April 11, 2017

Leveraging your employer brand to attract the right hires

Whether they’ve actively thought about it or not, every single organisation has a employer brand. Although far wider definitions are possible, we can essentially sum employer brand up as how a business is perceived by those individuals who might become its employees.

Employer brand plays an absolutely vital role in securing staff because on first contact, preconceptions are everything. This is nowhere more keenly felt than in the London tech market where meetups, code-sharing sites and high-frequency of job hopping creates close-knit networks among similarly-skilled, high-demand individuals. Any employer known within these circles can expect to be both discussed and judged by potential hires. It is imperative to bear in mind the implications of this judgement will either divert or attract target hires.

The Tech Scene Anomaly

Much of the discussion around employer brand has been led by firms who wish to help organisations actively promote themselves as a great place to work. It has therefore centred on the production of glossy careers pages, video interviews with employees, research programmes to establish common, aspirational values, and the strategic and creative management of social media, press and advertising to promote such values.

How often, though, do such initiatives ring true among uniquely-skilled technology professionals who are regularly bombarded with offers of potential employment? The answer is infrequently, if at all. Such strategies are no doubt pleasant enough but lack the tech stack and behavioural specifics required to snare passionate technologists. The good news, though, is that there are some simple changes any business can make, which will have a positive impact on your perceived employer brand.  

Quality vs Coverage

Communication collateral – such as adverts, job specifications and careers pages – govern how most job seekers perceive organisations. The same way many employers judge applicants based on preconceptions formed from a CV alone, job seekers will snap-judge your firm based around the documentation supplied to them. Who hasn’t rejected an applicant for the order in which they listed their responsibilities or for a simple grammatical error? Few. Expect applicants to put your advertising and job specifications under a similar microscope.

It is an outdated view that breadth of coverage is the key to filling a vacancy. If communication collateral gives the wrong impression to initial applicants, exposing it to even more can only be detrimental to making the right hire. The more potential applicants you alienate, the more word spreads and the impact becomes exponential. The first step in boosting your employer brand is to recognise that time and expertise invested in quality collateral will far outweigh the impact of money and time invested in wider advertising or instructing ever more recruiters.

Your problem is not that applicants don’t exist; it’s that your message is alienating them.

Job Specifications

Let’s be absolutely clear, a bullet point job specification containing a generic description of your business will do more harm than good. It leaves questions in the minds of readers bombarded by countless other opportunities written by firms who care enough to give them real detail. What does a list of skills an applicant must possess say about your business, your team and your hiring managers? Disinterested? Not strong on documentation? Short term focus? Unable or unwilling to give back to staff? While this may seem far-fetched, it is something we hear from applicants on a daily basis. Bottom line: the specification is taken as representative of the organisation. The best job specs go beyond listing a confusing mix of skills needed and basic responsibilities, sharing as much information as possible about the context of the position and the future an employee can expect from it.

So how to change it?

  • Put your job specification in front of at least two team members and ask them if it accurately reflects their role. If it doesn’t, ask if they could suggest changes.
  • Is the spec focused on what you can offer an applicant, or what you want from them? There should be equal weighting here.
  • Is the spec generic or specific? Ask: “who are my audience?” then refine this down as much as possible and write only to that person (eg. “XCorp offer countless career opportunities” vs “in this role an experienced, confident web developer will quickly be able to learn React in a confident team”). 
  • Finally, separate what someone will do in the role from what skills they must have upon application. This should result in a clear picture for applicants of what is on offer, what they need to apply, and that your firm cares enough about future staff to invest in quality information.


Much the same applies to advertising. A brief advert that’s all about want, want, want instantly damages recruitment brand. It betrays any effort that’s been put into glossy careers sites or managing “values” because, more than anything else, it is your business’s talent attraction shop front. Some simple checks you can make:

  • Adverts must be broken into sections that make the opportunity clear at first glance, let target applicants frame themselves in the said position, while portraying you as a good employer by the time and detail invested. A nice structure for sections might be: what is this role to do, who should apply, what will they gain, why will they gain it in this specific business and role?
  • It is vital that the job advert is reviewed by those currently performing similar roles. Would they apply? If not, why not? What do they really enjoy about their role? Is that reflected in this advert?
  • Are the skills listed as required really needed? Could some skills be moved from must have skills into an opportunity to learn? This will increase attraction and decrease the impression of a demanding employer.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

If there is one surefire way of increasing coverage, it’s through the use of recruiters. The drawback, understandably, is having suddenly made a third party responsible for the first impression on future staff form of your business. An unscreened recruiter working from a bullet point job specification is a recipe for maximum damage to your brand and minimal interest from the applicants which your role is probably right for. Applicants do not typically trust recruiters and are regularly bombarded by them through various channels. But how do you expect this poor recruiter you barely know (and have briefed using a single piece of paper) to gain any traction with the high-value applicants you want to attract? The answer is, he can’t. And the increased coverage will simply serve to make applicants being contacted by multiple recruiters numb to your message.

