Employer Branding Ideas
London, UK
Employer Branding Ideas
London, UK
Employer Branding is Broken (and Here’s How to Fix it)
Written by: Jörgen Sundberg

Hung Lee

Who thinks employer branding sucks? Hung Lee does.

He says employer branding is broken and candidate experience is crap. As the founder of Workshape and a prolific recruitment pundit, I’m willing to hear him out.

Listen to the interview on iTunes, SoundCloud or keep reading for a summary of our chat.

What’s Workshape and what do you do there?

Workshape is a recruiting technology platform for software developers. So, what we do is basically help companies instantly find relevant software engineers through kind of a matching algorithm, which we’ve developed. Companies that use us, typically, are going to be tech startups, or businesses that are going through, you know, big digital transformation. So, companies like Skyscanner, for instance, or M&S Digital or those kinds of businesses typically are companies that would sign up to a platform like ours.

You can’t apply for jobs on Workshape and you can’t search for candidates on Workshape. So, we’re not a job board, but we’re a matching service. So, what that means is we ask both parties to declare in advance what it is they’re looking for before they get visibility of the other side. We then visualize that data, create kind of a visual signature of what the job is and we match that to a relevant person, basically. So, yeah.

Why is employer branding broken?

I think, to a large extent, the investment that we put into employer branding misses the point. And whilst I think it’s one of those things where I think I value the sentiment, and I totally understand companies being very committed to, you know, presenting the right image, but I think it still doesn’t generate great candidate experience on the other side if you think about it. You know, you get lots of companies spending a lot of money building their so-called employer brand, but the fundamental mechanics of how a person experiences that brand, as a candidate, hasn’t changed. And that is still quite a negative and frustrating experience for the vast majority of people.

I would say that if you look at the mindset of what is a candidate, typically, I think someone who’s susceptible, if you like, to employer branding tactics, is what we would call someone who’s either an active job seeker. You know, people who are normally going about their day, typically, are not going to be so dazzled, by whatever a company does, to abandon their day and start taking an interest in a particular corporate business. The people who might be interested are going to be those individuals that are already engaging in job seeking activities, and I would argue, potentially, they would do that with less discernment than people might currently assume.

I would imagine you’re very happy at Link Humans right now, Jorgen, if you don’t mind me using you as an example. I would say, in large part, you might be impressed by whatever a company might do in terms of employer branding, but it would probably never activate you to become part of somebody’s recruiting firm because you’re not in the mindset of looking for work. So, I would argue that employer branding is, again, the sentiment is correct but you’re still trying to get people to apply. And I think that’s the part that’s not examined and that’s the part that actually creates the negative experience, the concept of having to apply to a job.

How can we fix employer branding?

My biggest problem with employer branding is that it’s at the front end of what is the standard recruiting funnel. If you look at most, whatever companies do, however innovative it is, ultimately, the call to action is, “Oh, apply to this job.” And once that person applies to that job, you know what? Straight away, you’re dropping in recruitment form on him or her, and that is literally a very processed and reductive activity which I think most people don’t welcome. Now, I think you can get away with it when you’ve got an audience that is highly interested in job discovery.

If you’re looking at people that are, if you like, have high demand for their skills, let’s say in my industry, software engineers would be one example, but there are others. We typically don’t want to ever put them through a funnel-like experience. That in itself is the negative part of job discovery or job search. That’s why people resist it, I mean, the last time you or I went through a recruitment funnel, I guarantee you we did not walk away from that thinking, “That was an awesome experience for me.” And we’d probably not welcome the opportunity to enter another funnel of that type.

And the reason why I think that is, is because it’s a stage-by-stage examination of whether you’re good enough for this company. And that in itself is kind of a hierarchy, is an imbalance of power relationship there, which is not recognized in our industry. You know, we assume that it’s an equal relationship but, of course, it isn’t. The power is all with the company. And if we think about how we assess talent or people seems a more human term, it’s almost always about reducing them to, you know, a set of bullet points, or a bunch of experiences, or a set of competencies with a score against it and what have you. And all of these things are, I think, fundamentally inhumane. That’s why we don’t like it.

