Employer branding is not just a marketing exercise, it is the beginning of an employment relationship.

In a climate of low unemployment, skills shortages in many sectors, severe competition for the best potential recruits, how you do best stand out from the crowd? Highly talented graduates can always find work, even in an economic slowdown. Organisations looking to tap into this talent and recruit excellent people must ensure they have an excellent recruitment process.

Employer branding is the company's image, as seen through the eyes of its associates and potential hires. It is concerned with the need for employees to 'live the brand'. This is centred on engaging employee loyalty to the brand and developing commitment to the organisation. Your employer brand is the voice and image of the communication that you implement to attract and retain employees.

Stages of employer branding

The employer brand is defined by the three stages of the attraction process; reputation (emotional), career offer (rational) and corporate culture (emotional).

The key messages are:

Reputation = Successful international company, growth industry popular in a home country

Career offer = Challenging job, international work, career development opportunities, good pay

Corporate culture = Fair and open, non-hierarchical, inspiring people.

The importance of employer branding

A brand is an announcement - it provides an advance calling card for the customer and also for potential applicants. Employer branding tells the labour market something that might otherwise be hidden, or takes time to find out. Brands attempt to take the choice out of choosing.

'Employer brand power' adds value to the recruitment process and real money to organisations. It gets you noticed and creates the 'employer of choice', especially important to SMEs looking to entice graduates. As the number of choices available to graduates becomes ever greater in the marketplace, and globalisation increasingly impacts these, employer branding strategies prove critical. Employer brands act as a psychological trigger in a candidate's head which can play a key role in a candidate's job choice, look at running a graduate recruitment campaign to get your brand noticed.

Job applicants are attracted by a strong employer brand. This is essentially a sub-set of the general corporate brand, encompassing the organisation's values, systems, policies and behaviours with a view to attracting, motivating and retaining good people. The aim is to convey the personality of the organisation so that external candidates can develop a sense of what it might be like to work there. It is critical for HR and recruiting staff to develop a compelling story for existing and potential employees about working for the organisation.

Using employer branding

Employer branding strategy must be aligned with your product branding and deliver every aspect of its implementation. Strengthen your employer brand by presenting consistent, positive messages and images about life inside the organisation, whether in job adverts, recruitment presentations, brochures, applicant literature, or interviews - in fact, throughout the recruitment process.

For example, if your employer brand claims that the organisation is a fun and dynamic place to be, your recruitment process must be efficient, slick and involve the kind of interviewers and assessors who present the appropriate image and style of working.

The most believable forms of communication are the adverts, literature and websites, but also the behaviours of employees and the accounts of their own work experience. So, the greatest risk for an employer is to invest too much on mass media promotion, and too little on ensuring that personal contacts are effective and that they can actually 'deliver on promises'.

In the so-called 'weightless economy,' the brand has become the critical source of competitive advantage.