Why Work for You?

The simple question I always ask myself when I see an organization advertising an open position is: “Why would I work for them?”

The answer to that question is the essence of employment branding, which I define simply as the amount of attractiveness an organization has to an average candidate.

Try this experiment: ask five of your family members or friends to tell you what they think about working for X, and name a few organizations, including the one you work for. My bet is that they will not have a very clear idea about whether any of them would be good or bad. They may have an opinion about the product or service, but not about working there.

When I ask people about working for a particular organization, the answer I usually get is that they have no idea whether it would be a positive or a negative experience. In other words, most organizations have no employment brand at all.

A very few firms have a negative employment brand, probably because of recent media coverage (e.g. General Motors or Toyota) but which quickly fades into neutral territory. Another few enjoy a very positive brand image also because of media coverage or product excellence (e.g. Apple or Google) and which can be short lived as well.

The organizations that have developed and maintained an enduringly positive employment brand over several years can be counted on one hand. From a global perspective they include such firms as IBM, Intel, Disney, KPMG, Deloitte, and Microsoft. Other organizations may have local appeal or appeal to particular career segments , but probably lack broad, global strength.

So what makes a strong employment brand? Here are a few elements, but I would love your perspectives and thoughts to add depth to my thinking.

Time

First of all, the firms with the strongest employment brand have been around for a while. None of them could be called a startup, nor have they suddenly become popular. For example, I have not included Google in my short list because it has not demonstrated whether it will maintain its promises to employees over periods of growth and recession. It may eventually join the ranks of the few. Time will tell.

Hewlett-Packard lost its strong employment brand as it went through mergers, layoffs, and many changes of leadership. It has now stabilized and may be rebuilding a brand that was at the top of list throughout the 1980s.

Promises

So as we have seen, brand is ultimately built on promises — promises given and fulfilled over time, and even when times are bad. Apple promises to deliver beautifully designed, almost flawless products. Coke promises to make you feel good. And as much as organizations fulfill their promises, they become stronger as brands.

IBM is a classic example. Its employment brand was built on at least three promises: (1) long-term employment maintained even during recessions; (2) continuous personal development; and (3) respectful treatment as an individual.

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Over the years some of these have wavered, but for the most part it has continuously hired, trained, retrained, promoted, and retained the best people it could. Even those who have been laid off have been treated respectfully and given decent separation packages — even before that was in vogue.

Meaningful Perks

Having a strong brand does not mean just offering lots of perks. Prospective employees understand that perks can come and go as times change. A few years ago internal child care was the rage, but now it is less important, and there is more of a focus is on fitness centers. Free food, entertainment, and other such benefits are nice but will not fundamentally change the impression candidates have of you.

Much more important than how many perks is whether the perks enhance your personal life or add to a sense of excitement or personal fulfillment. Google’s best perk is offering time off for charitable work. An employee can do something good for their community and themselves. Sending volunteers to Haiti or tutoring school children are better benefits than dry cleaning services or gourmet meal preparation.

Consistency

One of the most powerful brand builders is consistency. Does your firm offer a few things all the time, and has it picked a few areas where there is unwavering support? IBM’s philosophy and practice of developing employees has been a hallmark. Many are hired directly from college with no experience and no strong career goals. IBM manages to help employees find the career that most engages them and that returns the most to IBM. There are many internal training schools, opportunities to become technically stronger or become a manager. Employees can leave one career and start another all without leaving.

This has translated into a strong brand message: we will help you be whatever you want to be. And IBM has maintained this message for decades.

Creating an Employment Brand

Given all the money and time spent on building employment brands, not much real progress is evident. Some firms have earned awards such as a “Best Place to Work” award, which may help them get some candidate attention. A few organizations consciously embark on an employment branding strategy, but more often the brand is the outcome of decisions and policies enacted by leadership over time.

But to penetrate the minds of most potential candidates takes a focused effort, following the steps I have listed, executed over several years. Perks, short-term campaigns, and social media pages can help, but will not replace the hard work required to put in place an enduring employment brand.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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4 Comments on “Why Work for You?

  1. Thanks, Kevin.

    IMHO, talk of employment branding is so very “Twen Cen”.
    Here’s why I think so:
    1) As Kevin wisely said- it takes YEARS to create a solid brand. Who’s got time or will be around to do that?

