While the concept of an employer brand is far from new, the move to entirely virtual work forced by COVID and the resulting Great Resignation has resurfaced the conversation in a big way for organizations of all sizes and types. Location, office space and perks based on physically being in the work environment have been removed as differentiators, and the playing field has now been leveled like never before.
Organizations who have committed to nurturing an empathetic culture, offering unlimited flexibility and generally shifting their focus from where employees work to how they work can suddenly compete in ways they couldn’t before; it’s no longer only about commute time, salary and health insurance. These things are (with the possible exception of commute for remote workers), of course, still important, but they’re frankly the table stakes. Employer branding has become something that can set you apart and potentially even be the deciding factor for skilled candidates who have their choice of which organization to work with and for.
OK, you say, that sounds good. How can I build an employer brand like that, and even if I succeed, how is anyone ever going to know? Great question. If you’re interested in the full, soup-to-nuts approach to employer branding, you’re going to love our eBook, Guide to Employer Branding: How to Attract and Retain Top Tech Talent. It has everything you need to get started.
The goal of this article, however, is to pull back the curtain on the biggest mistake so many organizations make when showcasing their culture and environment. And what’s that? They don’t take advantage of their greatest asset – their current employees.
You can tell prospective employees about how great you are and why they should choose you over your competitors until you’re blue in the face, but in the age of ultimate authenticity, you’re not the voice they are listening to.
They want to hear from those who have actually experienced and are actually experiencing your culture. They want to know what it’s really like to work for your organization as a whole and, importantly, what it’s like to work in and with the specific departments, teams and managers connected to the roles that interest them. They also want to get the real story on your organization’s makeup and commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion, and understand how well you truly integrate your mission, vision and values (are they just words on a laminated piece of paper tacked up in everyone’s cube, or are they actually guiding principles?).
Your current employees are who they’d prefer to hear from, and are already the ones they are reaching out to on LinkedIn and other platforms before or during the application process. Organizations who can harness this incredible asset, and help give their own employees a megaphone to spread the word and demystify their culture for outsiders will be positioned to not only better retain their own talent, but attract the many skilled candidates searching for their next opportunity.
There’s a lot more on this in the eBook (shameless plug alert), but to get you started on how to activate your employees, here are a few quick tips:
Do Some Soul-Searching
Before launching an internal employer brand-focused campaign, make sure you’re being honest about whether your employees would, for the most part, have good things to say about how they’re treated in your organization. Because authenticity is the absolute key here, there would be few things more damaging than a campaign that looks like you’re forcing employees to talk about how great the culture is when the reality is clearly different. Candidates are trained to see through this sort of thing, so if your culture isn’t camera-ready, start by working on that before getting your employees to broadcast anything to their networks.
Start Small: Build Referral Incentive Programs
As we know, a referral with money tied to it won’t always mean that employees value the culture at your organization or even like working there, but these programs do have the potential to help you bring in strong staff more quickly, as well as to give you some signals on how current employees are feeling about the organization. A referral still requires a conversation between the referrer and referee, and most employees would think twice, even with the monetary reward as a carrot, before bringing a friend or former colleague into an organization that they know to be toxic (or one that they’re looking to leave themselves). These programs can serve as a great starting point as you look to build out a complete employer brand program.
Do Some of the Work for Your Employees
Beyond presenting an authentic, genuine view of your organization to candidates (“Don’t take it from us, take it from them”), one of the most valuable benefits of an employee-led employer branding program is the network effect. The idea is that, through sharing of content on each employee’s social network, you can access a much larger and, in some cases, more valuable audience than you can through your existing database. For example, a prospective candidate list owned by human resources might only include those actively looking, while employee networks could include highly-skilled talent who are gainfully-employed, but could be swayed by the right opportunity. One of the keys to making a social-driven campaign work is to actually create employee-centric content to share on social media, and spend time educating your employees on how to use it. They should and will add their own spin to each post, video and graphic, but having the assets themselves and understanding how to use them makes it much more likely that employees will do the sharing you’re hoping for.
I won’t say this is easy, because it isn’t. It will still take resources, time and potentially budget to get it right. Done well, however, it will allow you to put an initial structure and program in place, then turn it into a well-oiled machine of authentic employee-generated content, testimonials and views into your culture that are each more valuable than anything coming from your branded accounts.