Looking for a TA career change but not too sure how to get there? Our ‘So you wanna be a…‘ series takes a look at some of the more niche TA roles and digs deep into the who, how, and why behind them. We chat with some of your favourite TA leaders in that space to find out how they got started, what their role really looks like, and what tips and tricks they have for other TA superstars looking to get a foot in the door.
In this issue, we sat down with Jason Burns, EVP & employer brand specialist and Talent Strategy Consultant @Businessary to find out what really goes on in the life of an employer brand specialist.
Let’s start with the basics, what do you mean when you talk about ‘employer branding’?
You have an employer brand regardless of whether you acknowledge it or not. Somebody has got an opinion and a view of you as an employer; it’s up to your business to decide what do with that opinion and how to control that narrative.
I always say your employer brand needs to be three things: authentic, authentic, and authentic! Employer brand should match and embody the values, the aspirations, the intent, the attitudes, and the behaviours that you see in people within your organisation that you consider to be talented. Once you’re able to identify those elements and demonstrate them to market you can find new talent to match, and more importantly, enhance and improve your values. Your employer brand isn’t what the CEO hopes it is or about having an array of biscuits in the staff kitchen!
What does the journey from talent acquisition into employer brand look like?
Employer brand must be part of everybody’s world. It’s part of the craft of talent acquisition. Regardless of the level you’re at in your talent acquisition career, you need to start thinking about employer brand now.
I strongly believe that the way that we train and expect people to gain experience in talent acquisition is absolute cr*p. You’re not going to learn anything by sitting doing reference checks and or scrolling through endless application on Seek all day. In talent acquisition, you must think like a marketer and act like a salesperson and starting your journey into employer brand may be as simple as taking an extra five minutes to craft your message in your Seek and LinkedIn.
Employer brand touches on every single element of your candidate journey, and as very few businesses have dedicated resources towards EVP and employer brand, every single TA professional needs to make sure they have the skills in their toolkit from day one. For me, unless you are working within an organisation that recognises the importance of employer brand I would go elsewhere, because you’re not learning the craft, and you’re not being set up for success.
Usually talent teams might look for a marketer to manage their employer brand. Do you think you bring a different perspective coming from the TA side of things?
This may make me unpopular, but I’ve met very few marketers who really understand what employer brand is or who have a willingness to understand it properly. Marketers need to focus on external factors rather than looking into the business, which means they view employer brand through a different lens.
While it’s ideal to have someone with great marketing knowledge and experience in an employer brand role, coming at it from the TA side of things means that you have a better understanding of how to understand your talent drivers. But regardless of whether you have a marketer or a TA professional in the role, it’s important to decide early on who owns that space. Right now in many organisations, employer brand sits under a very vague custodianship. While there is a lot of talk about employer brand and appetite to do something, there’s very little being done to define what an employer brand role really looks like.
What do you enjoy most about the role and the work that you do?
I love helping organisations discover what their employer brand is. By holding focus groups and talking to current talent you really get to unpick the details of the different drivers, behaviours, attitudes, loves, wants, and desires are for the employees about that organisation. This is where companies often discover gold and find out things they never realised about their talent brand. You get to challenge companies’ existing perceptions about their own employer values and prompt them to reconsider what they’re putting on their Seek ads versus what their talent actually values.
What are the common challenges you come up against working in employer brand?
Budget! It always comes down to money. You can’t do employer brand work for free, and anyone who gives you their ‘Top Tips to do Employer Brand for Free’ are full of nonsense. Even if it doesn’t cost you money, it costs you in other resources; time, thought, effort. But I don’t see it as a cost, I see it as an investment. Nobody’s ever got extra money to spend, nobody’s got any discretionary budget at the moment. But you can think about budget in terms of time. Think about where you’re currently spending your time right now, and where that could be re-invested. I talk a lot about reference checks – do they really add any value? Imagine if you could package up those 60 hours a year you spend on the phone or doing boring, inane tasks that really add little value and invest that back into your employer brand.
