Mind The Gap: How Recruiting and Employer Brand Can Fix Each Other

A quick review of ERE reveals that there are “employer branding” articles and there are “recruiting” articles. Occasionally, a recruiting article might mention employer branding as a thing one could do — but always in an aloof manner. Likewise, employer brand articles seem to treat working with recruiting as the equivalent of eating one’s vegetables, something done because you have to.

I see a gap between these two functions that not only shouldn’t exist, but is keeping your company from maximizing its investment in both.

As an employer brander, myself, I can see how the gap happens. We’re often so busy trying to get leadership and marketing and comms (and pretty much everyone else) to see us as strategic partners. We try to get them to understand that the stories we tell about the people who work here, and about why they work here, can support consumer marketing, investor relations, internal comms, PR, and any number of internal and external initiatives. And in doing all of this, we sometimes forget to look at our first customers: recruiters.

On the other hand, recruiters have been given the herculean task of trying to hire the world’s greatest talent within the world’s tightest talent market using limited toolsets and budgets. Their ATS is overflowing with requisitions they are responsible for, their clients on both sides question their abilities and value, so they put their nose to the proverbial grindstone and work harder.

This gap is very common, regardless of whether your employer brand function “lives” within the talent acquisition space. Regardless of whether your employer brand manager is a former recruiter. Regardless of whether your recruiters have worked with employer brand before.

A big reason for this gap is that branders and recruiters have very different problems to solve and ways of looking at those problems. Recruiters are amazing “people” people, folks who can build rapport and relationships very quickly to discern if the person in front of them can help the company. They can “sell” (a term I think of more as a shorthand for informing and inspiring than arm-twisting and pitching) the job to the prospect and the prospect to the hiring manager with equal skill. They live in a world of retail communication: talking one-on-one with someone to encourage action.

Where recruiters aren’t as strong is in their ability to scale this process beyond a one-to-one. They tend to focus on the now and the person right across from them. This positions recruiters as hunters rather than farmers, getting candidates only as needs arise rather than developing a network of great people they can reach out to when the stars align. (Yes, I am painting with broad strokes, and you’re right that executive recruiters are generally focused on building their book in advance of need, but beyond those recruiters, it’s a relatively rare thing to see).

Employer branders are usually built differently. They tend to think more systemically, building ecosystems of stories and messages that pique interest, attract attention, and set a frame. They are more focused on understanding the motivations of a wide swath of people than in zeroing in on the motivations of the individual. Thus, employer branders can create wholesale shifts in perception, but that work can’t be optimized toward getting someone to take action.

Where employer branders aren’t as strong is that their success metrics are often vague, lacking in connection to both recruiting outcomes and business outcomes. If the goal is to build a content library that attracts and entices a higher-grade of talent, how can the business know that they are getting better candidates? And if recruiters’ metrics are based around how quickly they can close a requisition, candidate quality is more of a hurdle to jump over than a wall to scale.

But it is in the gap that companies have their greatest talent acquisition opportunity. Closing the gap between recruiting and employer brand fulfills employer brand’s promise and elevates recruiting outcomes.

However, closing the gap happens by doing work on both sides.

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Employer brand’s challenge is that as a newer kind of marketing, it hasn’t figured out its own “rules” yet. Everyone knows what a consumer marketer needs to do, but even professional employer brand managers are developing their own processes and plans. As the only kind of marketing that focuses on quality over quantity, there’s only so much we can crib from classical marketing before we are expected to create our own map.

As such, employer brand always runs the risk of running off in unnecessary directions like an ADHD kid on a sugar binge. New employer brand managers are prone to lusting after new channels and platforms while ignoring channels people already use. They build brand taglines that are impossible to believe or so broad as to be useless. 

Employer brand managers need recruiters to ground them, to be their acid test to ensure that the work connects to and supports recruiting needs before they start planning their next big idea. Recruiting keeps employer branding honest.  

At the same time, recruiters need to be trained in how to use the employer brand. Recruiters are eyeball deep in putting out fires with clients that they can’t control but are expected to manage. They have way too many requisitions and demands on their time. Handing them an EVP deck and giving them 15 minutes to ask questions does not constitute onboarding. That’s the best way to ensure that recruiters see employer branding as abstract or academic, disconnected from the reality of real world recruiting.

The EVP or brand promise is a complex marketing idea. The messages contained within need to be broken down and localized to the target audiences to ensure that they have any impact at all. That localized brand needs to be embedded into every candidate touchpoint, from outreach of offer extension before a recruiter can see its value. But if you surveyed recruiters, they’d tell you what they know about employer branding has been gleaned from podcasts and failed internal initiatives. 

Employer branding, when properly implemented and installed, is a force multiplier for recruiting. Recruiting, in turn, keeps employer branding from spinning off into its own hype machine. Independently, they support the business, but together they can create a compelling message that is specific, attractive, different, and real, the paradigm of strong recruitment for any company.

James, principal of Employer Brand Labs in Chicago, is a born employer branding nerd whose mission is to create a million employer brand thinkers. He is an employer brand and talent strategy expert, author, keynote speaker, practitioner, and podcaster with a wealth of experience across multiple industries. James’ achievements include authoring what’s been called the bible of employer branding, managing the No. 1 employer brand newsletter in the world, and helping companies globally establish and develop their ability to hire talent.

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