There is scarcely a company today that is not struggling with the consequences of the skilled worker shortage. In this personal interview, Paul Henschel talks about where the greatest challenges lie and how companies can meet them effectively. As Topic Lead, Paul has been part of Farner’s Employer Branding team since 1st of October 2022 and will focus on expanding the offering in this area.

Paul, employer branding is on everyone’s lips. Why is it such a hot topic right now?

Employer branding and the strategic development of an employer brand are more important now than ever. It is not actually a new issue. However, the importance of employer branding has only really been recognised by many companies in the past few years. And I still find that very surprising, because the shift in the “balance of power” between employers and employees, i.e. from the employer to the employee market, didn’t happen overnight. For a long time now, it has no longer been the companies that select their employees, but it’s the applicants who have the upper hand and decide whether to accept a job or not. And yet many companies still seem taken by surprise and overwhelmed by this.

“It has become a commonplace for companies to be unable to accept orders due to lack of capacity, which leads to a loss of market share, customers and also of their own employees.”

Another factor here is that the boomer generation is increasingly reaching retirement age.  The shortage of skilled workers, as well as concerns about replacing them with a new generation of employees , are forcing more and more companies to invest in employer branding measures and nurture the relationship with their existing staff as well as future talent. And they face other complex factors too, such as changes in the working world, globalisation and digitalisation or the gender shift in various areas of society. I could continue the list, but all these shifts should act as a catalyst to get companies investing in their employer branding.

And what do you think of companies’ current employer branding efforts? What’s your view of the topic as it relates to the Swiss market?

Despite the clear signs of change, we’re still at the fledgling stage in terms of taking the implementation of employer branding seriously. The Covid pandemic made matters worse – companies had “other things to do” and shifted their initiatives to dealing with lost orders, closures, short-time working, budget cuts and all the rest of it. On the one hand, this is understandable, but of course it was not thought through from a long-term perspective.

Employer branding involves building a brand, and something like that doesn’t happen overnight.

“Building an employer brand isn’t a 100-metre sprint, it’s a marathon.”

With a starting point of the employer positioning, also known as EVP (Employer Value Proposition), and the target image for the employer brand  – a lot of companies draw a blank here. But between there and the finish line, there are multiple time-outs to be taken, many short sprints to be made; there are valleys to cross, summits to scale, and many comrades-in-arms to convince and take along on the journey. Just like a marathon, it requires good preparation and real dedication.

Thank you for this sportyway of looking at the issue. All beginnings are difficult, as the saying goes. What would you recommend to companies that want to get started with employer branding?

Like I said, at the moment there are only a few companies that have grasped that developing an employer brand gives them a clear competitive advantage and are implementing it strategically with a long-term mindset.  With a strong employer brand, companies can gain an enormous competitive advantage in the “war for talents”, which undeniably exists. However, the methods practised in recruitment up until now have had their day.

“Post and pray”, that is, put out a job ad and hope someone applies, hasn’t worked for a long time.”

About as ineffective as a fruit bowl in the office trying to boost  staff loyalty. Nowadays it simply takes more. Companies have to come up with more ideas to reach potential talents, to get their attention and to convince them that they are the right employer for them. This competition for the best talent requires a change in mindset, and companies need to push ahead with building and polishing their employer brand.

“The ability to attract, retain and develop talent with the right “culture fit” will be a decisive factor in companies’ success or failure in the future.”

What are the challenges in an employer branding project?

From my own experience, I know that many companies have understood the issue and its importance, but just don’t know where to start. What’s more, there are often few to no resources and a lack of skills in this area.

I often hear people say: “We don’t need another brand, we already have one.” Yes, it’s true, the employer brand is an integral part of the corporate brand and is built on the same values and identity at its core. But a strong corporate brand does not necessarily symbolise a strong employer brand. For companies without a perceivable employer brand, their attractiveness as an employer is usually associated with the products or services. This perception can be both positive and negative, but is not linked to employer quality. Here, an unbiased external party, such as an agency, can provide very good support and point the company in the right direction.

