Since I updated my Linkedin profile a little while ago to reflect my new responsibility for Talent Acquisition at itnig I have been bombarded with messages and offers about improving our employer branding. It is honestly something we have never thought about since showing ourselves as who we are at itnig or any of our startups came naturally to us. Now I wonder if there is some truth to the idea of creating a brand not just for your customers but for your future employees too? Does a promotional video or an enhanced Linkedin company page really have an impact on us finding and signing on the right people to grow our teams and companies?
Does this video make you want to work with us?
Employer brand — Image, Identity & Perception
When we started out at itnig, recruitment and employer branding went through our personalities. Our employer branding was the perception of our personality, our reputation and our enthusiasm for the product. New hires were convinced about us as people — that our CEO would have a destination in mind and be able to lead us there, that our CTO would know to implement these plans and to create a strong system, that our CMO would understand the market and adapt or shape according to customer’s preferences, that our COO would keep up with operations and quality standards no matter the rush…In the beginning we were all the employer brand as persons with our positive attributes but also flaws. But how does this play out when the company grows, when it is no longer possible nor desirable that the personalities of the different employees ressemble the company as a whole?
Going from personality-hiring to company-hiring
Our first hires were our friends or people we met through extended networks like our first marketing intern for the French market whom I was introduced to through a guitar playing couchsurfer who stayed at my house for a week. Old university friends came to join our Sales team in Barcelona, friends of cousins of one of our team members became part of Camaloon and past colleagues were dragged along from the old employer to find a place at itnig. But with time we ran out of suitable candidates and had to find other ways: job offers, university contacts & head hunting.
And this is where I am being told to create a brand just like we do in customer acquisition and to think of our candidates as another kind of customer to whom we need to show the value of working with us not just through our interviews and personalities, job descriptions and offers but also through actively promoting it on social media and other outlets.
If we are having fun at work, spending our time on exciting projects be it technologically or in terms of customer acquisition funnels and are a team of interesting people, is that not enough to attract?
An employer brand should show what we as a company can offer new team members, why anybody should chose to sign on with us and what employees can expect in the long run.
The expectations we set
In new team members we look for curiosity, drive, potential to grow, dedication and willingness or openness to contribute.
I worked freelance for a long time and even though I truly enjoyed my work and learned a lot it was always second. I was first a potter, a guitar player, a student… and then an online marketer. In a startup like ours at itnig this could not work out. If all our team members thought like that we could not achieve what we have set out. With such ambitious growth goals it’s hard to accept anybody in our team who does not first identify as important part and impulsor of our organization. This does not have to mean long hours at the office but it means dedication, concentration and determination.
A startup does not have room for hands without brains that follows and executes orders. We all need to think about what we want to achieve, to plan how to achieve it and of course to question ourselves on the way.
We are a young, international team driven by professional and personal challenges. An insatiable curiosity. A bunch of people asking ‘Why?’. As companies with unknown, insecurity and instability in the market we have be quick to adapt, and with financial constraints the most interesting we can offer is not the salary. We opt for learning, for opportunities for growth and it’s also a philosophy of frugality. Of being able to make the most of scarce resources, of scrambling and inventing. Of getting creative and not comfortable. We don’t want money to be the motivator for any person who joins our team.
That is what we look for and value in a person when we search a new full stack developer, sales agent or Admin specialists, but what do candidates look for in us?
What we represent so far
When candidates face the decision between starting at Factorial, Quipu, Camaloon…and another startup, what makes the differences? In the interviews I have conducted over the past weeks that was always one of the answers I was curious about. What do you look for in a company? What makes a good company for you? However — unfortunately until now — I have only heard pretty standard answers which makes me think that maybe most have not given it as much thought as research and the insistence of an enhanced Linkedin company page suggests.
When I speak to recruitment agents or agencies I hear a lot of panic: ‘You need to work on your employer branding, all of Barcelona’s startups are fighting for the same talent as you, you need to stand out. Why should a candidate decide to start with you when there are so many other similar startup companies?’
According to a study conducted by a German university group amongst US college graduates (https://hbr.org/2015/12/what-makes-a-start-up-an-employer-of-choice), these (and in extrapolation we) evaluate a company based on:
– its office location
– the innovation at the company
– the degree to which employees can have an impact
– the founder’s qualifications like past (successful) ventures or prestigious universities
– any legitmacy-enhancing qualities like big-name investors
– lifestyle perks like free food, yoga classes, day car, bring your dog to work…
All of these have an impact on the decision yet the most important one is lifestyle perks with free fruits and coffee, sport offers and an openness to include the closest people too. When scrolling through job offers or thinking about similar startup offers my impression is that this is standard by now. Most have a beautiful office space with catered fruit and free coffee and offer spaces for sport and exercise such as a subsidized Gym4Less membership.
