This is the final piece in our multi-part series on smart hiring. This article takes a look at how any small company can communicate its values and position itself to attract the best talent it can. What many business owners might find surprising is roughly half the work here is done after a candidate is hired.
In the mid-90s, researchers gave a name to how prospective employers marketed themselves to candidates — “employer branding.”
Employer branding is in many ways a 1:1 analogue of consumer branding. It involves the creation of a value proposition, communicating a set of values, and influencing the way your company is perceived by a certain group of people.
And in many ways, talented candidates behave like consumers. Research from LinkedIn shows that more than half of people identify reputation as the No. 1 factor they take into account when considering a job at a company. This goes for huge global corporations and local boutique firms.
Therefore, to attract good people even small companies must understand and practice employer branding, and there are a couple of reasons why.
First, doing so lets you audit and improve your employee experience program — the set of experiences a new hire goes through from recruitment to onboarding to retention. Getting that right helps you retain talented employees and ultimately save money on hiring over the long-term.
Second, developing a strong employer brand gives you an advantage when competing with other companies for talent: That LinkedIn piece also notes that half of recruiters don’t know what their company’s employer brand is.
Here is how you can apply employer branding best practices to the entire hiring-onboarding-retention cycles in your company and turn that into a competitive edge.
Know Your Story, and Tell It When Hiring
Step one in developing your employer brand is to develop an employee value proposition — a compelling reason for someone to join your team, exactly as a unique value proposition gives customers a compelling reason to buy from you.
Universum, an employer branding consultancy doing some of the best work on this front anywhere in the world, emphasizes that this value proposition “should be distinctive, authentic, relevant and consistent.”
Once you have this nailed down, you can begin to unpack it by describing your company’s culture, its mission, its core values, and what perks resonate with your current team members. Then, it’s a matter of communicating those messages.
Fortunately, social media has dramatically amplified any company’s ability to do this. Here are three ways your company can leverage social media to communicate its employer brand naturally and effectively:
Show What Your Company’s Culture Looks Like in Practice
Jessie Kwak at SkilledUp points out that small companies can do something as simple as posting photos from a holiday party or a charity event to communicate those messages — and in fact this is an effective show-don’t-tell approach to demonstrating how your company lives its values.
Be Active on Employer Review Sites
“Companies need to be willing to weigh in on employer review sites like Glassdoor and Indeed,” Kwak writes. “The way a company responds — or doesn’t respond — to negative reviews can affect its employer brand.”
This can seem a little intimidating to a small business owner, and there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to respond to criticism on a Glassdoor review. Here is the right way: Be responsive, honest and transparent. “‘We appreciate that feedback and we’re actually looking for ways to expand our benefits package,’ is turning a negative into a positive,” Alicia Garibaldi, Glassdoor’s senior content marketing manager, tells Kwak.
Give Your Employees a Voice
“Times have changed,” Universum VP of Strategy and Advisory Richard Mosley writes at HBR. “The rise of social media has made companies a great deal more transparent. People are far more likely to trust a company based on what its employees have to say than on its recruitment advertising. This means that talent attraction relies far more heavily on employee engagement and advocacy.”
There is also a right way and wrong way to do this. The wrong way is to bug your team members to constantly retweet company news and Like any Facebook shares. That’s going to smack of inauthenticity.
Instead, Jess Hodkinson at Australian content marketing agency King Content has a few ways you can give your employees a real voice that accurately reflects your business:
- Let team members share their ideas and wisdom on the company’s blog. “This will not only make employees feel engaged and part of the business, it also allows you to demonstrate the collective knowledge you have within the team,” she says.
- Create living collaborative documents where it’s easy for everyone to share their ideas, too. These can serve as the raw materials for a blog post, a tweet or a LinkedIn post.
- If someone on the team takes it upon herself to share an idea or a project — even one from outside of the company — with the team, take a share-alike approach and promote it on the company’s own social channels.
Communicating Your Employer Brand in Other Media
Don’t neglect non-social channels for getting your message out, however. You still need to consider all of your recruitment tools and materials, which are essentially touchpoints from the candidate’s perspective.
“Branded assets, such as landing pages and emails, reinforce your EVP while keeping your company in the line of sight to potential employees,” Sheridan Gaenger writes at the Findly blog. “Your employer brand is communicated through every aspect of your business, from your applicant tracking system, career sites, email campaigns, and through to your talent community.
“The manner in which your hiring managers and recruiters interact with prospective employees all relates back to how your candidates can and will receive your employer brand. It’s all of these motions that give your brand a voice and make it shine and stand out.”
Onboarding is an Equally Important Part of the Employee Experience
“When people join your company, they are either too excited or too nervous,” the team at Management Study Guide writes. “Both are extreme conditions, which you need to handle well.”
This is precisely why we spent so much time developing the onboarding features in our own software. We felt it was crucial for new hires to know exactly what they need to do to get ready for the new job. Management Study Guide breaks the onboarding process down into three distinct components that essentially function as employer branding touchpoints:
- Induction of the new hire into the team. This is “when they have a real and firsthand experience. It’s when they discover if they have joined the right organization. The gap between what was promised and what is delivered can divert their attention.
- When the work itself starts. “An organization with a good workplace culture will focus on building relationships and fostering friendships. New employees shouldn’t be overloaded with too much information and responsibilities. Let them settle in.
- How they work with managers, particularly when an issue arises. “Managers must focus on the bigger picture instead of making [any issues] a matter of their ego. How conflicts are handled say a lot about your employer brand.”
Having a member of the team mentor new hires is a good way to smoothe over those touchpoints, Namely founder and CEO Matt Straz writes: “To make onboarding an even more special experience, consider assigning mentors and introducing new hires to senior team members at your company. Breaking the ice early on can ease nerves and make them feel welcomed.”
Veterans United Home Loans is a company that does onboarding incredibly well. It won ERE Media’s Best Onboarding Program award in 2013 and was named to Fortune’s list of best companies to work for in 2016.
Here is part of Veterans United Home Loans’ onboarding process, as described by the company:
“Veterans United has a unique two-day onboarding program focused on instilling the company’s values: be passionate, deliver results and enhance lives. Prior to an employee’s first day, he or she is sent a welcome card and a $10 bill. The individual is asked to spend that money being kind or helpful to someone else. During orientation employees discuss the impact their action had toward enhancing another’s life.”
Veterans United is a medium-sized company, but this strategy could be scaled down to a smaller company pretty easily. As long as enhancing lives is part of your employer brand — and communicated across different touch points during the recruiting and hiring phases — this is a perfect way to drive that point home and break the ice with a newcomer.
How the Right Positioning Can Help You Keep Talented Employees
“An important component of employer branding is creating an employer experience that makes current employees want to stay and makes prospective employees want to join the fun,” the Glassdoor team writes. “Large companies may tempt job candidates with upper-tier salaries and expensive benefits, but smaller companies can make employees just as happy without spending the big bucks.”
As someone becomes a veteran team member, it’s important for you to keep track of what perks or company values are important to them. For example, The Undercover Recruiter notes that more than two-thirds of employees wish their companies would do more to foster a sense of purpose, and this is often why good people take their talents elsewhere.
That’s why it’s important to hire for culture fit, and why your employer brand must accurately represent this culture.
Regardless of culture, though, all employees appreciate having their input valued and being given room to grow. That’s why talented people who are promoted internally will reward you with their dedication.
And doing this also helps you retain onboarding knowledge, The Undercover Recruiter notes in another piece. “While the manager will still need to recruit and train a replacement, the original employee may serve as a resource for training the new hire, as well as eliminating the need for recruiting a candidate to fill their new position.”
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