Back to Middle Matters

Why Employer Branding is a Must-Have, Not a Nice-to-Have

August 30, 2023

George (Global Employer Branding Manager at Beam Mobility) explores creative approaches and empathy to set up employer branding

From accident to passion: The intersection of recruitment, design, and marketing

Kitty: Thank you so much for joining today, George. To kick off, let's find out a bit more about you and a bit more about your career journey. How did you end up looking after employer branding and acquiring those skills and capabilities?

George: I came from a design background, studied introductory design, and my first job was as an introductory designer for about two years. Right after that, that's when I moved into multiple roles. Before I ended up in recruitment, I was in marketing and property as well. When I got into recruitment, it was sort of an accident.

One of my mutual friends recommended me to work at Sourceride. It was the RPO (Recruitment Process Outsourcing) business. I joined them for almost six years, but initially, I thought, "Alright, let's just try it for the sake of trying it because I haven't been in recruitment." I got into recruitment and the first month was really interesting. The job was very interesting and the team was very diverse as well. That attracted me to stay longer and that's how I technically got into recruitment.

How did I end up in employer branding? When I was in recruitment, I worked as a recruiter for the first two years. However, because I also had experience in marketing, I was also supporting the regional team. The regional marketing team recommended marketing initiatives for ransom sources.

In the third year, that's when I thought that marketing was more interesting. Recruitment and marketing were more interesting because that's something that I like. Recruitment can be very transactional on a daily basis.

At that point in time, I didn't want to leave recruitment because I liked recruitment, I liked design, and I liked marketing as well. But, how do I bring all these skills together without having to leave the job?

I had a conversation with my previous boss at a point in time, and he took note of that actually. After two years, he told me, "Hey George, we have an employee branding role. You'll be reporting to the marketing person. Is this something that you like?" When I looked at the job description, "Alright, so this is what I was looking for, something within recruitment, but at the same time, I'll be able to utilize my skills within design and also marketing."

That's when I got to know such a role exists, which is recruitment, marketing, and employer branding. I see employee branding as my comfort zone and something that I'm very passionate about. I wouldn't mind doing it for free for people because I believe that's my calling within employee branding.

'Always in Better', a magnet for innovators at Beam

Kitty: That's great to hear, and it seems especially rare to have that job title in our region in Southeast Asia. It's often an add-on or something that Talent Acquisition or People Ops take up as an additional role scope. But it sounds so fun to be able to do that, and it's totally your accountability in the organization.

Turning to Beam, could you tell me a bit more about Beam's employer brand and what is the number one factor or factors that attract talent to work there?

George: What mainly makes Beam's employee brand unique is our vision. We are very focused on sustainability, our vision, and our mission. We strive to create a green transportation method that has a positive impact on the environment.

One thing that attracts people to join Beam is the fast pace we are in right now. We are a startup, and a fast-paced environment is expected. However, we have noticed that this pace attracts talented individuals who thrive on making a quick impact. This is a plus point for Beam as we are able to attract talented individuals who like to create a fast impact on the company.

Another factor is the stage we are in. We have just completed our series B funding and are moving towards series C funding. Our value of "Always in Better" is something we always talk about because of the stage we are currently in.

We constantly experiment and never settle for one solution for a long time. We always look for ways to improve and find new ideas, especially in the competitive market. This is another aspect that attracts talented individuals who enjoy creating and experimenting.

At Beam, every day is like an experiment, and many talented individuals enjoy working with ambiguity. They are creators and idea generators. These are the two main factors why great talents are attracted to Beam.

The Importance of buy-in and top-down support in employer branding

Kitty: I like the term "fast impact" because there are a lot of startups. Everyone knows startups are very fast-paced. Beam is quite strong in terms of that impact because I think you guys have articulated it quite well, not just in your employer brand, but also in your market brand positioning.

Speaking of "always in beta," I guess that involves a lot of collaboration cross-functionally. When you're working on employer brand initiatives, what are some ways you're collaborating with other functions, whether it's marketing or operations?

George: Because employer branding is pretty new in the market and for most companies, a lot of people don't really understand what we do.

Technically, employee branding is like a bridge between HR and marketing. We handle 50% of HR roles and 50% of marketing. We sit under the HR team primarily because our target audience is our current and future employees, as well as people in the market in general.

In my experience, the best way to create a strong employee brand within the company is to get buy-in from top management and the employees themselves. This applies to everything we do within the business as well. I've learned that employee branding is not just about creating strategies and putting words in people's mouths.

It's important to be authentic and not create a false persona for the company, as it sets the wrong expectations. What I usually do, and what I recommend to leaders, is to get buy-in from the employees and top management.

When creating the employee value proposition (EVP), we ask our own employees why they joined us, why they stay with us, and what qualities they like at Beam, as well as areas for improvement. These questions help us create the EVP for the company. Once we have established what people like, we promote it externally, involving our employees in curating the value proposition. After all, it's called the employee value proposition for a reason - we want our employees to be the voice of our own value.

