Over the past few weeks we’ve been posting about talent professionals’ responses to Gem’s 2022 Recruiting Trends survey. We’ve talked at length about data-driven recruiting trends and diversity hiring trends. But if there was one broad narrative that echoed throughout this year’s responses, it was this: it’s a candidate’s market; top talent is interviewing at a handful of companies at once and considering their options; and recruiting teams—no matter the size of the company they’re hiring for—are struggling to compete against simultaneous offers. “We can’t compete on compensation” and “we can’t compete on benefits like fully-remote work” came up over and over again.
It’s a tough climate, to say the least. But the two things organizations can do right now if they’re struggling to compete on comp and benefits are to ensure they offer excellent candidate experiences, and to forge strong talent brands. These two things are deeply interconnected. After all, your talent brand will be the sum total of everything your candidates think about you, say about you, and how they perceive you after experiencing your hiring process. And they won’t experience your hiring process if they don’t know you’re hiring—which is why passive talent outreach should play a considerable role in your hiring strategy.
We wrote an entire report about what your peers have to say about employer branding and candidate experience in 2022: where they’re focusing their energies, what they anticipate, and what strategies have recently seen the best ROI. Here are some of the highlights from that report:
Employer Branding as a Top Recruiting Spend
In aggregate, talent leaders said that employer branding (69%) is the top place they’ll be investing their budgets in 2022. Given that “uncompetitive offers” is the second-biggest challenge they anticipate for this year—and given that a weak talent brand and uncompetitive offers were among the top challenges talent teams faced in 2021—this spend makes sense.
After all, a strong talent brand—which can cover everything from personal development and career advancement, to company culture, to diversity, to social responsibility, to collaboration, to product quality, to innovation and intellectual stimulation—may need to make up for when organizations can’t compete on compensation alone.
Employee Value Propositions (EVPs)
Just over ¼ of sourcers and recruiters (27% at enterprise orgs, 28% at smaller orgs) say their company has a formalized employee value proposition (EVP)—a coherent and consistent story about the value the company offers employees in return for their skills, experience, and efforts. Around ¼ say they don’t know if their org has one, but they’ve come up with their own over time. 15% of enterprise ICs and 21% of ICs on smaller teams say their company doesn’t have an EVP at all.
An EVP strengthens and differentiates your employer brand, increases employee engagement and retention, focuses the agenda for HR, and informs and strengthens recruitment messaging. (“Employer brand will be decisive in candidates choosing one employer over another,” one hiring manager at a 10,000+ person company wrote.) Yet nearly 30% of enterprise talent leaders, and over 40% of talent leaders at smaller companies, say a weak employer brand is currently impacting their ability to hit hiring goals.
Of the sourcers and recruiters who say their organizations have an EVP, the majority (57% at enterprise orgs and 54% at smaller orgs) say their companies made deliberate changes to those value propositions during COVID. Most of those changes entailed the decision to go remote, additional work-from-home benefits, and mental health and wellness benefits—though respondents also mentioned everything from employee recognition, to signing and retention bonuses, to increased birthing leave, to L&D and financial consulting resources.
Pain Points with Candidates
Regardless of org size, “better offers elsewhere” is the top reason candidates are rejecting offers, talent leaders told us. Counter-offers at candidates’ current jobs and compensation come in at #2 and #3 for enterprise companies; those rejection reasons are reversed for smaller orgs. Each of these rejection reasons ultimately has to do with total comp; and—again—teams will have to work hard this year to surface, optimize, and craft messaging around other elements of their EVP (culture, diversity, L&D, collaboration, career trajectories, etc.) if they find they can’t compete on salary.
It’s also worth noting that the speed of the hiring process was a bottleneck for enterprise companies in particular: 30% of talent leaders at larger orgs said this was a common reason candidates rejected their offers or dropped out of process. Consider recruiting solutions that will give you time-in-stage metrics, and/or alert you to when it’s time to move on a candidate who’s been sitting in process for too long.
In aggregate, sourcers and recruiters say their second-biggest struggle with candidates (45%) is “having them pass our interview process”; and almost every respondent referred to the “high bar” their company has for interviews. This maybe a year in which talent teams have to look closely at their process and ask if that bar is too high. (After all, this, too, impacts candidate experience.) Are they screening out rather than in? Are they over-prioritizing hard skills to soft ones to their detriment? Can some critical skills be taught to acute and adept talent in their first months in the role? And so on.
“Getting them interested and engaged” is sourcers’ and recruiters’ biggest struggle with candidates (47% in aggregate). Finding top talent may be one thing; finding top talent who wants to talk is another. This is where your broader EVP, and the way you present it in your messaging, will help differentiate you.
So will sourcing solutions that offer outreach stats. Tracking open rates will help you understand how to craft the most compelling subject lines; click-through rates will alert you to what messaging best resonates with talent. Tracking open rates through to interested replies—and ultimately all the way to offer-accepts—will give you a broader understanding of how your employer brand is informing and supporting your total hiring efforts.
Employment branding campaigns and multi-channel touchpoints are among the top-three recruitment marketing strategies ICs say they use. Sourcers and recruiters at enterprise companies also cited recruiting events in their top-three; ICs at smaller companies said they focus on long-term candidate nurture.
When we asked which of those strategies see the best ROI, however, long-term candidate nurture and multi-channel touchpoints were—by far—the most-cited strategies. As one recruiter at a 1000+ person company wrote, “multi-channel touchpoints paired with long-term candidate nurture works the best. When you are persistent, people eventually get back to you. This is especially true if you can be creative and personal with your outreach.” As another recruiter at an early-stage startup added, “nurtured talent is more bought into the product and mission.” This is employer branding, through consistent touchpoints, at its finest.
Candidate Experience (CX)
We asked about candidate experience as an open-ended question in this year’s survey: what were talent acquisition teams most concerned with when it came to CX last year—and what, therefore, could they hope or expect to see in terms of the ROI of those attentions in 2022?
In order of consequence, talent professionals—regardless of company size—spoke to these things: 1) speed and efficiency of the hiring process, 2) candidate communication and feedback, 3) sourcing and passive talent outreach, and 4) the interview process, specifically.
Talent professionals at enterprise companies cited remote hiring and diversity more often than their peers at smaller organizations did. Talent professionals at smaller companies were more likely to say they focused on company culture, talent and employer brand, and the offer stage.
“Uncompetitive offers” was the second-biggest hiring challenge respondents said they expect in 2022. “It's hard to compete with tech companies who offer candidates the world,” wrote one technical recruiter at a 600+ person company. “I try to close based on culture and get a competitive offer, but it can be challenging.”
But even leaders at large companies who perhaps can “offer candidates the world” are recognizing that talent is making career choices based on employer brand as much as—if not more than—on salary. “Employer brand will be decisive in candidates choosing one employer over another” wrote a hiring manager at a 50,000-person company. “Our brand and process speed need to continue to improve” wrote a talent acquisition manager at a 1,000+ person tech company.
Employer brand happens through spreading awareness (think cold outreach and nurture alongside more formal branding campaigns) and offering first-class candidate experiences that are seamless, personalized, and attentive to candidates’ needs and wishes at every step of the process. This is where TA organizations should be placing their focus in the coming year: building and nurturing pipeline patiently, surveying candidates regularly to learn where they can improve, and tracking data and metrics on their hiring processes to understand where they’re losing talent to poor candidate experiences.