Don’t forget the people

Don’t forget the people

A harsh economic climate is no reason for you to overlook making your company more attractive to would-be employers, says Simon Pearson.

Funnily enough, and despite what you may have been led to believe, recruiting does still go on in a recession. Yes, a “sit tight” attitude does come into play – with employers and employees alike. But there are still companies out there actively looking for highly skilled employees. And when times are hard, how much more devastating will it be to your company if one such person employed by you decides to up sticks? That is why I believe there’s no time like the present for companies to pay a little more attention to what is increasingly being known as employer branding.

Essentially that means how the company is received in the marketplace and its employer reputation.

Employer branding is not just about attracting quality candidates, it is also about retaining good people by motivating them.

Again, difficult times make it even more important to get this right, as companies tend to go through major changes which, if they are not handled properly, can be very damaging for employers. Of course, you will already be totally familiar with your consumer brand. Many organisations spend huge amounts on marketing that. But you also need to make sure that your employer brand is aligned with the consumer brand, as both potential candidates and employees see both.

Why is this important? Well, let me tell you.

When I started in the employer communications business more than 40 years ago (all right, it was called recruitment advertising back then), life was straightforward. You simply placed an advert in the appropriate publication, sat back, and waited for the responses to come flooding in. Brands like ICI, Northern Foods, and major public sector employers didn’t have any problems recruiting talent and in terms of engaging with employees, many businesses felt that the company newsletter was more than enough.

The problem was of course, that everything that was included in there was already historical.

So employee engagement in many organisations didn’t really exist at all.

How things have changed now, and how much more difficult it is to attract and retain talent, even in a recession. Skills is one issue, certainly. Universities are not turning out qualified graduates in the kind of subjects that would be useful for northern businesses which are still to a large extent centred on manufacturing. Students are shunning sciences, technology, engineering and maths for more trendy things like media studies and politics. A knowledge of Jacques Derrida is hardly likely to get you far in producing lubricants.

On top of that we have an ageing population, while those who still have a working life ahead of them may no longer believe that a career is for life.

All that means that companies are having to compete even more fiercely for talent in what is a dwindling market. Those with the strongest employer brands will be at a distinct advantage in such a competition. Making sure your brand has that winning edge involves going on a journey, a whole process of attracting, recruiting, retaining, engaging andmotivating talent.

You shouldn’t shirk this part of the job. As Arthur Ashe said: “The doing is often more important than the outcome.” You really need to create a proposition that resonates with target audiences.

Making such a proposition clear will also help you de-select potential employees who don’t share your values. Just think in the current climate how expensive it could be to take such people on. To get there you first need to run internal and external research that ensures current perceptions are indeed where you would want them to be. You need to make sure any compelling and differentiated brand message you may build is embraced both internally and externally.

Many employers are surprised when they do this research to find out just how differently other people and their own employees see them. Getting senior management and board members to buy into the project is particularly important. You don’t want them giving off a different impression to what you want.

But seeing such a process as a continuous journey will also prevent you falling into theusual trap of only communicating about possible job opportunities on an “as and when required” basis – something that an awful lot of companies are wont to do in a recession.

This is where a great company careers website or web page can really turn your business into a talent magnet by providing a central place where you can list all your available opportunities and highlight what you can offer to candidates and existing staff – don’t forget them in your rush to impress. With their help, you can also paint an accurate picture of what it’s like to work in your organisation.

In fact, forward-thinking companies will have a dedicated talent pool on their site to capture potential candidates for future vacancies.

If you include this, however, remember you need to keep in regular touch with anyone who leaves their CV in such an area. Nothing is more likely to put highly skilled people off coming to work for you than a speculative application that goes unacknowledged for months.

You need to communicate with them regularly about what is going on at the company so that when asuitable vacancy arises you have already started to win them over. You don’t even have to do all of this through the company website. Potential candidates may be more comfortable communicating with you on more neutral ground such as Facebook or Twitter.

The millions of users that these social networks have already attracted should alert you to how useful a tool they can be.

Managing candidates through the process like this is critical if you want to make sure everyonegets a positive employer brand experience from your company whether they are successful in getting a job at this time or not. Keeping potential candidates engaged keeps them interested in your company into the future. The same applies too to people who may choose to leave your company – you never know how quickly they might want to come back. Nor should you overlook the process of on-boarding – getting your chosen candidates ready for working with you.

They can often be under intense pressure when they are serving out their notice at their previous job – not least from their existing employer who may try to encourage them to stay. By helping candidates feel welcome and valued, feel that they know what their exciting new job entails, and feel that they understand the employer brand, you can be sure that such top talent will be happy to make the leap and come and work with you. Yes, even in difficult times.

Simon Pearson is chairman of Pearsons Digital