Employer Branding: how to attract top talent – and keep it

Feb 16 2016 5 minutes read

No one would dispute that now more than ever companies need competent, loyal employees to be successful.

Until recently, many major employers could simply cherry-pick the talent pool. Candidates competed for jobs. They were willing to accept tough working hours and pressure at the expense of their private life. This has clearly changed.

There is a growing lack of skilled professionals, strong demand for more diversity, and a clear trend towards more women in the workforce. Economic growth has picked up since the recent crisis. Plus, the whippersnappers of “Generation Y” look for inspiring jobs and a good work-life balance, rather than simply high salaries. Employers struggle to attract good people, and struggle to keep hold of them. It’s a seller’s market out there, and the war for talent is on.

For huge companies with big HR budgets, employer branding has long been recognised as a necessity. To attract great employees and inspire loyalty, a lot of effort goes into being seen as appealing, trustworthy and friendly. This is much easier for the big names than for SMEs with small budgets, based outside the big cities. But as so often in life: those who can least afford it, need it the most.

Different hide-bound public sector bodies have particular trouble in attracting the best people. They are not used to competition in their work, but face off against the private sector in the battle for talented applicants every day.

Meanwhile, big international corporates offer good career prospects, have tempting development programs and often pay great salaries. They offer a safe berth – maybe even jobs for life. But is that really a selling point these days? More and more smart young people prefer to work at start-ups, even though the pay may be low and conditions may be terrible.

To get your organisation onto the best applicants’ shortlists, you need an employer branding strategy.

A case study: CNC advised an international organisation on its employer branding strategy and helped with its implementation. We followed the typical steps of strategy development. The plan was to recruit a large number of engineers, ideally female, ideally from different European countries. So: a very specific target group, tough competition, and a limited budget. To top it off, the organisation had a staid image; its jobs were seen as “less exciting” than those in the private sector, career prospects were limited, and going back to the industry was seen as “tricky”.

CNC did a material audit, screening existing content on the organisation´s employer branding activities – the website, past campaigns, research data, studies, brochures, presentations, advertising, social media, and other activities. CNC also spoke to decision makers within the organisation: we interviewed HR people, managers and employees across the spectrum, about their employer. At the end, we pinpointed the strengths and weaknesses of tools, activities and messaging, and made recommendations for the employer branding strategy.

The strategy contained a new employer brand model with the organisation´s brand core: “who are we?” – the brand proposition: “what do we stand for?” – and the brand values: “how do we work together?”

We distilled all this into key messages with matching proof points, which formed the basis of all HR activities for the whole organisation – ensuring a distinctive and consistent employer image.

Still, this was just the start. For a multi-national organisation with very different and often very specific applicant profiles, a one-size-fits-all approach would not have worked. For example, they needed candidates from various European countries, with very specific qualifications. Apart from the different languages, these candidates consumed different media, used different job platforms, and responded to different messages. So we developed targeted, country-specific approaches, adapting the messaging and paying attention to preferred channels, tone and language of communications.

The catalogue of recommended instruments and measures focused on social media and online activities as these were cost-efficient but effective. CNC also came up with pragmatic approaches like the following:
Employees as Ambassadors: An internal competition for existing employees to become a brand ambassador. Employees applied for the role explaining why they were well suited, and brought forward first ideas for recruitment. Those chosen – we aimed to recruit at least one professional from each target country – were trained, to ensure they brought across the right messages. To raise motivation, incentives included an official ambassador title, a fireside chat with the president of the organisation, a couple of extra days to fulfil the role of ambassadors in their home countries (visit their old universities, accompany the HR team to job fairs, etc.).
Friends Network: Former employees and interns as well as business partners or friendly influencers were invited to join a “friends of the organisation” network. This informal club fostered relationships, generated new ideas for the organisation along with job opportunities for the members.
Job Dates: Students, graduates and young professionals were invited to gain insight into the working environment and really experience the job during one day at the organisation. Ambassadors showed participants around, discussed their work, answered questions and shared opinions. While promising candidates were centrally identified and approached, follow-up came mostly directly from the relevant department or ambassador.

One organisational issue needs to be addressed at the beginning: the responsibilities of HR, Communications and Marketing. No matter who “owns” employer branding, CNC strongly recommends close cooperation between these different departments. Be it an interview with one of the officials for which Communications is responsible, a trade fair organized by Marketing, or a network initiated by HR – the employer brand can and must be pushed through all channels and by all divisions. That is how one wins the war for talent, today and in the future.

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