Get outsiders to share internal perceptions
While Ankita Modi, country manager for Hong Kong with employer branding specialist Universum, advises that businesses ensure their employee value proposition (EVP) is credible, true, distinct and consistent, how much control do businesses actually have over the way in which they are perceived?
“Viral stories of the industry and, for example, a company’s product portfolio, are going to affect a company’s employer brand because, whether or not you control it, it’s there,” she says.
“But there are many ways you can start to create a perception about yourself and your industry. What is important is to differentiate yourself as an employer and to differentiate your industry from other industries.”
Modi believes that employer branding sits somewhere between marketing, HR and, to a degree, a company’s consumer-branding strategy.
“The idea is to be transparent,” she says. “The strongest employer brands are created when people outside of the organisation say the same things about it as the employees within it and its stakeholders. You should make sure that who you want to be, who you already are, and who others think you are, are all aligned. Your EVP is really strong when your values are long term, consistent and true to your company – and you don’t really want to employ a person who values an attribute that you don’t offer.”
While a desire for job security is common among workers around the globe, Universum’s surveys show that in Hong Kong, workers also seek careers which offer a good work-life balance and through which they will serve a greater good. “This softer, or more idealistic aspect, is stronger in Hong Kong than in the rest of the world,” Modi says. “Green issues and sustainability are quite important to people here.”
She also notes the starkly different priorities Hongkongers have compared to people on the mainland when it comes to weighing up their career choices. “In China, being dedicated to a cause or serving the greater good is one of the least important criteria. There it is a lot more about being independent or autonomous and about being a leader or manager of people.”
Among members of Gen Y, and to a certain extent Gen X, Universum found that professional training and development, and a friendly working environment, were also important factors when making career choices.
Debbie Matson, managing director of recruitment firm Links International, has also been tracking the changing preferences of job candidates and how companies should adjust their employer-branding strategies in response.
“In banking, we are seeing some shift in candidates’ choices from big brands to boutique firms. Some candidates are interested in the more subtle idea that with a boutique firm they may get a role with more scope, better work-life balance and possibly higher compensation,” she says.
“For candidates in non-banking sales and marketing functions, brand is very important. Once a candidate has built a very solid platform in a brand, they don’t want to negatively affect their future career path by going into the wrong company. We also notice a trend in which candidates are focusing on multinational companies, because they perceive there will be better career paths and international opportunities with them.”
For Modi, the entire employer-branding exercise begins with companies taking a long, hard look at themselves. “They have to look at what perception drives employees to work every day and what keeps them there. They have to analyse what people outside think of the organisation and what people on the inside think is the real identity of the organisation. They then need to find any gaps between the external perception and internal reality and close them,” she says.
The same process applies to those companies struggling with an unappealing image – either because of the nature of the goods or services they supply, or because of some aspect of their employment terms or conditions.
“You need to know what the exact perceptions are that the external talent may have – and especially know the misperceptions they might have and why they might exist. Then you can focus on what you offer as an employer rather than what you offer to consumers. You could focus on, say, challenging work and great training and development, rather than on extremely working long hours,” Modi says.