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As the world struggles to rebound from the global pandemic, one lasting trend has emerged: a talent shortage of historic scale. According to ManPowerGroup, 75% of companies have reported talent shortages and difficulty hiring – a 16-year high. Companies with more than 250 employees are struggling the most to recruit and retain talent; those with fewer than 50 employees are faring a bit better, but still face stiff competition for talent.

In this environment, successfully recruiting a talented labor force requires more than offering attractive salary and benefits, important as these are. It requires developing and communicating an employment value proposition that, much like a brand, creates a compelling and differentiated position in the mind of prospective employees. The importance of brand in recruiting explains why one of the world’s largest law firms recently filled a newly created role: Global Recruiting & Employer Branding Director.

So what is employer branding? Simply put, it’s the process of managing your employer reputation among job seekers and employees. Just as your corporate brand influences how prospective customers view you, your employer brand influences how prospective and current employees perceive you. Your employer brand encompasses everything you say and do to position your organization as an employer of choice: your mission, vision, and values, your approach to compensation and benefits, your commitment to diversity and inclusion. It’s communicated to prospective employees through recruiting materials, the careers section of your website, your interviewing style and onboarding process.  Even the way your office looks contributes to your employer brand.

Remember the U.S. Army’s famous “Be all that you can be?” campaign? That’s a classic employer brand – it’s not about a specific job or benefit; it’s about achieving potential. Visit Netflix’s careers page and you’ll be confronted with a bold, even provocative statement: “A great workplace combines exceptional colleagues and hard problems.” That’s a unique point of view … and a promise: you’ll work with great people on tough challenges. It’s also a great employer brand.

We believe that the most effective employer brands are tightly aligned with the corporate brand. In our connected age, you can’t segregate one message from another. Recruits who meet your representatives at a job fair will inevitably visit your website and check you out on social media and Glassdoor. Aligning your employer brand with your corporate brand will not only avoid confusion, it will also amplify the impact of both.

Consider our recent work for a leading tax technology company. We developed a corporate brand that rested on the idea of vital connections – between the company’s solutions and the enterprise software platforms that run its customers’ operations, as well as between the company’s employees and those of their customers. The brand resonated strongly with customers, helping to propel the company’s growth and culminating in a successful IPO. But it still faced one lingering challenge: recruiting top engineering and sales talent in a market dominated by much larger and better-known players. It couldn’t offer more money or richer benefits packages, so it needed to attract talent with a deeper value proposition.

We conducted focus groups with employees to understand what drew them to the company, and why they stay. It came down to three opportunities that larger competitors couldn’t offer. First, the autonomy to control their future and be recognized for their accomplishments without being subsumed by the bureaucracy of a corporate behemoth. Second, a culture that that sees them as people first, employees second. And third, a place where their efforts make a meaningful impact on the company’s growth. We distilled these three opportunities into an employer brand crystallized in the line “Connect to Your Future,” which closely aligns with the corporate “connection” brand. We used the concept of connection to show how recruits can connect to what truly inspires them in a company that connects to their humanity as well as their professionalism, while connecting their efforts to the success of the company.

Building an employer brand

The process of building an employer brand is similar to that of building a corporate brand, beginning with the use of research to determine how you are currently perceived and where you can credibly stand out. There are subtle differences, however, including these three steps.

Determine how your corporate brand can work for recruits and employees.

In most cases, you’ll find ways to adapt your corporate brand for recruiting purposes. The messaging and sometimes even visual elements will need to adapt, but the core idea should remain the same across audiences.

Study your competitors’ recruiting messaging to find the white space.

The competition for talent is just that – a competition. So understand whom you’re competing with and how they position themselves as employers. This will uncover areas where you can stand out by offering something different.

Get input from your employees.

Through surveys, interviews, and focus groups, find out why your most talented employees joined you … and why they stay. Be sure to include recent graduates as well as seasoned managers. The employees you most want to retain are in demand from your competitors, so they’ll have a good sense of what’s out there … and how you stack up.

The competition for employees is unlikely to abate any time soon, so it’s imperative that every company take a hard look at how it is positioning itself in the market for talent. What are you promising recruits beyond salary and benefits? What kind of experience are you offering employees? Answering these and other questions will help to build a foundation on which to create a brand that will attract, motivate, and retain a stand-out workforce.

About the author

Seth Margolis

Seth Margolis is a Senior Strategy Director who has spearheaded branding efforts for financial services, professional services and technology companies, as well as for not-for-profit organizations.

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