Building a compelling employer brand
Winslow Wong 
Employer branding affects every touch point an organisation has with its employees, starting with the recruitment and onboarding process

In today’s highly-competitive business environment where niche skill sets are in great demand, the ability to attract and retain the best talent in the market is highly critical. Your organisation’s reputation as a great place to work depends on your ability to keep promises – implicit and explicit – made to employees.

With technology, that reputation – or the lack of it – can travel far and wide at lightning speed, which means your organisation can no longer rest on past laurels, nor be complacent about how existing and potential employees view you as an employer. To be an employer of choice, you must develop a strong employer brand and strengthen your relationships with existing and potential employees as well as external stakeholders through effective communication of your brand values, personality and culture.

What is an employer brand? An employer brand refers to the perceptions key stakeholders, and more specifically current and potential employees, have of your organisation. It is about how they view your organisation from the way you conduct yourself in the market, through to what they think it would be like to work for your organisation. An effective employer brand presents your organisation as a good employer and a great place to work and can help with recruitment, retention and generally affect market perception of your organisation.


Make it a great place to work

Employer branding is therefore about effectively communicating your organisation’s values, personality and culture to create the desired perceptions. Employer branding affects every touch point the organisation has with the employee, starting with the recruitment and onboarding process. It then extends to every aspect of their employment, including training and development, support networks, development of career paths, benefits and incentives, right through to their exit from the organisation and beyond.

A clear and defined employer brand can significantly improve job application rates and put your organisation in the enviable position of having a wide pool of talent to choose from. In tight recruitment markets where competition for the best talent is fierce, it can also help keep your organisation top of mind, making it stand out in a crowded market and providing compelling reasons to join your organisation instead of others.

One of the biggest challenges in the recruitment process is persuading candidates that your organisation is a great place to work. Whenever I conducted interviews, I spent at least five to 10 minutes talking about my employer – the great stuff, of course. The interview process is a great opportunity to reinforce your employer brand, so ensure your interviewers live and breathe your brand values. A negative, unprofessional or ill-prepared interviewer will not only give the wrong impression of your organisation but could also determine whether an interviewee chooses to accept a job offer or not. My advice is never allow departing employees, regardless of position, as well as workplace blamers, whiners and complainers to conduct interviews as they could negatively impact the attractiveness of your organisation to potential recruits.

By understanding existing perceptions and the people you want to attract, you can create a more compelling case to attract the best talent. For example, instead of focusing solely on technical requirements in job specifications, project why the role is attractive, and what your organisation can offer in terms of culture, worklife balance, benefits, etc. Making your organisation more appealing than other organisations goes a long way to developing a strong employer brand. The best talent has plenty of options, so differentiating your organisation is critical. The time to start thinking about positioning your organisation as a great employer is long before you even advertise a job vacancy or interview candidates.

A strong employer brand isn’t just for attracting the best talent, it also provides a compelling reason for new hires and existing employees to stay. Reinforce your employer brand regularly by reminding your staff of the qualities that first attracted them to your organisation. From a purely economic view, a promise is only cheap talk. You need to deliver on every brand promise made to your employees, whether through reward and recognition, training and development, or a clearly-defined career path. Brand reputation is built on perceptions that are matched by the actual experience of engaging with the brand.

Engaged, committed employees can be among the best ambassadors for both the marketplace employer branding. An organisation that exceeds its employees’ expectations will have people who will provide referrals and advocate for their employers, for example, on their old campus, among their professional associations as well as friends and social networks. If promises are kept, employers can ask people to take on the role of ambassador. Employees are likely to be flattered and see it as another indication that they’re valued. For that reason, I still speak fondly and proudly of most of my past employers.

Both employer and external branding need to be closely aligned to project a consistent and effective message. When there’s a clear disconnect between how your organisation presents itself to the outside world and how employees view you as an employer, your brand will have a confusing message and face major problems engaging both external and internal stakeholders. Remember, your employees can either be your strongest brand ambassadors, or your biggest critics. The choice is yours!

It’s therefore crucial for your employees to live the brand, including demonstrating its desired behaviours, beliefs and culture. To shape your employer brand, invest in your workforce; it’s useless to promote a culture of innovation, ambition, and promising career development and training to potential employees if the reality inside your organisation is one of bureaucracy and minimal training. Your employer brand must accentuate the positive aspects of your organisation which can create a realistic picture that people can relate to.

Lastly, ensure departing employees leave on a good note. Just because you’re saying goodbye to them doesn’t mean the relationships built over the years are over. Former staff can remain some of your best brand ambassadors – if their exit is dealt with well. They often go on to be great external stakeholders for your organisation, whether as a customer, competitor or an industry peer. Exit interviews are a good way to gain further insight into your employer brand and perceptions within the organisation, whilst demonstrating to the departing employees that their views are valued.

Winslow Wong is a corporate trainer and communications consultant. Comments:

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 268.