“Employer branding” is a bit of a farce

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Written before about employee branding, but now let’s flip over to the other side and talk employer branding. In the simplest terms, employer branding refers to this idea: “When a potential employee looks you up in various ways, do you seem like a good place to work?” There are more nuanced explanations of what it is and what goes into it, but that’s a good baseline. In sum: we (hopefully) understand your brand from a marketing perspective. But what type of employer might you be? That’s employer branding.

This is where it begins to get fraught. Oftentimes, executives don’t care about HR. They see themselves as world-builders, and HR is compliance. World-builders don’t speak to compliance. The problem, of course, is that despite this attitude, we let HR own hiring. As a result, a lot of hiring processes are awful. Many of them alienate the best candidates. It’s definitely not good employer branding. There are ways we can be better at this and recruit better, but those approaches always seem to fall down the priority chain under something like “Q2 KPIs.”

The entire employer branding problem comes from one major fallacy of many company execs. What’s that?

The employer branding fallacy

A lot of companies are obsessed with their brand. They spend millions on defining it and subsequently differentiating it. Let’s be honest about two things quickly, though: “brand” is less important than it once was, and most companies think “brand” is “move that logo around on a PDF for me.”

In reality, your “brand” is the story you tell to consumers (“marketing”) and potential employees who will help you hit goals (“employer branding”). But … and this is a big “buuuuutttttt…”

Companies, and their leaders, usually only understand the marketing side. (And even then, just barely.) They want to control the message and the assets. That’s how you do marketing — and sales, to a large extent. But that’s not the current world of employer branding.

What do you mean?

Go on a site like Glassdoor. You can see actual reviews of what it’s like to work at a place. It’s not some pushed-out message from HR and the hiring manager. It’s absolutely real. Or go on LinkedIn and message a second-degree connection who worked somewhere. “Hey, considering this offer. What do you think?” You might get back a totally real reply about how every manager in the place constantly has their hair on fire.

So the problem is: most companies approach employer branding as they approach marketing. Let’s make a beautiful landing page on LinkedIn! We’ll have a sweet hiring funnel! Yea, a strategy! Talking points to all the hiring managers!

That is canned bullshit. There are thousands of ways for a prospective candidate to figure out what the culture of a place is really like. You can approach employer branding like marketing and try to push the realness out, or you can … just be a better place to work and draw people in.

If there’s so much info about companies, why do people still end up in the wrong jobs?

Lots of reasons:

  • They don’t know these resources exist.
  • Laziness.
  • Even if they think it might suck, they need a paycheck.
  • They assume Glassdoor and review sites are being “gamed” by rivals of that company.
  • Low-context jokes of hiring processes.
  • They fall for the marketing campaign designed as “employer branding.”

How could a company get better at employer branding?

Be a place people legitimately want to work, i.e.:

We spend 10–12 hours/day at these jobs. Can’t we get better at making them valuable on the employee side and not just the “people who will make money from this” side?

What would most companies rather do about employer branding?

A partial list:

  • Create a bunch of assets and websites they feel they “own” or “control”
  • Run around telling everyone how busy and slammed they are
  • Allow no-context discussions between HR and the hiring manager to set the process in motion
  • Claim repeatedly to anyone in earshot how great their “strategy” is
  • Spend thousands of dollars on a dedicated LinkedIn company page, with quotes from Sally in Operations
  • Continue to assume that pushed-out messaging is the same thing as “employer branding”

It’s not the same thing. Employer branding is tied to the soul of who you really are. Marketing is what your executives think you are, or want to tell their friends you are. Employer branding is the real relationship you’re in. Marketing is the one you sugar-coat to your mom when she asks.

What else might you add on employer branding?

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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