January 24, 2024

Remember Employer Brand? It’s Dead.


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Everyone's Just Here To Get Paid


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The tech layoffs aren’t over. Marketing budgets haven’t recovered. DEI programs are slashed. 

Might explain why we don’t hear anyone talk about employer brand anymore. It’s probably for the better: workers are skeptical. A lot of people got burned in the last 18 months and no one believes the old corporate jargon when they’re looking for their next role.

Hiring isn’t dead, but the talent attraction playbook needs a reboot. Jeff Smith and James Hornick discuss what resonates with job seekers and what falls flat in episode 81 of The 10 Minute Talent Rant, “Remember Employer Brand? It’s Dead.”

Episode Transcript

The 10 Minute Talent Rant is live. I’m James Hornick joined by Jeff Smith, and we are on the clock. The 10 Minute Talent Rant is our ongoing series, we break down things that are broken in the talent acquisition and hiring space. Maybe even pitch a solution or two. Before we dig, in all of our content can be found on talentinsights.hirewell.com.

This week’s topic, episode 81: Remember employer brand? It’s dead. Flamethrower. I love punching down, anyways. Jeff, when’s the last time you actually heard anyone talk about employer brand? Uh, Like in a genuine sense? It’s been a minute. Yeah. And the thing is, I know a lot about the space.

Like back in the day I used to do a podcast. Yeah. Me and Nate Guggia, good buddy out there. Still great friend. We did like 27 podcasts, mostly breaking down like why the traditional methods of top of the funnel attraction are wrong. And we had better ideas and more data-driven insights and what seems to actually works. Feels like a lifetime ago.

All those episodes are still on Talent Insights site. We stopped recording it because we pretty much said everything there was to be said, but everything I know about the employer brand space comes from actually doing. Hirewell doubled in size between 2020 and now, over half our hires first heard of us through our social media efforts.

But sadly, I still maintain employer brand as a corporate competency and a corporate messaging function is dead. It’s over. Yep. So context, it doesn’t mean no one’s hiring. Obviously. Thank God. And it doesn’t mean that talent attraction is dead or unimportant. Yeah. The point is that the market is what it is and it will always be what it is at that particular moment in time.

I think the key thing is, and then what we’ve realized in the last year or so is people just don’t buy the corporate bullshit anymore. That’s the underlying issue. They spot it so much more easily now. The bloom really came off the rose in the last two years. So stepping outside of kind of corporate messaging and hiring and whatnot, layoffs currently in 2024.

So layoffs at FYI, 63 tech companies have done layoffs. Over a 10, 963 people laid off so far in the first three weeks of this year. And these are the companies, no offense to the companies by the way, that virtue signal everything. We’re not getting political here. We’re just, this is a fact. It’s those companies.

Yeah. DEI programs, CMBC article came out have been slashed Google and Meta. You talk about virtue signaling, slashed their program significantly. Budgets for external DEI groups down by as much as 90% in 2023. So all these companies that used, and we can kind of talk more about this. Kind of want to kind of specify when we say these things are getting slashed.

It’s culture programs ultimately is what these things come down to. Absolutely. So in immense amount of clarity here, we want to be very clear. We are not saying DEI should be cut or that it is nonsense. It is in fact, the exact opposite. So being clear. We have experience with this in an attempt to monetize. Full disclosure, like five years ago we built out a service

that would ensure diverse and equitable hiring would be done from a top of funnel perspective, right? We partnered with our sister company, who is a DEI and culture consultancy. They do great work. Their name is Holistic. Every client that we talked to about this model loved that we had the service- glowing feedback- wanted to have the conversation. Absolutely

no one bought it. None. Exactly. It was very apparent very quickly. It was a check the box to say we could do it. To say they could go to their leadership and say, look at this organization, what they can do in the DEI space, but stop short of actually paying for it. And it’s the same with all- it was the Rooney rule of corporate America.

Yeah. It was the same with all these big tech companies putting money into it and then pulling it back as soon as things got a little bit tough. It was virtue signaling at its finest. Everyone knows it. I want to bring everything back to, kind of employer brand when going on a DEI tangent, but less hiring is happening right now.

Less spending is happening right now. Employer brand is like a, it completely disappeared from, I mean, that used to be a discussion people had all the time and it’s just gone. It’s just not even something it’s like people are thinking about. I mean, we struggle- you and I sat in a room together with our other partners and tried to figure out what our values are.

And we think that we came up with something good, but does it matter? That’s the question. So what does it all mean? We could talk about this for hours, but since we have 5 minutes now, we’re going to distill it down to 2 main buckets. The 1st being, like I said, job seekers, just they’re not falling for it anymore.

Anyone who was burned in 2020, or I should say anyone who wasn’t burned in 2020 probably got hit in 2023. The point being is nobody got through both cycles untouched. So all this rah, rah, you know, culture forward, company initiatives were by in large, not, not entirely, but exposed as being a bit out of touch and still focused on like the money making aspects of a company.

