For over 20 years Morgan Law has supported thousands of hiring decisions for a diverse client base that encompasses both the public and not-for-profit sectors.
When it comes to employer branding, we see a huge range of brands and positioning. At one end of the spectrum, we see household names in the charity sector who have branding baked into their existence. Good branding is tied into their fundraising efforts – and it’s not much of a stretch for them to extend that to employer branding. It’s a key part of their existence and carries a lot of cachet with candidates.
I once placed a CFO with a big-name charity who was determined and willing to take a pay reduction from a seven-figure banking salary because at that stage of their career, the cause was more important and in line with their beliefs. That certainly is the pulling power of a brand, although that doesn’t happen often.
At the other end of the spectrum are vital but lesser known organisations and ubiquitous government departments, councils, and the NHS. As a rule, the public sector finds building an employer brand a bit more difficult. I think the NHS is a prime example of this. Looking from the outside in, you would imagine the NHS has a rather solid brand. They are as high profile as you can get and in recent years have had a bank of public support and sentiment to draw on. Yet they have not been able to capitalise on that as much as you would think. It really has been a missed opportunity.
For many with a Social Purpose or the public sector it really comes down to how organisations can differentiate themselves from one another. How does one London council for example, set itself apart from any of the other London councils? Or one NHS Trust make itself more attractive to candidates than any the Trust next door? Without a Recruitment and Retention Premium or Market Supplement, national salary grades and bandings eliminate most of the opportunity for organisations to differentiate on salary alone.
For candidates it often comes down to this; would you want that recognisable name on your CV or not? This works whatever the industry and it translates hugely into the sectors Morgan Law works in. The reverse also applies; familiar names on an applicant’s CV will also grab the attention of a hiring manager.
It’s no secret how you can go about building a holistic employer brand. There are hundreds of resources available for that. But I want to talk about an aspect of employer branding I feel is overlooked, particularly within the public and not-for-profit sector.
Candidate experience is the fulcrum of a good employer branding strategy
You can pay a lot of money for a blue-sky brand that encompasses a message and objectives, and to put all the procedures and monitoring systems in place. Where competition for talent is fierce, and applicants have multiple options, I think the main failing is candidate experience. Too often clients in our sectors pay less attention to how candidates engage with and interact with their organisation.
The candidate experience sits at the centre of everything else you do as part of your employer brand strategy and connects the employee value proposition. The quality, speed and consistency of your application and interview process is where you can set yourself apart.
So why is it so often overlooked?
I have found there are two overarching reasons public sector employers give for failing to modernise their candidate experience:
“If they really want the job, it’s what they have to do. These are our processes.”
I really want to put the spotlight on this excuse. So many organisations talk about employer branding but fail to execute that brand practically from the application, briefing, interview and offer stages. You can have the finest strategy and glossiest looking proposition but if it is poorly executed then the hiring outcomes will not be effective.
“We’re here, we’ve always been here, everyone knows we’re here – why do we have to sell ourselves?”
This is pure complacency. If you want to attract new pools of talent or exceptional talent you must tell people why they should work for you. Otherwise, you will end up recycling the same talent from within the sector repeatedly. To broaden your selection you must stop excluding people because you aren’t explaining yourself!
Executing a positive candidate experience should be the most crucial part of any employer branding exercise. Put yourself in the mindset of the candidate – what would you want to see if you were applying for a job? I know I would like to see:
- Easy to access and consistent messaging
Your core message should be accessible on multiple platforms and consistent across all your candidate and employee-facing materials. If a candidate finds an inconsistency that serves as a red flag about your ability to back up your statements in your culture. This means providing a transparent and honest view of where the organisation is, where it’s going and what strategic objectives are in place.
- Clear corporate objectives and departmental overviews
Many candidates from outside your niche don’t necessarily know how you operate, your financial position or how you are structured. A lack of clearly published information on your organisation can deter applications and seem “exclusive” rather than “inclusive”. This will put candidates off applying and there needs to be an effort made if you genuinely want to have the widest selection of candidates.Give candidates a plain-speaking overview and explanation of your culture, your ethics, what you do and how you do it. This should include how you are funded, where the department sits in the wider organisation, who works there and what they do. A well written note, up front, from the hiring manager, thanking people for their interest in the organisation and explaining the role and challenge goes a long way.
- An Employee Value Proposition
Most organisations have some fantastic benefits available. These need to be updated to reflect the market and included as part of your overall package on top of base salary. Your EVP should make the most of pensions, training, flexibility, holiday entitlements, childcare, wellbeing perks etc. It dramatically increases the value of the package on offer to candidates.
