Employer branding: should you hide the crap?

12 February 2024

Let’s be honest; no business is perfect. Yeah, some are pretty good. But we all get things wrong. And we all have areas to improve. Still, when it comes to employer branding, let’s shout about the good stuff and put the rest in a drawer. Right?

Let’s leave that question hanging for a moment and go right back to the start. 

Why do we invest in employer branding? To help us attract better talent? To reduce recruitment costs? To engage existing employees?

Well, everyone will have slightly different objectives, but the crux tends to be attraction, with maybe a little retention. So, it would seem counterproductive to focus on anything other than the actual selling points of the business, wouldn’t it?

Well, our research suggests that when people are looking into a potential employer, the top two things they are looking for are 1) cultural alignment and 2) signs of their reputation.

What’s more, when it comes to choosing a job, we found that employer reputation is the second most influential thing for Generation Z (after culture) and the fourth most influential for everyone else (after work/life balance, salary and benefits, and culture).

People used words like “credibility” and “red flags” when describing what they’re seeking out in a potential new employer.

The reality is job seekers are looking at the good stuff but also digging deeper for reasons not to join.

Trust and believability

It seems safe to assume people’s behaviour is driven by a need for trust. When you read employer claims, you want to make sure they are as real as they say they are and you’re not about to waste time and energy.

So, let’s consider two hypothetical employer brands.

  • Business #1

You land on their career site. They’ve captured all the shiny great stuff that makes them look like a great workplace, with some nice personal employee content to bring it to life. Great.

You’re excited, but you do your due diligence. You look at Glassdoor and feel immediate disappointment that the reviews don’t match the company content.

So, you search for news articles about their culture and find they’ve made some bad decisions in the past. Hmmm.

  • Business #2

The business has captured all the great stuff, as before. But as you scroll through their content, these guys also make some admissions.

They made mistakes in the past, but it’s made them stronger and wiser as a result. They offer many great things, but they’re still working to improve X, Y and Z – and they invite you to be part of that journey.

Maybe they even give a narrative on their employer reviews and recent press, giving a humble understanding of their strengths and weaknesses and demonstrating the action taken as a result.

Which business do you choose?

Who fosters the most trust and belief?

A product versus a relationship

The thing is, when you look at how we market and sell products, we wouldn’t dream of highlighting the things they don’t offer people. Just picture it – “The latest iPhone has the world’s best camera but at the expense of the quality of the speaker”.

It just wouldn’t happen.

But with these products, we’re looking for volume. We want to sell to everyone.

What we’re looking to achieve in employer branding is more akin to building a long-term relationship. So more like eharmony than Amazon.

It’s about developing trust and understanding and taking the steps towards a commitment together.

Spotify admits that the way they work can be chaotic. Netflix openly says they aren’t a good match for people looking for stability or building seniority. Openness breeds believability but also increases the likelihood of finding the right person.

If something sounds like it’s amazing in every possible way, do you just think, “Wow, I’ve hit the jackpot”, or do you think “, Hang on, this sounds too good to be true”? Let’s be honest; an endless list of positives isn’t fooling anyone.

Put yourself in their shoes

It’s hard to distance yourself from the love you have for your company, your role or even your service. It’s what makes you a passionate professional.

But sometimes, the real value comes when you step back from your view of things and see it from your candidate’s perspective. Building your brand based on their behaviour and needs will bring you the most success.

So, should you hide the crap? No, you shouldn’t.

You don’t have to shine huge great lights on it, but the more balance you present, the more believable you’ll feel, and, well, the more you’ll lay down the first steps of a good relationship with the right match.

Want to know more about candidate views? Check out our research here.

Want to learn more about the Surgery and see how we’re people people? See our team here.

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