Kersti Vannas from Instar Employer Branding: Don’t strive to be the most attractive empoyer in the world

Fifteen years ago, the concept of Employer Branding was a foreign concept to many business executives in Estonia. However, Kersti Vannas and her dedicated team at Instar embarked on a journey to raise awareness and prove the tangible benefits of investing in an employer brand.

Kersti is not just an enthusiast; she is the founder and CEO of the very first Estonian Employer Branding Agency, Instar, since 2007. Furthermore, Instar has been recognizing excellence in employer branding by awarding the Estonian Most Attractive Employer Award since 2010.

In a recent interview, we had the opportunity to delve into Kersti's wealth of knowledge and experience in Employer Branding. She shared invaluable insights on how companies can effectively build and leverage their employer brand, emphasizing the importance of starting from within. 

Kersti Vannas will be leading a seminar on employer branding at sTARTUp Day 2024.

This interview was written by Rene Rumberg, a member of the sTARTUp Day communications and marketing team.

If a company wants to start building an employer brand for the first time, what are the three most important steps that need to be taken?

It depends on the company, of course. Every company should start developing an employer brand within the company. Firstly, it's important to look into the mirror and ask yourself, what are we offering to our current employees? What is the value that we're adding as an employer to them? What is our value proposition, and are our employees happy with it?

The easiest way to measure it is to ask employees if they'd recommend you as an employer. Many companies are familiar with Net Promoter Score (NPS) KPI, where they ask their customers if they're happy with their services. 

The Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) should be the internal KPI for employer branding.

Suppose you have an eNPS score that tells you that your people are unhappy with how things are inside the company. In that case, you should refrain from proceeding with external activities, such as campaigns, where you promote attractive slogans. It's a big no-no. Of course, you can do that, but then you're attracting candidates with false promises, and reality hits quickly once they are onboard. They see that the promises you've given them do not match the reality, and usually, in this case, those people will quickly leave.

So, employer branding needs to start with your existing employees within the company. When everything is OK internally, then you can start thinking about external activities and how to attract new talent. 

When attracting new talent, the core of the idea is to think about what type of people you want to attract. The goal is not to be the most attractive employer in the world. 

When you're the most attractive employer in the world, and you post the job ad and get 1000 candidates while only needing two people, what will you do with the remaining 998 candidates? It takes a lot of time to respond to them, and it takes time to create a great candidate experience. By not providing a great candidate experience, you're making those people your anti-ambassadors, who will go around and tell their friends about their negative experience with your company.

I agree with you on this, 100%. I've applied for three roles with a famous Estonian unicorn company in the past eight years, each time having a horrible candidate experience. After the last try a few years ago, I promised myself that I would never apply to any position within their company again, no matter how attractive that job opportunity might be. If you go and read their Candidate Experience reviews on Glassdoor, you can see that I'm not the only one.

This is precisely why excellent candidate experience is essential. Moreover, candidate experience can also directly impact the company's financial income. 

For instance, there were cases in the UK with Virgin Media, where some candidates were also their customers, paying 50£ per month for subscription services. They discovered that rejected candidates who had a bad candidate experience canceled their subscriptions. That had a substantial economic impact. So, a bad candidate experience has a price tag for every company.

One of the biggest misunderstandings of employer branding is that it doesn't add value, as it doesn't generate revenue. In reality, employer branding and candidate experience help reduce revenue losses and minimize risk.

Speaking of candidate experience, what else should companies keep in mind?

People with different backgrounds can have different expectations for candidate experience. Are you approaching marketers, product people, business people, developers, architects, educators? All these target audiences are very different, and you have to know what they expect, and your value proposition needs to make sense for them.

When communicating with them, you need to know what channels they use, and then you can start creating the employer brand. Involving your employees in this process is one of the key differentiators between the employer and product brand.

You don't necessarily have to include your employees in the product brand, but it's a 'must-have' in the employer brand.

In the product brand (in B2C), you have customers who purchase something from you, they have an experience, and that's it. In B2B, the relationship is longer.

In an employer brand, the potential candidate and current employee are initially two different persons. The current employee has some impact on the future employee. That's why current employees need to be involved. Otherwise, when you promise something to your potential employees that isn't there in reality, your current employees will feel that this is not true, and they will not be as engaged as they could be.

What are the most effective employer branding activities for startups and small businesses with limited resources?

They should think about who they need and what is their people's strategy. You might currently have ten employees, but what is your growth plan? How many employees will you need in one year, two years, or five years? Even big companies don't necessarily have those plans, but it helps to build the perspective and understand how much you're willing to invest into finding those people.

There is also employee turnover that you need to keep in mind. As you're growing, at one point, some people will also start leaving, and you need to calculate how much it costs to replace the employee. Average replacement cost is 6 to 8 months salary, which is quite a lot. In startups, it's maybe a bit lower, but losing your key people (such as CTO, Head of Product, Designer) can easily halt your company's progress.

Secondly, it's crucial to get like-minded people on board. Many employees might ask, 'What is it in for me if I recommend our company? What if I don't want to recommend, because what if the person I am suggesting is better than me and I will lose my job?'. So you have to make employees understand what they will win if the company is a more attractive employer. They win better colleagues and a better atmosphere. If there's zero awareness about the company and nobody knows about you, it's hard to attract top talent. Awareness about your company affects the candidate funnel.

The bigger your candidate funnel, the higher the chance of you finding better colleagues for your employees.

Also, it's essential to teach your employees how to be your employer brand ambassador on social media, so teach them how to be active on social media, on LinkedIn. People like to read people's stories. Personal posts are 16 times more effective than company posts.

How has the role of employer branding evolved over the years, considering the fact that the nature of work has been changing, thanks to remote work and the gig economy? What do you think the future holds for it?

It's becoming more and more critical. The world has changed more in the past three years than it has in the past ten years. COVID had a direct impact on our possibilities to work remotely. Because of remote work, it's also more challenging to keep your experts in one place, as they're now available to work for Google remotely, so they can work in Estonia, Latvia, or Poland while having Google's salary. COVID has made the war for talent global. You cannot be only locally attractive for employees; you have to be globally attractive, as our job market is targeted by international companies and vice-versa.

Secondly, employer branding as a key strategic tool is becoming more important, as research conducted by Universal Global shows that for CEOs, the importance of employer branding has been increasing year over year, and it keeps rising as companies see it as a strategic activity. When, as an employer, you are systematically raising awareness about the company, you will have a wider audience of followers who, at some moment, might be interested in working for you.

NB. Kersti Vannas will be leading a seminar on employer branding at sTARTUp Day 2024. We will also focus on company culture in one of the stage program tracks. 
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