To execute this, we also need buy-in from top management, as we don't want to work independently without their support. In my past experience, aligning with top management from the start saves a lot of time and ensures their involvement as they are the main voice for the company's values. Strengthening employee branding involves getting buy-in from top management and empowering employees to be the voice of the company.

Kitty: I guess there's nothing like hearing directly from employees to keep you honest, right? Authenticity is key.

George: Yeah, true.

Spotlighting Beam Heroes: a weekly celebration of values as part of internal communication strategies

Kitty: Do you have any examples of how you're expressing those values at certain moments in the employee journey?

George: We did a lot of things, in fact, because when it comes to value and stuff like that, I guess it's important to constantly promote it with the employees so that they know what our value is.

What we did, really had a significant impact because we have a global all-hands call every week. Every week we have people who we call “Beam heroes”, primarily people who actually demonstrate the values or the five values that we have. When we did that, it created a strong sense of those values in everyone's mind, and whenever they want to acknowledge or show their gratitude to someone, they go back to the value.

Which value does this person's action align with? When we do that, it really instilled those values in everyone's mind. Most of our employees right now, because of that all-hands Beam heroes, everyone remembers our values.

We have five values and we use the initial letter to remember them. For example, we call B for always in beta. Of course, there are many other things as well, such as a newsletter where we promote people within the company. When it comes to employee brand and how we continuously promote the EVP, it's important.

Pretty much, in a nutshell, we will focus on internal communications. We have done many things and we will continue to do many things as well. All hands.

Beam Heroes was a great example. Another example is our newsletter, where we aim to promote promotions, birthdays, and other updates within the business, fostering engagement.

Currently, we are creating what we call a "social butterfly" group. This group consists of engaging employees who will act as communicators within their teams. We identify one or two individuals from each department to effectively communicate all our initiatives and messages within the team.

We noticed that when we send out emails or when leaders communicate, the message doesn't always cascade down effectively because it sounds generic and detached from the team. To address this, we want to ensure that communication is more impactful. We have observed that within teams, people tend to talk and listen to each other, especially within their own departments. That's why we are identifying and engaging employees from every department to join this group.

Whenever we have communication initiatives related to the employee brand, these individuals will be responsible for cascading the message within their teams, in addition to any email communications or announcements we make.

Kitty: They're almost like employer brand champions.

George: Correct. Some of them also call it employer brand ambassadors.

Empathy in action, support during difficult times, and steps beyond retrenchment

Kitty: The final question, do you have any specific stories or moments that you'd like to share about upholding the EVP and how it's impacting employees?

George: The first example was recently when we had to do another round of retrenchment exercises, unfortunately. That was the time when we thought, "Alright, so what do we do? We don't want to just cut costs and let people go. We really want to create an impact because all these employees meant a lot to us and they made a significant impact that can be measured."

When we did that exercise, we didn't employ a branding team. We realized that it's not just about executing the retrenchment itself. It's really about how you execute it, how you do it. That's when we discovered another section on our applicant tracking system called Workable Bridge, which helps the people who were laid off to find a new job.

It's basically like an outplacement service, but it's also integrated with our applicant tracking system, Workable. That was really helpful. What we did was we obtained everyone's consent, including those who were affected by the exercise, and put them into the platform.

With that being said, they will have access to all the jobs in other companies that are also using Workable. They will also receive notifications of new jobs in other companies, and their CVs will be at the top of the search results whenever other recruiters are looking for similar roles.

That's the least we could do apart from communicating it within the business, and announcing that unfortunate news. We thought we needed to do something extra, not just retrenching. It's really about the execution.

When we did that, we received a lot of positive feedback from them as well. The impacted employees were very thankful because they had never heard such a thing before. That was very helpful when we did that. It really lived up to the value that we had said before. When we curate that value in the beginning, the first people we want to look after are our own employees. So when we activated Workable Breach, we truly lived up to the value that the brand promised to the employees. I would say that was the most memorable one.

Kitty: That's very interesting because often when you think of employer branding, most people might just think of Talent and Acquisition as the early part of the funnel. People outplacement is probably not the first thing that comes to mind in branding. I just love the sense of responsibility that you guys have for your employees or former employees.

Do you have any stories to share about the beginning of the employee journey?

George: Technically, there were a lot of stories when I was on board last year. That's what we want to do. We want to create something impactful within the funnel before people join the company and the experience they have during the application and interview process, as well as when they join us and when they resign voluntarily or involuntarily. We made sure to cover all those sections and execute them well.

Going back to your questions, I think what we're also doing now is looking for ways to enhance that. When it comes to employer branding externally, we didn't do much last year, but this year we started looking at university students and interns to create exposure for our employer brand.

Being a consumer service company, Beam is a well-known product among end users, which really helps with hiring. That's why we didn't invest much in employer branding for the external audience at the beginning stage. We often receive a lot of applications, so we focus a lot on the application and interview process to ensure we don't disappoint anyone. We want to create a strong employer brand, which is why we decided to work with Workable, as they offer a lot of automation.

We actually upgraded to the premium version where Workable would be able to help you source candidates via the AI function, which saves us a lot of time and helps filter the right candidates. That is the stage where we invested a lot, filtering the right candidates and also pipelining future candidates.

