Technology and socioeconomic forces have combined to create a challenging era for workforce recruitment. The progression of the gig economy, the increase in popularity of remote work, and a decline in labor force participation have created a war for talent.
In 2022, there are six million unemployed people in the United States – but over 11 million jobs open. To put it another way, there are two jobs available for every job seeker.
The competition for talented candidates is intense. Employers need to use every tool in their toolbox to attract the best people for their organization. Your employer brand strategy can be a powerful tool, helping not only to raise your company’s profile, but to raise it in the right circles, attracting candidates who align with your mission and values.
War For Talent: What Matters
A key strategy for a tug of war is to put your most valuable participants in the front and the back. Similarly, to succeed in today’s war for talent you need to be strategic about the factors you are using to attract candidates. As you can see in the illustration to the (right? left?), we consider operations and employer brand strategy to be the most valuable factors of your war on talent strategy, with compensation and recruitment marketing as the additional two factors that need to be incorporated.
The Four Factors
Unless your operations are in order and your organization’s leadership is prioritizing attracting talent, employer branding and recruitment marketing won’t be effective. In today’s environment, recruitment efforts can’t stay siloed in the human resources department. Instead, a holistic, all hands on-deck approach is needed.
In advertising, the ‘offer’ in a marketing campaign is the value proposition to the audience. For the purposes of recruitment marketing, offer is most simply boiled down to the compensation you are offering potential employees – salary, benefits, vacation days, 401K, etc. At a certain point, there is a compensation level that will fill almost any position. However that level of compensation is often financially unfeasible from the organization’s end, so the employer branding and other factors must also come into play.
Just as you market your products and services to an outside audience, you need to do the same with your open job positions and company culture. Recruitment marketing is more than posting job announcements on Indeed or LinkedIn; it is using elements of your corporate brand and employer brand in both internal and external communications to help attract candidates and foster the talent pool for your organization.
Employer Brand Strategy
Your employer brand is the perception of what it is like to be a team member at your organization. It is expressed whenever and however you introduce your organization to potential applicants and candidates during a recruitment marketing campaign. To make the most of your employer brand, a strategy is needed to guide all facets of your brand’s identity and how it is used.
Developing Your Employer Brand Strategy
Your employer brand strategy needs to be more concrete than having a general sense of the brand you want prospective applicants to be aware of. It should be an actual written plan that details the essence of your brand, your strengths as an employer, your target candidate(s), and your mission, vision and core values.
When you’re developing an employer brand strategy, you need to look beyond the current job openings to find your audience. Consider everyone who views you as an employer; this includes current employees, future employees, as well as clients. Customers do take into account how companies are viewed as employers when making purchasing decisions. Key audiences will include both internal and external audiences, but as you consider these audiences be sure you’re taking the perspective of how they view you as an employer, specifically.
- Independent Contractors
- Families & Friends of Other Internal Audiences
- Potential employees within your industry or field
- Potential employees outside your industry or field
Mission, Vision, Core Values
Many organizations already have these elements in place, but with a consumer-focused perspective. You can look to your existing mission, vision and core values and adapt the perspective so that they speak more to your brand as an employer. These elements don’t need to be external facing, though it might be worth considering placing them on a careers page on your website just as you would have your more traditional mission, vision and core values displayed publicly. The ideas contained within your mission, vision and core values should be incorporated in some way in all your recruitment materials, whether overtly or subtly incorporated as themes.
The concept of competition for talent has never been clearer than it is right now. You need to have an idea of who you are up against in job searches. Your competitors in the recruitment marketing realm are likely going to be different than your competitors for clients or customers.
Depending on the positions you are most in need of filling, your competitors may include direct competitors within your industry, indirect competitors, and entry-level/open competitors.
Indirect competitors would be for positions that can cross industries. If you’re a non-profit organization you likely don’t compete with for-profit companies for customers/clients. However, when hiring human resources staff, IT staff, or something along those lines, industry experience may not matter as much as the skill and knowledge set.
Entry-level and open competitors are for positions that don’t require any, or much, experience either in a certain position or in a certain industry. Often on the lower end of the wage scale, local companies may be competing with larger corporations to fill these positions. Larger corporations may have an easier time providing appealing benefits packages than smaller, locally-owned organizations, so you need to find ways to differentiate yourself as an employer within your brand strategy.
Brand Voice & Personality
In terms of employer brand strategy, your voice is what you sound like to employees and how you speak about your employees. Consider the language you use in internal and external communications. Are they team members or workers? Do you celebrate your employees’ accomplishments and overall efforts?
