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External Employer Branding – What Matters Most for Job Seekers?

A guide through the most important aspects of talent attraction

Lukas Schreyer and Andreas Bayerl

Human capital and thus employees who stand out with knowledge, skills and unique abilities, is one of companies’ most important assets since it is a key source for the creation of a competitive advantage (Campbell, Coff, and Kryscynski 2012, p. 391; Coff 2002, pp. 107–108). A factor that gives human capital its special touch is the contribution to the development of the company’s brand. Employees are the direct point of contact to the company for external stakeholders and thus they are an essential pillar in portraying the desired image (Vomberg, Homburg, and Bornemann 2015, pp. 2129–2130). Only the right employees that suit the company will be able to add value as only they are able to internalize the company culture and are motivated to contribute to their perfection (Hitt et al. 2001, p. 23).

The ability to find the right employees is connected to an outstanding external visibility of the company, which is today more than ever a challenging task. This is mainly for three reasons: First, the ever-increasing globalized world is growing the number of alternative employer opportunities, against whom companies never had to compete before. Second, the digitalization brought to light new information channels, where job seekers may find relevant information (Baum and Kabst 2014, pp. 353–354; Celani and Singh 2011, pp. 222–223). Third, an ongoing change in society is adding new attributes to job seekers’ decision-making process, such as the expectation that the employer is taking care of a good work-life balance (Twenge et al. 2010, pp. 1133–1134).

Managers are forced to ask themselves what differentiated and unique opportunities they have to offer for the most contested high potentials in the job market. In this blog article, we will derive managerial implications from literature about what attributes lure job-seekers towards certain jobs and companies.

Figure 1: Framework in the context of factors and channels of applicant attraction

Based on previous findings we developed a framework (see Figure 1) which is oriented towards the classification of attributes either in the context of the organization offering a job or the actual job itself (Chapman et al. 2005, p. 929; Uggerslev, Fassina, and Kraichy 2012, p. 599). These attributes are transmitted to the job seekers via company dependent (e.g. their own website) or independent information channels (e.g. employer review platforms) (van Hoye and Lievens 2007, p. 373). The attributes as well as the channels evoke organizational attractiveness and a sense of person organization fit which might lead to the job pursuit intention of the job seeker being the ultimate goal of external employer branding (Aiman-Smith, Bauer, and Cable 2001, pp. 232–233).

Job Attributes

The type of work one has to perform in the job is perceived as a fundamental attribute for which minimum requirements have to be fulfilled so that the job is considered as a valid option (Turban, Eyring, and Campion 1993, p. 76; Uggerslev, Fassina, and Kraichy 2012, p. 632). Therefore, the first implication is to describe the position and its requirements in great detail. The specifications required for the job and the challenge and responsibility associated with the activities make a difference. If these are too high, then a large proportion of applicants voluntarily drop out of the process or do not apply at all because among other reasons, they see a risk of rejection or failure. Thus, if a company searches qualified applicants for higher corporate positions, it has to describe the position precisely to ensure that only those applicants will apply (Barber and Roehling 1993, p. 847; Turban and Cable 2003, p. 736).

With regard to salary, it is more efficient to offer a salary level which is solely competitive, as only a significantly higher salary compared to the competition will have an impact on applicants (Cable and Turban 2003, p. 2260; Osborn 1990, p. 56). This suggests that companies should carefully evaluate if the increased costs would be truly offset by the subsequently higher quality of applicants (Barber and Roehling 1993, p. 853). Furthermore, Cable and Turban (2003, p. 2260) identified that individuals were willing to give up 7% of their salary if factors such as a work environment and a positive company reputation were met. Functional values such as salary are rated as more important in times of poor economic conditions than in times of economic boom (Cober et al. 2003, p. 166). Concerning the payment model offering a constant fixed salary is particularly attractive to risk-averse job seekers while a performance-based model appeals to risk-loving job seekers. Therefore it is key to find the right pay model that fits to the personality of the job applicants (Cable and Judge 1994, p. 341).

