Employers have shifted their focus from boasting about their greatness to potential employees, to engaging talent in conversation through social and professional networks. This new movement of employer branding seeks to build emotional bonds with job-seekers and current employees and borrows heavily from consumer branding.
Rachele Focardi, senior vice-president of employer branding and talent strategy for Asia-Pacific at Universum, says employers are facing growing competition for talent and are trying to identify and communicate their ‘unique selling points’ to their target talent pools, via employer branding.
The agency’s annual student survey has highlighted the shifts in how talent perceive attractive employers and the growing prioritisation of training and development, challenging work and work environment.
“As competitive advantages previously enjoyed by traditional employer ‘powerhouses’ — the biggest MNCs or the government—diminish in importance, the talent market is becoming a level playing field for all employers, regardless of size, scale and level of prestige,” she adds.
Globalisation and the booming development of the region have provided people with more employment opportunities, and employer-employee relationships have also transformed into brand-customer relationships.
According to Gaynor Reid, director of communications for Asia-Pacific at hotel operator Accor, the current market favours the job hunter over the job-seeker. Accor, for example, plans to hire an additional 10,000 employees in Asia alone, to staff the 65 new hotels that they aim to launch in the region.
Talent today, she adds, want more than just a job, they look for a learning experience. In response, Accor has put in place an accredited programme for all levels of staff for training and development purposes, as well as placements for existing employees to work at different locations globally for several months.
To keep employee engagement levels high and to bring in new staff, Accor has built localised Facebook pages showing life on the inside.
“Around 75 per cent of those we are recruiting are between 20 and 30 years old, so we are very interested in reaching out to Gen Y’s,” says Reid, adding that the company was working on further developing its YouTube channels to showcase working with Accor.
Jared King, cofounder and managing partner at e3 Reloaded, notes that employer branding can turn employees or candidates into ambassadors for brands. For example, when an employer receives more applications than the positions it has to offer, it can turn employer branding into consumer marketing by giving them a token of appreciation, he says.
“For a financial institution, they can open an account for them with maybe a $10 deposit; or for retailers, they can give out gift cards. Candidates will be very happy to tell others about the brands,” he adds. “Most importantly, employers have to understand who these candidates are and communicate with them.”
Ronnie Tan, group EVP, Asia-Pacific and global talent management at Right Management, says good companies create a strong corporate brand identity as a customer strategy, and that a strong employer brand has an impact on business outcomes, as businesses get the talent they need for growth.
But he also warned of pitfalls in developing an employer brand, including seeing it as a short-term recruitment campaign; failing to conduct research to determine what makes their employer brand distinctive; and making unrealistic promises in recruitment advertisements. “It’s also not about winning awards,” he adds.
Of course, employers that have a good employer branding in place are recognised. PWC Malaysia, for example, has won the country’s top graduate employer award three times so far—in 2012, 2011 and 2009.
PWC Malaysia’s head of resourcing Mona Abu Bakar says it is crucial for companies to adapt their employer brand to reflect the changing needs of the workforce. “This is why we changed our value proposition ‘employment for a lifetime’ to ‘The experience that stays with you’. We also started thinking differently about our people, to include those who have yet to join us and those who have left us. These messages are constantly reviewed against the reality of the employee experience.”
The new tagline, she notes, guides the firm in creating a better people experience. It also sends out a message to potential employees of PwC being an employer that works to inspire the best of its people. PwC Malaysia also uses technology and social media platforms to engage with its employees; crowdsourcing ideas from them, especially Gen Y staff; exchanging best practices within the network; as well as partnering organisations outside PwC, for its employer branding.
Employers are also encouraged to develop an employee value proposition (EVP) to help them in choosing the right plan and budget for talent resourcing needs, which can be used as a long-term foundation and framework for their branding and creative approach.
Brien Keegan, director at recruitment agency Randstad Hong Kong, notes that strong leadership and the need to share responsibility for how employer brands come to life are two key factors for employer branding.
“After the executive management team agrees on the strategic intent, businesses need to involve focus groups and informal networks within the business to see how the employer brand really is working at every level—from the front line to the back office, and right throughout the organisation,” he says.