What’s more, employer branding is often still seen as a task for human resources or corporate communications. However, it’s just as much the management’s responsibility and it’s their job to lead the way and drive the issue. And anyway, employer branding is not simply a project with a beginning and an end, but has to be strategically anchored and thought through in the long term.

The challenges currently facing companies are greater than ever and complexity is on the rise. Very often, though, employer branding is still seen as an operative tool in recruiting, which is supposed to work as quickly as possible and generate job applications.

“Nowadays, it’s no longer possible to succeed in the talent market with simple advertising and colourful photos. Because if everyone is talking about the same thing and also communicating the same things, who’s going to make a difference?”

A quick bit of recruitment advertising – posting colourful photos on the career website, new videos and spruced-up job ads – is the quick conclusion. However, this is only a short-term plan and will not be crowned with great success. What’s more, is that alone it does not create identification with the employer brand. In other words, it is important to understand the term ‘employer branding’ not just as a communication strategy or as a recruiting measure.

“Good employer branding draws deep on the corporate culture.”

But how can companies set themselves apart from the competition?

It is up to companies to open up to the outside world and actively present themselves. And to do it as authentically and transparently as possible. Here, too, the principle of «to the inside first» applies and especially increased communication internally. The ultimate goal is identification with and an emotional sense of belonging to the employer brand. If that doesn’t succeed, you won’t manage to arouse any enthusiasm on the outside either. However, if the external image of an employer matches the internal perspective of its own workforce and authentically shows what it really is like to work there, employees are often more motivated to make recommendations.

However, in order to convince interested people to apply to the potential new employer in the first place, applicants must have certain questions answered in advance. This means that every company must be able to ask and answer these questions:

“What do we stand for? What makes us different from all the others? What is it like to work with us? What motivates us? And where are we heading?”

The answers to these questions form the core of the strategy and the foundation for a successful positioning as an employer. What’s more, the topic of employer branding is always evolving. Issues such as Purpose and Diversity are becoming more and more influential. Being connected with others and 24/7 access to information are also important for us as people. This is already having a significant impact on our decisions and will play an ever-greater role when it comes to choosing an employer. Which means that the strategic relevance of building an attractive employer brand, characterised by a unique identity, will continue to increase. However, the decisive factor will be when companies get started with employer branding and, above all, how bold they are in implementing it. Because if it ends up as “one-size-fits-all”, it will have no real relevance for the target group.

What are your personal goals in your new role at Farner?

Employer branding, HR marketing and recruiting have been my home for over ten years now. Using my experience for Farner’s customers now motivates me a lot. I have a very exciting and varied brief to support companies in employer branding and work with them to build an employer brand so that they can hold their own in the highly competitive talent market in the long term. I believe that there is still a great deal of potential here for us to achieve together.

My five practical tips for successful employer branding:

  1. To have good employer branding and an employer brand that sets you apart takes time, a long-term strategy and clear positioning.
  2. Stay credible and don’t promise anything that you can’t deliver as an employer. Nothing is more untrustworthy and off-putting for future talent than a «fake culture».
  3. Be bold, with «warts and all». Only if you have the courage to be who you are as an employer will you be able to retain and attract the right staff who match your corporate culture.
  4. To the inside first. All too often, people think outwards from the word go. However, the first step towards change should start with the company’s own workforce, because they are the «flag» bearers’ to the outside world and make an employer brand credible and unique.
  5. Communicate with your target group and get started today. Because you already have an employer brand, even without targeted employer branding measures. But how attractive is it? You are being talked about as an employer, whether you like it or not. The question is, what are people saying about you? So why not talk to your future employees and tell them why it will be worth their while to come to you?

Read more about employer branding:

Employer Branding – An effective positioning to stand out in the labour market

Employer Branding – Opportunities and Risks of Recruitment 4.0

Employer Branding – On the Relevance of Employer Rankings and Ratings

Employer branding strategies for the new normal

Any questions about employer branding?

Paul Henschel
Topic Lead Employer Branding

T +41 44 267 20 08