In addition to the language you use in job postings or other direct recruitment materials, conveying your employer brand voice and personality happens in places like the biographies on your website where potential candidates may look as they assess your organization. Do you mention your employees’ hobbies or have a playful tone to the bios? Or are they a list of degrees, career accomplishments, and board memberships? There is no right or wrong answer here – you just need it to match the voice of your organization so that you are attracting the potential candidates who will fit in well and thrive as an employee.
The key message of your employer brand efforts needs to go beyond the pay and benefits. It needs to incorporate your company culture and set your organization apart from the dozens of other job listings a person may scroll through in an hour. Your key message should tell potential candidates:
What makes you different as an employer
What is the employee experience, and how it’s different than other organizations
Why they should care about your organization and its mission, vision, values
Employee Value Proposition
The employee value proposition answers one question: Why should someone seek to be your employee?
As you develop your employee value proposition, the venn diagram at the (right? left?) can serve as a valuable tool to guide your thinking. It’s in that intersection between candidate preferences and employer strengths where you will find your employee value proposition. In this segment, you will have the strengths that are unique from your competitors – the differentiators that are also candidate preferences.
Figuring out the details of each segment of this diagram may take time and serious discussion. Be specific – don’t fall back on generic phrases like “supportive environment.” Instead, delve into what that means – do you offer a mentoring program? Team-building activities? Professional development opportunities? Through this process you may even find some areas where you want or need to make changes to your operations and company culture. Doing so is worth it and helps improve not only what you say your value proposition is, but how it actually plays out day-to-day for current and prospective employees.
Next Steps for Implementation
Now that you have an idea of the elements of a strong employer brand strategy, it’s time to dive in and start working on yours.
Determine the Where
The first step to take is to assess where your employee brand is and the resources you have available for undertaking an employer brand strategy project. Are you building an employer brand from scratch, or does it just need some tweaking? Can you answer the question of what your employer brand is? Can your employees? Ask your current employees what your brand as an employer is. If there’s no clear theme that shines through in all the answers, it’s time to really dig into defining the brand.
Determine the Who
Before you begin developing the strategy, you’ll also need to know who will be doing the nitty gritty of it. Can your marketing and human resources teams handle the development of a strategy, or does it need to be outsourced? Handling it internally may look like it provides cost savings, but it takes manpower that you may already be short on given today’s workforce challenges.
Communicating with your team is a critical part of developing a successful employer brand strategy. After all, who knows the positives and negatives and ins and outs of your organization’s employer brand than the people who live it every day?
As you assess the organization’s current employer brand and its internal perception, get descriptive information. Don’t turn to 1-10 or “Excellent-Poor” scorecards or surveys. These won’t give you the valuable information you need to execute an employer brand strategy. Instead, take time to have one-on-one or small group discussions where employees can speak candidly and can have their full attention on providing feedback. Take people out to lunch, have coffee and a conversation, whatever would be most effective for getting your team to provide insightful analyses of your organization as an employer.
Throughout this exercise, use the SWOT model for assessment – Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats. Leadership can start with this assessment for themselves and use the results to help guide discussions with other employees. Throughout, be open and honest about what’s been neglected in your brand and improvements that are needed.
Whether you’re working with an outside agency or doing the employer brand strategy in-house, get your employees’ input and feedback throughout the entire process. Keep them updated as you launch the strategy, and ask questions of them when you hit stumbling blocks. Go beyond the leadership level and the marketing/HR teams to hear from and share with employees at all levels.
Once you’ve done an internal brand immersion and had discussions with employees, it’s time to take action. Doing this initial work is only worthwhile if you implement the needed changes that have been discovered and actively execute the employer brand strategy.
The workforce shortage isn’t going away anytime soon. View the challenge of these times as an opportunity to focus on your company culture, refine your mission and values, and truly define your brand as an employer. In the long-term, doing this work will benefit your organization overall, building a stronger work environment for both current and future employees.
Bonus Information: The Internship, a Case Study in the Power of Employer Brand
What is the power of a strong employer brand? Imagine having a blockbuster movie, featuring about your organization. Imagine having it done without having to pay? That’s exactly what happened with the 2013 movie ‘The Internship.’
The plot follows two recently laid-off salesmen in their 40s, played by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, who get accepted to an internship at Google. These two well-known actors don’t end up as the star of the movie, though. Google is the real star.
Their employer brand shines through, with their core value of ‘do no evil’ alluded to throughout the film. The employees are diverse. There are discussions about how Google ‘makes lives better.’ The Google campus is an inviting wonderland where people want to go to work.
We can all learn from Google – their employer brand is so powerful they receive three million job applications a year, but only hires 7,000 individuals.
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