When asking college seniors where they want to work, their first responses might be Apple or Nike or Disney. The same might apply amongst any cohort you ask to list a company they want to work for, but it’s not because they have the best employer brand. All brands started unknown and had to build a reputation, a pattern of success in their industry, and a positive experience for users. All companies no matter their size, go through a version of this with hopes of winning more customers and earning more loyalty for their brand than the competition. To be successful, they must show how they are different and deliver what the customer is looking for.
When your company is hiring, the same principles apply. You need to attract candidates, offer something candidates want and need, and do something better than your competitors. If your company has a smaller footprint, or does not produce household products or services or have an instantly recognizable brand, it can be more daunting to try and compete with large household names that attract thousands of candidates eager to get a big brand on their resume. It can be a challenge at times, competition is steep, and top talent has a lot of choice in the market—but it is not hopeless. While your talent acquisition function must focus on intentional planning and setting expectations for what you can offer candidates (your employer brand), you as an executive have an important role to play as well.
Here are four ways that high-level executives can help lesser-known brands can be more attractive to candidates than any other employer.
- Find your target market. It’s important to realize that not everyone wants to work for a big splashy brand. Job location, career development, flexibility and workplace culture may be areas that you easily compete against more well-known employer brands. Your story as someone who has grown your career and remains connected across the organization is powerful. Your personal experience with the company can help when recruiters reach out to passive candidates with open roles, work their networks and offer employee referral incentives. It may not result in hundreds of applicants but will connect in meaningful ways to your target market—people to aspire to reach your level of success.
- Differentiate what you offer. Do you have a great workplace culture? Do you and your peers prioritize living your values or evolving your employee experience? Are you accessible to all levels across the organization or make a point of checking in on projects across the business? Have you encouraged your team to invest in offering mentoring, learning and skill acquisition? Selling the culture you have intentionally built to create your workplace including access to your time might be your golden differentiator. It’s not just the intention, it’s the actual time you can say you interact with employees across the organization and the interest you take in them. You are not a bad person if you don’t do a lot of this, we all know the demands on your time are not easy. If you are able to invest the time, the idea of accessible, human and empathetic leaders is one candidates want to follow, learn from and go above and beyond to help. It’s important that you clearly understand what you can offer and be able to sell these non-tangible elements that convince candidates that your company can do more for their career than any other.
- Create a great candidate experience. Training HR, recruiters and hiring managers is important in delivering a great candidate experience. If you are going to compete in the market for top talent, every touchpoint a candidate has with your company is a chance to convince them that your company is the better place to grow their career. Effective screening and interviewing, keeping candidates informed at every step of the process, and following up quickly all contribute to a positive candidate experience. This includes having executives join the interview process and help candidates understand what kind of people they will put their trust in. Having conversational interviews where you as an executive evaluate for cultural fit and future potential a candidate may have will not only help the recruiting process but will be very impactful to the candidates you meet. Many of the big brands or large organizations become very hierarchical in hiring and your next generation of talent would never personally encounter a C-Level executive—possibly in their entire career with a company. Setting the tone by showing interest in candidates, removing fear or invisible barriers between you early on will only endear candidates to the company and brand.
- Manage expectations for all. Less recognized employer brands will face some challenges that are unavoidable—it’s important to be aware of this fact when hiring. It may take longer to find candidates or for your team to come up with their strategic talent acquisition plan. You may have to approach candidates for the short-term, for example you may expect that they will only stay at your company for a year or two before moving on, or that many of your candidates will come from employee referrals. You may have to invest more time selling your company to candidates and explaining what your company does. Knowing that even with a competitive offer, your company may not seem as appealing to candidates who had their heart set on proudly wearing name-brand swag will help in this process. It is a challenge, but sharing your awareness of this fact, being OK with a faster employee lifecycle, even if your alumni pool grows faster than you expected, if every employee who leaves your company goes on to tell what a positive experience they had—you’re still winning.
As your organization competes for talent, remember that Goliath didn’t win against David even though he was the heavy favorite. Consumer brands may be very valuable and attract a lot of attention, but it is not the same as an employer brand, which can tell a story that is the opposite. There is often a halo-effect in this regard—if you love the products a company makes, you assume that company is an amazing place to work. Candidates who use employer ratings/reviews websites to research what a company culture might be like may quickly come to see that some of their favorite brands have well-documented toxic work cultures, and horrible leaders who are called out by name. And these websites are populated by current employees, so there is no consumer brand that can counter a pattern of bad workplace experiences. It is not your place to reveal that to candidates, but it is your opportunity to capitalize on selling your lesser-known brand that will create a great place to work, and your personal commitment to making sure a positive workplace culture comes to life.