How To Attract Top Talent With An Unknown Or Misunderstood Employer Brand

Are you a startup or a small and medium-sized business with an unknown brand? Or even if you’re a big and established corporation, perhaps you have a misunderstood brand where the market perception is different from your actual company culture and employee experience? In both cases, trying to compete with the Googles and Facebooks of the world to attract and hire top talent may feel like an impossibly difficult task. But it doesn’t have to be.

Having an unknown or misunderstood brand actually presents both an interesting challenge and advantage for your company. Why?

If you think about Google or Facebook, because they are such well-known brands, they have to deal with the reactive, high volume nature of applications that come with their brand. And the fact is that a lot of these applicants aren’t actually a good fit or aren’t qualified, and this puts a huge burden on their recruiters to filter and screen candidates.

While you may have the opposite challenge as a less known or misunderstood brand, you actually have the unique opportunity of being proactive with your talent attraction and employer brand strategy. By authentically showing and sharing what it’s really like working at your company, you can help attract the right talent and, at the same time, detract those who are unqualified or aren’t a good fit.

So how do you get started? In my webinar with Lever last Wednesday, I shared the four key components you need to build a great talent attraction strategy and to help transform your employer brand.  

1. Develop A Compelling EVP
Employee Value Proposition (EVP) is a simple, overarching statement that ultimately becomes the essence of your employee experience and employer brand commitment. This step is super important because it lays the foundation of how you communicate what’s unique about your company as an employer. So before you launch any employer branding efforts, take time to really build out your EVP.

If you’re a company that already has an EVP, I suggest trying this quick exercise to see if it is unique enough or if it needs revision. Read out your EVP, take out your company name and insert any of your competitors’ names in there. If the EVP still holds true, then it’s probably not unique enough.

Developing your EVP is really a four-step process. It begins with gathering and analyzing your existing data, such as your employee engagement surveys and retention metrics. You want to pull out any key trends or themes you are seeing. You’ll also want to gather qualitative feedback by interviewing some of your employees to understand their experience working at your company.

Once you’ve completed Step 1, you’ll want to review these key trends and themes with your key stakeholders and gather their feedback. These stakeholders may include senior management, HR, Marketing, and most importantly your existing employees. You want to ensure your messaging resonates with your employees so it is true to the actual culture and experience they have.

Step 3 is the development of your EVP based on the feedback and insights you’ve gathered from your stakeholders. Once your EVP is developed, you need to test it against your current HR strategy and practices. If your EVP doesn’t support them, then you probably need to revise it, and vice versa.

And finally, Step 4 involves launching your EVP. Your EVP isn’t just about your careers site, and it most certainly doesn’t end when you hire someone. It needs to be incorporated throughout your employee lifecycle, from hire to retire (or “graduation”), to truly bring your EVP to life.

2. Tell Authentic Stories That Resonate
So now that you’ve got your EVP, what do you do with it? You want show it through authentic employer brand storytelling. This can done with videos, blogs, social media content, employee testimonials and any other creative ways you could think of.

The key is to give your candidates an insider look into your company, and paints an authentic and accurate picture of what life is really like working at your company. So for example, ask your employees to share what they love most about their job, the impact they get to make on your customers through their work, how their job contributes to the company’s mission, and what makes them proud to work to work at your company.

For those who are creating the employer brand content, I always recommend people to think of themselves as a reporter digging for stories around the life at their company and the things happening there, then creating content around that.

3. Empower Your Employees As Brand Ambassadors
Employer branding is as much an employee engagement strategy as an external talent attraction strategy. So before you start any employer branding efforts, you really need to take a hard look at your company culture first. Is a great culture that your employees feel proud to talk about and share with their friends? If not, you need to fix that first.

If you don’t have a great culture and you try to do employer branding efforts, it’s going to be really difficult. If you try to put words in your employees’ mouths, not only will your employer brand content feel inauthentic, but you will get pushback from your employees as well because it doesn’t resonate.

You can’t have authentic employer branding if your employees don’t really care and feel like their actual experience is validated, and that there is a great culture to talk about.