We also created a great application experience where people receive notifications, whether they are successful or not. We're not the best, to be honest, but we're trying. Currently, we only have two recruiters who are struggling to hire for some roles. That's why when we activated that, we really helped them filter relevant candidates and also pipeline future talents that we think would be great for other roles as well.

The domino effect: From coding competition to fresh graduates as Beam's brand ambassadors

Kitty: It's nice to hear that there are tech solutions now for hiring, talent management, and many key moments in the employee journey. I remember in our earlier conversation a few weeks ago you shared about a coding competition.

George: That was one of the best things as well because it was our first coding competition that we did internally at Beam. We haven't done that since the beginning of Beam. How it works is that at that point in time, no one had any experience when it came to coding.

The only person we reached out to was the marketing team and also the vice president of software engineering when we came up with that idea. He had experience with his previous company on how to execute, but we had no idea how to do it. We figured it out ourselves and how to do it.

I collaborated with the design team and also the software engineering team. What we did is we engaged with this platform called HackerRank. HackerRank is a platform where coders and tech talents gather and it's an assessment platform that we use to assess their skills before they join Beam. When we got that platform initially, it was primarily for our assessment purposes.

We had the applicants complete the assessment on the platform and then we could determine how good they were. We used the same platform for the coding competition as well. When we did it, we promoted it and ran paid campaigns on Facebook and Instagram, as well as other platforms. We also noticed that within the region, there were a lot of young talents who were just as good as experienced software engineers, and we wanted to give them a chance.

Initially, the leaders within the team didn't really believe it until we proved that there were such talents out there that we could hire, which was more cost-effective for the company and also relevant because we were operating in countries like Malaysia and Thailand in the Southeast Asia region. It would be good to have local talents working within the local operations as well.

When we did that, we promoted it and ran the competition, and we received about 250 applications, primarily from people in Thailand and Malaysia. We wanted to target fresh graduates because those are the people we want to nurture within Beam, and we know that they come with fresh ideas.

When we ran the competition, I think only 150 people attended, which is expected when we finish the assessment. We gave them about 6 hours to complete it, and we got the ranking right away because it works more like Cahoot. You get to see all their results right after, and people will do due diligence to see if there are any fake answers. We did due diligence after that to make sure that they did it the right way. We had five people who got a perfect score, meaning they answered everything correctly within the competition in Malaysia and Thailand.

I would say the most experienced among them were people with probably one or two years of experience. We actually interviewed all five of them, and all five started with us at Beam as well. As a result, we were able to reduce our cost per hire within the recruitment team and HR because we no longer needed to hire foreigners to be based in Malaysia.

These are graduates we're talking about, of course, when they joined us. We noticed that the VP of Software Engineering was very grateful for that as well. We actually paid them higher than the market rate, probably because I remember some of them were asking for a certain amount, and we actually paid twice that because we know how great they are. Also simply because our VP of Software Engineering himself said that these graduates, I believe their skills are almost equivalent to those of experienced professionals. There's no reason why we shouldn't pay them the amount they deserve.

I know most of them are still happily working with us, which also contributes to a positive employee brand. In fact, this had a domino effect, as they started recommending us to others within the university, saying, "Hey, you should apply at Beam because this is what we're getting," and so on. Hiring fresh graduates like this really helps, I suppose, when it comes to attracting talent within your peer group. We were talking about network effects.

Kitty: I remember it from our first conversation because it creates this sense of identity among new hires. I think it's young and impressionable talent, people who are at such a key stage in their career, and Beam has a chance to really set the course of their life, as their first job.

A call to Action: establishing your company's voice through employer branding

Kitty: Do you have any parting words or concluding remarks for anyone who might be interested in employer branding? They might be new to it or they might be setting it up in their organization.

George: I could come up with one right now. When it comes to employer branding, I can understand it because it currently falls under HR. However, many people within HR might not be familiar with it since it also has a strong marketing focus. Unless someone comes from a marketing background and transitions into HR, they may not grasp the concept of employer branding.

Similarly, HR professionals moving into marketing may face the same challenge. However, I believe it's a good idea for new companies to start implementing employee branding within their organization.

Employee branding is still relatively new, especially in Southeast Asia or APAC in general. I remember getting involved in this role five years ago, even though I was working at Ranzad, the largest recruitment company. It's worth mentioning that most companies, especially those not coming from a recruitment agency background, need to prioritize employee branding.

Currently, many companies view it as a nice-to-have rather than a must-have. However, I strongly believe that this perception needs to change. Employee branding is essential for every company, especially in the age of the social revolution where everyone has access to the internet and social media. As I mentioned before, if a company fails to establish a strong voice or value, someone else will do it for them, and it may not align with the company's goals.

Therefore, in order to overcome this, the voices of your employees need to be louder than the external ones before an external perception is formed. Your company's voice needs to be stronger than the external voice if you want to create a robust employer brand. If you don't establish a value or voice for your company, someone else will do it for you, and it may not be a positive representation. That's what I would say to people who don't understand employer branding or are looking to get into it or implement it within their company.

Continue reading