Employer Branding in the Airline Industry

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

In the airline industry, a robust employer brand is a great asset in recruiting bright, friendly people who are able to empathize with customers. A strong talent pipeline relies on a brand demonstrating that they offer talent development and encourage and empower employees while recognizing the importance of sustaining a strong employee value proposition. Training, development, recognition and long-term career opportunities are key.

Major airlines have had to reconsider hiring strategies in recent years to address skill shortages. Instead of just increasing remuneration, they have paid attention to employer branding. In particular, pilots may prefer working for a well-known company at a lower wage, rather than a higher salary earned in working for a carrier with a poor image.

Culture counts

After the acquisition of US Airways, American Airlines made significant changes with the vision of restoring American as the greatest airline in the world. We talked to Carrie Corbin who worked for American building talent acquisition programs and strategies.

On joining American she found an employee culture powered by people who love the industry, love their jobs and their benefits. She decided it was important to take the time to focus on employer experience and the full life-cycle of it, not just the hiring. Because of its culture, American doesn’t have a retention issue, so when building out the EVP, the team was keen to understand the ‘what’s in it for me’ element of work at American Airlines.

Carrie maintains “Your employer brand is your identity as an employer”. They want to be able to help people picture themselves working at American, but that’s not just doing a realistic job preview video, it’s about understanding, honestly, the lived experience of employees. In pursuit of an enhanced employer brand, they make a point of tracking the candidate journey and applying and understanding sources of influence.

Strategic competitive advantage

The employee branding process allows an organization to deliver a consistent brand image to customers and employees alike. Done well, it provides a competitive advantage achieved through employees, who live the desired brand image and values so they project that image to customers and other organizational stakeholders.

What’s the secret behind the enviable employer brand of Southwest Airlines? We asked Shari Conaway the People Director there. An HR professional in the airline industry for over 20 years, her focus is on supporting the team members of Southwest. Employer branding and its advertising through social media are a major factor in recruitment for the airline.

Southwest has a world-famous culture, and a reputation for putting its people first. The employer brand has been able to ride the coattails of the company brand, affording it the ability to recruit the best. Southwest expects staff to extend to customers the same level of warmth, respect, and responsiveness they, themselves, receive. They have a great way of expressing this:

“We only employ people who live the Southwest way and there are three things they look for:

  • Warrior Spirit: Someone who wants to give 100% every single day.
  • Servant’s Heart: We live by the golden rule, which is being a caring individual and treating others with respect.
  • Fun-LUVing Attitude: Most people spend the majority of their life at work, and we want you to take your work seriously, but not yourself. Just have fun at work!”

Southwest’s outreach program is impressive too, as well as visiting colleges and high schools they run an adopt-a-pilot program which connects pilots to 5th-grade classrooms, where a class follows a pilot on the trips taken, and learn about subjects such as aerodynamics. It’s a great way to educate kids on the potential of working in the airline industry.


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