When you have your employees’ buy-in and support, make sure it is super easy for them to get involved. Communicate exactly what they can do to help with your employer branding efforts, and empower them with the guidance and support they need to become your brand ambassadors.

A tactic I’ve seen companies do is creating an employer brand playbook. This includes everything from what you do as a company to get the word out about your company culture and experience, what employer branding is, why and what you’re doing, as well as how employees can participate and what’s in it for them by supporting your efforts.

This playbook, for example, could be something you introduce to new employees during onboarding, to share how the company is attracting people like them and how they can help with your recruiting efforts.

And that’s how you start to build this culture that everyone at your company is a recruiter, and that each and every employee is responsible for bringing in great people to help grow the company.

4. Build Your Marketing Machine
It doesn’t matter how compelling your employer brand content is, if it’s not what your candidates are interested in or if you’re sharing it on the wrong channels, your content will never get seen. That’s why it’s so important to spend time on building out the marketing machine that drives your employer brand strategy.

Once you’ve got your EVP research, you want to start defining your audience and creating your candidate personas – by company level, organization level, and even at the job level. For example, when meeting with your hiring managers, asking questions beyond work experience and education level that they’re seeking, and learn more about the types of personality that perform best on their team, where their team goes to learn online, what sorts of events and conferences they attend, etc.

Then once you get that information, start to build out your channel strategy. Think about all the online and offline places your audience spends time on. Social media, career fairs, transit advertising and meetups are just some examples of channels and platforms you could potentially incorporate into your channel strategy, depending on the candidate personas you’ve developed.

After that, you want to develop a content strategy. Think about all the different types of content that you will want to produce for each channel. This is important because each platform serves a unique audience, and they may be interested in different types of content compared to the audience of another channel.

Having a content strategy also helps you think about all the different content topics you can cover, everything from internal events to employee spotlights and awards your company has won for being a best place to work, for example. These are different types of content you’ll want to include in your editorial calendar when planning.

What I like to do when developing the content strategy and editorial calendar is to hold regular meetings with the recruiting leadership to understand the hiring strategy, what jobs they are hiring and what recruiting initiatives they’ll be focusing on, such as women in tech.

If, for example, your company will be hiring UX designers in San Francisco in the next few months, you will want to interview some of your UX designers in San Francisco about their experience and what their daily life looks like working at your company, then get that content built into your editorial calendar.

That’s how you start to get strategic and proactive with your employer branding efforts. You’re getting ahead of the company’s hiring needs and building your content strategy and editorial calendar around that. And you’re building talent communities who fit your candidate profiles for specific roles as they are or will be opening up.

As part of your marketing machine, you’ll also need to develop a distribution strategy. This is essentially the hub that houses your employer brand content – everything from your careers blog to talent networks and recruiting events – so you can track everything you’re doing and tie them back to your hiring strategy. This is extremely important because you want to know which sources your top hires are coming from, so you can focus on the employer branding efforts that are delivering the greatest ROI.

I hope you’ve found these four ways to building a successful employer brand strategy helpful! If you need help with developing your employer brand and content strategy, contact me here and let’s chat about how we can help. 

Will Staney

Will is the Founder and Principal Consultant at Proactive Talent Strategies, LLC and the former Head of Global Talent Acquisition at rapidly-growing startups Twilio andGlassdoor. Prior to that he held recruiting leadership roles at enterprise software leaders VMwareSuccessFactors and SAPwhere he lead strategic programs includingemployer brandingsourcing strategy, recruiting operations and systems process design.

During his over 7 years as a recruiting practitioner, after 10 years in sales and marketing, he developed a passion for building what he calls "modern recruiting machines". He would push innovation from the inside, execute on his vision, and once it was realized he would pass the torch on to those he had mentored and move on to his next challenge. He was destined to start a consultancy so he could help as many companies as possible adopt a more proactive recruiting strategy with community in mind.

In his free time, Will enjoys riding his motorcycle, trying out the newest gadgets, and spending time with his two kids, Foster and Felicity.