What company does employer branding right?

I like the company called Toggl. Check out their careers site, perfect. What they’ve done is simply say, “Hey, listen, here are the general jobs that we typically hire for,” and anybody can just look at it and sign up and give their test a go. And it’s kind of a close to real world examination of the sort of work that you do. So, for instance, if you’re going for a marketing role or you came across this product, you liked it and thought, “You know what? I reckon I’d give marketing at Toggl a shot,” you simply look at the website, do the marketing test, it takes you 25 minutes, and then you get a call. How easy is that? At no stage are we being asked to submit anything, I’m totally in control of the timing of it. No one’s saying, “Hey, book this time out.” Toggl really understands user experience. They’ve got a great product and they’ve applied that to their recruitment process.

I think this is going to help them get a lot of people because they haven’t put a high-friction assessment flow in and they haven’t put false in filters. They haven’t said, “You know what? We need a university graduate. You need to be a university graduate with first class honors.” Why is that important? You know what? It isn’t important, but they do it because they want to control applicant flow. But here, there’s no space for that information to go in. It’s simply, “Look, do the assessment. It takes 25 minutes of your time, you decide when you want to do it. And then, you know what? If it passes what we think is important, we’ll bring you in.” So, that’s a good example of a company that hasn’t spent a lot of money on employer branding, they just simply thought about the experience from a candidate point of view and they realized, “You know what? Application itself, the concept of applying for a job and the mechanics involved in that, is the reason why it’s so slow and so negative to everyone involved in the process. Let’s get rid of the applications.”

What trends do you see in the talent space?

I would pull out three different sort of technical technology trend that will impact recruiting.

So, number one, I think you need to look at artificial intelligence. And by this, I mean automated recruiters, automated job search agents. These are kind of little programs that are trying to solve the discovery problem in a totally different way. It’s not about search, it’s not about ads, it’s not even about what we do, which is match. It’s about basically empowering a digital agent to go out there and find what you want for you. Now, I think that is going to be a hugely interesting segment.

Another, if you like, a macro trend as to where we are is blockchain. I think a lot of people don’t quite understand how blockchain tech applied to the world of work. But to kind of dumb it down to a level where it shouldn’t go, but for the sake of a quick explanation, blockchain is essentially the technology which allows you to track transaction but also protect the identity. So right now, it’s predominantly used for financial transactions, you can trade with it, bitcoins, etc. But of course, it’s clearly applied to the world of work. Imagine if you’re in a situation where you produced a brilliant bit of copy. You ideally want to track that copy wherever it might be replicated. Why could you not get a royalty for that? Right now, that’s impossible for you to do. But with blockchain tech, that allows you to do it because it’s public ledger of the content that you’ve produced and the structure you’ve produced it. Suddenly, you can start seeing workers basically using blockchain tech to validate that, “Yes, I am the owner of this bit of labor and I should be paid for this labor.” That’s going to have huge, transformative effects society-wide, I suspect.

And the third major trend would probably be another application of AI. But rather than using agents, I think we’re going to get to the point where we do have the ability to predict fit and performance based on what this person’s behaviors and digital footprint might be. We’re getting to the point now where I think there’s so much data that everyone produces, inevitably produces, that you know, we’re not even aware of. Uber is a classic example. They track your location even when you’re not using the app, for instance. This is in the phone. If you use the app, they know who you are, where you are. All of that is going to feed into some sort of engine which, I think, will be able to accurately predict whether you’re going be any good at this job or not. And again, that’s got awesome and kind of worrying implications for all of us, really. So, I think we’re on the precipice of some major, major changes, technology-wise. Hopefully, Workshape will find a way to ride those waves as well and still continue to provide a valuable service to the community.

Follow Hung on Twitter @HungLee and don’t forget to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.