In the last decade or so, we’ve had a lot more research and thought leadership emerge around topics like employer branding, internal culture, candidate experience, and the like. “Brand” isn’t a new concept by any means — we’ve been discussing brand as long as we’ve had companies — but as new topics arise around the idea of brand, there are new considerations for the talent acquisition lifecycle.

The easiest place to begin this discussion is to understand what “culture” and “employer brand” are. These definitions will vary depending on who you ask, but for our money, employer brand is an extension of internal culture. It’s essentially your internal culture being shared with external stakeholders. We’re at a time now in talent acquisition history where Glassdoor is getting lengthy profiles in The New Yorker, so this idea of an internal culture being transparently projected outward has gained a lot of steam in even just the last 5-10 years.

This all begs the question: should a hire be driven by employer brand or fit with the internal culture? Both? Neither and simply skill sets?

First: TA and marketing need to learn from each other

The silos we tend to fret about not interacting are sales, IT, etc. — but HR and talent acquisition really need to be aligned with marketing. Both sides should be learning from each other.

Typically, the corporate brand in terms of messaging is controlled by marketing (but the employer brand is shaped by TA). The marketplace responds to both brands, and TA/marketing need to be speaking to each other about what’s being said out there.

When the employer brand and the corporate brand don’t align, that means word of mouth — the biggest driver of so much in business — has taken a hit somewhere, usually because of:

  • Poor candidate experience
  • Product or service delivery issues

In either case, you’re now a less attractive place to work. There goes your quality candidate selection.

How do you define your culture to candidates?

Much is going to happen via word of mouth — people talking to former colleagues, looking at Glassdoor, messages on LinkedIn — but there are other ways.

  1. Know your culture and what will work there: Every workplace has water cooler discussions.  What’s happening in those discussions? What is being said? Those discussions are a huge part of your culture. If you tap into the veteran employees who have been successful and have a role in those conversations, you’ll better understand what works for your culture. For example; maybe one department really needs more people with the ability to work independently. Maybe every team could use those with a greater ability to change. While some of these characteristics are admittedly harder to screen and track for, you need to know what works with your culture before you take any additional steps.
  2. Video job descriptions: This still isn’t at scale, but it’s increasingly in play. Create a video so that candidates can see your physical spaces and hear interviews with those close to the team they’d potentially be joining. Of course, this is a project between marketing and TA. It’s a polished end product. But if it accurately shows your culture, it will draw in candidates who feel they’d be a fit.
  3. Develop internal stakeholders: Coach up your current people on how to discuss and define the culture when they talk to former colleagues, new people at trade shows, new people at networking events, etc.
  4. Internally, make elements of your culture more objective: “Culture” can inherently be subjective. When elements are subjective in a business, true decision-makers tend to care less. They want objective elements; businesses are run on data and numbers. Try to make elements of culture more objective simply so others can look at “the culture numbers” and understand what they mean and how they impact hiring (and the bottom line through hiring and retention numbers). 

What happens when there’s a match between culture and brand?

Higher self-selection in the form of “I want to work there.” And what does that typically lead to? Higher retention and higher performance.

This is sometimes considered a controversial statement, and by no means are we knocking marriage here, but to some people, their job is more important than their marriage or their lifestyle — simply because of the amount of time and effort they will spend on/for that organization.

As a result, people want to know what they are getting into. Just like they’d research purchasing a car or a TV, they will research working with you through various channels. And when that brand-culture fit is there, that’s the sweet spot to drive performance and retention once they’re an employee.

How can we develop talent acquisition towards this brand-culture fit?

A few suggestions:

  • Make sure they work with marketing more: This was described above.
  • Make sure TA understands cultural fit elements early in the hiring process: This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to use a cultural assessment pre-interview; we’d actually recommend against that. Top of funnel stages will still be largely skills-driven, but recruiters need to understand the culture of the team they’re bringing someone onto.
  • Constantly discuss diversity of person and thought: When a company gets too hung up on what their culture is, they can fall into a trap where they only go for that type of person — which creates homogenous workforces that are likely prime for disruption because of a lack of new ideas. You need physical diversity but also cognitive diversity, and recruiters need to always keep that top of mind.
  • Don’t loop out TA at the hiring stage: Consider a true end-to-end candidate lifecycle situation, whereby there is data on each hire going deep into retention/eventual departure, and that data is tied back to the specific recruiter. And in that vein…
  • … incentive structures: What if one recruiter is so adept at finding culture-brand fits that his hires have an average retention of 8-10 years with high levels of productivity? Shouldn’t that recruiter be eligible for some type of bonus or extra incentive as a result of that performance? Extrinsic motivators remain powerful. Reward the best in TA at understanding the need for fit.
  • Have a baseball mentality: I talked recently about some of these issues with Noel Cocca, CEO of RecruitingDaily. Noel is a big baseball fan, including coaching Little League in Connecticut for many years. One thing he brought up: certain baseball players, like a Gary Carter or Reggie Jackson, hit .260 for their career and made the Hall of Fame? Now, yes, they had other skills. But a .260 average means you fail 7.5 times out of 10, roughly. And you still make the Hall of Fame. More in recruiting need to think this way: just because a candidate isn’t perfect for the open req in front of you doesn’t mean they couldn’t be great somewhere else, or even lead this team someday. This is why transparency is so important. Don’t let candidates fall into black holes. Be open with them. Explain what happened with roles. If they are right but not right now, they could still be a huge asset in the future. Remember: culture evolves. Business models change, teams change, etc. The “right cultural fit” at Moment A might be totally different at Moment B. You will miss and you can still be a Hall of Fame TA professional.


Continue the discussion: Do you think of hiring more in terms of brand or culture fit? Contact Amanda on Twitter @AmandaPCole and Noel @noelcocca.

Amanda Cole

Amanda Cole is Vice President of Operations at eTeki Inc., an on-demand technical interviewing platform that addresses the challenges of technical screening and IT talent acquisition. Amanda is an integrated marketing professional specializing in service-based businesses. With an entrepreneurial drive and a customer-centric approach, she helps companies stand out among their competitors and expand business opportunities using a complementary mix of traditional and digital marketing strategies. You can follow Amanda on Twitter @AmandaPCole or connect with her on LinkedIn.