A Dummy’s Guide to Employer Branding

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

You know a category is heating up when it warrants a Dummies book. Employer Branding has now got the dummy treatment, thanks to our friends and chief dummkopfs Lars Schmidt and Richard Mosley.

Check out the book Employer Branding for Dummies, listen to the interview with Lars Schmidt below and make sure you subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

How has the field of employer brand evolved in your opinion?

It’s been evolving quite a bit, actually. You know, the field of employer brand, we’ve really started talking about it as a mature function only in the last five years, but it certainly existed prior to that. I think what you’re starting to see now, though, is the maturing of the function where, in the past employer branding was something that was just kind of done within the realm of your recruiting activities. I think employer branding now is matured into its own field in its own right. And for many companies, that’s still sits in recruiting. For some, it sits in marketing. For some, it sits in comms. So even where the function sits is evolving.

And I think as you see the field start to get more and more sophisticated, and a lot of that is inspired by marketing in terms of how companies are developing and conveying their employer brand and kind of helping shape the perception of your company as an employer, essentially. We’re nearing peak employer brand. We’re not quite there yet. I think we’ve got a little way to go but we’re nearing that.

Why does the world need another book on this topic?

I think that we’re in a point now in 2017 where the notion of employer brand is understood by many who are involved in recruiting. The actual ability to articulate and implement and measure an employer brand successfully is not yet a core competency of recruiting. It’s become a much bigger competency, but there are still many out there that are struggling with how to get that done.

And so I think that the approach that we took in this book is to really create something that was an A to Z guide, a prescriptive guide on how to advocate for, build, implement, and measure an employer brand, and really do it in a way that applies to a variety of levels. So if you’re just getting started, this book will certainly help you build the foundation. If you’re already pretty advanced, this book will also help you fine-tune your efforts as well. So I think that’s the need.

Why the Dummies format?

I think when you first hear the ‘X for Dummies’, the Dummies is what stands out in that title. I think when you actually dig into the books themselves, they’re not, and I’ve got to know this more going through with the process of writing a book. But it’s not that the audience is dummy, it’s about taking very complex topics and distilling them into a format that can be easily digested.

What are the elements of employer branding?

It’s a very broad topic, but I think at its core, it comes down to recruitment. How your organization is attracting talent, how you are engaging the external potential staff that you’re try to bring into your organization and even how you’re engaging your internal staff, and then even retention. And that’s an area that I think you don’t hear a lot of when people talk about employer brand because they tend to really focus on talent attraction. So it needs to be about ‘How do we present our organization in a way that will help us recruit more effectively, that will have people beating on our door to come work for this?’

It’s a bit of a shortsighted view of what employer branding is. I think when done right, employees have a lot of pride in the organization, and I should say when it’s done right but also authentically and real. So when you’re building an employer brand that actually is a true reflection of the organization and empowers employees to share their stories, then people get really excited about that. They take a lot of pride in that kind of an environment. So there’s certainly retention and component to employer branding as well that I think the industry doesn’t talk about.

What is reality versus reputation?

Employer branding isn’t just what an awesome company you have. If you’re building your employer brand strategy only with the talent attraction in mind, you’re probably spinning things. You’re probably presenting half-truths out there or focusing on those very few really good things about your company but ignoring the negatives.

And so there’s a reality check for any employer brand that no matter how well you are at crafting that message, if it’s not real, then employees are eventually going to find that out. You may dazzle them in the interview process with your recruitment marketing materials and they’re going to show up in week one and be like, “What is this place? This is a disaster.” So there’s that reality component that has to be embedded in your employer brand. It’s not just about spinning the highs and selling the highs. It’s about selling the lows as well and being open about that, and letting potential employees make more informed decisions.

The reputation piece is how you’re perceived as an organization. And you could influence that. And so some organizations actually have bigger reputations as an employer than the reality. So those things aren’t necessarily completely aligned. But your reputation is essentially the perception of what your organization is like. And that can be influenced a bit differently than the reality, obviously. But, some companies may have a stronger reputation than what the reality is and they’re okay with that as long as the reality isn’t too jarringly disconnected from the reputation.

Look at Amazon from a couple years ago and a lot of the heat that they took about the work environment that they had and the reputation they had. Well, that was a little different than the reality. And it ended up helping them because they’re able to own the narrative that, “Look, this is an intense environment but here’s what we’re doing. Here’s the work that’s being done.” And people that were drawn to that kind of environment were actually more compelled to work there than less.

How do you make the case for employer branding?

I think there’s a variety of reasons of why consciously building your employer brand is advantageous to a company.

  1. The obvious one is that it’s going to make it easier for your company to attract the talent that you’re looking for. So if prospects can do some research and get a good feel for your culture, your environment, the way work gets done, your values, as long as they align with it, they’re going to be more likely to seek you out. This is really important for high-demand talents. If you’re hiring niche advanced talent or technology positions, those are all people that have options, And you can bet if you’re hiring in those bases, that your competitors are telling their story. They are focusing on their employer brand. So it becomes, actually, a liability if you’re not.
  2. I think a strong employer brand also allows you to save money on things like recruitment advertising, and media, and things that traditionally you do to fill the top of your funnel because now, you have more candidates coming to seek you out and more ways for them to actually be able to discover you without you having to pay for that.
  3. I think if you have a really compelling employer brand, studies have shown that the salaries may not need to be as high. You may not have to pay a premium if you have a compelling employer brand. Well, the opposite is actually true. If you don’t have a compelling employer brand, you’re going to have to make up with that on something. And usually, for most people, it’s going to be in compensation or benefits.
  4. I think another would be the impact on morale and employee engagement and retention. So a strong employer brand, if it’s an organization that people really want to work for and employees are empowered to share their story, they take a lot of pride in that because not all companies do that. And so if you do that effectively, you’re not just making it easier for you to bring talent in the organization, you’re going to be more effective at actually holding and keeping your talent because of the perception and the reality of what it’s like to work there.