And it’s our job as an employer to make these factors clear to any candidate, to make innovation visible, to talk about our past experiences, to present our employees and their trajectory and to make office-life as comfortable as possible. Deep down I feel that this is something we naturally do because we enjoy going to work, because we shape our workplace ourselves and we take responsibility for it. Initiatives like free breakfasts do not come commanded from above, it’s us as a team who come up with it. However with the company scaling, it’s probably a good moment to revise it, to observe if really everybody is having their part in it and if not to ask if anything is missing.
So I started researching what employer branding means and what experts on this topic recommend to do to create such a brand. In textbooks employer branding is defined as:
“An organization’s reputation as an employer, and its value proposition to its employees, as opposed to its more general corporate brand reputation and value proposition to customers.”
and steps to create it are suggested as follow (taken a mix of recommendations from different sources):
1) Define your company’s core values
At our last party we asked our guests to define itnig. We were told itnig is a cultivating space for new ideas to take form, friends, a company in which you can grow, learn & have fun and even a mix of knowledge and good practices that push you to find a good solution and accompanies you. Avanguard.
2) Look at employees and customers as one big community
Just like you try to attract customers who purchase your service or product you need to view a candidate as somebody to attract and retain. And the ways and channels for acquisition are rather similar.
I would add to create a funnel just as you would for a customer who does not convert right away. Maybe the candidate is not the right fit at this moment but can be valuable for another position at another point in time. So keep in touch and communicate.
At the very beginning at Camaloon, after our first year, we decided to reach out directly to companies and offer our services to them and so we set up a sales team. After a successful phase in Spain with our first two ninjas, we set out to find our first italian sales team. We received so many applications that it was hard to evaluate the profiles against one another and as sales itself is inherently a social job, we decided to try group interviews and invited five candidates at the same time. With two Camalooners and five candidates we took up the whole meeting room and with the selection of personalities we had picked it almost seemed we were interviewing a rock band and not a group of sales professionals. The group interview was interesting — yet as such did not give room to everyone — and the five left Camaloon happily and even went out for a drink right after as we observed them through the window of our office. Anyways, the important part for me here was to keep in touch. Even though we had only been able to get a first impressions as such, I remember one person whom we did not hire for this position weeks or month later and he eventually became our social media specialist. Now, 5 years in, he is still there leading our community.
Community thinking — a big tank. Keep together, keep communicating, seed reminders or create situations like events or conferences to bump into each other from time to time.
3) Be digital and think mobile — Use social media
A no brainer.
4) Foster lifelong learning
We are curious people, it is something innate in us. Young people who want to learn, who are here to acquire more capacities and knowledge. Development opportunities within the startups but also in the whole community. We try to foster it by opening up our space for meetup groups, by organizing events ourselves and by creating spaces for language classes, yoga sessions etc…
We ask ourselves constantly what is more important: Talent or Experience?
5) Have your employees speak for you
With the fancy term Employee advocacy we define all team members or stakeholders representing the brand. I think this is unavoidable in a very good sense of the word. We spend most of our waking time at work, we dedicate ourselves to our projects and of course we love to talk about them!
6) Involve your team in hiring
Even though we do have a human resource department, we collaborate with each team for the hiring process. The team needs to be involved because in the end the new person is going to work with them but I think it’s also a big part of showing who we are and how we work to a candidate interviewing with us. And for HR it also means having someone experienced in the specific field being able to exactly explain the job position and asses the candidates.
7) Have HR and Marketing work together
HR & Marketing to create the brand and communicate but I would go a step further and involve everybody in the company.
We surround ourselves with like-minded people: In some cases, it’s a flaw I would say that we always stick to those that think like us but in some cases this human tendency can also reveal a positive side. We have a brilliant PPC analyst on board and are looking to someone with a similar sharp eye, it’s likely that they might be friends.
8) Create a positive customer experience for your candidates
Throughout the selection process from the job description, to the application review, the interviews — be it by phone or in the office — until the ‘keep in touch’ messages we think it’s important to establish a good and positive relationship with our candidates. We would like to stay in touch, to recommend our company to others and to be in the same space moving forward.
I have been writing this article on the train going back to my hometown in Germany. After three years working freelance as online marketer I just got settled back in an office environment and in a new field, human resource. Thus, my impressions over the past weeks have been plentiful — like a wave washing over me and most days I was running behind to get things done, to understand or to find the right person to talk to. Now, at this moment, with the landscape passing by through the train window and a sense of distance not being in Barcelona and an office environment anymore, it’s a bit easier to take a step back and to reflect about things. What first started out as annoyance with recruitment specialists trying to sell me something I thought was unnecessary I realized we are already doing a lot of employer branding — unconsciously just not through a dedicated website or a promotional video. Intuitively we have been following the suggestions to market our company, to think about our values, to involve our teams and to create a great customer experience for our candidates.