- Timetabled and consistent communications
By managing expectations around communication and using an Applicant Tracking System, you set out the parameters of your relationship with a candidate. It should be easy to apply, be flexible on virtual meetings, you should give clear dates for shortlisting, interviews and feedback and you should stick to those dates!
- What onboarding looks like
Expedite the administration and let people be excited about their first day of work. They don’t want to be wondering if they must provide additional paperwork or where they’re supposed to be. Candidates should have no negative questions going in. Any onboarding plan should cover objectives for at least the first six months of employment and anything that can be addressed before a start date should be.
Improving candidate experience means giving people the information they need and making them fully aware of where they will be spending a significant amount of their time, what the process entails, who their colleagues will be, and what it will be like to work for you. So often the candidate experience provides more friction when it should be frictionless.
Dos and Don’ts in the candidate-employer relationship
Let’s be clear, this is about building a relationship between you, the employer, and the candidate. Your employer brand is your dating profile. Candidate experience is the first message, the first date and beyond. If those initial connections are ambiguous or one sided, then the relationship will struggle to develop.
Good candidate experience is the first opportunity you have to back up that profile, that employer brand. Any contact you have has to demonstrate that your claims of a supportive, transparent culture are true.
- Move quickly
Time is the killer of all successful hiring right now. Some organisations, especially those with infrequent hiring needs may not appreciate the pace of today’s market. Set expectations and diarise throughout the stakeholders and hiring team, as without question you will be in competition with others.
- Identify employee ambassadors
You can use employees as ambassadors to help you get across your corporate message in a more honest way. You can also use them to manage reviews on sites such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn.
- Consistent Quality. Treat Interim and Permanent candidates the same
If you are serious about your hiring then you need to be treating all candidates, permanent, temporary, and interim, the same. The same candidate experience standard should apply to short-term contracts as permanent contracts. Interim staff are people with skills and expertise in short supply that you may need again and again, it’s a small pool of people, yet as candidates they can be treated extremely poorly. Never forget: they are extremely well networked, and they will spread the word.
- Give Feedback
In a time poor world we rarely, receive a meaningful level of constructive feedback to give to candidates. Even senior candidates. If you value your brand you need to be providing meaningful feedback. Respect your candidates enough to give them five minutes of your time. People will remember being treated badly; no doubt you will cross paths with people again in the future. By fulfilling your side of the bargain, you can avoid losing out in the future.
- Oversell and under deliver; Bait and switch
Too often I find myself speaking to candidates I placed six months to a year ago who have fallen for a bait and switch hiring tactic and are now back on the market. This is where employers will offer large salaries and oversell an opportunity, brand or EVP to entice the candidate to say yes but six months down the line the candidate comes back on the market because what they were promised failed to materialise. Avoid this cycle of churn by being honest and transparent about your offering.
- Fall at the final hurdle
Many placements fall over after a verbal offer has been accepted. With average notice periods of 3 months, ensure that lines of communication remain open, and that compliance and paperwork is handled efficiently. Keep in contact and introduce the team throughout any notice period and take steps to involve the candidate in any relevant news stories or announcements.
- Expect your first offer to be accepted
Open communication channels and negotiation can often see a deal over the line. Offer the fair market rate for the role irrespective of the chosen candidate’s current salary. Make sure there is wiggle room to negotiate things like Working from Home, flexibility, nine-day fortnights, holiday entitlement, season ticket loans or probationary periods.
Again I see this far too often. We put CVs forward, candidates hear nothing for months and, rightly, assume they have been unsuccessful. Yet six months later I am being asked by employers can I see that person again because the original person was unsuccessful.
Those organisations who haven’t invested in candidate experience will find it harder to recruit because they aren’t managing expectations. They aren’t meeting their side of the bargain.
Many organisations approach employer branding as a linear process. They develop the high-level messaging first but then fall on the execution. Rather than this being a linear journey, it should be holistic with candidate experience at the centre and the rest of the brand built around that. All these pieces need to be working all at once.
We are no longer living in an employer-led market. The mentality has shifted. Candidates are in demand. They hold more cards and organisations need to work hard meet their needs.
Employee experience is the fulcrum, the link between employer brand and your Employee Value Proposition. It’s the real-world application of the blue-sky branding. It is how you communicate that and how you live and breathe your brand that counts.
Founding partner of Morgan Law, David Morgan, is responsible for strategic development and involved in all areas of the business. With over 20 years’ professional experience as a specialist public & not for profit sector recruiter, he ensures Morgan Law’s expert teams continually provide excellent recruitment experiences for both clients and candidates in the public and not-for-profit sectors.