The nonprofit Talent Board has released its 2019 Candidate Experience Awards, a benchmarking report covering over 200 companies in North America and 130,000 job seekers that looks at what organizations focused on in their talent acquisition strategies in 2018 and what they are planning for this year, particularly with regard to candidate experience and employer brand. These issues were top of mind for recruiters going into 2019, Talent Board president Kevin Grossman tells SHRM’s Roy Maurer, with employers paying more attention to the perceptions and experience of not only job applicants, but passive and potential candidates as well:
“The candidate experience begins during talent attraction and sourcing, even before a potential candidate applies for a job,” he said. “Attracting candidates is one area of talent acquisition that has been given more and more attention and investment due to such a strong job market throughout 2018, with many more employers big and small across industries understanding just how competitive attracting and sourcing quality candidates truly is.”
The Talent Board’s report shows that 70 percent of candidates do some research on a prospective employer before applying for a job, leaning primarily on employers’ careers sites, job alerts, and careers pages on LinkedIn. According to our research at Gartner, however, candidates are doing less in-depth research into prospective employers before submitting applications than they did a generation ago. That means candidates aren’t engaging that much with employers’ recruitment marketing and branding materials early in their job search. As Craig Fisher, an industry thought leader and head of marketing and employer branding at Allegis Global Solutions, explains to Maurer: “A lot of candidates just apply, apply, apply and don’t really get into the employer brand materials you work so hard at creating until they get further into the process. They’ll begin to scout around when they’re brought onto the company’s careers site to start an application.”
Indeed, this shift is the key insight of our recent research at Gartner on the changing shape of the candidate journey.
For many years, business publications and research organizations have put out “best employer” lists, ranking organizations based on their employees’ reported job satisfaction, the quantity and quality of their benefits, learning opportunities, and other selling points of the employee experience. These lists offer employers an opportunity to earn some good press and burnish their employer brand, and can be particularly valuable in helping lesser-known companies get their names out there and compete for talent with their higher-profile peers. These lists are typically opt-in: Employers that have good stories to tell submit their information, the top ten or 20 of them get a brand boost, and the rest don’t need to tell anyone they didn’t make the cut.
With more information about organizations’ talent policies becoming publicly available, these lists have evolved to draw on new sources of information and to focus on issues of increasing importance to employees today, like diversity and inclusion or corporate social responsibility. Glassdoor, for example, puts out an annual list of best places to work based on employee ratings and reviews, while Forbes and the activist investment firm Just Capital have begun publishing a “Just 100” ranking of the most socially responsible publicly-traded companies in the US and Bloomberg’s Gender Equality Index highlights companies that are investing in gender equality. The proliferation of best-of lists, however, has led to diminishing returns in their reputational value: Our research at Gartner has found that only 7 percent of candidates say being on one of these lists was an important factor for them in deciding whether to accept an offer from an employer.
The Lists Organizations Don’t Want to Be On
At the same time as the value of a spot on the nice list is waning, a growing trove of publicly available data has led to the emergence of new lists on which employers didn’t ask to be included. Some of these are extensive indices that identify both the best and the worst, like FertilityIQ’s Family Builder Workplace Index, which ranks employers based on the generosity of their fertility benefits. In some rankings, even the best-scoring companies are not great: Equileap recently published a special report on gender equality in the S&P 100, in which the highest grade was a B+. Furthermore, investors, governments, and media outlets have begun to compile what we might call “naughty lists” of companies that are not living up to expectations in terms of fairness, inclusion, transparency, or social responsibility — and you really don’t want to see your organization’s name on one of those.
These naughty lists tend to focus on gender pay equity, executive compensation, handling of sexual harassment claims, and the experiences of diverse employees. One recent, prominent example was a BuzzFeed report in November that pressed leading US tech companies on whether they required employees to resolve sexual harassment claims in private arbitration and called out those that did have such policies or declined to answer (Ironically, the reporters also discovered that BuzzFeed had a mandatory arbitration policy itself). The publication of this report prompted several companies to announce changes in their policies.
The flexible office startup WeWork told its 6,000 employees last week that it would no longer pay for any red meat, poultry, or pork at company events or allow employees to expense meat meals, Bloomberg reported:
In an email to employees this week outlining the new policy, co-founder Miguel McKelvey said the firm’s upcoming internal “Summer Camp” retreat would offer no meat options for attendees. “New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact,” said McKelvey in the memo, “even more than switching to a hybrid car.” Individuals requiring “medical or religious” allowances are being referred to the company’s policy team to discuss options. A WeWork spokeswoman confirmed the contents of the memo.
Other startups have adopted no-meat policies, but these companies are predominantly makers of health and lifestyle products, which attract a specific set of customers and employees whose values and interests align with those policies. WeWork, by comparison, is a growing player in the global commercial real estate business with offices in 76 cities around the world. As such, Felix Salmon comments at Slate, the policy of banning meat (but not fish or eggs) at company-provided meals will likely “cause a ridiculous amount of agita for its frontline staffers and, especially, the benighted HR folks tasked with enforcing the policy.” He also criticizes the policy as internally incoherent when measured against its own stated purpose:
It bans lamb, for instance, and it bans chicken, but it doesn’t ban eggs. Eggs cause just as much environmental damage as chickens do, and much less than lamb does. It’s hard to see much environmental logic in a policy that’s fine with factory-farmed salmon but that forbids people from eating pigeon. (There are far too many pigeons in the world, eat as many as you want.)
