Finding the right talent is crucial for any startup looking to thrive and grow. While hiring takes precious time away from other business activities, your company will fall behind if it’s unable to secure the resource it needs to scale.
Competition is fierce within some talent pools, such as engineers, data scientists and performance marketeers. However, the challenge intensifies when you add the softer skills required to the equation. These include adaptability, resilience, experience from startup environments, and the ability to work at pace.
I’ve spent a large part of my career advising leaders on how they can attract the talent they need and ideally reduce the amount of time spent prospecting suitable candidates. A vital starting point is your employer brand. By that I mean your reputation as a place to work and what you offer prospective hires.
Not all companies are for all people, and to get the best results from those you hire, there needs to be a solid match between what is offered and what is sought by them. You may think it is sufficient to advertise your salaries and what your company does, but joining a company requires consideration of many additional factors. Candidates will want to understand your work environment, culture, how you work as a team, how your leaders lead, the social environment they join, whether they’ll have access to the best tools and technologies to do their roles, what will they learn with you, and whether they can ever work flexible hours or bring their dog to the office. All of this should be presented to prospective hires in order to engage them.
In recent years there has been a real move towards candidates wanting to understand what it feels like to work in a company before signing up. With the prominence of review sites like Glassdoor, which now has over 30 million unique visitors a month, there’s no longer anywhere to hide for employers.
It’s also become very common for prospective hires to contact peer-level employees on LinkedIn for a “warts and all” because they don’t want to rely on the advertising copy on a company’s careers site, especially if it feels rather generic. From a candidate’s perspective, all companies talk about being customer-focused, valuing their people, and being innovative.
This shift towards transparency can be unsettling for leaders. I’ve seen some companies dissuade employees from engaging in social media and representing their brand externally, especially if there are pockets of disengagement within the company that could come to light. The concern of dirty laundry being aired is understandable, but this conversation is happening regardless of whether you’re part of it – in the pub or between recruitment agencies. Being part of it gives you a chance to shape the narrative.
Instead of hiding, savvy companies take the opportunity of platforms like Glassdoor to get their advocates and role models out there engaging with other talent. They also embrace the idea that they do not need to be all things to all people. They’re clever marketeers and use their company overview pages online to openly position weak spots as an opportunity or challenge, i.e. we want to understand our competitors better. They also respond to any negative reviews or conversations to show what they are doing to grow and improve.
Therefore, one of the best ways to build your employer brand is to start the conversation and have your people tell the story of what it’s like to work for you. In addition, it’s worth trying to encourage a common narrative regarding your employer brand so that it’s clear and easily identifiable to prospective hires, however they find you. Being clear on this internally is useful too, as it can help you reinforce and re-engage new hires on your shared identity.
It’s important to involve your people at all levels in defining your brand, otherwise it may become a leadership aspiration that others don’t reconcile with. Once you know what your key talking points are, consider the language you use and how you’d differentiate yourself from competition. For example, rather than talking about being “innovative”, you could really unpack what underpins your success in that field. Is it that you’re “ideas hungry” or creative, or do you take a novel, brave approach?
Once you know what your brand is, and you have your people talking, it’s time to consider how you cast the net further. Having a careers page that does more than listing your vacancies is essential – candidates don’t just look for jobs, they look to be a member of an organisation. If they can’t understand what that’s like before an interview, you’ve cut off the pipeline right at the top of the funnel. Videos and photos are generally a better way of communicating your brand than reams of text, not least because they can bring your office environment to life.
Your brand will evolve as you grow, just as your culture will, so it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse. You can gather all sorts of useful insight from engagement surveys, career/performance conversations and exit interviews. A good recruitment agency or consultancy will also be able to give you input on whether your brand matches what your target audience wants.
By constantly reviewing and refining your employer brand, you’ll stand a better chance of bagging the best talent for your business.
About the author
Laura Haynes is an occupational psychologist and the founder of Freshr, an HR consultancy. She has ten years of experience in HR, predominantly focused on talent and recruitment, and has worked with start-ups and a range of corporates including Citi, RBS, Tesco and BT.