While you’re busy building your business, expanding quickly and working on your products, HR can often take a backseat at first. For sure you have already created your value proposition and buyer personas. Now it’s all about your startup as an employer, not as a corporate brand.
As you know, a highly motivated and skilled team is the key to success. It’s nearly impossible to overstate the importance of having the right employees working for your startup. Growing a business is for sure a team effort. But how can you create a buzz around your startup, attract motivated talent and keep your existing workforce to stay with your company and stay happy?
There is only one right answer to this question: Employer branding.
What exactly is an employer brand?
Similar to the way a consumer brand works, an employer brand includes the market’s perception of your company. But instead of offering a value proposition to customers and defining products or services for a market, your employer brand is your startup’s reputation as an employer. In simpler terms, it’s what job seekers and employees think of you and what you promise them in exchange for their skills.
Employer branding for startups
The concept of employer branding has been around for decades but only reached widespread attention when the demographic shift led to the labour market shrinking rapidly. With skilled talent getting increasingly harder to find, the “War-for-Talent” began. To top things off, the internet became a thing and with it, job seekers were suddenly exposed to millions of opportunities worldwide. In the blink of an eye, employers were now forced to find more proactive steps to attract, but also retain their talent. Open positions for software developers and other jobs in tech and IT have been especially affected by this.
This mainly comes down to the changing needs of the new generation as it enters the market with higher demands of their employers than the previous generations. Businesses nowadays have to present convincing arguments to win potential candidates over and convince them of their workplace.
Why your startup needs an employer brand
If at this part of the article, you’re still pondering with the thought of just rewriting your job ads and calling it quits, here’s some more information you should consider.
In today’s increasingly competitive job market, a positive employer brand is critical. Without one, recruiting the right kind of employee for your business and retaining them will be challenging. A strong employer brand is a tool for you to show that your business is a great place to work. Everything from working hours, office perks, the culture of your startup to the hierarchies can greatly impact your reputation with potential candidates.
Also keep in mind, your consumer and employer brand highly profit from one another. Every business already has a reputation with the people who see your ads, use your products or have heard others speak about you. A strong consumer brand automatically makes you more attractive to potential candidates. At the same time, a happy workforce spreads a positive image of your startup and will positively impact the reputation of your business as a whole. Don’t underestimate the push and pull effect your two brands have on each other.
An employer brand will not only make the recruiting process easier but also lead to more compatible applications and satisfied employees.
Challenges your startup may face
Finding sufficiently qualified employees is hard as it is, but sourcing talent is an especially big challenge for small organizations like startups. After all, you are competing against big names that profit highly from visibility, their current reputation and word of mouth recruitment. Not to mention the abundance of resources at their fingertips, making it possible for them to offer candidates workplace benefits you simply can’t.
Besides having to work extra hard in order to keep up with established companies, you are also competing within your own ecosystem. The startup scene is growing rapidly and with it, the need for talent. According to the yearly German Startup Monitor, 90% of those surveyed are looking to create more jobs in the next year and are hiring an average of eight new colleagues. In hotspots such as Berlin and Munich, startups are even planning on creating an average of around 15 new jobs annually.
It can safely be said that the “War-For-Talent” has heated up within the startup scene.
This might all seem discouraging, but we have some good news for you: Good Employer Branding is not solely dependent on the budget. Nobody expects the perfect employer brand from the get-go. This process is all about taking the time to truly think about who you currently are as an employer and what you aspire to be in the future. This is what will differentiate your startup from other employers, whether they're an established company or just starting out.
How to build your employer brand
This part is frequently misunderstood as one of many projects, but building and caring for a strong, authentic and effective employer brand goes far beyond a sequence of individual actions. We hate to break it to you, but your employer brand is an asset that requires constant attention. Employer branding is a long-term dynamic process, involving your startup as a whole.
This is why at this point, we recommend you examine everything. And with everything, we mean look at what you're currently saying to candidates and employees that could impact your reputation. Understanding why someone would choose to work at your startup is crucial to attract and retain talent. Look at your job descriptions, social media profiles and internal communications. If it exists - analyse it. And lastly, don’t forget to examine where you want to be in the future.
Defining your brand core
Employer Branding comes from within – it’s created as much by the CEO as it is by the interns. Define your brand core and work towards your positioning as an employer in these three steps, asking yourself as well as your current team a few simple questions.
What kind of employer would you like to be? How can you attract talents?
First, take a look into your business and get some feedback by your current team. This is the time to understand how they really think and feel about your startup. Don’t be afraid to ask risky questions to receive meaningful answers.
How do your employees see the business? What do they find special about working for you? How would they describe the company, culture and work environment to a friend? Why did they choose to apply? Why did they choose to accept/reject their offer? Why do they stay with the company year after year? Why would they leave the company?
Preferences & image
The next step is to take a look outside and examine the outside perception of your company. Talk to candidates about your reputation and find out what job seekers are really looking for in an employer these days. You can also refer to trusted people outside of your company to find out how they perceive your employer brand.
How are we perceived as employers in the market? What do applicants say about us? What expectations do employees have of employers? How do these expectations differ when talking about startups?
Once you’ve completed this employer brand audit, you’ll be able to identify gaps existing between how your startup wants to present itself versus how it's perceived by candidates and employees. This is where your vision comes into play.
