Employer brand in the candidate experience: Advice for HR and TA leaders

Tahlia Robinson, in conversation with David Concannon, MBus(HRM), CPHR

There are many elements that make up your employer brand - from your employee value proposition messaging and people-focused blog content, to your CEO’s LinkedIn posts and company reviews on Glassdoor. Whether you like it or not (and whether you invest in it or not), your organisation has an employer brand. If you don’t take the initiative to shape it, your audience will do so for you.

For most of your potential candidates, their first experience of your employer brand will be through your existing corporate brands or talent marketing - often, from your website or social media. While we can contribute and influence this messaging, the point when a person submits an application and becomes a candidate is your chance to really personalise your approach and translate the impact of your employer brand.

There are key moments throughout the candidate journey where your organisation’s employer brand comes to life. This is when talent first gets to experience how you treat people and forms a stronger understanding of what it might be like to work for your organisation. Whenever there is an opportunity to connect, there is an opportunity to shape the employer brand.

“The moments that matter for your candidate are also the moments that matter for your employer brand.”

– Dave Concannon, Chief Operating Officer of Employer Branding Australia

Here are five pivotal points where HR and Talent Acquisition leaders can translate employer brand into the candidate experience:

1. First impressions count: the initial response

Treating candidates with respect is not just “the right thing to do.” It’s smart business. Remember this: the employee experience of the person you hire starts when they first apply. What's more, today's unsuccessful applicant could be tomorrow's preferred candidate - or even a valued customer. They're also all potential advocates for your brand... or not.

Chances are, the candidate has already researched your organisation and started to form an opinion. But their knowledge is likely to be the product of broad messaging. Your response to their application is your first chance to make an impact on an individual level. If your employer brand is all about authenticity, care and support, your interactions should reflect those values.

Tahlia: It sounds like it would be best to personally reach out to every person who applies, but that can balloon into a huge task if you have a large number of applicants. Is it okay to send an auto-response?

Dave: The answer will always depend on your context. But an automated response doesn't have to mean you sound like a robot. People know it isn’t realistic for organisations to reply to each and every applicant personally, but that’s no excuse for providing an impersonal or lazy response. Or worse, no response!

With some genuine care and thoughtfulness, it is possible to respond to applicants with an authentic message that is true to your values and recognises that while the technology might get smarter, it is still a person receiving a personal message at the end of that algorithm.

2. Staying front of mind: candidate communication

When you publish a job ad, what do you think the market response is? Do people have notifications turned on as they sit by their phone, waiting for the chance of a lifetime?

We all wish our organisation was dream job material. In reality, it’s far more likely that your candidate has just sent resume #47 via one click on SEEK while sipping a glass of red wine on a Wednesday night.

In a talent-short climate, quality candidates are likely to have more than one option on the table. Regularly communicating with candidates can keep your organisation and opportunity front of mind. The steps between the initial response and the interview are often overlooked, but they’re vital to ensure your talent pipeline doesn’t have a leak.

Tahlia: How often would you typically contact a candidate between the moment you receive their application and when they come in for an interview?

Dave: That’s difficult to say and will reflect everything from your resources to the scarcity of talent for the role to the length of your application process (tip: make it shorter). Rather than a fixed number, the real answer is however many touch points it takes to keep the candidate informed and excited about the process and opportunity. Another consideration is what form that contact takes. Sometimes, a quick personal phone call is a better way to go than a barrage of emails.

3. Two-way street: the interview

An interview isn’t a business transaction. It shouldn’t be a recap of information that can be found in your job ad and the applicant’s resume. Instead, this is the chance for both the interviewer and interviewee to assess the mutual fit, ask questions about cultural expectations and team values, and begin to form a relationship.

One of our mottos here at EBA is that values should never be just posters on a wall. They should come from your people, and they should be embedded throughout your organisation.