    2) It doesn’t work anymore. Until the “Corpsters” (Corporate Hype Meisters) figure out how to game it, sites like http://www.glassdoor.com put the power of image in the hands of the employees and candidates.
    This is what IBM gets from them:
    IBM HQ: Armonk, NY http://www.ibm.com NYSE: IBM
    2,109 Reviews (seems statistically significant-kh)
    Company Ratings
    Overall: 3.0 (of 5.0)
    Chairman, President, and CEO: Samuel J. Palmisano: 52% Approve
    (Looks mediocre at best…kh)

    3)It’s weak and reactive. Instead of spending a lot of time and money on something that you can’t even control anymore- trying to attract people to you, why not be strong and proactive: recruit them! Operate under the belief that everyone who actually gets hired will be either referred or recruited. While your rich, big-name competitors are polishing up their brands, attending social network recruiting conferences, and sampling one or more of today’s recruiting snake oils, your poor little company is hiring the best people you can afford right out from under them.

    Happy Friday,

    Keith

  2. Interesting points Kevin…in my view, employment branding is one of the most misunderstood topics in talent management and marketing. Large consulting companies have been offering employment marketing services for years – but their work always seems to be highlighted by some catchy phrase that is supposed to elicit the substance of a client’s employment value proposition. So many times after the dollars are spent on the campaign, the company’s real work environment is still there – and in almost every sense the two do not match…

    Employment Marketing in my humble opinion is not something that can become a slogan – it is who you are as a group of people, how tasks are managed, how employees are treated (promote based on merit, etc.) and the sustainable community based activities they encourage as a group. I completely agree that new hires rarely ever know what they are getting themselves into – and in most cases they are given a rosy picture to get them on board that again don’t always match up with reality.

    One thing I must disagree with is the perception that only “name” brand companies have an employment brand. If you use the definition of what a brand is as outlined above (albeit very briefly), then it’s easy to see that every company has an employment brand. For prospective employees, being able to understand what it’s really like to work at a company is the biggest challenge…

    Fortunately, with the advent of social media, that job has gotten a whole lot easier. Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, Career Bliss and literally dozens of other sites can offer employment branding for just about any company (particularly with the largest 20% of US companies – 1.5 million of them with 100+ employees). In fact the social web has changed how Employment Marketing Consultants approach their job of helping to manage the marketing message.

    If you ask me, the company’s spending money on these consultants should spend more time on making their companies great sustainable places to work and less time with the consultants. Their employees will reward these efforts with great branding messages on the social web…

  3. Great post Kevin! Waggener Edstrom Worldwide has gone through the internal work of taking the time and resources to deliver on our employment brand promise to offer an “Innovation Workplace” through our dedication to providing a robust Total Rewards program and our openness to allowing employees to move around within the company to ensure they have a career that allows for movement and change to meet their personal goals. We are constantly evaluating the effectiveness of our benefits programs and the competitiveness of our compensation leveling and shifting as we go to accomodate the market. Even during the economic downturn, we consistently treated our employees well and did everything we could to support our people and give them a sense of stability while remaining authentic and confronting difficult topics such as our financial situation with honesty. Luckily the business had been run well from this standpoint so we didn’t have to worry about relaying news that may be ill-received.

    While our employees are extremely active in spreading our employment story in the social media sphere given that we are a PR agency, we still wish to engage with our candidate prospects in a way that gives them a peek under the curtain and a way to get in touch with recruiters. We started a Careers blog in September and have found that this is an incredibly effective way to reach the curious potential candidate. Many of those in the interview process have commented that this is a sucessful tool for them in helping them understand our culture and the true experience of working at WE from an insider’s perspective. While the recruiting team is responsible for writing blog posts, we also offer our employees the opportunity to post about their experiences at the agency. This hasn’t been proven yet, but I believe we’ll find that giving the employees this forum to share experiences will also increase retention. We are currently trying to find new ways to allow the semi-active candidate to get more info about the agency from a recruiter. Maybe this will include mobile job alerts or a chat function on our site. I’d love to hear about the experiences others are having with mobile recruiting and live chat to see whether these may be the right approaches for us.

    Drop me a line if you have a story to share, and as always thanks for giving us this community as a place to bounce ideas off each other! I can be reached at @kkalscheur on Twitter, and if you are interested in checking out our Careers blog, I’d love to hear feedback from the recruiting community. http://blogs.waggeneredstrom.com/careersblog/

  4. @Kristin:

    Waggener Edstrom Reviews (from Glassdoor)
    Company Rating Based on 41 ratings
    3.3(out of 5.0) Employees say it’s “OK”

    CEO Rating Based on 33 ratings
    Melissa Waggener Zorkin
    President and CEO
    “Do you approve of the way this person is handling the job of leading this company?”
    82% Approve
    18% Disapprove
    33 responses
    Reviews are posted anonymously by employees (updated Apr 29, 2010)

    Recent Awards & Accolades
    UK’s 50 Best Places to Work, Great Place to Work, 2009
    100 Best Companies to Work for in Oregon (Large), OregonBusiness, 2009

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