What kind of an employer do you want to be? Where do you want to go with your startup?
Writing your employer value proposition
Congratulations. After collecting all of this information, you now know what makes you unique as an employer and should be ready to get to work on your employer value proposition (EVP). The EVP is the promise a business gives employees and the talent it wants to recruit. It answers the very important question of why someone should work for your company instead of another. Think of your EVP as the guiding light of your employer branding effort. Unfortunately there isn’t a one size fits all. But here are some characteristics that no strong EVP should be missing and that should get you inspired to start writing:
Inspirational - Inspire people to realize their ambitions
Strategically aligned - Communicate the values, vision and mission of your corporate brand
Unique - Describe what makes your startup special to work for
Potential candidate focus - Address the candidate’s expectations and needs
As this can all seem a little abstract, we’ve compiled some of the best cases of companies currently leading in employee engagement.
"There’s no one kind of Googler, so we’re always looking for people who can bring new perspectives and life experiences to our teams. If you’re looking for a place that values your curiosity, passion, and desire to learn, if you’re seeking colleagues who are big thinkers eager to take on fresh challenges as a team, then you’re a future Googler."
"We're dedicated to building an inclusive culture where employees can do their best work. Feedback, research, and our own employees show that the number one way to do that is by being flexible. Giving HubSpotters the freedom and flexibility to create their own work/life balance builds trust in our company, but it’s also just the right thing to do. That’s why flexibility is at the core of our benefits and culture, from family planning to financial planning."
Bringing your employer brand to life
At this point you're ready to spread the message. From a recruiting point of view, employer branding is mainly a communicative challenge. Before actually communicating outwards, you have to decide on what you really want to say. Create a set of conveying key messages that echo throughout your channels and benefit your employer brand. Which unique elements of your EVP do you want to share? Once you're sure on this, the time has come to spread the word about your startup.
Choosing the right channels
When wanting to raise awareness and spark the candidates’ interest, the question arises which channel to use. The answer is simple, yet complex: The ones your target group uses. When getting started, we recommend starting with the lowest hanging fruit and work your way up from there.
The SpinLab people page represents the values and people behind the team
Career Page - the anchor of your employer branding materials. Even though your resources may not allow you to go full out, there are some budget friendly ways of portraying an authentic image of your startup and wowing candidates. A nicely designed team section including some employee testimonials that benefit your employer brand, is a good start. Furthermore you could add some pictures of your office space or other benefits that could be to your advantage. No matter the budget, invest some time into bringing this touchpoint to life, as it’s your virtual business card for future employees. Don’t forget to check out the Startup Mitteldeutschland Job Board that can help you with your career page.
Social Media - a powerful yet inexpensive marketing tool, ideal for giving a first impression of everyday work. But remember to walk before you run and not get ahead of yourself. You don’t need time-consuming content formats right at the start. Ask yourself where you would most likely find the candidates you are looking for and start with the two channels most popular within your target group. These could vary from social networks like Instagram, employee platforms like Kununu to professional networks like LinkedIn. On LinkedIn for example, small things like inserting a header picture representative of your business or a strong description can have a big impact.
Employees who like their work and the corporate culture are often willing to act as multipliers and communicate vacancies in their private or professional networks. In this way, your organic reach increases in no time. There’s no better advertisement for your business than happy employees.
Job ads - Job ads may not seem like the place to let loose creatively or bring your EVP to life, but they’re often the first thing a candidate will see about your startup. Treat your ads as the first official glimpse into your business and make sure they reflect your desired employer brand both visually and content wise.
When you’re trying to build a sustainable image and a good relationship with potential employees, don’t underestimate the power of a good old face-to-face meeting. Ask yourself where your target group might be most approachable and where you would personally want to come into contact with a future employer.
Job fairs are a good idea to connect with your potential candidates
Industry events or job fairs are often a great way to connect with candidates who are searching for a job within your specific field and who already possess the fitting skillset. Recruiting while networking saves you time while being budget-friendly. Watch out that you don’t rely on HR alone to promote your brand and consider sending people who will actually be working with the new employees on a day-to-day basis. Make sure to let your most positive and enthusiastic employees represent your startup, as authenticity ensures the best result.
Some last words of wisdom
Having an employer value proposition is all good and well, but be careful to deliver on the promises you make. When the employee’s actual experience doesn’t meet the expectations they had based on your startup's EVP, the rest of the world will most likely learn about it sooner than later. So start creating the employee experience you promised to each and every one of your (potential) employees and worry about the rest later. Your current employees are your most valuable brand ambassadors and what they think about their workplace can make or break your business.
Also, flexibility is key, because as the startup evolves, so will your needs for talent and the needs of your target group. Stay true to your vision, but don’t be afraid to adjust your EVP if it just doesn’t fit anymore. Hire a diverse range of people with broad skill sets, with whom you can grow, and you’ll be fine. Employer branding isn’t easy and there is no sense in rushing through the process because as we mentioned earlier: No one is expecting the perfect employer from the get-go.
If you like to level up your employer branding, check out and post a job on the Startup Mitteldeutschland Job Board that is also supported by SpinLab. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you need help with employer branding or recruiting in general. And last but not least, here’s our 4 EASY STEPS video on How To Create Your Employer Brand.