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Putting the candidate first in your employer brand

25 Oct Its not about you Content

I don’t have to tell you that the answer to the war for talent is employer branding – consistent messaging that reflects exactly what it’s like to work in your organisation.

I also don’t have to tell you that that means sharing your values, your culture, your goals and your behaviours in a way that shows what you’re all about.


Top marks.

But what you and a ton of other employers might not know is that the process of building that employer brand isn’t just about focusing inwards. Yes, you need to know yourself in order to speak to the people you want to hire, but first and foremost you need to know the person you’re targeting.

Unfortunately, this isn’t something I’m seeing in organisations as they build their employer brand. In fact, what I’m seeing is more and more marketing departments, HR teams and even employer branding execs getting the focus of their campaigns totally wrong.


Because they’re so caught up in who they are as an organisation and how they should put that across that they’ve forgotten to think about the whole point of the exercise.

What the candidate thinks.

By thinking too much about themselves and not enough about the candidate, employers are forgetting that their employer brand isn’t aimed at them. It’s aimed at the people they want to attract.

And failing to understand these people means you’ll not only miss out on the talent you’re trying to hire, but turn off the people you already employ.

Thankfully, building candidate-focused employer brands is our bread and butter, so I’m going to share some of the ways we ensure we stay on track and build brands that are centred on the candidate - NOT the organisation.

Here goes.

Candidate personas

Imagine a fishing trip where you’ve got all the gear but no idea what you’re actually trying to catch. That’s a bit like launching an employer brand or recruitment campaign without fully researching your audience.

If you don’t know what they like, how they speak, what’s important to them and what makes them excited, the bait you put out is only going to appeal to you.

So to create a candidate-focused brand, you need to understand who your ideal candidates are. And this means candidate personas.

These are fictional representations of your ideal job candidates. But here’s the thing: just because they’re fictional, doesn’t mean they’re made up.

Candidate personas should be based on real data from real research conducted with the people you’re trying to target.

You can get this using focus groups, internal and external surveys and also data from candidate CVs (we’ve got about 16 million, thanks for asking).

You’ll need to ask questions like:

  • What skills and experiences do they have?
  • What are their career goals and aspirations?
  • What motivates and excites them?
  • Where do they hang out online?

    Creating these personas helps you tailor your content, messaging and engagement strategies to match the needs and preferences of your target audience.

    By doing so, you increase your chances of attracting the right talent and make it a lot more likely that they’ll stick around.

    Segmenting your audience

    But what if you have more than one type of candidate?

    For example, your data might tell you that your roles tend to attract candidates in two categories: school leavers looking for a great development programme and recent early retirees who want to return to work.

    It's obvious that these are very different audiences. But you’d be surprised how many organisations put out an employer branding campaign that tries to be all things to all people.

    It’s time to segment your audience. After all, not all candidates are the same; they come from diverse backgrounds, experiences and stages in their careers. And different things will be important to them.

    By segmenting your audience based on categories like job role, experience, previous industry, location or qualifications, you can tailor your employer branding efforts to resonate with each group.

    That means creating an overarching employer brand that’s flexible enough to adapt to different messaging on different platforms for different audiences. Then you simply create content and messaging that speaks directly to these segments.

    Disregarding personal taste

    This one is a tough pill to swallow, but it’s crucial to understand: your personal taste and opinions don’t dictate what makes an effective employer brand.

    You might have certain ideas about how you want your company’s brand to come across – you might even already have an embedded consumer brand that you want to carry over to your hiring efforts.

    But here’s the kicker: your employer brand isn’t about what you like at all. It’s all about what your potential candidates need and want.

    So just because you like a specific colour scheme, design style or messaging tone doesn’t mean it will resonate with your candidates. And just because you speak to customers in a certain way, have a particular style on your consumer website or have ‘done things that way for years’, it doesn’t mean that’s how you should be speaking to your potential hires.

    Remember: your employer brand isn’t about what you find appealing. It’s about what makes your target candidates stop scrolling, find out more and ultimately want to work for you.

    Staying candidate focused

    I get that this makes some employers nervous. I mean, isn’t there a risk that all this effort will result in something at odds with your current brand?

    Well, remember that the more successfully you can speak to your potential hires at this stage, the more you’ll create an environment where they feel they can thrive, grow and succeed.

    Because here’s the thing: not only does your employer brand shape the kind of candidates you’re able to employ, but the candidates you employ are also responsible for shaping your employer brand.

    Yep, the employer branding lifecycle really is that beautiful.

    When your potential candidates become your employees (and even if they don’t), they’re the ones who’ll ultimately have the most to say about what you’re really like. The reality is, their experiences and perceptions of your organisation will significantly impact how your brand is perceived in the job market.

    Because no matter what you put out there, the loudest voice in the war for talent is always the people who already work for you.

    Top tips

    Making your employer brand candidate focused is a strategic move that can give you a significant advantage in attracting top talent. In practical terms, here's what that looks like:

    • Gathering feedback. Actively seek feedback from candidates and employees to understand their experiences and what they value most. Use this input to refine your employer branding efforts.
    • Keeping up with trends. The job market and candidate preferences evolve. Stay up to date with the latest trends in employer branding to ensure you stay relevant and attractive to your target audience.
    • A/B testing. Experiment with different content, messaging and design elements so you’ll know what resonates best with your audience without the guesswork.
    • Consistency. Ensure your employer brand message is consistent across all platforms, from your career site to your social media channels. It’s no use building an engaging Gen Z-focused social media campaign if your career site sounds like someone who’s been in the industry for decades. Remember: consistency builds trust, authenticity and recognition.
    • Flexibility. Be ready to adjust and adapt as needed. If a certain approach of message isn’t working, don’t be afraid to pivot and try something new.

    By building candidate personas, segmenting your audience and letting go of your personal taste, you’ll create a brand that’s appealing and relevant to the individuals you want to join your team.

    After all, it really is all about them. And by putting their needs and preferences at the forefront, you’ll not only attract top talent but foster a culture that values the people who make your organisation thrive.

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