The online polling company SurveyMonkey made headlines earlier this year when it revealed that it had begun offering “gold standard” medical, dental, and vision benefits, identical to those of its regular full-time employees, to its independent contractor workforce in January. The company was inspired to do so by its employees, many of whom pointed out in a benefits survey that while their benefits were excellent, they thought it unfair that they were unavailable to the company’s janitorial and catering staff.
Last week, Fast Company’s Eillie Anzilotti took a closer look at SurveyMonkey’s decision to equalize benefits, considering the change in the context of growing awareness of the impact this form of inequality has on the army of contractors who manage facilities for Silicon Valley tech companies and many other white-collar firms in the US. SurveyMonkey is committed to making benefits equality work, primarily as a statement of its values, Chief People Officer Becky Cantieri told Fast Company:
“We have expectations for ourselves that we use our platform to contribute positively to the industry,” Cantieri says. The prevailing independent contractor model in Silicon Valley leads to “two groups working literally side by side, who have a very similar impact on the day to day experience of working at the company, but are treated very differently,” she adds. It’s still an unusual arrangement in the tech world, so SurveyMonkey has been slow to scale it to its other offices outside of San Mateo, as they want to ensure they’ve ironed out the kinks, but they intend to do so going forward: This open enrollment season, they will bring expanded benefits to contract workers at the Portland office.
She also checks in with Managed by Q, a platform for part-time janitorial, maintenance, and clerical workers, whose founder Dan Teran decided in 2014 to classify workers on the platform as employees, not contractors, and offer them benefits including health insurance, paid leave, a 401(k) plan, and even equity. “Even though it may seem like a higher cost up front, we believed that the overall value of doing so would be higher than us just saying it’s not worth investing in our employees,” Maria Dunn, Managed by Q’s director of people, tells Anzilotti. The extra costs imposed by Teran’s decision isn’t hobbling the startup’s growth: Managed by Q has raised over $76 million so far and is turning a profit. It recently announced that it was acquiring the office space planning and project management service NVS, broadening its portfolio of services and potentially gaining new clients.
The investment bank Morgan Stanley recently announced a set of new policies for its junior associates, offering higher base pay and a faster track to promotion, while also underscoring its work-life balance policies, Preeti Varathan reported at Quartz last week:
According to its memo, Morgan Stanley is raising base pay for associates in investment banking and capital markets by 20% to 25%. It is also speeding up its promotion timeline for high-performing analysts—the entry-level position below associate—from three years to two. The memo also reiterated the bank’s current vacation and hours policies: two mandatory one-week vacations every year and limited staffing on Fridays and weekends.
Wall Street has long had a reputation for debilitating hours, consecutive all-nighters, and frequent weekend work. But even the most competitive firms are now grappling with a new generation’s insistence on rapid promotions and better work-life balance. “The ability to recruit, develop, and retain top talent by offering attractive career opportunities is a key priority,” the memo noted.
Indeed, at a time when the labor market is tight and employers in all industries are having to compete harder for talent, it’s unsurprising to see another large employer make investments in its most junior employees. The financial sector, however, has also been grappling for several years now with a particularly difficult employer brand problem. More than ever before, prospective employees now question whether the lucrative rewards of investment banking’s traditional high-stress, high-pay model are worth the costs to their quality of life.
Google is widely recognized as a good company to work for, offering competitive compensation, world-class benefits, and ample opportunities for learning and career development. Among large employers, Google ranked fifth in the US and took the #1 spot in the UK on Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work list for 2018, based on thousands of employee reviews.
In the age of HR as PR, a reputation like Google’s is more valuable than ever. On the other hand, the tech giant has also been at the center of several controversies in the past year concerning diversity, inclusion, and discrimination in the tech sector, including allegations from the US Department of Labor that it engaged in gender pay discrimination and a lawsuit by several former employees also claiming that the company systematically discriminated against women in pay and career development. (Google is not alone among tech employers in this regard; Microsoft is also facing a number of gender discrimination claims.)
In this instance, Google’s prestige could turn into a liability, business professors Mary-Hunter McDonnell and Brayden King explain at Quartz. That’s because of a phenomenon McDonnell and King found in their research that they call the “halo tax,” in which companies with good reputations are punished more severely when they are found liable for employment discrimination:
Using a unique database of more than 500 employment discrimination lawsuits between 1998 and 2008, we concluded that the greater the company’s prestige, the less likely it would be found liable because of the halo effect. However, once a prestigious company was found liable, punishments were more severe, which shows that prestige can be both a benefit and a liability, depending on whether a company is defending itself or its blameworthiness has been firmly established.
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.