Why Your Employer Brand Should Be A Big Turnoff

Should your employer brand—the way that prospective and current employees view you as an employer—be a turnoff for candidates? Absolutely. In today’s incredibly competitive market for talent, making sure you are NOT hiring the wrong people is essential. In a hot market, there is a temptation to hire people if they are “close enough” and to even overlook some concerns you may have about a candidate. The thinking being that a sub-optimal hire is better than no hire. This thinking is obviously flawed, but I have seen it happen even in some great companies, so I urge you to invest the necessary time to get this right because hiring the wrong person is harmful to everyone including the wrong hire.

Arriving at the right place with the right people in your organization extends well beyond the interviewing and selection process. In fact, a critical element that many organizations miss is ensuring your employer brand is attracting the right people and just as importantly repelling the wrong ones. Sometimes your best hiring decisions are the ones you do not hire. I remember one day when I was working at Cisco Systems on the M&A Integration team and John Chambers, our CEO came into a staff meeting and told us “Team, the best acquisition decisions we make are sometimes the ones we decide not to make.” The same can be said about recruiting.

Organizations that have a compellingly clear employer brand have it serve as a self-screening mechanism. “In our company, this is how things work, and we have found that individuals that want x are very unhappy here” or “people with x or y expectations do not thrive here. But, people who have y attributes do great.”

An Employer Brand’s Goal Isn’t to Hire Everyone Like You

So, what exactly is an employer brand, and how do you build one? Simply put, your employer brand is the experience your employees have working in your organization, If you ask your staff “What is it like to work here?” you will find the answer to this question. Sites like Glassdoor.com, Comparably, and others offer you insights into what it’s really “like” to be in an organization and millions of candidates use these sites to develop an understanding of an employer brand. Being clear on your employer brand can only happen if you are clear on your culture first, and that can take some time. Being clear about your culture has some powerful benefits. In fact, when you have clarity on your identity as an organization, when you know who you are and who is “right” for your company and what profile of talent “thrives” in your organization, your recruiting work becomes a lot easier.

Your employer brand is not about encouraging anyone and everyone to apply just to fill positions. It’s about finding the people that share your mission and values. It’s about finding people who will thrive and do great work and make others better. Your employer brand should be a beacon for those that want to help you achieve your goals and the more work you do to ensure your employer brand is right the more likely you will find great talent that is right for you, and even better, it will become easier for the right people to find you.

Surprisingly, only half of recruiting leaders worldwide have a proactive employer brand strategy. We can do better.

The Case for A Strong Employer Brand

The value of a great employer brand extends well beyond just helping you find the right talent and helping the right talent find you. Getting clear on your brand only results from being clear on your culture and who you are. Being able to answer the question “Why would anyone want to work here?” is a super start to helping you define who you are and what differentiates you from the many choices employees have on where to work. With unemployment rates as low as 4 percent, the job market is incredibly competitive, so you want every possible angle to win in this competition. Being clear on your culture and your employer brand is imperative, and a recent study showed that even if you find the right candidate, nearly one third will pass on a perfect job if the corporate culture was not a fit.

Your employer brand is the path to finding and retaining the best talent for your company.

A LinkedIn study found that companies with a strong employer brand find 50 percent more qualified applicants, and those companies also had a 28 percent lower employee turnover rate compared to companies with a weaker employer brand. As proof of this point, consider this, imagine if most of the work in your organization was performed on teams and that most people were on multiple cross-functional teams. Being capable of juggling multiple team priorities would be important for candidates to thrive. Therefore, if you are clear in your employer branding that work gets done through participating on multiple teams, candidates who prefer a lone-ranger style of work or who prefer only one boss will not likely apply, and that is a good thing.

Taking the reins of your employer brand may feel daunting—nearly half of employers believe they lack the tools to enhance and manage their employer brand effectively—but there are several strategies to get you started, and this is easier than you think.

Champions of Employer Brand

One of the best ways to address your employer brand is to first look at companies that are doing it right. Two of these champions include Netflix and Zappos, each of which has been recognized for their strong employer brands.

Netflix was named a Top Employer Brand by Hired in 2018 for its robust Culture Deck (an older version appears below).