Just like salary, advancement opportunities resulting from the job are potential deal breakers, as the job seekers demand minimum requirements to be met here. Therefore the job must offer the employee adequate opportunities (e.g. promotion/responsibility/training) for further development (Chapman et al. 2005, p. 935; Osborn 1990, p. 56).

Organizational & Cultural Attributes

Organizational image, the public standing of a company’s values and norms is formed by influences from experiences with the company either directly from the internal sphere or from the external sphere (Chi, Yeh, and Guo 2018, p. 66). There are various reasons why a good organizational image is appealing to job seekers. A good organizational image reflects the company’s social status and consequently its social position relative to its competitors. Being part of an organization with a good image provides members with increased self-confidence and social status, which is attractive to future employees. It also has an informative function as it leads to assumptions about working conditions in the organization (Cable and Graham 2000, p. 930; Turban and Cable 2003, p. 735). Corporate image is an overarching term which is connected and formed by many other organizational factors. High awareness and a favorable image of the company’s industry play a major role in the image evaluation. In case the industry is perceived as unattractive, actions to strengthen the industry image should be taken into account. To increase the industry reputation, Wal-Mart for example developed an educational program to highlight the positive aspects and necessity of the retail industry (Cable and Graham 2000, p. 943).

Financial performance of a company is a further decisive factor in the consideration of job seekers. If a company gets into financial distress a reduction in the number and quality of applicants is the consequence. This is mainly related to the anticipated risk of job loss, because firms in these conditions often have no option but to terminate its employees (Brown and Matsa 2016, pp. 539–546). Following these insights managers have no other option but to either significantly increase the wage offerings or to offer protective actions such as job loss protection clauses in the work contracts (Brown and Matsa 2016, pp. 508–509).

An organizational attribute, which companies can leverage to set themselves apart from others, is offering a variety of career paths. Flexible career options such as a path that includes more work-life balance or management tracks as well as family-friendly career options increase the attractiveness of an organization. The trend of young job seekers looking primarily for these options confirms that flexible career options are in fact becoming increasingly important (Carless and Wintle 2007, pp. 399–400).

Furthermore, the location of the company appears to be an important criterion. Early studies show that it has been one of the most important criteria. Osborn (1990, p. 51) found that over 50% of the participants had minimum requirements regarding the company location and surrounded infrastructure that have to be met. The experiment of Barber and Roehling (1993, p. 853) concluded that the reason for more than half of the rejections of job offers by candidates can be attributed to inappropriate location. However, the Covid19-pandemic accelerated digitalization and thus the possibility for remote-working, which reduces the importance of a company’s location. The consulting firm McKinsey (2020) predicts that the potential for effective remote working in highly developed economies such as the US and Germany is 30-33% of the time spent on work.

When it comes to the cultural aspect of a company’s corporate social performance (CSP) activities, a poor level of an organization’s overall CSP will result in a negative assessment by candidates (Backhaus, Stone, and Heiner 2002, pp. 309–310). Reasons for that are that applicants expect these companies to have established a lower set of norms and values, and therefore predict the work environment to be unfavorable (Turban and Greening 1997, p. 660). A satisfying level of CSP can be achieved through diversity support measures and organizational justice. Overall, the trend goes towards practicing organizational justice which includes fair measures and treats all populations equally fairly (Cropanzano, Slaughter Jerel E., and Bachiochi 2005, p. 1181; Ng, Eddy S.W., and Burke 2005, p. 1206). In any case it is essential to ensure that there is a certain value for diversity in the organization (Bonaiuto et al. 2013, p. 789).

