The 2nd Biggest Mistake in Employer Branding — Failing to Measure Employer Brand Strength

In a related article published last week on ERE.net, entitled “The Biggest Mistake In Employer Branding — Failing To Measure The Business Impacts of Employer Branding” I highlighted the importance of measuring and reporting the business impacts of employer branding . This first step is critical because all too many employer branding leaders are satisfied with simply “counting things that you do” like placing EB ads or coming up with slogans, and assuming that this is enough. Well, it isn’t.

You must be able to show executives that when your employer branding strength goes up, proportionally so do your results in recruiting and retention. Without that correlation between brand strength and improved recruiting, executives will likely attribute the better recruiting results to some other factor, like luck or a higher rate of unemployment. So, employer branding leaders should to measure, quantify (in numbers or dollars), and then regularly report the strength of their employer brand.

In this article, I list 12+ metrics that can be used to convince executives that your efforts have measurably improved the strength of your firm’s employer brand. Then with the help of the CFO’s office, you can connect the two factors by showing a direct positive correlation between a higher employer brand strength and the subsequent improvement in recruiting and retention results!

12 Direct Employer Brand Strength Measures

In the product brand area of a major corporation, it would be unheard of not to calculate the strength of each of the firm’s product brands. However, for some unexplained reason, a significant percentage of employer branding efforts fail to quantify their brand strength. This omission eliminates the possibility that you can show the relationship or correlation between any improvement in employer brand strength and the corresponding improvement in business or recruiting results.

Proving this connection is critical because executives realize that an increase in business impacts and recruiting results can occur for a variety of reasons unrelated to employer branding. These improvements could be caused by a rise in the unemployment rate or an improvement in economic conditions. So continually measure increases in your employer brand strength, so that you can show that when EB goes up, after a short delay, so do your business and recruiting results.

Work with the CFO’s office or with internal business analysts to calculate the direct correlation between the two items. For example, if your employer brand strength increased by 10 percent, the number of applicants and the quality of hires should also go up a proportionate amount of 10 percent. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to measure employer brand strength. The best approach is often to select a combination of the 12 factors listed below. The most powerful direct measures of “brand strength” are listed first.

