Employer Branding

5 Ways to Fail at Employer Branding and How to Get it Right

There is a common saying in agency recruitment, albeit not a very complimentary one. Not one that any agency would openly subscribe to, but it is always there:

“Throw enough sh*t at the wall and some will stick.”

The idea of this will sound familiar to many of my in-house Talent Acquisition (TA) and HR colleagues. It refers to the type of high street agency which takes on as many jobs as possible and sends over as many CVs as possible. Some of these can’t even be called candidates, as they would never be considered for the role!

Well, no surprises as some of it always sticks and a big percentage of salary fees follow.

But don’t be too quick to point the finger…it gets worse for in-house recruitment functions who are trying to attract applicants that are skilled and qualified and ready for hire,

You see, if you want to attract the right people and help them become hire-ready, you can’t rely on the same old sh*t when it comes to employer branding and talent attraction content.

1. Job adverts

Job adverts are an essential part of recruiting and, in many regions around the world, they are a legal requirement. When it comes to job adverts, we have become too reliant.  TA teams have become lazy. 

A job advert is meant to sell the characteristics of the role and employer in order to attract the right people. A job advert was never meant to be a job description.

Added to the reliance on poor adverts, our recruiters tick the box with mundane social updates like:

“We have an exciting opportunity for a person to join our team”.


2. Bland company news

I get it; many companies big and small have not found their true voice as they are too busy serving their clients.

Without a voice and content to share, many are stuck with sharing bland company news. This could be a contract award, annual statement, or announcing a merger/acquisition.

Again, I get it; these are big events in a company’s life. They matter, but does anyone outside the company, including potential candidates, really care?

3. Boring CSR

I have always been involved in CSR efforts in businesses and also PSR (personal ….). I believe in helping others. I don’t shout about it because I do it because I want to, not to gain attention.

Having said that, showing the social responsibility efforts of an organisation can help show the caring nature of your workforce.

But, is a bake sale really enough to be featured all over your company’s social media? Is that the best way to distribute your message?

4. Look at us!

Big companies can be particularly bad at this; they come across with so much bravado and confidence that they look arrogant. It actually makes me cringe when I see text overlay images in the employer branding content with statements like:


So what? Why does being company XYZ make you any more attractive as an employer?

In fact, it shows some corporate personality traits that I would not be too keen on. Does it represent a company that will welcome new ideas and learns from others? Or does this statement make you feel you will be forced to do things their way because `That’s the way we do it AND WE ARE XYZ`!

There is nothing wrong with confidence, but be careful not to turn it into arrogance!

5. Look at our amazing leader doing…

Many employees have respect for their leader. Many leaders are the embodiment of their organization. They lead with unquestionable values, speak with passion, listen with a caring ear and act with empathy (until it all goes pear-shaped!).

These messages can sound like a great idea to an internal person, but does someone with little prior with the company really care? Do they give a sh*t? 

So, why is the highlight of our social media feed for a week the fact that our CEO shook hands with someone we don’t know or care about?

Here’s how to get your employer branding right.


In today’s world, we have been misled, miss-sold, and lied to so many times, and when it happens it hit the news big time. It is no wonder some have a tendency to doubt many marketing messages. I get it all the time. The statement “Ah, so you are an agency” haunts me every day.  It’s wrong, but why should anyone immediately trust me?

As employers, we need to find ways to convert our employer branding statements into genuine messages that show an unmistakable truth.

Telling the stories of people within your organization; their day-to-day; their successes, even their failures, and learnings. Stories that include the people within your company who will portray an unquestionable sense of what it is like to work and live within the business.

Of course, these stories need to be believable. Pre-scripted videos of nervous and awkward staff telling your audience how fantastic the business is won’t cut it. 

Here are some things you might include:

Employee stories

An unedited or not noticeably perfect video, of your people doing their day-to-day activities, is an example of an employee story. Catch personal interactions between staff; show what your office looks like and include the outtakes for a laugh. Show real people.

Stories about the challenges your employees face. Don’t be afraid, to be honest about the challenges your employees face. 

If you work in a very target-driven environment and the pressure is always on, show this and allow the people that would not succeed in this atmosphere to de-select themselves. Moreover, attract the ultra-drive and success-oriented people you need and that will thrive. Show what thriving will mean to their life.


All too often, we are more worried about pushing the wrong people away from our companies than focused on attracting the right people. In doing so, content becomes bland while we try to attract everyone. This is the marketer’s version of throwing sh*t at the wall.

I have seen polarity used very effectively in the past. Having had the privilege to work with Bob Keiller, now Chairman of Scottish Enterprise and a respected business adviser, I have seen that adding polarity works.

In his previous role, he never stopped talking about care values, and, in particular, safety. We received weekly emails, blogs, one-off emails, regular communications, and many talks from him. They all focused on core values and safety in particular.

It just happens that Bob is also one of the greatest corporate storytellers I know.

In showing that one of the most important things to the organization is safety, he created a safety-crazed following; a safety movement within the company if you will. A safety culture. By doing this, new employees knew what was expected of them, and, if they didn’t agree, they knew not to bother applying.

New employees knew that the quickest way to fit in with the culture and the fastest way to become successful in the company was to embrace safety. To join the culture.

This is marketing and employer branding at its finest. More importantly, this is a person and company who truly understood their purpose and voice. Respect.


Another of the most important parts of employer branding is telling the truth. Almost every CEO and every company will say one of the most important things, if not the most important thing, is their people.

This is a great statement, but it needs to be the truth. Here are a few sense checks to see if it is true:

  • How does your training and development budget compare to your recruitment spend throughout a financial year? Do you spend more on always attracting new people to fill the gap?
  • What would you do when it all goes wrong? Take the oil industry or steel industry as an example. When the inevitable downturn comes, will you clam up as a company and halt communications for fear of backlash, or will you stay true to your statement?
  • Do you justify promoting people to manager and leadership positions through their operational success, or do you spend time developing them into true people leaders first?

There are many more questions I could ask, but I fear I am droning on at this point!

Your employees’ brand

I know I was a bit harsh earlier in the article about some CSR messages. Employees put effort into baking cakes, organizing events, and sacrifice their personal time to help others. So why not let your employees tell the stories? 

Information is everywhere, easily found, and easily shared. The most engaging type of content is personal stories from real people, so empower your employees to share their stories and you will have found a new channel for promoting your employer brand. Moreover, you will have found the channel with the most integrity.

Some are scared about empowering their employees to share content. What will they say? What if they say XYZ? Will it be picked up by the media? 

Instead of worrying about these questions, ask yourself: Are these worries justified? If they are, how do I drive change in my organization so that my employees have positive stories to share?

In fact, by hiding these stories and only using your ultra-positive corporate messaging, you might be misleading your audience. How would you feel if you had been misled when joining a business?

So, there it is. Will you decide to pay lip service to your employer branding and recruitment marketing messages?  Or will you take the time to find your voice as a leader and company?  Whatever you do, make sure you tell the truth and it can stand the test of troubling times. You only have one chance to be trusted.

By Iain Hamilton

Iain is the founder of People Traction. Based in Aberdeen Iain works throughout the UK. People Traction provide recruitment strategy consultancy, in-house recruitment teams and recruitment project delivery. Connect with Iain on LinkedIn.