In years gone by, graduates have been drilled in the importance of impressing would-be employers, well aware that qualifications just about get their names on interview shortlists.
In graduating with a UK media degree in 2005, 70,000 students joined the hunt in securing their first job, with the onus on each individual to convince employers within a highly competitive industry why they should be chosen.
A ‘new’ brand promise
Nowadays, the tables have turned. According to a guide on employer branding by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), candidates are now in the position of picking and choosing where they want to start their careers as “companies are struggling to attract, recruit, engage and retain talent for their organisations”.
The question has now been flipped on its head. Companies are no longer asking why prospective employees want to work for them; rather, they are now having to provide a list of reasons why they should be the company that’s chosen above all others.
So what is employer branding? The CIPD offers the suggestion that there is no exact definition, but provides the following as a guide for companies to consider when setting out their qualities:
“An employer brand is a set of attributes and qualities – often intangible – that makes an organisation distinctive, promises a particular kind of employment experience, and appeals to those people who will thrive and perform to their best in its culture.”
What makes your company the No. 1 choice for top talent, and what are you doing to keep them happy to stay where they are?
These are important questions for any company to answer – particularly those in developing nations – but the statistics make for interesting reading.
In 2007, Robert Half – a UK HR (human resources) company – found that two-thirds of businesses across the world didn’t have an effective strategy in place to attract and retain high-performing employees.
The firm found that the UK fared better than other countries, with 44% of companies recognising the importance of employer branding – 69% of those with over 200 employees having a formalised branding strategy in place, compared with just 23% of companies with fewer than 50 employees.
According to managing director David Jones: “In today’s marketplace where skilled candidates are such a precious commodity, employers need to look carefully at the image of their organisation and what they would like to represent both internally to existing members of staff and externally to potential new employees.”
Candidates can now afford to be selective in who they choose to work for and can look more closely at an organisations’ culture, company image and values that are aligned with their own before making a decision to join.
With candidates now able to be selective about who they choose to work for, it is now more important than ever to cultivate a well-rounded employer branding strategy to help ensure the image of your company is precisely as you wish it to be and that prospective employees will feel that yours is the company that they should be working for.
It is also worth keeping in mind that, just as with any personal image and reputation, your business branding already exists – people have thoughts on who you are, what you do, and what you stand for. It makes sense to have a plan in place to ensure that what’s out there is positive and robust.
Last year, the jobs website Glassdoor listed the top 25 companies to work for in the UK, based on employee insight and feedback given over 12 months.
At the top of the list – predictably – was Google, due to its “cool culture” and level of trust afforded to its employees.
As one employee puts it: “I can choose what projects I want to work on, and how I want to solve things. I have the ability to make changes that have a huge impact on my team.”
It has been noted that salary is no longer the driving force behind job satisfaction. There is now much more emphasis on factors such as meaning, value and purpose.
Employees want to feel that their work is making a contribution and making a positive impact on the overall company aims. They want to know that the part they play in helping the company move forward is substantial and valuable.
By placing trust in its employees, Google sends a clear message:
We believe in you and we know that you will do a great job.
Above all else, effective employer branding lets people know they are worth something, and that they are the ones who drive success.
Second on the list is retail giant, John Lewis. One employee in Aberdeen, Scotland, praised the level of pay and described the role as “highly rewarding”. Other workers highlighted the annual bonus scheme and collaborative culture.
Third came Microsoft for its “competitive nature” and flexible working hours, while Accenture ranked fourth on the list, praised for its good salary, network opportunities and great colleagues.
Fifth on the list was Jaguar Land Rover, which, according to employees, is great at spotting potential in people and helping them advance in their career.
It is worth mentioning that, while money is no longer the “be all and end all” of job satisfaction, offering a good salary is something to consider when looking to attract high performers.
Ultimately, financial considerations are going to be an important factor for graduates and career changers when scouting firms. Therefore, it is worthwhile keeping this in mind when formulating an employer branding strategy.
Unsurprisingly, in their paper Identifying Determinants of Employer Branding, Bhadra J. H. Arachchige and Alan Robertson found that students wanted to feel appreciated by management, that the environment they worked in was fun, and that they could feel good about what they were doing and who they were working for.
Conversely, factors such as working for a well-known company and the type of service or product offered by a company scored lower in terms of attractiveness – as did working in an “exciting environment”.
