Startups compete with both technology titans and other upstarts for top talent. In innovative sectors where the team can make or break the company, having a tip-top hiring strategy is essential.
Will Staney, founder and CEO of recruiting consultancy Proactive Talent Strategies, says it all comes down to "employer branding," which is the organization's reputation as an employer and the value proposition it offers to employees. Staney, who was formerly the Head of Talent at both Glassdoor and Twilio, says this about employer branding:
"It's about humanizing your company brand. It's not just about, 'Here are our products, here are our services, and this is what they do.' It's about 'Here are our people, here's why they love working on our products, and this is the impact they have on either the world or the marketplace or our customers.' A lot of companies forget to tell those stories."
Staney recently shared his best practices for hiring at a workshop for RocketSpace members. He discussed common mistakes startups make when trying to kickstart their hiring efforts, as well as 26 key questions startups should ask themselves when putting together an employer branding strategy for attracting top talent.
Below is a breakdown of the key takeaways from Staney's workshop. Check it out to see if your startup's employer brand is strong enough to attract top talent.
Why Employer Branding Matters
Employer branding correlates with the cost of hiring talent. "If there's not a lot of information out there about who you are as an employer, it costs you a lot more to hire," Staney says, referencing a 2016 Harvard Business Review study. And employers with bad reputations spend a minimum of 10 percent more per hire than those with great employer brands. That amounts to about $4,723 more per hire, the study found.
A clear employer brand attracts higher-quality candidates and helps candidates opt in or out during the application and hiring process, because they have more data about your company before getting the offer. Why spend more time and money interviewing — or even hiring and training — candidates that ultimately aren't a good fit?
Common Mistakes in Employer Branding
As your company starts to put together a communications strategy for your employer brand, beware of these common mistakes:
- Not having an Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Just like customers extract value from using your products, employees should find value in working for your company. Define that value.
- Being inauthentic. Pictures of your company foosball table and a slew of marketing buzzwords aren't going to attract top candidates. Be real.
- Getting stuck in the facts. While raising $10 million and having two million users are great, the stats aren't typically the drivers for employee engagement. Dig deeper into the mission of your company, the impact employees make and the autonomy in the role at hand. That's what attracts people.
- Disconnecting the employer brand from the consumer brand. "People like to do business with companies that treat their employees well," says Staney. "We're in the world of Glassdoor, review sites and transparency. If your company is not a great place to work, people can find that out." He suggests melding the employer brand with the consumer brand, as people will look at them together anyway. Seek synergy.
- Failing to evolve. Startup culture at 50 employees versus at 250 employees is very different. "Startups forget to evolve how they talk about their brand as they grow. Culture shifts. Embrace that!" Staney suggests. "Work with employees on how to define, evolve and talk about your culture."
26 Questions to Ask About Your Company's Employer Brand
Staney suggests that there are seven components to an employer brand. With each component, he recommends founders explore key questions to define their strategy. Here are his key questions for each component.
Much as you build consumer personas, you should build candidate personas so you can understand the motivations of ideal candidates and align your messaging and hiring experience with their expectations. Interview your employees to understand where they congregate, what content resonates with them, and what their core needs are. Ask:
- Who is your target audience?
- Which platforms are you planning to use?
- What content are you developing?
- What type of experience are you creating?
- How are you differentiating yourself?
Candidates review your career site to search and apply for jobs. Make it easy for candidates by using minimal copy, high-value visuals and a quick call-to-action. When developing materials for a career site, ask:
- How easy is it to navigate between pages?
- Are you showing your culture in pictures and videos, or simply writing about it?
- Is there a clear call to action?
- Would you apply based on the information on your career site?
Social Media Presence
Low-touch connections help in the hiring process. To help humanize your company, post online about your company culture and company events. When developing your social media presence, ask:
- Which channels are you using to promote your employer brand?
- Are these channels appropriate for the types of candidates you're trying to reach?
- What content is resonating well with your audience?
- How are you recruiting managers, hiring managers and employees using social media to promote your brand?
Hiring Process and Workflow
Consider the bottlenecks in your hiring process and workflow. Are there redundant or unnecessary steps? In evaluating your hiring process and workflow, ask:
- What do your company's holistic hiring practices look like?
- What type of data are you collecting to enhance your hiring process, and how are you measuring the candidate experience?
- Are there gaps in communication and collaboration between all parties involved in hiring (e.g., HR, the hiring manager, the candidate and other teammates)?
- Are there any tools or assessments you can eliminate to help streamline different processes?
"Job postings will never die," Staney quips. So, make yours exciting to read and easy to act upon. When developing job descriptions, ask:
- Are your job descriptions consistent in terms of content, quality and voice?
- Are your job descriptions compelling enough to help candidates screen themselves out regarding qualifications or culture fit?
- Is your employee 'sales pitch' consistent and compelling?
If you're asking candidates to take a two-hour coding assessment before they submit a resumé, you may be cutting off top talent from applying. "Make it easy for them to submit their contact information," says Staney. "Then qualify them as a lead later." Tools like Lever and Greenhouse that are geared towards startups and integrate LinkedIn Apply and Dropbox connectivity help make the application process simpler, he adds. To improve candidate experience, ask:
- How easy is it to apply for a job on your site?
- How long does your entire hiring process take?
- What changes can you implement to improve your hiring speed and quality of hire?
- What kinds of feedback are you gathering from candidates to improve your overall candidate experience and hiring process?
Companies don't hire in a vacuum. They compete with others in the market. How does your employer branding stack up against the competition? When analyzing how competing employers are positioning themselves, ask:
- What are your competitors doing well on their career sites and employer brand channels and with content and their hiring processes?
- What do their employer brand strategies look like overall?
"Some companies aren't good at tooting their own horns," Staney says. "But it's important. Early on, when you're a small startup, you're in this bubble together. You're building this culture, and it's sort of your own little secret. Startups do that to their own detriment sometimes, because anyone who's outside of that circle doesn't know what's going on."
Before you delve into the weeds with your next candidate search, first ask: Is our employer brand getting us the talent we need?
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