  1. Brand Strength Measure – A higher volume of qualified applicants — the most obvious recruiting impact of great employer branding is a higher number of qualified applicants. And the brand strength measure is an increase in the volume of experienced and college applicants (who met your qualifications) who ended up actually applying for your jobs. If there is no current open position, a steady flow of unsolicited applications is a reflection of an even more powerful employer brand. The benchmark volume of applications that you should receive is that each week you should receive the same number of qualified applications as you have employees. It also makes sense to survey a random sample of applicants to gather data that proves that this higher percentage of current candidates applied primarily because of the strength of your brand messaging. If a large percentage drop off before finishing the application process, it is too long (over five minutes) or frustrating.
  2. Brand Strength Measure – A higher hit rate on your corporate careers and social media pages — if your brand message is having its desired impact on recruiting, more individuals will visit your website to find out about your firm. So the number of your corporate career page hits should increase proportionally as you ramp up your EB effort. You should, of course, survey a sample of site visitors and ask them if EB factors caused them to visit. Hits on your social media pages, podcasts, and on your YouTube channel can also be good brand strength measures. Things have changed and currently applicants get up to 80 percent of their information about a firm from sources external to the firm.
  3. Brand Strength Measure – Your firm’s ratings and reviews on glassdoor.com — generally glassdoor.com has the highest impact of any employer-rating site. As a result, survey your new hires during onboarding to find out what percentage of them checked out your company on glassdoor.com during their job search process. If it’s a significant percentage, you need to track how your company is rated on glassdoor.com. Glassdoor offers several key comparable ratios, with perhaps the most impactful one being whether the reviewers would recommend your firm to their friends. The volume of comments is an indication that your firm is well known, but the ratio between positive and negative comments about your firm reveals how well your firm is liked. The negative reviews are particularly important because they have a high impact when prospects select their target companies. But also they tell you what specific areas you need to improve in. Look for negative comments related to your candidate experience and your interviewing process. Consider encouraging your employees to post positive comments about your firm and its employer brand pillars, which can help to reduce the damaging impact of a large number of negative comments.
  4. Brand Strength Measure – Your score on LinkedIn’s Talent Brand Index — the professional social network LinkedIn offers a Talent Brand Index which allows a company to get a free customized index score covering their EB. The Brand Index is a simple metric that compares the number of people using LinkedIn who are familiar with you as an employer with the number of people who proactively show an interest in your firm. One of the values of this measure is that it allows a firm to calculate the improvement in its employer brand strength each year and to benchmark your firm’s index score with that of any other major firm.
  5. Brand Strength Measure — Your firm’s appearance and ranking on “best places to work” lists — in the past, these lists were dominant in employer branding, but the Internet and social media have made them less important. In addition, you can’t automatically consider appearing on “great places to work for” lists as an indication of your employer brand strength because potential applicants might never see these lists or hear about your ranking. To prove its impact, survey a sample of your applicants and new hires and ask them if your placement on any list influenced their job search decision. If a significant percentage say yes, landing on those lists becomes very important. The most widely talked about and cited list is the Fortune “100 Best Companies to Work For” list for regular employees and the Universum or Vault lists for recent college grads. There are also “best place” company rankings created by LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and some diversity organizations. If you land on one or more of the lists, or if your firm has won any kind of award, you should proactively mention it in your employer branding messaging. Getting on these lists will get you more press coverage and it will increase your employee referral rate.
  6. Brand Strength Measure – Employee referrals make up a high percentage of all hires – employees simply will not continually make referrals if they don’t perceive your firm as having a strong employer brand and attributes that they find make it a great place to work. As a result, the percentage of all employees who make qualified referrals becomes a brand strength measure. When you have effectively communicated your brand pillars and their related WOW stories to your employees, they will be more effective in making high-quality referrals. Referrals also indirectly help build your employer brand strength because they are the most powerful and authentic mechanism for spreading your brand message. When your employees are constantly talking about your firm’s brand pillars to colleagues on their networks, your percentage of new hires from referrals should exceed 50 percent.
  7. Brand Strength Measure – Targeted recruiting prospects are aware of your firm — obviously, the high-quality prospects that your recruiting effort is targeting won’t apply if they are not even aware of the name of your firm. The best way to measure this element of brand strength is known as “firm awareness.” With this measure, you find out if your targets include the name of your firm in their short list of desirable employers. Firms on this list will get looked at in more detail when they begin searching for a job. Obviously, you can’t easily contact and survey prospects, because they haven’t actually applied to your company. You can, however, find them at large industry events. Where you can, randomly select attendees and then use a survey, interview, or focus groups to ask the prospects to identify the firms that are on their short list of firms that they would like to work at someday. The average ranking of your firm on these lists and the percentage of lists that your firm appears on are critical awareness measures.