In talks I have delivered to students in colleges in Scotland, it appears to me that what young people look for most in a prospective employer is pretty much universal: they want to be valued and appreciated and they want their work to mean something.
Why? Because an employee’s efforts come from within.
If they get the feeling that management values their work, the employees themselves feel valued. Their self-esteem rises and their confidence is boosted.
As a result, they are more likely to feel loyal to those who express appreciation, which increases the chances of them staying put and growing with the company.
One employee, working for the mobile network Three in the UK, hits the nail on the head with regards to how employers should consider treating their staff.
“The management treats you as an equal rather than looking down on you. Lots of fun things happen around the office and at outside events.” Three came seventh in the Glassdoor list of top 25 places to work.
Passion behind the logic
It appears the message is simple; companies who invest in employees will nurture people who will invest back into their respective jobs.
When it’s considered that employees really make a difference to a company’s level of success, it comes as a no-brainer for employers to create a branding that will hook the best talent and keep existing talent from looking elsewhere.
It is imperative that, in an increasingly competitive world, companies look to make themselves as attractive as possible.
The biggest names in business are investing heavily in employer branding, therefore the importance of having a strategy in place can’t be stressed enough. In our lifetimes, on average, we will spend over 70,000 hours at work. (Yes, I winced too.)
Members of Generation-Y, while not averse to being achievement-orientated, are much more open to sacrificing career advancement in order to achieve work-life balance.
In generations past, employment was viewed as being much nobler, and a good secure job was the secret to ensure a long and happy life.
Now, graduates in America won’t think twice about quitting a job they don’t enjoy for the sake of going on a road trip.
Meanwhile, many parents in the UK – having worked very hard for the best part of 30 years – are sending a message to their kids that happiness is much more important than anything else.
As my own mother would often tell me, “You spend a long time in your job – if you find yourself dreading going into the office each morning, that’s a lot of time wasted.”
In the UK, the culture is such that young graduates aren’t afraid to question authority and the way things are done, which is the likely reason behind the fact that companies in the UK lead the way on employer branding.
HR teams realise that, while the balance of power hasn’t completely shifted from employer to employee, there has been a considerable shift nevertheless.
Any company looking to attract and retain the best employees should know that it is in their interests to ensure that the interests of employees are well looked after.
Good employees are hard to come by, to say nothing of the best employees. If you’re the head of a company and have yet to put together an employer branding strategy, now would be a great time to start – particularly if your overall vision includes a desire to stay ahead of the competition.
Employer branding strategies
When asked to describe the process of their branding strategy, King’s College NHS (National Health Service) Trust management said:
“The basic stages of the project were to look at where we currently were, take professional advice upon some possible styles, consider the restraints, accept feedback from a wide range of staff, have management information as a baseline and then, as the brand developed, have a strategy and plan for future development.”
In discussing the employer branding of the British Library, recruitment strategy consultant Anne Spearman was acutely aware of the negative perceptions held by some with regards to seeing the British Library as a viable and exciting employer.
The library is engaged in a long-term strategy to challenge and change those perceptions through “improved understanding, effective marketing and advocacy among existing staff and stakeholders”.
Spearman is clear on the results of implementing an effective branding plan: “The HR team has created a world-class well-being offer that helps to retain staff at all levels and provides a new dimension for advocacy and satisfaction from existing employees.
“Organisation development is increasingly seen as part of the ‘great place to work’ message and all members of staff have wide access to training and development opportunities and personal development planning. These activities reinforce this message in building and maintaining employer reputation.”
If companies wish to attract and retain the best talent, it is clear that robust employer branding must play a central role in the recruitment process and retention strategy.
Making an impression is no longer a one-way street – employers have to look to impress prospective and existing employees just as prospective employees are expected to shine during the job interview.
After all, it’s the quality of employees that drives and determines a company’s level of success, and therefore it pays for a business to show why it is the most attractive option.
In their journal article, Conceptualizing and Researching Employer Branding, Kristin Backhaus and Surinder Tikoo conclude: “Managers can use employer branding as an umbrella under which they can channel different employee recruitment and retention activities into a coordinated human resource strategy.
“Integrating recruitment, staffing, training and development and career management activities under one umbrella will have a substantially different effect than each of the processes would have alone.”