Yeah, and there’s nothing wrong with money making organizations. It’s literally why we’re all here. It’s also not what we’re saying, but no one believes you’re a SaaS company that creates sales software and sells to other SaaS companies, make other sales software exist for some sort of altruistic reason or some sort of higher purpose.

Just stop. No one believes that for a second. They’re there for a job, not for- if employees did care about that, I mean, they don’t first off, but it sounds silly. And if people who really care about altruism, they would go work for a company that’s’ curing cancer or saving the environment or saving the planet or something like that.

They’re just there to get paid. Yes, and that’s okay. Yeah, it’s fine. Look, at scale if you’re a job seeker and you’re looking for an altruistic reason to go to work, right? Flipping it on its head a little bit, you’re threading the needle. You’re diminitheh, the amount of top of funnel opportunity

and you’re lowering the amount of options that there are to make a decent living. Also nothing wrong with that. In fact, I would love to be able to do, say that I do something that I’m so passionate about doing every single day. The fact is we need more of that, but the market doesn’t sustain it.

So office jockeys, it’s something that we just all have to tolerate at the end of the day. What we don’t need is to scale again, the cheerleading, the pom poms, the rah rah. What job seekers need and employees need is good pay, good benefits, product or service that by in large, the market wants to buy.

All of these things matter. There’s a reason that plumbers aren’t having existential crises. It’s because pipes break. They will continue to break forever. Right. People just want to not work for a jerk. Like it’s really a sensible. Yes. So Sarah Beckett made, I hope I’m pronouncing that right, made an interesting point in some of the comments for the last show

and I think it matters in this context. And she said, I hear people, leaders bisect this by functional and regrettable turnover. We were talking about turnovers. I think having a word to describe the two outcomes helps minimize feelings of friction or discomfort for certain departures. What she meant by that was, you have a high turnover part of your organization, and that’s what you put front and center for the job seeking community to look for.

All of the low turnover aspects of your job are completely missed. So just thinking about amplifying the rare opportunities versus like the churn and burn, can be a really powerful attraction lever for people who are just kind of looking for that big pay, stability, “reason” to go to work.

Which brings us to point number two, the other kind of key to this. People choose managers and teams over organizations. It’s like I just said a second ago, kind of buried the lead here, like just no one wants to work for a jerk. We’ve mentioned this before, it bears repeating, brand can get very granular. With the rise of remote work, does it really matter what your office amenities are anymore? Or does it matter how direct the CRO is?

No, because everyone’s just sitting at home doing a job that they kind of like, and they get paid for. As long as your weekly one on one, your interactions with leadership, the people you work with, as long as those relationships are positive and not a train wreck, can’t that be enough?

That’s what most people actually just want. I very much enjoy our one on ones, by the way, James. Thank you. Employer brand, it does exist but it’s far more granular and nuanced than most talent strategists realize. No one cares about all the garbage, like things that come up that your content team’s kind of putting out there.

It’s all about the vibes they have with the people they work with on a daily basis. That’s 90 percent of it. Yeah. Anyway. CEOs, leaders, they say constantly in interviews or otherwise, we’re great and everyone loves it here. Hooray! Yes. Goes in one ear and out the other. Just go on. Why? Because literally everyone says it. Everyone.

And I want to hear stories. If you ask the question about that and an interviewer says something like, oh, this company sucks. And then it’s a dumpster fire. Everyone blows. We want to hear it because that’d be hilarious. Now, if your individual contributors say it to a job seeker and it’s not overly produced and doesn’t feel manufactured, like that’s the goods. That’s the good.

That’s ultimately how we did it. Because it’s genuine. If it’s not- the thing is, if it’s overly produced, even if you’re featuring your individual contributors, it sounds like a cult. If you saw the viral video that went out the other week of the internet brands, the web MD, like CEO, cringy. He’s got the employees, like bringing them back to the office and they’re dancing around to the Giacomo song at the end for the mandatory office return.

It was the most absurd thing anyone saw because we know they had a gun to their heads and making them do it. Like, it’s just. I mean, literally a few of those individuals, you could see the cringe. It was, it defined cringe, right. Look, just because you chant it and believe it, it doesn’t make it real.

Dissent is good. Differing opinions are good. And if you stifle that, it is the opposite of a healthy culture. To your point, it’s a cult. So what are our takeaways? Takeaway one, employer brand is a corporate messaging function. It was a bull market phenomenon. It was yet another thing that people spent money on when you had tons of money to spend.

But all you need to do then and now is just be real with people. Let your team be real with people. That’s what sticks. Number two, please focus on money. Focus on benefits. Focus on balance. Focus on a product or service that works. Talk about those things in your interview process and build a business that doesn’t overextend on all of these useless thrill.

You’ll be better for it. I promise. We are short on clock. That is a wrap for this week. Thanks again everyone for tuning into the 10 Minute Talent Rant, part of the Talent Insights series, which is always available for replay on talentinsights.hirewell. com as well as YouTube, Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify, and Amazon.

Jeff, thanks again as always. Everyone out there, we’ll see you soon.

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