Looking for Top Talent? It’s Time to Think About Overhauling Your Employer Brand

Ed Nathanson, founder of Red Pill Talent, consults for several companies of varying sizes and verticals on the topic of employer branding all in the hopes of helping these organizations draw in top talent. In other words, Nathanson helps the companies he works with learn how to be “bold, honest and authentic.”

Prior to branching off on his own, Nathanson worked for Rapid7 where he was tasked with helping the organization acquire new talent and grow its team to match its rapid sales growth. To help build out the team, which at the time was around 140 people, Nathanson immediately worked to help change how Rapid7 presented itself externally. The company relaunched their website and published video content featuring employees that illustrated the company’s core values in ways that were emblematic of their culture while also showing potential candidates in unique (and sometimes humorous) ways the personality of the company and its employees.

“The strategy worked tremendously,” says Nathanson. “People started really paying attention. Candidates were coming to us looking to learn more about the company. We were able to attract the talent we wanted and find a lot of the people we needed.”

The strategy worked so well that Nathanson realized other companies could benefit from this sort of employer brand overhaul so he started consulting for other companies — both big and small. Nathanson recently worked with Cisco to help with their employer brand. A skewed public perception of their culture made it even harder for the company to compete with neighbors like Google, Facebook and Apple for top talent.

“Cisco builds great technology, but they weren’t doing a great job of portraying what it is like to actually work there to potential candidates. They had little presence on social from a talent and culture perspective and were simply blasting out job postings so they could check that off on their list.”

“But, if you look at Cisco today, they’ve completely overhauled their employer brand. They’ve built out a presence on Instagram, created a blog about employee life at Cisco and have completely changed how they use and interact on Twitter. Now they’re fully bought into employer branding with their dedicated @WeAreCisco Twitter handle which showcases real photos from actual employees — there’s no stock photography in sight. They are giving prospective candidates a real view into what it is like to work at Cisco.”

Since implementing Nathanson’s advice to be “bold, honest and authentic,” Cisco has nearly quadrupled their talent-specific social following and they now talk about their company and culture in a way that is genuine to who they are and what they do.

While Cisco may have benefitted from their already large corporate social following and well-known brand, Nathanson says even small startups can still apply the same learnings when it comes time to build out their own employer brands.

According to Nathanson, “Startups need to think about how they can differentiate themselves. At the end of the day, recruiting is about people and the companies who are the most genuine and upfront about their cultures will do the best.”

For too many companies — both big and small — Nathanson says, “They’ll go out and buy a recruiting technology or sourcing tool and think they’ve bought into the idea of employer branding.” But the truth is, those tools can only do so much if you have an empty pipeline.

From very early on in a company’s lifetime, Nathanson says, “Startups need to focus on how to go about attracting the best talent specific to the cultures they’re hoping to cultivate.”

To overhaul the employer brand of CloudLock, a Boston-based startup, Nathanson worked hand-in-hand with the company’s marketing team to create culture-specific content and social channels. And, perhaps most importantly, they trained everyone at the company to act as public ambassadors for the organization’s culture and mission — posting on social, to Glassdoor or speaking at both casual and formal networking events.

“Where most companies would be terrified of this kind of transparency — especially posting to Glassdoor,” Nathanson says, “CloudLock embraces and even encourages it. In fact, it’s part of their new hire training. The company says ‘Hey, if you love it here, tell the world about it, take pictures.’ And lo and behold, Glassdoor named them #3 for Best Place to Work in the US for SMB.”

If you’re looking to step up your employer brand, but don’t have the resources for a consultant to take the reigns, Nathanson says knowing where to start is the first step to setting yourself up for success. “The first thing I do when I enter a new engagement is ask to speak with the top 10 to 20 employees from a culture fit perspective. The group should be diverse across ages, ethnicities and job function. I get these people in a room and start asking lots and lots of questions.”

In doing so, Nathanson effectively builds out a candidate persona — much like a marketer would build out a buyer persona. This research allows him to hone in on the channels that are truly relevant to the talent that company is hoping to target.

Nathanson says that, “If you want to create an effective campaign and in essence, find people who mirror your best employees, if they’re not on Twitter, don’t focus on Twitter! Employer branding is not one-size-fits-all. You have to understand where your people are and what they like to do. What kind of content do they like? I literally ask questions as granular as ‘What’s your favorite website? What kind of content do you click on?’ You have to ask very granular questions in addition to probing big picture questions like ‘Why did you join? What would it take to leave? Why do you stay?’”

Gathering all of this information helps you build your message, your value proposition and, most importantly, helps you understand where the candidate personas you’re trying to attract live and breathe.

And, when you’re finally up and running, Nathanson says to focus on the one thing that really matters across all of your employer brand properties — engagement.

“When you’re starting a channel, one of the things you really need to do is build up the base you already have and socialize it. Get your employees adopting that channel and have them interact with and share content from that source. That’s the start. If you have your employees behind your employer brand initiative, you’ll eventually start to capture their networks. And, statistically speaking, an employee’s network is typically 10 times larger than the company they work for, particularly at startups.”

For companies not yet bought into employer branding, it’s definitely time to get on board. As competition for top talent, especially for uber-competitive technical roles, mounts the companies who best portray their cultures and present genuine images of their organizations will fare the best.

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Senior Talent Manager, Engineering