21(116) 2015
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HR & Professional Training

Employer branding: a promise we need to keep

by Agnieszka Czarnecka, senior account manager, head of Employer Branding at Grayling Poland
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Every year, millions of euros are poured into employer branding campaigns by companies striving to win the war for talent. 

Some say talent had already won, but the battle seems to be going strong.

Billboards, quizzes, open days, ads, meetings… organisations wink at candidates luring them with great working atmosphere, challenging tasks, fancy office space and oh, yes, that special entertainment area. Just like a beautiful bride at her wedding day, they make a promise, but will the “happy ever after” fairy tale last when the band leaves the ballroom and reality creeps in?

Employer branding is this promise a company makes to its candidates. But there will eventually come a day when our top talents come into the office, take their chair in the open space and discover that this was all just for show? Will they see that nobody has time to use the dusted PlayStation, that internship in the Accounting Department is not that challenging and that jeans are just so inappropriate? This is a make-or-break moment for employer branding. A moment which many companies tend to forget, being carried away in their elaborate campaigns.

Doctor House used to say that everybody lies. But there are lies that simply don’t pay off. Many clients who step through an agency door expect ready-to-go ideas to prove they are a great employer. Not that many though have enough proof points gathered to back that up. A common saying in public relations is that it’s really difficult to build a reputation, but really easy to ruin it. This is even more relevant in such sensitive area as employer branding.

Three magic words: Employer Value Proposition

EVP stands for either Employer or Employee Value Proposition, depending which perspective is taken into consideration. It cannot be counted or measured – it is a number of features which sets apart the company as an employer and makes it unique in the eyes of candidates. It’s this ‘special something’ and yes, every company can identify their own EVP. If we don’t, we build an image of a generic employer, who is attractive, but blends in with its competitors. While we also need to prove we are a good employer, it’s the EVP which can guarantee success on the recruitment battlefield. Most companies which devote their time and budgets to employer branding usually seek ‘top talents’ or ‘high potentials’. Young, ambitious, well-educated, mobile – this group take some things for granted: stable employment, free gym membership, development opportunities, nice office in an accessible location. But then, probably most global corporations can promise that, so it’s the extras that actually make the difference.

Developing an EVP is easier said than done. It’s not such a daunting task if we follow several simple steps. First of all, we need to gather data and conduct a thorough image analysis, externally and internally to figure out what the current status quo is. External image analysis means looking at the company through the eyes of a candidate and is mostly conducted through desk research. What do we see when entering the career corner, job posts and recent media clippings? What will Google tell us? Here, we need to remember that our candidate will not have enough stamina to go to Page 5 of Google search, so if this is where to find info on the company-wide wellness programme, we can easily assume no candidate is aware of its existence… A place which usually sparks much interest and strong emotions are the employee recruitment forums. When presented with anonymous opinions, many of our clients usually feel the forums don’t do them justice and the opinions presented there are just unfair.

Well, welcome to world of internet haters… Forums are a good source of intelligence, but must be treated with caution. Remember that most people only feel the need to post negative comments (and keep the positive to themselves) and rather exaggerate their personal experiences especially with the comfort of staying anonymous. Still, if we see that some issues are repeated in several entries, there’s no way we can ignore it.

Once we have examined the company from the outside, it’s time to look inside and see how (and if) the two halves of the image match up. Every large corporation usually has some data already available, eg engagement/satisfaction surveys, exit interviews summary, on-boarding materials or internal manuals. Obviously, this is also a stage to check all available benefits (and make sure they actually exist and are used by employees) and the general employer offer, company values and business goals. A long conversation will also await us at the HR department to check the current recruitment needs, employment structure (how easy to forget the thousands of production workers while chasing the top talents for HQ…) and possible issues we need to deal with.

The key stakeholder

It often happens that after such long research we feel pushed and determined to come up with a strategy. And with this rushing thought, we often forget about the most important stakeholder in the process – our current employees. Employer branding is not just about gaining new candidates, it is as much about retaining those that have already been recruited. If we build an image which is false externally, they will be the first ones to speak out and head to the dreaded forums. With that in mind, after we have done the research, it’s a good idea to also reach out to the teams and conduct an employee survey, possibly combined with several focus groups. At this stage, we probably already have some ideas and assumptions regarding the EVP and employer branding strategy. An employee survey is the best way to test if our image matches up to reality and it is the last resort to stop us, if we are on the wrong track. Once we have passed our final test, ‘all’ we need to do is to jot down our EVP and think about activities/programmes/initiatives which will help us communicate this externally to our candidates and internally to our employees. This way, sticking to the first metaphor, we make sure our beautiful bride will be as attractive in her everyday clothes as she was on her big day and nobody will get disappointed.

Do it right or don’t do it at all

We often tell our clients that while building the image of the company as an employer, we should stay true – not aspirational. This means it’s better to have no communication at all in this field than start to brag about employment opportunities and fail miserably at the first test. The recent example of Amazon is almost textbook in this respect. The company entered Poland with its large logistic centres and a promise of massive recruitment. However, very soon disturbing news came from other European countries and from newly recruited employees regarding the stressful working conditions, low wages and lack of job stability. The New York Times recently cast the last stone at the company in its article Inside Amazon describing the immense pressure, long working hours, destruction of family life and toxic working environment. Recently, Amazon launched an employer branding campaign, but so far it only gathered a few raised eyebrows and sceptical comments from PR experts. Probably a long time will pass until the company manages to climb its way up again in terms of reputation and fix the issues that caused the recent communication crisis. In fact, crisis and employer branding are never the right match!

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