Employer Branding and Candidate Experience

I’ve worked in Employer Branding for nearly 20 years. I surprise myself every time I say it, but it really is not that far off.

I started by working on research strategies for clients in recruitment when the idea was still in its infancy. Research – other than some basic media hunting – was not a prerequisite, so it was said, for a successful job ad. After all, it was also treading on the time and resources of the Ad Men. These guys had great ideas and wanted to bang the ads out. Preferably a full page in something like The Sunday Times that would satisfy the commission hungry bean counters.

And largely it worked. I’m testament to that because the job I applied for after University (I use that term loosely) was quite frankly rubbish. I mean look at it:

Pre-Employer BrandingDefinitely not an award winner. I’m embarrassed to think I even applied for it. It was a P.O. Box address and didn’t even have a proper name or job title. But it was in the Evening Standard and that was where I was looking.

The irony is that this was TMP Worldwide. In the days before they bought everyone and turned themselves into a successful recruitment communications business.

When I went for the interview it was held off-site (another alarm bell) at the swanky Institute of Directors in London’s Pall Mall. Which was all very impressive until I got to my second interview. It was in the less salubrious end of East London, in what can best be described, as a converted house. In fact, I ended up in an office complete with its own decommissioned sink and just the occasional sewage-like waft for company.

Anyway, I got the job and as TMP bought Monster.com and grew at a phenomenal rate, I eventually emerged into a real world of work that meant commuting into a proper office and that took me on the path to working with some of the world’s best brands and companies.

With my work at Mystery Applicant and now with CareerGift, I’ve devoted most of my recent years to this tricky subject of candidate experience. It matters and it can’t be dealt with in isolation or without a wider understanding of the impact it has on an organisation’s employer brand.

We live in a more complex world today. Employers need to think about who they are targeting, their messaging and how this sits with their internal values and culture. Technology, social media, Glassdoor etc.. have all made employer branding a subject that can’t be ignored.

And candidate experience is very much part of that.  Sometimes portrayed as the problem child of recruitment. The bit that no-one can quite pull off because of all the reasons and excuses that we hear time and time again. But it’s an integral piece of the employer branding jigsaw.

Values matter

Matt Charney wrote an excellent and accessible summary of some of the key findings in the Candidate Experience awards. One of which was highlighting- ‘Your values are your brand.

In both the US and UK research done by the Talent Board nearly half of all applicants said they took time to research the company before they applied. And guess what they were looking for?

Yep, that’s right, the employer’s values.

In the UK research 42% said they would be looking for a company’s values – number one on the list.

What’s more, they were most likely to be looking for this information on the employer’s careers website. Not only is it great to hear that careers websites are alive and well, it is also within the employer’s control to manage this element of the candidate experience.

The Anchor Points of Employer Branding

To put into perspective how this ties together, employer branding focuses on four key attributes:

  1. Perceptions – what do candidates think it’s going to be like to work for that organisation and what is this based on?
  2. Influences – who is saying what? Employee referrals, family, friends, social media or Glassdoor?
  3. Expectations – Absorbing all of this, what are candidates expecting and how does this compare against the reality of the experience – either before, during or after the job application?
  4. Behaviours – do the behaviors of the recruiter and hiring manager, for example, stack up with the promises? If not, there’s a systemic failure that will ultimately have a cost attached.

Thinking about each of these in the context of recruiting and retention activities is a pretty good scorecard to check against. When someone applies for a job they will already be thinking what it will be like to work there?

This is a journey of no return. One way or another their expectations will be forming and, as an employer, you will be judged.

The lines of demarcation are blurred

Also, consider this. If an organisation is not getting their candidate experience right, they’re probably also not getting their hiring practices and onboarding right either.

Candidate experience isn’t something that starts and stops at application.

Evidence points to the fact that those who have effective on-boarding practices in place will have significantly improved retention rates than those who don’t. Those behaviors and values needs to transcend into the whole employee life cycle.

Hiring relationships are changing

The hiring relationship is changing and is now a two-way relationship between employer and recruiter. Candidate expectations are higher. Information is more accessible and reputation management is critical.

Employer branding and candidate experience are both part of the same journey. There isn’t one without the other. Only by devoting the same level of energy and efforts across the whole brand experience will organisations truly succeed in managing all components of their employer brand and their candidate experience.


You can hear more on this subject including further research and the strategic implications of employer branding and candidates experience in this Recruiting Future Podcast with Matt Alder. Click hear to listen:

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