“If your values mean something, embed them in the conversation. Share what they mean to you, and ask interviewees which value resonates most with them and why. You could even explore where the interviewee - and you - risk falling short of living that value. A great way to humanise the experience and open up the conversation.

If your values are useless, have the same conversation but about the behaviours that actually matter in your team. Then call us. We can help.”

– Mark Puncher, Founder and CEO of EBA

Tahlia: When I hear people talk about interviews, it always seems like a one-way street, with the candidate sitting in the hot seat. From an employer brand perspective, we know the candidate's impression of the hiring manager is also important. What considerations could TA and HR leaders take into account during the interview process?

Dave: There is a lot to take into account - from ensuring you’ve checked if there is any reasonable adjustment required to make the process more equitable, to training interviewers to make effective decisions in a process that is designed to mitigate against bias. For me, it boils down to one word, though: respect. Again, this is a person, not a piñata. It shouldn’t be about putting them through unrealistic pressure that isn’t representative of the role. It’s an interview, not an interrogation, and the person in front of you has had to sacrifice something to be there today. How will you show them that this is recognised in your organisation?

4. The big question: acceptance or rejection?

It’s the pivotal point in the candidate journey: is this a successful match or is the time and fit just not right? Even if the candidate isn’t joining the organisation now, they could absolutely be a great applicant in the future.

If the candidate is successful, make sure you communicate your excitement! Now is also a great time to reinforce the organisational values (although by this point, these should have been discussed a few times already). For unsuccessful candidates, honesty, compassion and constructive feedback can go a long way.

Tahlia: I imagine it’s easier to foster a positive experience when you’re telling someone they’ve got the job, in comparison to keeping people happy when you’re rejecting them. Any tips for letting people down easily - and why that’s important?

Dave: I’m not sure if letting people down easily is the best way to frame it. For me, it is again more about respect. The easy thing to do would be to wheel out the familiar tropes: competitive field, someone with more experience or specific expertise, etc. However, if you truly respect that person and aspire to have a people-oriented organisation, then you should consider honest, constructive, empathetic feedback as a requirement. These are four simple steps that you can build on:

  1. Ensure they are open to genuine feedback before providing it. If they’re not open to hearing it, then it benefits nobody to force it.
  2. Be clear and back up your feedback with data where possible, sharing both strengths and areas for development and why that is important to the role.
  3. Provide actionable advice for how they might bridge the gap in the future. If they don’t have a sense of what they could do to address the feedback, then there’s little value to them in providing it.
  4. Leave on a positive note and encourage them to keep in touch with the organisation and apply again in the future. And don’t forget to thank them.

5. Don’t drop the ball: the employee experience

Remember that the candidate journey doesn’t end once the decision to hire is made - it’s the beginning of the employee experience. Continuing to ensure a positive experience through the next stages is crucial to keep the candidate engaged and excited for their new beginning. This is also the time that pre-onboarding starts, which is a great time to set your new team member up for success. How is the employee welcomed - do they receive a welcome pack? Does their manager reach out? A card from the team? An email introducing them to their new colleagues?

Tahlia: If you could give two pieces of advice to anyone responsible for onboarding employees, what’s one thing you wish more people did, and one thing you wish people would stop doing?

Dave: I wish organisations invested more in this critical activity, in terms of time, care and money. Onboarding is a key period where candidate experience becomes employee experience, and investments here will reap rewards in performance, retention and engagement.

Something to stop doing? Treating the onboarding process as if the person is applying for a mortgage. The experience should be exciting and inspiring, reinforcing with the candidate that they made the right decision and this is the place where they can do their best work. It shouldn’t be overly bureaucratic or boring. We tend to drown people in paperwork and unnecessary forms that ask them for the umpteenth time to fill out their personal details.

HR and Talent leaders are instrumental in the application of employer brand throughout the candidate journey - and it helps to have well-articulated strategic messaging to keep it consistent. Need help? Reach out to the team at hello@employerbrandingaustralia.com.

About Employer Branding Australia

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