4 Major Obstacles Today’s Employer Brand Teams Face

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

The rapid tech innovation and global crises of the past few years have forced companies around the world to evolve, and their employer brand teams along with them. These upheavals have been hard on small and nimble organizations, but what about global ones? What does “adaptability” look like when you’re one of the largest professional services companies in the world?

This is the challenge facing Erin Maxin, Global Employer Brand Leader at EY (also known as Ernst & Young). EY employs well over 200,000 employees worldwide and works with clients in over 150 countries. Maxin is responsible for sustaining an employer brand that speaks to each of those markets. Doing so has meant evolving alongside EY and facing employer brand’s biggest obstacles, like these, head-on.

1. Attracting Tech Talent Outside of the Big Four

Attracting tech workers is one of the most common talent challenges facing employer brand leaders today. Unless you’re a sought-after Big Four employer, you may struggle to fill tech roles and retain tech talent.

EY knows some candidates may view it as “the minivan of tech career options,” in Maxin’s words. Though well-known to business schools, EY may not be on the radar of the average job-seeking software developer. Or, even if candidates have heard of EY, they may not perceive it as an innovative employer.

However, Maxin says, the opposite is true. EY is a leader in robotic processing, blockchain, and AI innovation. Many tech giants are clients of EY, and 40,000 of EY’s employees come from tech backgrounds. The opportunities it provides its tech hires are some of EY’s best-kept secrets.

Maxin and her team have made it their mission to make that best-kept secret not so secret anymore. To do that, EY has had to shift away from the campus recruiting model it’s used for years, in which internships fed the hiring pipeline. “Our talent models are changing because our business is changing,” Maxin says. Now, EY recruits from a broader range of backgrounds and skillsets than ever before to find the best matches for their tech roles.

2. Diminishing Employee Tenure

The “partner track” is less of a draw for candidates than it was in the past, when employees preferred to stick with a job for a longer period of time. Job tenures are shortening, and today’s workers are less likely to desire a decades-long relationship with their employers.

This older take on the ideal employee experience was the subject of one of EY’s recruitment marketing videos. The story tracked a fictional employee named Maria from her first interview to the day she became partner and beyond, illustrating the kind of opportunities EY wanted candidates to imagine.

That video, Maxin says, is less useful to their employer brand strategy now. Candidates seek something else from a career at EY: the chance to meet new people, have great experiences, then make their next move.

That employee experience is a critical component of Maxin’s employer brand strategy, but so is what happens after an employee leaves EY. In addition, over a million people who go through EY’s recruiting process end up in other jobs—with competitors, with clients, and at institutions with the power to impact the business’s future.

“The experience they have from a candidate perspective is really important to our ability to sell and build our brand in the marketplace,” Maxin says. For her and her team, crafting an exceptional candidate experience isn’t just humane; it’s vital to business success, too.

3. Preparing for a Global Crisis

The pandemic has forced drastic change onto many businesses, including their employer brand teams. Teams went remote, wellness became paramount, and brand messaging that worked in a pre-COVID world no longer resonated.

Among the changes at EY were new programs supporting mental health, more humanized messaging, and an emphasis on connection and trust. EY was able to do this in part because its employer brand storytelling assets were already “modular”: Each of its markets had access to a kit of customizable images and language, designed to be localized and personalized. Maxin’s team supplied the micro-narratives, the best practices, and the do’s-and-don’ts; employees supplied the heart and soul.

This modular approach to employer brand activation helps companies stay flexible. “When things change your world, like the pandemic,” Maxin says, “you can customize it very quickly and get your regions and stakeholders what they need.” It’s an approach that focuses less on policing and more on empowering, educating, creativity.

4. Brand Trust Is Thornier Than Ever

Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer report revealed the tremendous role consumer trust in a brand now plays in its success. Meanwhile, employees (both current and former) are turning to platforms like Glassdoor to offer their unvarnished thoughts on the employee experience.

This means transparency and experience management are now central to a successful employer brand strategy. “You can put out gorgeous videos, gorgeous ads, and great content on your social media channels. But if your people are not having a great experience, they have platforms through which they can share that,” Maxin reminds us. “That is your employer brand, like it or not.”

“The truest, most authentic expression of your employer brand is the employee experience,” she says. Employer brand leaders have a responsibility to tend to that experience that every stage, from the first recruitment touchpoint to its relationships with alumni.

Maxin’s advice to her fellow leaders is to embrace employer brand’s cross-functionality. Nurturing relationships with stakeholders in marketing, HR, the C-suite, and beyond helps employer brand leaders get a full picture of the employee experience.

This attention to trust, crisis sensitivity, shifting employee needs, and attracting niche talent like tech have helped EY remain in-step with a rapidly changing world. Maxin and her team’s work at EY proves that flexibility isn’t solely the purview of small teams and scrappy young brands; even massive global organizations can adapt.

To follow Erin Maxin’s work in employer brand, connect with her on LinkedIn. For help evaluating your own employer brand, talk to us about the Link Humans Index, which uses 16 key attributes to measure how you compare with others in your industry.


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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