What is an EVP and how do you develop one?

So your EVP is your Employer Value Proposition. Essentially, it is what you, as an organization, will provide to employees. If they’re going to come in and work with you, what will be the experience like for them? For many companies, it’s largely grounded in reality as it should be. But for many, there’s also an aspirational element to it, and that’s okay as well.

I think when it comes to developing your EVP, the most important thing is that it can’t be a top-down approach. A compelling EVP is really the voice of the employee experience. It’s not something that the C-suite can just go away in a bunker and come back and say, “Here’s our EVP,” because that’s probably going to be disconnected with the reality of the employees. So I think effective EVPs tend to have a lot of research, and the research goes through all levels of the organization so that you can make sure that all of the points of view are reflected and they’re all used to develop what that EVP is.

Once you’ve developed the EVP, I generally recommend having a cross-section of employees that you can socialize it to a little bit, “Does this feel right to you? Does this feel true?” And you can only go so deep with that level of collaboration but I think it is important. So once you roll that out, then I think it’s a matter of actually aligning that with all of your employer brand efforts. So, the way that you talk about the employee experience should not feel dissimilar from the way you talk about the company in your job descriptions, and your career site, and your other kind of recruitment marketing and external facing tools. It should not be disconnected from even internal tools like performance management and employee engagement resources. You want that to be able be to reflective in all of the different touch points that you have with your employees both inside the organization and then, obviously, candidates on the outside as well.

What are some of the best practices for employer branding?

So in my view, best practices are best practices that highlight the employees. They spend a lot of time illuminating the employee experience. They’re real. And what I mean by that is that they’re not all fluff. They’re not all gloss.

I think that compelling employer brand practices are ones that highlight the real experience. And a lot of that is good, hopefully. Some of that may not be good, and that’s okay. I think that effective employer branding does a good job at highlighting both because ultimately the end goal shouldn’t be filling your funnel. It shouldn’t be getting more and more people to apply. It’s getting the right people to apply. And to do that, you’ve got to be honest about what you offer and what you lack, frankly, because some people will make decisions and they’ll be drawn to what you offer and some people would be repelled by what you lack.

But if that’s your reality, hiding that and not owning that and worse, covering that up, employees are going to find that out when they get there anyway. And so I think it’s important that, to me, the kind of employer branding efforts and campaigns that interest me are ones that are real and they’re not afraid to poke fun at themselves. They’re not afraid to even shine a light on their worst of times. Because I think that the end result of that is you’ve got a much more targeted candidate pool and level of affinity from employees that are interested in your organization because they can connect with the reality of what it’s like to work there.

What company is doing it right in your opinion?

Duo Security which is a security technology company based in Ann Arbor in Michigan. And they’re in the process of doing this now where they’re revamping all their job descriptions to include ‘why you should apply’ and ‘why you shouldn’t apply’ in every job description, where they’re actually telling you upfront what are some of the negatives about that role, and/or that team that might frustrate people who do that work.

And again, the idea behind that is that they want people to be able to make more informed decisions so they can self-select in or out, based on the realities of that environment. They’re in their early stages now so they haven’t released a lot of data as to the impact yet, but I found that approach to be really refreshing because I think that candidates will respond to that. Candidates have different priorities, so if it’s something that is a deal-breaker to them, maybe it’s an open environment, and they really want an office, they can know that upfront and save time on both your end but also theirs. So that’s an example that stood out to me.

Where do you see employer brand heading in the future?

We’re starting to talk more about this idea of talent brand. It is something that originated within LinkedIn. I think it’s broadened from LinkedIn now in terms of how it’s being defined. But this tends to be how I look at the world of employer branding and where it’s heading, and that’s that you have a consumer brand which is a well-established space, owned by marketing in most organizations that positions the products, or services of the organization. You have employer brand which is maturing but certainly not as mature as the consumer brand function that is more focused on sharing the employee experience and what it’s like to work at the organization.

I think, to me, talent brand is where those two things collide, and you will start to see more of it. Some of the recent campaigns from GE would be a great example of this where companies are actually investing, from within their consumer brand budgets, campaigns that are highlighting employees and highlighting the employee experience. And it’s not just about, “Let us make you feel a certain way about our products or services,” it’s, “Let us show you the people behind our products and services, the people that make these things come together and they work.”

And so I think that what we’ll start to see is this notion of these conversions of employer brand and consumer brand int talent brand, or whatever you wanna call it, but this idea of more of a one brand approach where the execution of it will be segmented, and the way that you will tactically execute on brand, obviously, based on your ideal outcomes will be different, but you’ll start to see a lot more connection between the consumer brand and the employer brand.

Follow Lars on Twitter @Lars and be sure to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.


Our newsletter is exclusively curated by our CEO, Jörgen Sundberg, for leaders who make decisions about talent. Subscribe for updates on The Employer Branding Podcast, new articles, eBooks, research and events we’re working on.


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