The culture has just ten values, each of which is explained with no more than five bullets to paint an incredibly clear picture of the ideal candidate. Examples include:

  • Courage: You question actions inconsistent with our values.
  • Integrity: You admit mistakes freely and openly.
  • Curiosity: You make connections that others miss.
  • Inclusion: You intervene if someone else is being marginalized.
  • Innovation: You keep us nimble by minimizing complexity and finding time to simplify.

Some employees need better guardrails and structure than the company’s culture of freedom and responsibility provides, but the company is transparent about what environment it provides for employees, and it makes no apology if you do not share these.

Zappos is another model employer brand. The company took its strategy to a new level when it began offering to pay its employees to quit (and its parent company, Amazon has also adopted a similar policy).

Zappos embraces its culture and is willing to see qualified candidates leave if they do not feel they are a culture fit after starting work. This “do-over” option has been well received by many who thought do-overs ended after childhood. The truth is Zappos tries hard to avoid having a situation where someone wants to opt out, but at least they are candid and realistic that sometimes you just don’t know if the fit is right until the relationship begins.

Companies like Zappos can avoid offering payouts by getting creative in interviews and integrating core values into the recruitment process. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, for example, is known for asking a unique interview question to build on the company values: “On a scale of one to 10, how weird are you?” Other companies will try hard to meet candidates in multiple settings, a cafe, the office, a restaurant to see how people are when it’s not “an interview”—hoping to really see the authentic person instead of a staged persona the candidate may take in the interview.

While I was working at LinkedIn, one hiring manager would only be prepared to make an offer when five diverse people in the company had met the candidate, and at least three of the meetings had been conducted at locations out of the office. Internships are also a fantastic way to assess fit for both the candidate and employer. At LinkedIn, our conversion rate and our length of service of hires who were interns first were significantly higher than recruiting we did in the open market. An internship allows candidates to try on the culture and see if it resonates. Similarly, the employer can confirm if the candidate is a fit and thrives. Sometimes we had situations at LinkedIn where we knew we had nailed our culture and employer brand. When candidates would go through several interviews and start talking about the company in better ways than we had yet expressed ourselves, we knew we had something special.

Employer Brand Matters

Researching other company’s strategies for developing their employer brand is an excellent way to get inspiration, but copying their efforts is not going to work. You are not Google or Netflix or Zappos. Find your own way and be true to yourself—maybe you can build something better than they did. Take the time to define and nurture an employer brand that reflects your company’s true identity.

When you begin an employer brand initiative, consider these steps for success:

  • Document, and live by your core values. Look for examples to call out and highlight to the whole company. Celebrate the best of your culture and talk about the times you fell short—so you can learn and adjust.
  • Ensure your team actions reflect your values. If needed, review your code of conduct and instill policies that ensure ongoing alignment with your values.
  • Optimize your hiring process to find the right candidates while also avoiding unconscious bias.
  • Use data to guide your process. Survey team members, track information like retention rates, and hold comprehensive offboarding interviews to see where expectation may not be meeting reality.

It’s Time to Get Real About Your Employer Brand

Trying to change a culture when it has hardened over many years can be a challenge, so a third party may be the best, most efficient way for you to identify how to build on your existing strengths and adjust and adapt as appropriate. Sometimes when you are within a system, it’s hard to see things so outside experts can really help.

The Emtrain team is experienced with helping employers address workplace issues, and get back on track to build an employer brand based on authenticity and trust. They have created numerous tools and resources to help you implement workplace culture initiatives and to help you dive deeper into your unique culture and steer your employer brand in the right direction.

In summary, your culture and employer brand can become a competitive advantage, and it is so worth putting in the time and effort to build this out. If you do it right, your employer brand will serve as a magnet for the right people and a repellant for the wrong ones. If you want help come talk to us at Emtrain as we love helping people build amazing cultures and employer brands. To truly be able to build a workplace culture that helps you attract and retain the right talent, it’s time to step out of your comfort zone and embrace an employer brand that might be just a little bit too much for some applicants.

employer brandrecruiting
Steve Cadigan
Founder, Cadigan Talent Ventures
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