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Editor's Note: We would never dream of trying to predict the future—that's why we left it up to the futurists. In this series, we interview experts in HR, recruiting and the future of work to get their take on what's next.

Brands are not built in boardrooms, nor vacuums, says Susan LaMotte, the founder and CEO of the employer brand and talent consultancy exaqueo. And companies don’t become a candidate’s “dream place to work” overnight. Rather, it takes deep introspection and often, bold transformative efforts.

Before a company can start building (or rebuilding) an employer brand that appeals to top talent, it must first collect—and understand—raw data about existing processes, she says. At exaqueo, the "rigorous" data collection process is based on an academic research model. A PhD psychologist is on staff and has vetted the organization’s approach to different areas of its business, including recruiting, interviewing and hiring, LaMotte says.

The Charleston, South Carolina-based company takes clients from all over the world—its client list includes Fortune 500, entertainment, telecommunications, pharmaceutical and hospitality companies. Here, LaMotte shares several trends she has noticed while helping companies build their brands with the goal of attracting top job candidates.

1) The Candidate Should Be at the Center

Historically, HR departments have taken action in response to their own needs, says LaMotte, with the hiring process typically catered to the organization. An applicant tracking system, for example, may make things easier for the company because it provides better insight into the hiring process internally, but it doesn’t necessarily help the candidate since it’s not a transparent system, she explains.

"Now, what we're seeing is an opportunity to put the candidate at the center, truly understand how they feel, and how they think, and start making our decisions on how we elevate HR's function, based on how to better the experience of the employee or the candidate."

Through exaqueo, LaMotte has helped launch a candidate experience tracking model that shifts the view of the journey to employment. Rather than telling the story from the perspective of an HR representative (think: put out a job application, review interested applicants, call candidates in for interviews), the model takes the candidate's point of view: candidate finds out a company exists, candidate is interested in that company as an employer, etc. HR teams that adopt this model become more empathetic as they gain a better understanding of the candidate’s mindset.

2) Preferences Matter

"In HR, we traditionally think in terms of process," LaMotte says, rather than in terms of "'how somebody feels." But the latter is a factor that exaqueo does not ignore, she says.

If a client comes to exaqueo for help attracting female job candidates to a technology company, for instance, the solution is not to advertise on female-oriented job boards, or to feature more women in advertisements.

Instead, exaqueo works with its clients to understand which steps in their companies’ hiring journeys are most impactful to a group of applicants and strengthen the process based on their findings. For example, to a certain kind of candidate, the application step may not feel as important as the interview process. With that information in mind, exaqueo urges companies to place more weight on the areas that applicants excel at or prefer.

3) Research and Strategy Should Come Before Technology

LaMotte has noticed that companies are beginning to invest heavily in data to better understand whether certain technology investments are worthwhile for their business, or whether they should focus on other aspects, such as strategy, instead.

The example she gives is using video and virtual reality as tools to show job candidates what a workplace looks like on the inside. An effort like this is only effective and productive if one of the following statements are true: 1) The kind of candidate you want to attract cares what the inside your organization looks like and feels that seeing the workplace is a must; 2) It is a part of company strategy to show the varied workplaces within the organization.

"We're so focused in HR right now on technology, and on technology tools, that we've lost interest in research and strategy," she says. "And to me, technology should not be a means to an end, it should be the tool that helps you articulate or activate your strategy. Technology has absolutely changed the way that people job search, but technology is a reinforcer. It's not a driver."

When a candidate takes to the Internet to search for a job, that individual has already been influenced by something else, LaMotte says.

4) Stereotyping Is (Still) Dangerous

According to LaMotte, companies that rely on generational stereotypes when it comes time to make a hiring decision are doing themselves a disservice.

"Too often, we're stuck in this sort of rut of generalizing and stereotyping: 'All millennials want this,' 'All Gen Z want that,'" she says. "Some might, but that might not be the case for your organization—or the kind of millennials or young people that are going to perform in your organization."

Instead, LaMotte suggests looking at the age group and phase of life potential candidates are in. What is your organizational makeup? Where do those people perform in the organization? What are their preferences and interests?

5) Relationships Are Influencers—and Shouldn’t Be Ignored

Overwhelming emphasis on technology has meant less emphasis on relationships as job search influencers.

"Relationships are the most important influence to a job seeker, and we ignore them, to our detriment, when it comes to employer brand and marketing," LaMotte says. "No one takes a job offer without talking to someone first, even if it's casual conversation."

In an article for Harvard Business Review, LaMotte writes of the "Whole Self Model," developed by exaqueo to incorporate the many outside-of-work factors that influence a candidate's decision to take and keep a job. This means looking at factors like personal relationships, home habits, significant others and information consumption habits, and how each of these factors impacts work. 

To leverage relationships to help build your employer brand, identify internal brand ambassadors that can speak to the culture of your organization and explain what makes it a great place to work. Be sure to connect any candidates you consider with these ambassadors to help them understand your company.

Image: Creative Commons