Information Transmission Channels

Via recruiters

The first channel of interest is the direct interaction with the company by the employment of recruiters. It should be noted, that mostly only highly qualified workers value this direct interaction with the company before applying. Concerning the recruiter itself, the field of profession he or she comes from, does not matter (Carless and Wintle 2007, p. 400). Also irrelevant is whether the recruiter knows the job attributes in detail, rather his or her personality and behavior is of importance (Chapman et al. 2005, p. 938). In the best case the recruiter has internalized the culture and can transfer it to the applicant. This creates increased attraction because the applicant can identify with the company culture which is of high importance for desired high-quality candidates (Celani and Singh 2011, p. 233). If internal recruiters are not available, an external recruiter should be considered, which comes with no disadvantages in attracting candidates (Landay and DeArmond 2018, pp. 189–190), besides high provision costs. Overall, a recruiter is an investment by the company that is usually only worthwhile for hard-to-fill positions for particularly highly qualified employees (Chapman et al. 2005, p. 938).

Via the company-website

With the advent of digital job search, the corporate website has become an extremely relevant recruiting channel. The most important aspects of which are good navigation and a professional structure (Cober et al. 2003, p. 167; Cober et al. 2004, p. 628). Companies should not only strive for digital experience excellence (DEX) towards their customers but also towards their applicants. This is because DEX creates a connection as it contains all digital interaction points between the applicant and the company’s brand including its strategy and systems (Gheidar and ShamiZanjani 2020, p. 135).

Via external review platforms

External review websites offer an external solution as they strive to provide an honest platform where actual employees can share their experiences working at a certain company (Symitsi, Stamolampros, and Daskalakis 2018, pp. 53–55). Such platforms serve as one of the main channels through which applicants gather information, as job seekers look at 7-8 online employer reviews before applying (Inavero 2016). Platforms collecting employee-generated content (EGC), mainly in the form of online reviews, are not a local phenomenon. With the following self-researched table, we want to show that such platforms exist all around the world and in total have accumulated already almost half a billion reviews and even more salary datapoints.

NameRegion(s)Number of reviewsNumber of salary data pointsNumber of reviewed companiesMonthly visitorsNote
Indeed60 countries (esp. USA, UK)400 Mio825 Mio?250 MioMainly a job search engine
Glassdoor20 countries (esp. USA)50 Mio20 Mio1.3 Mio67 Mio
comparablyUSA10 Mio/60,0001.5 Mio
kununuGermany, Austria, Switz.4.7 Mio1.1 Mio1 Mio1 Mio

ambitionboxIndia2.7 Mio9 Mio0.4 Mio3.5 Mio
careerblissUSA0.7 Mio4 Mio?15 Mio (total users)
jobplanetSouth Korea, Indonesia0.4 Mio?51,2473 Mio
ThejobcrowdUK32,00020,0006000.2 MioGraduates and apprentices
fairygodbossUSA19,000 (in 2015)?7,000 (in 2015)3 MioFocus on Women
inhersightUSA?/150,000/Focus on Women
rankmyinternshipCanada2,000/300?Focus on Internships
jobcaseUSA???25 MioJob marketplace platform
seekMainly Australia?/??Job search engine
blindUSA, South Korea??83,000?App to discuss workplaces
saraminSouth Korea???9 Mio
JobstreetSouth East Asia??22,0004 Mio
WorkadvisorUK“thousands”???Job search engine
CompuTrabajoSouth & Middle America??4,857?
JobVineSouth Africa????
Table 1: Platforms collecting employer reviews (as of Fall 2021)

As a conclusion we are able to provide valuable insights on how to design the company channels and attributes which are transmitted to the applicants. Important to mention is, that the provided insights are not a one-fits-all recommendation but should always be designed to suit the respective company profile. Given the vast number of possible attributes and channels, companies can invest in, they should be clear which applicants they try to attract. In doing so, companies should design their attributes accordingly and use the limited resources effectively (Banks et al. 2016, pp. 340–341). Special attention should be paid to digital channels, like external review sites where managers can easily find information about the current mood about the company (Evertz, Kollitz, and Süß 2019, p. 23).

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