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How to Build a Company’s Reputation as a Great Place to Work

Is recruitment branding just a bunch of bull?  Not if you believe, like Dr. John Sullivan does, that the War for Talent is heating up again. In his recent article on, “The War for Talent Is Returning; Don’t Get Caught Unprepared,” he points out the status quo of the last several years has already given way in some sectors and geographies to much more intense competition for top applicants, “who are both scarce and arrogant.”

Inc. Magazine’s Keith Cline has predictions of his own about the scarcity of talent. Companies making plans for expansion, he says, will find shortages of software engineers and web developers, especially in San Francisco, New York, and Boston; also in product management, online marketing and analytics.

Sullivan predicts a return to the talent battles of the 1990s in which employees leave by the droves, firms regularly raid each other for talent, and bidding for top talent is commonplace. And, he says, if you’re not already seeing this where you are, “there won’t be much advance warning before the power shifts to employees and applicants.”

Recruitment brand will be a key tool for companies seeking competitive advantage in this climate. Job-seekers and passive candidates who have a favorable impression of an organization are more likely to consider applying, interviewing and accepting offers.


It Can Be a Bunch of Bull

And, yes, recruitment brand can be meaningless and pointless – if it lives only as words on a page in a file in the VP HR’s office. But whether or not it’s seen as BS doesn’t change the fact that companies who want to employ top people need to sell themselves –  to present compelling, authentic reasons why someone would want to work on their team.

If a recruitment brand is developed authentically, as a true brand promise that communicates what your company is, it will resonate with employees, job-seekers and passive candidates.

Below are six tips for building a company’s reputation as a great place to work.

1. Keep it Real

Gone are the days when companies could control how they were perceived in the world. Marketing organizations have been grappling with this reality too. Social media has created an audience for anyone who has a complaint about a product – or a beef with their co-worker.

This an area where hiring managers sometimes make work for themselves by not portraying jobs accurately, according to author and blogger Allison Green. On the Fast Track blog, she says, it’s natural to be “tempted to downplay the less appealing aspects of the job, like boring work or long hours, but if you do that, you’ll end up with an employee who doesn’t want to be there.”

Not only does this employee now become a failed hire, her impact on your brand promise is only going to be negative. Her conversations about her job with co-workers and external audiences feed into your recruitment brand, establishing and then continuing to reinforce the image of the company as an unpleasant place to work.

Companies can’t fake a reputation anymore, and the only way to “create” a great reputation is to cultivate a culture that strives for greatness. In this respect, the best brands, in marketing or recruiting, start from the inside out.

In HR, the employer or recruitment brand is a promise that your organization is a great place to work. It should ring true in the minds of current employees and key stakeholders in the external market – active and passive candidates, clients, customers, and other key stakeholders.

2. Take Stock of What You Have and Where You Want to Go

On, Brent Michington, CEO of Employer Brand Institute, suggests seven questions to consider to help clearly define a brand strategy.

1) How will a stronger employer brand support our business strategy — M&A’s, growth, consolidation?

2 ) What kind of culture do we have? How consistent is it across geographical and divisional boundaries?

3) What behaviors are felt to be most characteristic of the organization? What are the moments of truth when your organization is at its best (and worst)?

4) What is the most useful way of segmenting the employee population in terms of their cultural characteristics and distinctive needs?

6) How consistent are the messages we are communicating internally and externally about our organization as a place to work? How do we inform our vendors?

7) What are the most effective channels of employee communication, both top-down and bottom-up? Which positions are most critical to our success and what are we currently doing/what do we need to do to attract, engage, and retain them?

With thoroughly-considered answers to these questions, HR has a foundation for moving on to the next step, testing what you’ve learned against what employees experience…

3. Know How Employees See Your Company

What do your employees say about you as an employer? This is what they’re also saying to their co-workers and other colleagues outside the company who may become passive or active candidates. It’s a key element of your brand promise.

If you don’t know how employees see your company, a good place to start is with the top-performers in the organization. You want to attract more of these kinds of people, so it’s helpful to know: Why did they come to work with your company in the first place, and why do they stay?

In his book, Hire, Fire and the Walking Dead, CEO Greg Moran says it’s common to assume we know the answers to these questions, but asking them anyway can be quite revealing.

