HR professionals consistently name recruiting top talent and retaining valued employees among their toughest challenges. Developing a strategy to meet those challenges may entail a number of elements, but establishing and communicating the employer’s “brand” should never be overlooked.
Since the talent marketplace is highly competitive, employers who want to recruit the very best must be well-known not only for their product but also as an exceptional place to work. The science of sculpting and managing an organization’s image as a top employer is known as “employer branding.”
Some employers try to build their brand image using a trial-and-error approach, but a better method is to understand the principles that have already proven successful at firms with the best employer brands. Those principles can then be adapted to fit another employer’s culture.
The employer’s brand is communicated through company websites, social media, online job postings, written materials, news about the company, and – most importantly – what employees are saying about the company online and in person.
Developing a brand that will attract top talent requires a collaboration between the HR and marketing departments. Slick websites and marketing pieces are parts of the branding puzzle, but they alone won’t promote and build the employer’s reputation. John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University and a former chief talent officer for a Silicon Valley tech company, is a nationally recognized thought leader on hiring. He offers the following insights on employer branding.
- Figure out what makes the company a great place to work. Take a look at the organization’s management practices, benefit programs, and corporate culture, and figure out which of them you can “sell” to people outside the company. Take some of those boring, corporate-sounding HR programs, and give them “catchy” names that will attract attention. Compare the programs to those offered by competitors, identify ways in which the company is clearly superior, and promote that in recruiting efforts.
- Develop a message around what is important to recruits. Many executives assume they should simply build their employer brand image around the areas of which they are proudest. That can be a mistake because the most effective approach is to first identify the factors that target recruits care most about and then to focus the message on those key attraction factors. This may be easier said than done in the multigenerational workforce. When done, however, a slogan can be developed that captures the one or two things about the workplace that make it a great place to work.
- Mobilize current employees. Develop an employee referral program. Employees work at the company every day, and they are the most believable source of information for prospective employees. They also have access to friends and colleagues through their previous academic work or memberships in professional associations who would make great employees and have the skills and experience needed. Train and encourage employees to use social networks such as LinkedIn to promote the company as a great place to work. These strategies can dramatically and effectively increase the brand image.
- Be genuine and authentic. Recruits have learned to be cynical about “corporate speak,” and as a result, they generally don’t find messages that are written by the public relations department to be believable. To make a brand message credible, it must appear as 100 percent genuine and authentic. That’s why the best messages are told by an organization’s employees, former employees, and neutral parties. Consider creating short articles profiling individual employee success stories, pitch those articles to external media, and put them on the company website where recruits will see them.
By taking those simple and affordable steps, Sullivan says an employer can build a brand that inspires respect and trust from employees and applicants. By integrating the company’s purposes, goals, and theories into something employees can relate to, branding HR programs will help to establish the direction, leadership, inspiration, and energy for the entire company.