Another area which can be really challenging is if your senior leadership aren’t bought into what you’re doing. Employer brand needs to come from the top – it doesn’t work if you’re shaking the tree from the middle. When we talk to our clients about EVP the first people we talk to are the execs on a 1:1 basis. Once we get them onboard with the employer brand investment and development, it unlocks the potential of the whole project.
I think there’s still a lack of knowledge and awareness about what employer brand is. Recruiters put an ad on Seek and highlight the competitive base salary and superannuation. Who cares? People need to get paid, and salary isn’t all they care about when they’re considering your organisation over others. We’re our own worst enemies in TA when it comes to EVP because we continue to perpetuate these meaningless expressions and phrases that we put in job ads.
And finally, it’s easy to underestimate just how much work needs to go into managing EVP and employer brand. It’s not a one-off piece of work. Employer brand is constant, it’s always all around you and you need to constantly evolve it. Brand is not static.
Could you give us an overview of any great projects you’ve worked on recently?
I’m working on a project with a fertility business called Genea. They run clinics, laboratories, and genetics but in a nutshell, they make families. Having finished the discovery work recently we’re just going through the analysis now, and we’re discovering absolute gold about what their talent values. By talking to their tech people, embryologists, nurses, and everyone else we’ve been able to unearth what what gets them out of bed in the morning to keep them working at Genea. And it’s challenged some of our preconceptions. We thought all the tech workers in the company would be driven by the opportunity to work on exciting and new tech projects. But actually, the key driver for all of those tech workers was the purpose of the organisation. They love working for a company that helps create families, and they’re driven by being able to work on projects such as creating apps that help people see their embryos growing. Understanding this means that the next time Genea needs to go to market for new tech workers they don’t need to talk about their latest technology developments and integrations, they need to talk about the purpose of their organisation.
Any tips for recruiters and TA professionals looking to make the move into employer brand?
Most organisations don’t invest in specific employer brand roles, so it’s difficult to find a defined career path to move into employer brand. I strongly believe that employer brand needs to be part of the craft of talent acquisition. It’s a critical addition to the toolkit of everyone who works in TA.
The easiest way to get started is to start with one small area. Take a look at one of your talent segments or jobs that you always find really hard to fill but that you know will reoccur regularly. For example, if you work in insurance and you regularly struggle to find talent for your claims team just focus on that specific EVP. Pilot the employer brand approach with that segment by understanding what drives the talent in that team and what retains quality claims talent within your organisation. Do that discovery work just with that one talent segment and then look at how you’ve gone to market previously with those roles, and then pivot that based on the discovery work you’ve done.
Jason’s Cheat Sheet for aspiring employer brand managers
What are some of the actionable things you can do if you want to be an employer brand manager? Here are some suggestions from Jason of who to follow, what to use, and where to seek out your info.
Industry experts and influencers to follow
Avoid anyone who’s a ninja or a guru like the plague! Dan Kelsall from Offended Marketing in the UK is amazing – he’s a straight shooter with a fabulous brain. Dave Hazlehurst, author of Getting Goosebumps is also great and one of the best speakers I’ve ever heard on the topic of employer brand. Both Dan and Dave are really direct, no-nonsense, and practical.
Absolute must-use productivity and tech tools to make your life so much easier
Page up recruitment marketing are local and have launched a fabulous tool that amplifies and measures your employer brand which I’d recommend anyone in the employer brand space looks into. On a daily basis, Calendly and the integrated SMS tool with our ATS has made a huge difference to the way I work. You don’t need to have all the bells and whistles in your ATS; just switch on your calendar management tool and your SMS integration tool and it’ll change your world.
Newsletter and event recommendations to keep the brain ticking over and your network fresh?
Rubberband is great for connection right now. It’s a group for recruiters from any organisation, level, or background that let’s us catch up socially once a week and gives us the space to vent, laugh, ask questions – anything we need to express in a safe and inviting space.
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