Building an employer brand is not a 100-meter sprint, it’s a marathon.

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Hardly any company today is not struggling with the consequences of the shortage of skilled workers. Paul Henschel explains in a personal interview where the biggest challenges lie and how companies can meet them effectively. As Topic Lead, Paul joined Farner’s Employer Branding team on October 1, 2022, and will specifically expand the company’s offering in this area. 

Dear Paul, everyone is talking about employer branding. Why is the topic so hot right now?
Employer branding and the strategic development of an employer brand are more important than ever. The topic itself is not new. However, the importance of employer branding has only really reached many companies in recent years. And this is still very surprising to me, because the shift in the “balance of power” between employer and employee, i.e. from employer to employee market, did not occur overnight. For a while now, it has no longer been the companies that select their employees, but the applicants who have the upper hand and make the decisions. Nevertheless, many companies still seem surprised and overwhelmed.

“It has become commonplace for companies to be unable to take on orders due to lack of capacity, losing market share, customers and even their own employees.”

In addition, the baby boomer generation is increasingly retiring.  The shortage of skilled workers and the justified concern about the next generation are forcing more and more companies to invest in measures of employer branding and to further strengthen the bond with their existing employees and future talents. And there are other complex requirements, such as the changes in the world of work, globalization and digitalization, or the gender shift in various areas of society. The list could go on and on. All these changes should be an accelerator for companies to invest in employer branding.

And what do you think the current employer branding implementations of the companies look like? What is your view of the topic and the Swiss market?
Despite the clear signs of change, we are still in our “infancy” in terms of seriousness of implementation in employer branding. The Corona pandemic made matters worse – companies had “other things to do” and shifted their initiatives to coping with lost orders, closures, short-time work, budget cuts & Co. On the one hand, this is understandable but of course not well thought of in the long term.

Employer branding is about brand development, or rather employer brand development, and this does not happen overnight.

“Developing an employer brand is not a 100-meter sprint, it’s a marathon.”

With an outset of the employer positioning, also called EVP (Employer Value Proposition), and a target image towards the employer brand – which is lacking in very many companies. But until the goal is reached, several breaks need to be taken, many intermediate sprints, valleys must be crossed, peaks must be climbed, and many comrades-in-arms must be convinced and taken along. Just like a marathon, this requires good preparation and seriousness.

Thank you for this “sporty” approach to the subject. As we all know, every beginning is difficult. What would you recommend to companies that want to start with employer branding?
As already mentioned, only a few companies currently understand the development of an employer brand as a clear competitive advantage and implement it strategically with a long-term view. A strong employer brand can give companies an enormous competitive advantage in the “war for talent,” which can no longer be ignored. However, the recruitment methods practiced to date have had their day.

“Post and pray,” that is, post a job ad and hope someone applies, doesn’t work any more.

Just as the fruit basket in the office does not increase employee loyalty. These days, it simply takes more. Companies have to come up with more to reach potential talents, to attract their attention and to convince them of their value as an employer. This competition for the best talent requires a change in mindset, and companies must push to develop and maintain their employer brand.

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

What are the challenges of an employer branding project?
From my own experience, I know that many companies have understood the topic and its importance, but just don’t know how to get started. In addition, there are often few to no resources and a lack of skills in this area.

Also, I often hear, “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 at its core develops on the values and identity. But a strong corporate brand does not necessarily symbolize a strong employer brand. For companies without a perceivable employer brand, employer attractiveness is usually associated with the products or services. This perception can be both positive and negative, but it is not related to employer quality. Here, a neutral external party, in the sense of an agency, can provide very good support and point the way.

In addition, employer branding is often still seen purely as a task for Human Resources or Corporate Communications. Management is just as much requested and must lead the way and drive the issue forward. Furthermore, employer branding is not simply a project with a beginning and an end, but must be strategically anchored and thought about in the long term.

The current challenges for companies are greater than ever and the complexity is increasing. Very often, however, employer branding is still seen as an operational tool for recruiting, which must function as quickly as possible and generate applications.

“Simple advertising methods and colorful images no longer succeed in the talent market these days. Because if everyone is talking about the same thing and also communicating the same things, who makes a difference anymore?”

A quick bit of recruitment advertising – replacing colorful images on the career website, new videos and spruced-up job advertisements – is the quick conclusion. But this is only a short-term idea and will not be very successful. Moreover, this alone does not create identification with the employer brand. It is therefore important to understand the term “employer branding” not only as a pure communication strategy or recruiting measure

“Good employer branding goes deep into the corporate culture.”

But how can companies differentiate themselves from the competition?
For companies, it is important to open up to the outside world and actively present themselves. This must be as authentic and transparent as possible. Here, too, “internal first” applies and, above all, intensified internal communication. The primary goal is identification and emotional affiliation with the employer brand. If this does not work, no enthusiasm can be aroused externally either. However, if an employer’s external image matches the internal view of its own workforce and authentically shows what it’s really like to work there, employees are often more motivated to make recommendations.

However, in order to convince prospective employees to apply to the potential new employer in the first place, applicants must have answered certain questions in advance. Therefore, 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 makes working for us so special? What motivates us? And where are we heading to?”

The answers to these questions form the core for the strategy and the foundation for successful positioning as an employer. In addition, the topic of employer branding is also constantly evolving. Topics such as purpose and diversity are becoming increasingly important. Networking and access to information “24/7” are also important for us humans. This already has a significant impact on our decisions and will continue to increase when it comes to choosing an employer. The design of an attractive employer brand, characterized by a unique identity, will therefore continue to increase in strategic relevance. The decisive factor, however, will be when companies start employer branding and, above all, how courageous they are in implementing it. Because if it ends up as a “one-size-fits-all” approach, it will have no real relevance for the target group.

What are your personal goals in your new role at Farner?
I have been at home in employer branding, HR marketing and recruiting for over ten years. Now I’m very motivated to put my experience to work for Farner’s clients. Supporting companies in employer branding and working with them to develop an employer brand so that they can assert themselves in the long term in the highly competitive talent market is very exciting and varied. I’m convinced that we can still achieve a great deal here together.

Meine 5 Praxis-Tipps für ein erfolgreiches Employer Branding:

  1. Good employer branding and a differentiating employer brand take time, a long-term strategy and clear positioning.
  2. Remaining credible and not promising anything you cannot deliver as an employer. Nothing is more untrustworthy and deters future talents more than a «fake culture».
  3. Be brave with rough edges. Only if you have the courage to be who you are as an employer will you be able to retain and attract the right employees who fit your corporate culture.
  4. Internal first. All too often, people think directly externally. However, the first step towards change should start with the company’s own employees, because they are the “standard bearers” to the outside world and make an employer brand credible and unique.
  5. Start today communicating with your target group. After all, you already have an employer brand even without targeted measures of employer branding. But how attractive is it? People are talking about you as an employer, whether you like it or not. The question is, how do they talk about you? So why not talk to your future employees and tell them why it’s worth coming to you?