This, of course, is not to say that recruiters should be avoided. A few simple steps can help the right recruiter become a professional ambassador for your employer brand.

  • Do not brief more than two recruiters. It is simply unnecessary and potentially detrimental as most access an identical pool of applicants and will end up approaching the same people.
  • Once you have selected the most compatible recruiter, send them a copy of your newly minted, high value specification and book a call to discuss. Ask them to describe the role back to you and paint a picture of  what they think the person performing it does. You’ll be looking for them to demonstrate some awareness of the skills mentioned. So, for example, what is MVC’s relationship to C#? What is Node and why would a JavaScript Developer use it? Now ask them to outline the strategy they will follow to attract people to the role. Expect a good recruiter to outline a proactive, conscious approach that covers more than just advertising and job boards, but beware of anything non-specific. Finally, ask how they will screen applicants for the role. Look out for an answer that describes outcomes rather than questions. So, “I’ll ask them what they are looking for in their next role” vs “I’ll be expecting anyone I submit to have a specific interest in becoming a senior engineer, and I’ll screen for what is preventing this in their current role.” This will allow you to appoint one or two quality recruiters as opposed to five poor ones.
  • Limit the number of applicants a recruiter can submit and request that all submissions show an email from the applicant confirming they have read the brief and wish this recruiter to represent them. This instantly removes the natural desire to submit the first people that come along in order to mitigate another recruiter doing so, and promotes a quality-first approach to screening.
  • Allow recruiters to speak to the person who is actually interviewing for the role. Once you’ve screened a recruiter you can be sure that a Hiring Manager’s time will be well invested in discussions with them. The more familiar a recruiter is with the person their applicants will end up working with,  the better relationships they will build with those applicants and the better quality of match they will produce

Interviews – Who’s screening who?

Your approach to recruiters will only work if you recognise their potential as a gateway to real people who will potentially end up working for you. Once introduced via a recruiter, it is then your responsibility to influence the opinion of every single person who encounters your business.

The single biggest point of vulnerability on employer brand comes at the point of rejection. Thousands and thousands of “CVs” that belong to real people disappear into recruitment black holes on a daily basis, with each applicant left frustrated and disappointed with both a recruiter and employer who do not appear to want to give them the time of day. Even worse is generic or zero feedback following an interview. Assuming that the applicants most firms chose to interview are higher value, to put them through a fairly challenging process then never speak to them again is absolutely going to create negative speculation  in their professional circle. Managing fair, productive feedback is crucial to employer brand.

As is creating an interview experience that balances the screening necessary to hire the competent person vs. portraying the positive image required to secure them as an employee. Many businesses, subjected to huge volumes of irrelevant CVs, have adopted a test-first, think later approach to screening, distributing technical tests to everyone who applies. The result? Every high-demand applicant ignores the test, as plenty of other employers have had the decency to pick up the phone and speak like humans. The answer to excessive CVs is limiting how many each agency is allowed to send and putting some basic screening criteria in place for the person filtering advert response. This reduced volume of applicants means more time can be invested in each person.

Screening should begin with a phone call from the hiring manager, balanced 50/50 between basic screening questions and a description of the role, with a chance for each applicant to ask questions. It’s an exercise in engagement and protection; building a great impression with the applicant but also preventing any precious face to face interview time being squandered.

Technical tests are useful, certainly, but paired programming tests carried out in real-time to solve a problem together give a more realistic result and have the double benefit of building a relationship between employer and employee. Try to place one into your second stage interview. Which should also be the final stage, by the way. If the talent you want is high value, efficiency will be appreciated and give you a competitive edge over less agile employers. Five stages of tests and meandering chats certainly won’t, but they will form a great topic of conversation at the Shoreditch Python Society’s next meeting.

Finally, for every interview or CV that doesn’t work out, send a piece of constructive feedback either to the recruiter or directly to the applicant. Thank them for their time, give a positive reason why the role isn’t for them, and invite them to request any further information if they wish to. This is incredibly meaningful and really impactful, at times resulting in colleague recommendations who turn out to be better suited to the position.

Reputation Management

There is a lot more to proactively managing your employer brand than the above. Equally, observing the above will be far cheaper and easier than the extensive research and management needed to truly own and manipulate a brand. Plus, without the above, such steps are largely meaningless.

It is however worth noting that where information provided on a role  is vague – and it frequently is – applicants often rely on Google to make decisions around where to interview. Implementing a quick, regular review of your search engine results, specifically on Linkedin, Glassdoor and Twitter for anything that could be interpreted negatively is worthwhile. With Glassdoor, the only way to really counter a negative review is to bury it in positive ones – perhaps engaging current employees who feel passionate about the organisation to post details of their experiences.

Post produced in partnership with Talent Point.

Need some assistance planning a hiring strategy that resonates with applicants while reflecting your ​vision, mission, and cultural values? Get in touch with Rob Earles at Talent Point

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