  8. Brand Strength Measure — The ratio of positive to negative comments found on the Internet — your employer brand will be weakened if negative comments about working at your firm can be easily found by jobseekers. Stronger employer brands have a 70 percent or higher rate of positive comments. But in addition to the percentages, measure the degree of excitement in the positive comments and the degree of harshness of the negative comments. Harsh negative comments are especially important because they generally carry more weight in the eyes of prospective applicants. You can use a relatively simple Google search to find these positive and negative comments on the Internet and in social media. In your search string, start with “your company name” and then add key phrases (immediately proceeded with a +) like +I love working here, it’s a great company, great place to work, or I look forward to going to work every day. You can identify negative comments with search strings like “your company name” + I couldn’t wait to leave, I hate this place, working here sucks, or I would never recommend working there. Over time, refine your search strings, so that you find more positive and negative comments that are related to your employer brand pillars. You should also note the Internet sites where the positive and negative comments are found, in order to determine if they are the same sites that your potential applicants routinely visit.
  9. Brand Strength Measure — The visibility of your jobs and key employer branding factors during an Internet search — a large part of the actual strength of your employer brand is simply the visibility of factors that make the company a great company to work for. The most important initial factor is the visibility of your job postings. If during an Internet and social media search, prospects can’t find your open jobs, you’ll get fewer applicants and you cannot consider your employer brand to be strong. Information covering your brand pillars and WOW stories should also be highly visible. Many prospects will also seek out information on your executives, so that information should also be easy to find in an Internet search. Use an Excel spreadsheet to compare the performance on your firm’s selected visibility factors directly with your competitor’s visibility on those same factors.
  10. Brand Strength Measure — A higher percentage of boomerang rehires — if your actual employer brand is strong, you will have a higher retention rate. But inevitably, some of your top performers will still leave. If your employer brand strength is powerful, it will cause some of your former employees to want to come back within three years. The benchmark number to reach for boomerang rehires is 15 percent of all hires.
  11. Brand Strength Measure — Your EB information is found on sites that your targets visit — simply placing information on the Internet and social media sites will not automatically increase your brand strength or recruiting results. Instead, the information must be found on sites and sources that your target recruits regularly visit. Survey a sample of applicants and new hires to see precisely where they find and read information about great companies to work for. Proactively place positive information on your brand pillars on those sites frequented by your target recruits.
  12. Less-powerful indicators of employer brand strength — the 11 employer brand strength measures listed above should be enough for most corporations. However, there are some less powerful indicators of brand strength that you might also want to consider:
  • Offer acceptance rate — a high offer acceptance rate is an indication of a strong employer brand. This is because a strong employer brand will cause a higher percentage of offered candidates to accept your offer. More candidates will also be willing to make themselves available for your complete interview process.
  • The number of hits on your posted jobs — having an increased number of hits on your posted jobs (and applications at career fairs) are an indication that you have a strong employer brand. Obviously, a stronger indicator is the number who actually apply. If your EB effort has also identified the correct keywords that your targets use to find jobs, and it uses these keywords in your job posting descriptions, your number of hits will also increase.
  • College signups — you can also measure your EB strength in college recruiting. If you have a strong sub-brand in university recruiting, you will have an increased number of signups for information sessions, job fairs, scheduled interviews, and intern openings.
  • Employee retention rate — low turnover results in part from a strong external and internal brand but it is also impacted by the local unemployment rate. If you have a high turnover rate among recent hires (within six months) it is an indication that your brand messaging is effective but that it is not accurately backed up by what recent hires find once they start the job.
  • Press coverage — the amount of media coverage is an indication that you have a strong EB. The number of lines of press/media coverage related to your employer brand pillars should be tracked. Appearing in the specific media that your prospects regularly read will further strengthen your EB.
  • Manager exposure and visibility — the percentage of managers who actually speak, write, and talk to the press about the exciting aspects of your firm is an indication of the strength of your employer brand.
  • Diversity hiring targets are met — if your employer branding effort is specifically targeting the more difficult-to0-recruit diverse hires, reaching your goals must at least partially be attributed to a strong diversity sub-brand.
  • Hiring manager satisfaction — when you have a strong EB, hiring managers are more satisfied with the hiring process. A strong EB means that hiring managers will be able to interview more excited and exceptionally qualified candidates who are committed to working at your firm. As a result, your hiring managers will seldom have to settle for inferior candidates, so your managers will be more satisfied with the hiring process.
  • The use of predictive analytics — strong EB efforts are also forward-looking, so having predictive metrics is an indication that you have a strong employer branding effort. The best efforts use predictive analytics to forecast trends and upcoming problems in employer branding. These metrics are especially important if you forecast a weakening in your own firm’s brand strength or a major improvement in the brand strength of one of your talent competitors. Knowing about these factors in advance allows the firm to shift its recruiting approach to prepare for them.

Final Thoughts

After failing to quantify the business impacts of EB, the second-most damaging mistake in employer branding is failing to accurately measure, quantify, and report the strength of the corporation’s employer brand. Unfortunately, many in the field seem to think that it’s enough to merely work hard and to periodically update current employer brand messages. I beg to differ, because, in business, every function (outside of HR) measures the effectiveness of its actions.

I see no reason why employer branding leaders should be exempt from this business-wide expectation. I call for every employer branding effort to quantify and put a number on its employer brand strength each year, in order to show that it is improving and getting strong. If product branding can quantify its brand strength in dollars, it’s time for employer branding leaders to both measure brand strength and to show how a stronger EB results in significantly higher business impacts.

As seen on ERE Media on 4/11/2016.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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