The importance of the ‘Employer Brand’ in attracting the best talent

29th May 2019
Alex Albone
Principal Consultant

Alex Albone of Berwick Partners’ Education practice was delighted to contribute valuable, learning content to the annual Universities HR Conference in Manchester last week. The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Transforming Culture: Challenging Times’ and looked at the important role HR professionals in the university community play in shaping organisational cultures that respond to current and anticipated sector changes.


The Higher Education sector is facing continued challenges while the competition for world-leading talent increases, and the resources to attract them becomes further restrained. Furthermore, our very relationship to our work environment is changing. Academics, professionals and especially young people in both camps are less focused on the corporate salary package – which in any case varies minimally from university to university. Against this backdrop, the Employer Brand is becoming a stronger, more efficient tool for attracting high calibre people who are keen to build their careers with an institution over the long term.

At first glance, ‘Employer Brand’ sits more naturally in the marketing and communications department, but most of the things that come together to create the overall brand of the employer sit in the purview of Human Resources. Through their workshop, Alex elucidated a number of small and medium sized investments which HR professionals can lead on to develop their university’s employer brand.

1. Gain control of your social media

Many universities are already making good initial use of LinkedIn to communicate directly, to their alumni networks, important developments and to showcase their achievements. However, organisations only need to look to companies like Google, Boston Consulting Group or Cisco to see where marketing and human resources have worked together to utilise every function available on the site to build a comprehensive, positive narrative about life in their organisation.

Those same companies also offer us examples of good corporate Instagram use. More and more organisations, both private and public, are harnessing the use of Instagram to present the face of the organisation they want the world to see. The same concept of image and branding development to attract students equally applies to attracting staff and faculty – and when HR and marcomms work together to ensure the ‘consumer’ brand is the same as the employer brand, a virtuous circle is achieved. Think Apple.

2. Control the message

If there was only one piece of advice workshop attendees should take away, it was ‘Do not be afraid of confronting your Glass Door page’. We were not surprised that only one person in the room knew what the latest Glass Door review of their university said. Many people murmured that they don’t see the point of it, and actively ignore it. To which we respond – ignore at your peril!

Do not assume that because the site is used as a bull horn by the most disgruntled employees that their views are not valid. People are smart, and millennials in particular are savvy social media users. People know Glass Door will have negative reviews on every single company; it would in fact be more suspect to come across a company with none. Potential employees are looking for trends in the negative feedback, not a perfect story. Organisations that use Glass Door to publicly respond to negative feedback not only help reinforce a culture of openness and inclusivity, but demonstrate to an outside audience they are willing to engage in difficult discussions constructively – you would likewise expect nothing less from your own employees.

3. Stage manage the recruitment process

Every university has hiring managers who are excellent recruiters in their own right, who are well connected and know how to sell the university to the individual and who know what to say, in exactly the right way, to get the person over the line. Every university also has plenty of hiring managers who are happy to send HR a job description and an ideal start date.

Where people are capable hirers it’s important to let them get on with the job. Where they need help, it’s even more important to deploy central and local support to help ‘sell the story’ of the position and the university. Particularly with academic appointments, hiring managers and the HR professionals who support them need to know why this is an important role to fill, what the prospective appointee could gain out of it in terms of career advancement, research support, network development, and how the research fits in with the strategic direction of the university. Academics want trajectory, and if they can enjoy that in a place that offers longevity and ascendency, then in many respects those factors will trump the corporate salary package.

If any of these topics are of interest to you or your organisation, and you would like to discuss the action-oriented suggestions we offered, please feel free to get in touch with Alex Albone to arrange a conversation.