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Conversations: The Rise Of Employment Branding

Talent-Acquisition-GraphReporter: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today - this is a pretty straightforward story - we're trying to describe the growth of Employment Branding as a category of recruitment. Did I say that right? Is recruitment the right word?

Former TA Head: It's fine. A little awkward, but it gets the point across.  

R: A little awkward - yeah, it felt that way - but I saw it on a blog, and thought it was jargon you guys use. 

TA: It's fine.

R: Okay - the premise so far is that Employment Branding is the application of digital marketing to how we hire. It's a natural progression from a marketing agency building a company brand to the HR department creating a brand around working for the company. Does that sound about right?

TA: I see the story thread, but employment branding has always been around. The change in the last decade has really been employment branding is now a line item in the budget. The story would more accurately be described as the story of recruitment marketing, which was originally simply writing job descriptions and posting them in newspapers, and has now emerged into storytelling, advertising, video, and the testing of candidate experience through a digital process. 

R: Okay, so - recruitment marketing was job posting, but employment branding is something else?

TA: It's grown in importance - which is why it's now in the budget separately, and has its own title and sometimes employees, and even consultants who specialize solely in improving a company's image and application process. 

R: Do you think this was a natural progression? An outgrowth of digital tools filtering down to different departments? I mean, it's not like Photoshop is a skillset that you look for in a Director of Human Resources.

TA: That's a good question. There are probably two responses. Digital is certainly in a progression, and as the tools become cheaper, more departments have access to them. Information Technology is the backbone of our systems, but we purchase our own software for the candidate process. 

R: This is the ATS, the Applicant Tracking System. 

TA: Yes, but it's also traffic to the careers website, and big data from interviews, and behavioral assessments, and a number of recruiting tools like LinkedIn and Entelo that are run by my team. It's not IT and it's not marketing. We don't need a software analyst to help us on loan - we have our own. We even call them HR technology and not Information Technology. That might be a distinction without a difference, but again, it goes back to where that person falls in P&L negotiations.

R: The cost in software drops, and it's easy to use, and because of that, you can do marketing - uh - things, that couldn't be done before.

TA: Yes, a little simplified, but yes. We can do more without a large team, the same way that software lets my daughter edit movies on her phone that are technically a higher quality than Disney was putting out in the 60's. And it's an afterthought - not even the purpose of the phone. 

R: The first response is that it's happening because it finally can happen. That's the thrust of the article, but you mentioned a second response.

TA: I don't know how popular this is, but I find it interesting that Employment Branding, and even the term I have in my title, my former title, Talent Acquisition, gained popularity at the same time. In terms of trends, this could be a reaction to talk of moving Recruiting into its own function outside of Human Resources. At one point, they were even talking about moving it under the Marketing umbrella. There was certainly the sense in the boardroom that as marketing budgets grew, the CMO was amassing too much power. It was the corollary to "Software is eating the world." The CMO can't have everything, so perhaps the change in our titles reflected a desire to protect turf.

R: That would be something if it were true. Is it true?

TA: Possibly. But it's also a very corporate way of looking at trends. Are you familiar with social intelligence?

R: Is that like EQ?

TA: No, it's group intelligence. It's basically the sum total of a group's decisions, which tends to be more accurate in describing a current situation. Regular intelligence is good for new ways of thinking, but the group has to follow that thinking for it to take hold. Most "smart" solutions are abandoned by the group because they might sound good, but the group collectively rejects them. Group, or social intelligence is collectively a better tool for determining what works and doesn't, but it's terrible at explaining. The world is a complex place, and no one is smart enough to fully understand it even the simplest of human interactions. Social intelligence posits that the group is smart enough to react, without needing an explanation. When I said corporate, I meant solipsistic, which is a focus on oneself. The idea of Talent Acquisition appearing to counter the growth of the marketing budget sounds appealing. It's very logical. I like it. And because of that, it's probably not true. 

R: That's very interesting. So, mostly - you'd agree it's just availability of the tools that brought Employment Branding to the fore. 

TA: Perhaps. But you just switched topics. Employment Branding is a skillset under TA. To figure that out, we can look at social intelligence to try to figure out where it came from.

R: Didn't you say that social intelligence doesn't explain? That it just reacts?

TA: That's true, but we can take a crack at it. How about this. Company loyalty has been in decline for almost 40 years. The dream of the Boomers of working for one company is long-gone, as is the trust in authority that was a hallmark of American society. It's important to recognize this was a distinctly American trend. The classless structure of the US, or rather the assumption that it's classless, required a different kind of loyalty. That was company loyalty. If you think about it, this was actually a enormous reservoir of goodwill. The average applicant assumed goodwill on the part of the company unless they were specifically told this was not the case. 

R: Employment Branding is a reaction to job-hopping?

TA: Or rather, the rise of job-hopping as acceptable behavior led companies to adopt Employment Branding. Look - the challenge of hiring is a basic marketing problem. If they know your name, they apply. If they don't know your name, they don't apply. Today, knowing a company exists is not enough to make someone apply. They want to know about you. They want more from you. 

R: They want more. 

TA: They want more. And thus, to give them more - Employment Branding was born. What's funny is the public doesn't know it's called Employment Branding, but they do have expectations that the company sell itself prior to them applying. From our side, we can see that if we're liked prior to the application, they're more likely to take the job. This is pretty new. I didn't have to think about this when I started, but I've also worked with well-known companies  for my career. It's interesting to note that small companies, start-ups, and companies expanding into a new region always had to think about employment branding. When Microsoft, American Airlines, and even the US Army have to think about it, you're in a new paradigm.

R: So the story then becomes that Employment Branding was made possible by technology, but is a response to the uncertainty in the job market, even for those who are employed 

TA: That sounds about right. 

R: That, is a very good ending. I'll see if I can work that in. Anything else to come mind I should add? 

TA: Nothing important. Good luck on the article. Send me a link, when it's live. 

(the rest of the transcript was fact-checking, spelling, and other basic reporting techniques)