Engaging a company to conduct an employee survey is an option for collecting these insights. “Be forewarned, however, about how people act when they’re being observed or ‘probed,’” Moran says.

Employees often fear that honest, full disclosure or constructive criticism will create negative repercussions for them. This not only diminishes the quality of the results, it creates grist for the rumor mill. Moran suggests avoiding this by explaining exactly what the goal is and why the survey is important.

Also, let employees know their answers will be kept confidential by the survey firm. Survey methodology should be carefully considered so useful information can be extracted in a manner that’s non-threatening to employees.

Your recruitment brand promise has a great deal of relevance for current employees too, who are your competitors’ passive candidates. Being clear about how they feel about your company helps with retention too.

4. Develop Your Brand Promise by Establishing Your Differentiators

As in the practices of sales and marketing, a company’s differentiators answer the question, “why?”, but for candidates instead of

  • “Why do I want to work for your company?”
  • “Why is your company different, special or exciting?”
  • “Why do I want to commit my time and energy to your company’s mission?

Regardless of whether they’re making sandwiches for Subway or leading a corporate division to global success, people want more than a paycheck out of their work; certainly that’s true of the high performers that most organizations would like to hire.

Companies need to know and share what they have to offer candidates that is unique and difficult for other companies to match. For example, if one of your differentiators is flexibility, you can embody this in your screening process by allowing candidates to interview after normal business hours or to meet offsite.

Cline points out that passive job seekers are an important target for this sort of messaging as well.

“It used to be as easy as saying, ‘We want the best workers of those that are out there looking,’ but today you have to expand that wish list to include not only qualified applicants that come to you, but passive job seekers as well,” he says.

The people most companies want most for their openings tend to already have good jobs. Without a well-differentiated brand promise, there’s less to entice them to leave the comfort and security of their current job to take a chance on something new.

The goal, Cline says,  is to make even the passive candidate interested in your company as an employer of choice for that someday when they’re in the job market again.

5. Go the Extra Mile to Treat Candidates Better Than Your Competitors

How you treat your candidates is another expression of your brand promise, according to Moran. “Every interaction with a prospective employer indicates to the candidate how she’ll be treated on the job,” he says.

It may not be feasible to personally interact with each of them, but it’s a good idea to maintain the interaction level based on the form of the first contact. In other words, with a candidate who applied on-line, an email acknowledgement of the application is a good idea as well as another email letting them know if they won’t be considered further by your company.

On the other hand, candidates who come in for an interview deserve a phone call if the company chooses not to continue the process. Remember that some of those candidates will be in the position to refer other great employees to you in the future.

Likewise, extending a complete job offer that lays out all the details important to the candidate – financial figures, bonus estimates, detailed explanation of all benefits – shows a respect for the candidate’s time and makes the offer more appealing.

Recruiters and hiring managers that conduct their hiring process to keep candidates informed – and feeling appreciated – are able to hire more of their top candidate choices.

Recruitment Branding

6. Build the Relationship with Candidates in Your Pipeline

Once the brand promise is defined, efforts to network and expand the contact database tend to naturally lead to better referrals. Recruiters who are clear about who the company is and what it offers are better able to find the people who are most likely to be a good fit.

Referrals are sometimes inaccurately referred to as candidates-recruited-by-“word-of-mouth.” In reality, they’re something completely different, since word of mouth can have positive or negative connotations.

Referrals, on the other hand, are completely positive and a great measure of the state of a company’s recruitment brand, Moran says. “Top performers know other top performers; Establish a good relationship with the grade A candidates in your pipeline and they’re very likely to pass along job openings to other grade A candidates not yet in your pipeline.”

Cline offers a specific tactic for stoking referrals: using online social networking. “Community websites like Quora offer searchable databases of people interested in particular topics,” he says. “Do a search for ‘web analytics’ and you’ll find that it’s a designated topic with a variety of questions people have asked about that topic. It also shows a list of ‘top answerers’—people who have responded to the most questions on the topic—as well as a list of people who are ‘following’ it. In the case of ‘web analytics,’ that’s more than 3,000 people.”

Leverage the Brand

Advertising open positions and waiting for candidates to submit their resumes is not a winning strategy. Establishing your recruitment brand is the key to knowing who you want and determining where to find them. These are the people who genuinely want to support the company’s mission and will become great employees. And great employees are the key to gaining the competitive edge and winning as business becomes increasingly global.

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