many of these sites allow you to respond to negative reviews and post jobs without paying. Be aware that they hold sway over whether someone applies or not.
  • Social media is another place where candidates will research your company – Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, along with Instagram and even Snapchat
  • Googling your company is a very common way to research your employer brand. What happens when you type in “{{Company}} Careers” or “Working at {{company}}” into Google now?
  • Of course, the application process itself communicates your employer brand through your speed, organization, etc.

Now we’ve got a holistic understanding of what an employer brand is, what it’s important, how to start building one, and where we need to market it. Let’s dive deeper into some subtopics.

Review sites – the new normal in the age of information

Today more than ever, we live in a world where consumers expect to have massive amounts of information at our finger tips. And, much of that information comes in the form of reviews from people in our situation. For travel, it’s TripAdvisor. For companies, it’s Glassdoor/Indeed and other various niche sites.

Review sites don’t have to be our enemies. The sad fact is that nearly 40% of people who leave our company will write a review online. And, most of these reviews are not very positive. Just like Yelp, the energy it takes to write something is usually motivated by a negative experience.

While the content is negatively biased, with the average Glassdoor rating around a 3.3, that doesn’t mean all is lost. There are many companies that have strong reviews which is due partly to the right culture, and also from making it easy to write reviews after an interview process, review cycle, etc. Of course, don’t fall into the trap of pressuring employees to write reviews as that can backfire!

One important point to note is that while content here is negatively biased, it many times rings true. If you’re having the same comment multiple times it probably means you have to take a look on why this problem is occurring. Maybe there’s something that needs to be addressed about your culture or hiring process.

Also, don’t get discouraged if you have negative reviews. We’ve ran into several companies that have strong internal net promoter scores, but simply have a skewed sampling of review writers which makes them appear to have a poor culture. This simply means you have to take the time to proactively build your brand via content on your careers page, social media, etc.

Glassdoor ratings

A great culture

The employer brand is built upon a great place to work. This means that the c-suite, HR, hiring managers, and all employees need to focus on what makes the company great, and continue to foster that within the company culture.

There are so many ways to accomplish this. In fact, we’re going to start interviewing people about this on a regular basis. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • The CEO of Okta says to hold an offsite among other pieces of advice, and we agree
  • Make fun of motivational speakers all you want, but the reality is the right ones are awesome. Think about how inspired you are after the right Ted talk. Find someone who fits your budget and core values, and bring them in!
  • Team building exercises are also under rated. Check out what a day in the life of a Navy SEAL did for the men’s Olympic water polo team here .
  • Career development is one of the keys to driving employee loyalty. Make sure the right expectations are set for your employees and that everyone has a chance to build their skills. Then, turn the employees who’ve built a career at your company into brand advocates!
  • KPIs can have a massive impact on culture. Is your sales team driven by number of calls, or revenues? This can have a large impact on moral and what the day to day is like.
  • The number one lesson here is that culture has to start at the top. The C-Suite has to lay out what they care about, and how everyone is expected to work together.

ATS/Application Process

Your employer brand is defined in part by your application process.

  • Is it mobile friendly?
  • Does it take 20 minutes to complete an application?
  • Do all candidates hear back one way or another?
  • Do interviews drag on for weeks?
  • Are offers extended quickly and clearly explained?
  • Are you providing interesting content about your company throughout the process? Palantir sends this Quora posting to candidates after interviews, and Google does something similar with content it has created.

If you don’t have these key aspects of your application process locked down, it simply reflects poorly on your company. One step in the right direction is to buy a modern ATS such as Lever, Greenhouse or iCIMS.

How to measure the effectiveness of your branding efforts

At the end of the day, it’s nice to hear that LinkedIn says we’ll see a 50% decrease in cost/hire, but how do we actually measure this?

Here are the metrics we recommend utilizing:

  • First think about your own internal culture: net promoter score and other employee engagement metrics are key. HBR has a number of details here
  • Next focus on external: What is our Glassdoor rating? How much content are we creating (videos, photos, blog posts, employee testimonials)?
  • How is this information being presented: Do we have microsites for key positions? Do we have dedicated social recruiting efforts? Is our careers site mobile and search optimized?
  • What is the engagement like with our content? How many social impressions are we getting? Views on our pages? What is the trend for our time on site?
  • Now, we get to the real numbers that drive ROI:What is the change in conversion rate of career site view to applicant? What is the change in our interview rate, offer rate, acceptance rate? Essentially, we’re looking at what the influence has been across our hiring funnel of our efforts. We’re also looking at overall cost centers, such as headhunters, that have decreased.
  • We want to track if people we are driving to the site via social and talent communities are actually applying, and if we’re hiring them.
  • Lastly, we want to look over time at retention. Has the cultural change had an impact on average tenure? Has better employer branding content allowed us to attract people who are a better fit?

A few case studies

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a few case studies from companies that have done this before and seen strong results. Here is the story of how REI saw the number of applications for retail stores increase by 90% after their campaign! The company say over 6.7 BILLION social media impressions via their #optoutside campaign!

Back in the mid 2000s, the US Army was looking for more recruits to help fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They had the brilliant idea of allowing soldiers to submit authentic text and video stories to their site, and the results were impressive with traffic increasing by 47%, and a 60% increase in leads generated from goarmy.com, during a time of war.

By this point you may have seen GE’s ads that share why the best engineers should come write code that powers trains, as opposed to creating the next picture app. What you may not know is the amazing results they’ve seen from these efforts.

Lastly, Ericsson decreased cost per hire by 70% after a full scale employer branding campaign that brought together great content with social media and a new careers page. Well done.

What’s next?

You made it through this entire article, I’m impressed!

So, now you know the basics around employer branding, and have probably started to think about what’s next for your company.

If you want to build interesting content around working at your company, push it via your careers page/social/SEO/email marketing, and get real results that you can measure, then you should check out NextWave’s employer branding solution. Shoot us an email and we’ll happily walk you through how we help companies from startups to enterprise build their brands.

This post originally appeared on NextWave Hire's blog where we talk about employer branding and talent acquisition tips, tricks and trends.

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