The importance of employer branding during a crisis

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As if marketing an accounting firm wasn’t challenging enough, throw in COVID-19 along with political, social and economic upheaval, and you’ve got a challenge for the ages. The word “unprecedented” fails to capture the gravity and difficulty of the times.

The Hinge Research Institute has just released the Employer Branding Study, which provides rare and unexpected insights into: (1) the top considerations in employment decisions; (2) how those considerations change as job seekers transition from one career stage to the next; and (3) how responses to disruption impact employer brands. There is no question that the confluence of COVID-19 and other disruptors have, to varying degrees, shaped the views of the survey’s 1,034 respondents. For this very reason, the study offers firms a vital tool for attracting, hiring, and retaining high-quality employees that will enable them to succeed in the new normal and prepare for what’s next.

What is employer branding?

Simply put, your employer brand reflects your reputation as a workplace. What’s it like to work at your firm? Is the atmosphere collegial or frosty? Are teams united around goals or is there an us-vs-them mentality? Does the culture emphasize individual autonomy or obedience to authority?

Unlike your corporate brand, which is how your clients see you, your employer brand is how your employees see you, and is an important component of your corporate brand. There are key elements to a strong employer brand. A “defined and clearly articulated culture” was cited by 73 percent of respondents as the most important element. 57 percent cited “the ability to attract qualified candidates” as the second most important element.

These elements present opportunities to improve your employer brand. By developing and nurturing a well-defined culture, one that resonates with the preferences of top-caliber job hunters, your employer brand receives a boost and, in turn, enhances your corporate brand. Phrased differently, without the right people, your firm cannot deliver on its brand promise.

This is why is it so important to build an employer brand that appeals to the caliber of individuals you want on your team. In fact, the study shows that company culture is a priority to both job seekers and talent recruiters. Company culture and pay tie for the top spot among 57 percent of job seekers in the survey. Meanwhile, 75 percent of recruiters view cultural fit as more important than work history and experience.

If your firm is looking to hire as the economy opens up and businesses are beginning to adjust to a new reality, it’s important to understand that accounting professionals — like all professional services providers — have different employment priorities based on what stage they’re at in their careers:

Entry level: Typically, recent college grads or newly minted professionals view geographic location and career advancement opportunities as paramount.

Mid career: Professionals with several years of experience prioritize growing their portfolio of responsibilities. They prize cultural values such as respect and honesty and are in the only career stage where company culture and salary are valued equally.

Senior level: This career stage values the people and team they’d be working with as a top five deciding factor, with the top two factors being salary and culture.

Clearly, company culture is a strong factor influencing the decisions of candidates at every career level.

Motivating the unmotivated candidate

In uncertain times like these, it can be difficult to attract new talent to your team. People are more conservative and reluctant to make a move when faced with a threat over which they have little control.

However, they may view the pandemic as an opportunity to advance their career, or circumstances can force them to consider making a move. In any case, when passive seekers are considering a new job, their top priority is company culture and values. They want to be able to control their destiny better and are inclined to take jobs where their opinions will be valued and where they’ll find a variety of interesting and challenging tasks. While salary may still be the number one deciding factor, they still highly prize the attitudes and values of the people they’ll be working directly with — a more tactical and personal interpretation of company culture. Once again, employer brand and the culture it reflects play a key role in attracting and landing top prospects.

The ability to retain employees is just as important as attracting them. Our survey during the pandemic this year has revealed that a firm’s reaction to a crisis plays a critical role in retaining employees. A lack of a formalized crisis response plan and slow reaction to the unfolding crisis, along with poor employer communications and reduced revenue streams, are all contributing factors to employee dissatisfaction and retention issues.

Fortunately, accounting firms were one of the professional services categories that scored the highest average rating for their COVID-19 response. Still, the pandemic provides a cautionary tale to firms that a solid, proactive crisis response plan is a key factor in employee satisfaction and retention.

Key employer branding study takeaways

If your accounting firm needs to hire new talent or is struggling to retain its current top employees, here are three tips to help boost your employer brand:

Cultivate your culture: Finding a good cultural fit is as important as an attractive salary for most prospects. Shared values, team member respect, honesty and strong team dynamics are all positive influencers in finding and retaining top talent. Find ways to set your firm apart from firms that compete with you for the same talent and then clearly articulate that difference in your external communications.

Customize your messages: Job seekers in different stages of their careers require different messages. That may sound obvious, but to get your messages right you

have to understand those audiences. Consider developing customized marketing collateral or pages on your website devoted to each of these segments.

Don’t overlook passive job seekers: Professionals who would be interested in a new job but aren’t actively looking for one represent a huge, often untapped, reservoir of talent. You can lure them by highlighting what about your culture will appeal to them, the teams they’ll be working with, and the varied responsibilities that will stretch and keep them engaged at work.

It’s important to remember that the pandemic, like every other condition that affects daily life, will pass. Whether your firm is positioned to brave the storm and come out the other side will have a profound effect on your ability to find, hire and retain top professional talent. Understanding and reinforcing or improving your employer brand and company culture will increase the likelihood of your success in any environment.

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Branding Marketing Coronavirus Career advancement Professional development Recruiting