I’m Not So Sure an Employment Brand Truly Matters

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Jul 3, 2018

Every year companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars on employer branding. My email box is overrun with new companies wanting to show me and sell me the next “best” employer branding technology (and the regulars contact me too … relentlessly). But I believe employment branding has peaked … LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Facebook, Twitter, Indeed, career site, microsite, talent communities, etc., etc … I could go on and on with the list, but I am sure it would never end.

The “employment brand” concept has become extremely overrated. In fact, I lump employment branding as the same concept of buying a car. We see great commercials with great brands advertising their cars. We run down to the dealership and test drive the car, like it, buy it, and after a few months start noticing things we don’t like. It doesn’t accelerate as fast as I like … the coffee cup holder is in a weird place … the windows take too long to roll up … the glare on the dashboard due to the angle is annoying … and on and on and on. Finally, we trade it in or sell it for something newer and better.

Take Glassdoor. It gives employers an opportunity to paint and showcase a rosy picture of what life is like or can be like in the company and lets employers take a stab at replying to negative comments. The pictures are great and always full of employees having fun and smiling. I haven’t seen a picture of an employee receiving their pink slip or sitting through a performance plan review. The replies to negative feedback are served straight out of the can: “Sorry you feel that way, we have an open door policy with HR and wish you would have come talk to us.” Or something like, “Here at XYZ Widgets, we strive to maintain a quality work environment for our employees” … yada, yada, yada.

While companies, HR departments, and job seekers are focused on the perception of an employment brand, I think people accept jobs due mostly to perceived good leadership and personal connections, ultimately leave companies due to poor leadership. You know the cliche: “People don’t quit their jobs … they quit their bosses.” I have shared this phrase a thousand times and I will continue to do so. I have been in executive search and have also led talent acquisition for Fortune 500 brands, and over all my years of doing such, the No. 1 answers when I ask people to tell me their top three career criteria for a new opportunity are “the people, my boss, and who I will work for.” (aren’t 2 and 3 the same?)

In two separate and prior instances, I had great leaders who hired me. They kept me loyal, kept me engaged, made work fun and interesting, and provided praise and feedback. When they left, their replacements proved to be the exact opposite. I continued to work hard, do the best at every task, and attempt to work through it all. Ultimately, I was pushed away and quit my managers.

In both instances, each company invested heavily in their employment brands. In fact, I had a direct hand in building the career sites for both companies (which were award winning). We built excellent and top rated Glassdoor profiles for both companies; profiles full of photos, reviews, and ratings. But in the end, all the work I did around building award-winning career sites and enhancing the employment brand for each organization all meant nothing for me as my direct leadership was extremely poor.

Fast forward to my current role. The company’s employment brand is nonexistent. The career site could use a makeover. Glassdoor is a far-off nice to have, and the approach to candidates could be refined. Bottom line is the employment brand, some would say, could use some work. But in my recent search, an employment brand did not matter to me whatsoever. I didn’t even care to look at a career site, a Facebook page, or a Glassdoor profile. What I did care about was my personal criteria for a new opportunity:

  • The leader who I would report to and ultimately work for
  • The role and impact I can make for an organization
  • Reporting structure and where I would fit in the organization
  • Scope of the position

I was selected for an interview. It provided me a chance to find out what the people were really like. I went deep in the interviews when it was my time. I asked hard, direct, and pressing questions in order to gain an understanding of my potential leader’s style, expectations, and what success would look like. We discussed challenges, goals, and objectives. I asked to speak with other leaders and gained perspective as to their needs and who I would report to. I took a chance and followed my gut instinct without ever even looking at the career site, social media, or any employment-brand related platforms; fast forward several months and this role has been the absolute best of my career.

What I found and learned through this latest experience is that an employment brand can be very superficial, and is just one small piece of a larger puzzle. My many years of experience as a headhunter and a corporate talent acquisition leader has taught me that people want to work, they want to feel valued, and they want an empathetic leader. As we all know, a job is very important to people, and while sometimes we can be selective about where we may want to work, lots of times we cannot be overly selective and need to take work regardless of good or bad employment brand. Here are some suggestions as to what companies can do to supplement their ‘employment brand’:

  • Work to eliminate bureaucracy in the department and organization
  • Implement 360-degree rating/assessment tools so all levels of leadership get a sense check on themselves by those above, below, and to their sides
  • Implement quarterly feedback and review sessions versus only one annual review
  • Invest in leadership training: embrace it, live it, and exude it

Lastly, I know there are legalities around posting negative comments and feedback with regards to specific individuals, but it sure would be nice to truly get a sense and basic understanding of someone who you may ultimately end up working for versus the nice person you will meet in an interview trying to upsell you on their role. It would be nice to get a sense of that particular person’s “leadership brand.”

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