In 2014, when CEB, now Gartner, last took a deep look at employer branding, we concluded that companies needed to shift their strategies from branding that attracts candidates to branding that influences their career decisions, encouraging the right candidates to apply as opposed to the most candidates, and directing others elsewhere. At the time, most companies were receiving a high volume of applications and needed to to use their branding strategy to separate the best from the rest.
Today, the circumstances have changed: Applicant volume has declined, but the candidates companies need are becoming harder to find. In 2016, 39 percent of all job postings by S&P 100 companies were for just 29 critical roles, including technical occupations like software developers and information security analysts. Competition for critical talent is only projected to get tougher in the coming years, as the growth of aggregate demand continues to outpace supply.
At the same time, we’ve seen an explosion of investment in recruiting technologies and an expanding number of candidate-focused platforms. These include employer rating platforms like Glassdoor and Comparably, as well as skill-based communities like Github and Stack Overflow. With the proliferation of these resources, candidates are exposed to a much larger amount of information about their prospective employers, most of which is out of those organizations’ hands. Today, 80 percent of the information that influences a candidate’s decision to apply comes from external sources such as these platforms and social media, and only 20 percent comes from employers themselves.
At our ReimagineHR conference in Washington, DC, on Thursday, CEB advisor Dion Love led a panel discussion with Michael Cox, SVP of Talent Solutions at Comcast, Susan LaMotte, founder and CEO of the employer brand and talent consultancy Exaqueo, and Jim McGrath, talent acquisition executive at Danaher, on how organizations need to re-strategize their employer branding for this new recruiting environment.
The conversation began with the question of how companies can get to know their target candidate audience better. The challenge here is in looking to the future, Cox observed, with thoughtful workforce planning that identifies not just the skills that matter today, but also those that will be important in the coming years. After all, some of the job titles that are critical roles today did not exist five or even three years ago. Comcast’s approach to workforce planning has comprised both a labor market analysis to locate key talent pools, as well as focus groups and other research to find out what these candidates were looking for in an employer as well as what attracted Comcast’s current employees to work there.
Once the critical talent cohorts have been identified, LaMotte added, it’s important to remain focused on it and resist the urge to fall back into the traditional “funnel” approach to recruiting. Exaqueo’s clients often ask how to become an “employer of choice” or a “best place to work,” but these are the wrong questions, she told the audience, because what employers really need is to become an employer of choice for that specific talent segment.
Advertising Your Employer Brand (and Culture)
Culture plays a major role in influencing employer brand and the employee value proposition. Because culture is fundamentally a set of behaviors, said LaMotte, recruiting leaders can find out how those behaviors manifest in the workplace and use that information to tell stories that attract talent. If your brand is not based in the reality of your culture, Cox warned, that creates a dissonance for candidates when they join that will have negative consequences, whether they decide to quit or to remain but disengage from their job.
LaMotte cautioned against a reactive approach to recruiting, where companies spend millions on recruitment advertising but don’t invest in controlling the message that goes out into the world. Consumer marketers always have strategic plans for maintaining consistent messages, but recruitment marketing too often overlooks this type of planning. Recruiting leaders should make friends with the marketing function, she said, and learn from how they measure the success of the organization’s products and services, looking at aided and unaided brand awareness.
In the same vein, she added, many employers measure source of hire as a recruiting metric, but this only tells you the last port of call from which candidates arrived at your door. Instead, LaMotte suggested that employers start measuring source of influence—i.e. what relationships or sources, online or offline, influenced candidates to apply and when. It’s also worthwhile to measure how many candidates who could be good fits have never considered working for your organization. These metrics can help determine how effectively your brand is resonating with your target talent segments.
Encouraging Employer Brand Advocacy
To build the business case for a focus on employer brand, McGrath emphasized the need to understand what current employees value about their jobs and engage them as brand ambassadors. How current employees perceive your organization and the value proposition you are offering them internally will also influence your organization’s external perceptions.
So what’s the best ways to engage current employees to be advocates for the brand, such as by sharing positive stories on LinkedIn or Glassdoor, without putting pressure on them? The panel agreed that employers should create content that employees want to share with their networks. McGrath said Danaher had achieved this by revamping its LinkedIn strategy so that rather than the occasional post, the company now puts out something new every day, incorporating branding and other key messages, for employees to see and share.
At Comcast, Cox added, they target specific groups with their content and encourage them to post. Employee resource groups can be great brand ambassadors too, he noted, and that can also pay dividends toward diversity and inclusion efforts.
The key thing to avoid, LaMotte advised, is a reactive approach that entails pushing your best employees to post on Glassdoor or attempting to respond to every poor or neutral review. Instead, she recommended creating platforms to collect and archive stories from employees, so as to have a selection of content you can use more strategically.
For more insight, tools, and research on employer branding and attraction, CEB Recruiting Leadership Council members can go here.