Now, more than ever, HR professionals need to recognise that filling a position is a two-way street, over which both employer and candidate have rightful influence. Bagging the best talent means paying close attention to how your employer brand is perceived by potential applicants and, crucially, ensuring it accurately reflects the organisation's corporate culture.
Get this right and it can be hugely powerful. When built with care and attention a strong employer brand can not only attract the top candidates but make them compete for the available position. With this in mind, it's clear that success here can dramatically reduce the cost of recruitment and may also impact salary expectations, too.
A variety of factors come into play when building a compelling employer brand. For HR managers, foremost among these has to be the ability to develop a clear understanding of their workforce and corporate culture. What motivates and inspires staff? What fills them with pride? Where we work and what we do strongly inform our sense of identity, so it follows that the best talent will only pay serious consideration to an employer that is aligned with their personal ambitions. This understanding is the foundation of an employer brand. But this can often be tough to communicate. Engaging internally with other departments can help here, but do so with your own HR objectives in mind. Marketing and communications teams are well disposed to assist, but it will pay to remember that, for the most part, they seek to attract customers, whereas you are selling careers.
Salary and benefit packages are of course important, but should not be core drivers of your employer brand. A well-communicated commitment to professional and personal development, corporate responsibility, market leadership and industry innovation is more likely to pique the interest of top candidates. As long as it is clear that salaries are competitive, specific details of individual compensation should be reserved for the final stage of negotiations.
Carefully targeted publicity is key. Scrutinise every opportunity - will the activity reach the best in the business, or merely a generic pool of possible candidates? What does the content say about your organisation and its abilities? Budgets for recruitment and marketing are rarely generous enough to justify broad-spectrum communications, so if there is doubt, consider refocusing resources elsewhere.
While much can be done to strengthen an employer brand it is also crucial that efforts are tempered with pragmatism. Disgruntled and disaffected employees can wreak havoc with a corporate reputation, so care must be taken to avoid selling a corporate image that doesn't deliver. There is little that will damage an organisation more than a recruitment programme which promises the world, but soon reveals that the company behind the brand isn't all it was cracked up to be.
The proliferation of social media use has heightened the dangers by putting the power to make or break a corporate reputation firmly in the hands of consumers and employees. Negative sentiment travels faster than positive and can dismantle hard won respect in the marketplace in a flash. No one likes to be sold a lie.
For this reason it's unhelpful to think of an employer brand as something that can be conjured from nowhere. Concentrate on building a culture that is motivated, innovative, supportive, challenging and rewarding for staff at every level. Achieve this, and your unique employer brand will reveal itself. Then, all you need to do is spread the word.
Sinead Hasson (pictured) is managing director at recruitment firm Hasson Associates