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You've likely heard that an employer brand can give your company the competitive edge it needs to attract and hire the best talent. But is this "employer brand" trend just another buzzword, or does it actually provide business value?

Not all that long ago, the idea of an employer brand was either totally ignored or carefully curated by leadership—there was little grey area. Today, we have evolved into understanding that employees actually shape and share our employer brands. According to TalentBoard's 2015 Talent Board North American Candidate Experience Research Report, 76 percent of candidates conduct their own job search research across multiple channels prior to applying — they're not just looking at your website, but your social channels, your employees' social channels, your reviews on Glassdoor and more.

The fact that your current employees are so integral to your brand emphasizes the importance of branding as more than just an onboarding experience. Employer branding shouldn't just be a talent acquisition strategy—it should also be a retention strategy. By communicating your employee brand throughout the talent lifecycle, you'll encourage employees to stay long after they are hired—and make sure that they share the same positive message with job seekers.

Here's how (and when) to think about your employer brand:

During the Hiring Process

This is the best time to build up enthusiasm and set new hires up to be engaged and successful. How are you portraying the opportunities at your organization? Is this process in sync with what it's like to work there? There should be a strong correlation or you may be accused of bait-and-switch. Be authentic and welcoming, and you're well on your way to success.

Onboarding

This is a perfect time to foster relationships between new employees and mentors or leaders. Allow them to take the fast track on how the business truly functions every day. Keep the messages alive from the previous stage and make it all come to life. If you said the organization is tech-forward, are your onboarding materials mobile-friendly? Are trainings from the 1980s or current videos on a YouTube channel? Onboarding is also a great time to ask new hires how they felt about the employer brand throughout the application and hiring processes. Ask how they learned about you—what worked and what didn't?

Retention

Simply put, you will not retain employees who were sold a bunch of goods about your culture and opportunities and find out the truth when the work begins. Yes, every organization has a bit of an “underbelly" and employees will inevitably see that things aren't perfect. But the beauty is in how the organization handles the challenges and fosters employee engagement. Take the time to ensure that you are the brand that you are portraying. An employer brand that stays consistent from pre-hire to daily employee is clearly a stronger brand and that should be your goal. Retention is well worth it.

Offboarding

We've all moved on from a previous position. Did you leave with your head high and willing to refer others to seek employment there? Or did you leave with a sour taste in your mouth?

According to Compensation Force, the total turnover in 2015 was 16.4 percent of the workforce. In their 2016 job seeker survey, Jobvite found that 42 percent of Millennials expect to change jobs at least every one to three years. That's a lot of people to offboard, which put you in a vulnerable position if you're not consistent with your brand—handling the situation poorly during this process will be reflected on social media and online review sites.

Clearly, not all terminations or separations are rosy, but if you have taken the time to foster the employer brand this far, don't let it be demolished by those who are no longer with the company. If you are unsure of your employer brand at any stage in this life cycle, it's time to take a hard look at how you express who you are and what you stand for as a company.

Photo: Creative Commons