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Increasingly informed candidates are forcing companies to be more steadfast in crafting a winning employer brand. Sabrina Zolkifi talks to companies who are at different stages of building an employer brand and finds out what you need to know to leave a good first impression on future employees.
As the saying goes, first impressions go a long way.
So why would it be any different when it comes to companies? An increasing number of organisations have redirected their efforts towards building a strong employer branding in a bid to attract, retain and motivate talent.
But for many, employer branding begins before a candidate even considers them as a place of work.
“Many potential employees’ first and lasting impression is how they view a company’s products, services and brand impression,” says Gerard Koh, vice-president of HR at SMRT. “In some cases, how they experience the brand as a customer transfers their impressions to what they believe the company will be as an employer.”
This is something Unilever also experiences, as so often the first point of contact a potential candidate has with the brand is through one of the company’s products.
“It becomes much easier for us to connect with talent,” says Anish Singh, HR director for leadership and organisation development for global markets at Unilever. “That, for us, is a starting point.”
Once a connection has been made, one of the most important aspects of creating a strong employer brand is to make sure the messages sent out are aligned with the company’s values.
Koh says talent these days are looking to work for a company which makes a difference – an understanding that has allowed SMRT to target and attract the right group of individuals.
“A public transport company like SMRT that touches the lives of three million commuters a day has a mission that resonates with talent that have a passion to serve others,” he says.
“So, the theme of ‘serving others with pride’ is a common thread that runs from the company’s brand promise to the employer branding.”
Of course, SMRT isn’t the only organisation which has picked up on candidates’ interest in the bigger picture.
Can you make a difference?
“People want to know how we are impacting lives and making differences in the society,” says Srikanth Chandrashekhar, director of human resources for APAC at Bombardier Transportation.
“We are doing a lot more branding with some of the projects we’re taking up, and linking it back to the cultural aspect of those projects. So if we do something in China, they want to know how we are impacting lives in China.
“Employees spend so much of their lives here, they want to know what kind of a workplace we are.”
For SMRT, it is also important to communicate how it can help employees grow and develop as they work in the company.
“In short, it’s communicating, ‘How do I help you grow and value-add more over time?’”, Koh says. “We don’t sell jobs, but careers. For example, we recently launched a career scheme for train operators and engineering staff (non-executives) that focuses on career progression and training.”
And one of the easiest – and most effective – ways companies can communicate strong authentic messages as part of their employer brand is to engage current employees as brand ambassadors.
Chandrashekhar believes this is a powerful method that all companies should adopt.
“If you look at hiring, it’s happening more through referrals today and it creates so much buzz when people outside of work go on social forums, talking, and sharing ideas,” he says.
Employees spend so much of their lives here, they want to know what kind of a workplace we are.
Director of human resources for APAC, Bombardier Transportation.
Koh agrees, adding candidates will find the employer brand to be more authentic coming from current employees rather than the communications or HR teams.
But Chandrashekhar admits this is still something Bombardier is trying to perfect, and it’s now looking into how it can leverage on employee brand ambassadors to put out messages around company ethics, values, practices and transparency.
“We want to bring more transparency around our internal practices so candidates understand what they’re getting into.”
One thing all three companies agree on is that employer branding is not something HR can build, execute and manage alone.
Unilever has been partnering with its marketing and communications peers for a while, and built a “repeatable” employer brand model, which can be picked up and adopted by the company’s different markets and brands.
At SMRT, the HR team also works closely with its communications counterparts. Koh says the HR and corporate communications team collaborate on the company’s “employer narrative”, which communicates “what it means to be an employer in SMRT”.
“Core to the narrative is what SMRT stands for and what value do we add to our customers and society. We both recognise what is promoted as an employer brand impacts the company’s brand and vice versa,” he says.
As for Bombardier, Chandrashekhar says it is currently in the process of restructuring its employer brand, including exploring more ways it can leverage on social media to reach a wider talent pool.
“Social media is one way we’ve increased brand visibility and it drives our brand equity,” Chandrashekhar says, adding it’s been invaluable to boosting the recruitment process.
“It helps people understand who we are, what we do, and what we stand for; without that, when we go through recruitment, we have to explain the kind of company we are. I’d rather spend time convincing the candidate about the job than explain the company.”
He says utilising online tools such as LinkedIn has allowed Bombardier to put out content that provides a clear idea of the company.
“We are going to produce more online content about our businesses and the projects we’ve completed. We also want to use YouTube, where our engineering candidates will get a chance to look at what our site and facilities look like. We’ll be exploring using Twitter as a recruiting tool as well.”
Adds Koh: “At SMRT, social media has become part and parcel of the company’s employer branding strategy.”
He adds on the SMRT Facebook page, it shares posts of staff and their experiences, which helps to showcase the people behind the scenes and what they do to keep things running.
“Such human interest stories of common folk have garnered quite some interest, and we will use this to build up our communications efforts on our employer brand online,” Koh says.
An added challenge Bombardier is facing is making sure its employer brand is aligned across all its business units.
“We are running something called OneBT, and it drives towards having common messages, common values and common practices across businesses. With this initiative of having a common careers page and a common social media strategy, all businesses are equally involved in setting the strategy right at both a regional and country level.”
For other companies building or revising their employer brand strategy, they have to make sure the groundwork has been done.
Looking back, Koh says SMRT did not start with a blank page, and had gleaned insights from incumbent staff, including their sense of pride for the organisation.
“For many of them, it is that strong sense of service to the public, of loyalty to the company being recognised and rewarded, and of the opportunity for a stable, but yet interesting career. This, we found out from our organisational climate survey and various engagements with the employees,” Koh says.
“From there, we developed aspirational goals to better the lot of our workers as they continue their career journey with us. In other words, it has to be anchored on the current reality, but improved with the desire to be even better than we are now.”
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