The Employer Brand - What is it really?


The “War for Talent” came about in 1997, through a McKinsey Consulting thought leadership peace. It outlined just how competitive and what sort of changes companies would need to make to win in that war for talent and how it would define hiring and ultimately the success of businesses around the world. Fast forward 20 years and in today’s language the talk is all about “employer branding.” Obviously, employer branding has existed since the beginning of time when enterprise relied on people to work and grow their businesses. Now it is a major focus as competition is tight for skills in a technical sense and more so in a commercial sense. So, what is employer branding really?

As a recruitment consultancy, we deal with many companies from Top 10 ASX listed through to smaller privately run organisations. They all have one thing in common. They all want quality people to join them in growing and/or changing their business! Over time some of them will have spent up and implemented large “employer branding” initiatives through marketing, social media interaction, websites, internal training and development, creating a “work-life” balance through to company trips and “getaways.”

Others will have done nothing.

So, who has the stronger employer branding?

It all depends on the message coming from within and if the “proof is in the pudding.” Not on what you have rolled out to the market as a form of advertising. Initially, yes this can have an effect. It will contribute somewhat. Whether it’s real or not is another thing.

An organisations definition of branding is centered around a formal type of “marketing”. The look and feel to reach a person’s emotional attachment. Though, marketing is everything about what you say and then do in your interactions with prospective people you’d like to join your company and then whilst they are working there. It’s all about the experience….and that is the most important aspect of your brand, employee or customer alike. What you say and do MUST work together. The more consistent it is in a positive sense the stronger the “real” brand will be.

When Looking for Talent

At the initial interaction level with a prospective applicant just how someone recruiting a role, whether it be internally or externally (externally a recruitment company is an extension of a brand), speaks to someone and the language, tone and empathy employed is the brand. It’s their first experience with your company. If the second experience is not consistent with the first, then it will only do one thing. Dilute your employer brand.

Finding people in the recruitment market today is becoming easier with the use of Linked In, Glassdoor, Facebook, job boards and new technology entering the fray such as LiveHire, a talent community based approach. But really that is the easy part. The hard part is convincing someone, in a very short space of time that you are worth speaking with. That will only be driven by your approach.

Poor language, lack of empathy and “assuming” everyone will want to speak with you is not going to take you very far. Then there is the second level of interaction. I have heard on many occasions of people looking for new opportunities, be interested in a specific role, only to be met by an inexperienced internal or external recruiter, and be left doubting the potential of such a move. If you can’t back up an approach or an advertisement for a specific role with the basics of company knowledge, job specific knowledge and conduct yourself with confidence in an discussion….don’t have the discussion in the first place. You will just have more people in the market speaking with other people, and sending a message of doubt about their experience. Yes, not all applicants are realistic, though they all deserve a basic explanation and understanding of the situation, people and culture. You are trying to sell your organization as much as interview them.

And if this isn’t the case, good luck! It’s then just a transactional process.

Finally even if you don’t speak with them, the old issue of not getting back to some will play it’s role in the process. We certainly have not been perfect since establishing ourselves in 2000. You would be hard pressed to find a company which has been. We do encourage consistency and discipline at this stage. Our own brand as a service provider (not an employer) will suffer here depending on how this is delivered.

When a company takes on the process internally, and performing all the same functions as a recruitment consultancy you are bringing your employer brand, the experience and subsequent perceptions under much closer examination. You have just created a pathway of experience which is attached to the overall brand. How you handle this then becomes even more critical. There is no third party to dilute the negative message.

Once Inside the Organisation

The biggest promoters of an employer brand are existing staff. Employees socialize, and they verbalize their thoughts and their access to do both of these is now as strong as it will ever be in a connected world. Be conscious of the legendary scene from the movie “A Few Good Men”, as Colonel Jessep sits in the witness box, being question by Kafee…

Jessep (Jack Nicholson): You want answers? Kaffee (Tom Cruise): I think I’m entitled to them. Jessep: You want answers? Kaffee: I want the truth! Jessep: You can’t handle the truth!

The key takeaway here is ensure there are more positive consistent “truths” emanating from within, rather than the negative experiences. This starts at the on boarding process (Think, how does someone not have a desk and computer ready for their first day of work?) through to team involvement and welcoming.

We all know that life is not perfect in the corporate world (life in general!) and people do have to make hard decisions. I personally think that is universally accepted. However, beyond this there may be some truth to what lies inside a brand if negative experiences consistently rear their head. If that is occurring, well your employer brand is going to suffer. Conversely it could thrive if in a positive context.

To achieve this, it may mean digging into the detail of what is happening and just how aware and capable the leadership is in steering this part of the ship. Emotional intelligence is critical and subsequently can help create that pathway to building a powerful employer brand. As life roles on its not so much about having a perfect work environment, its more about how an organisation handles each situation as it arises. This is what employees experience and it is what contributes to your brand.