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Candidate attraction and employer branding for SMEs: tips from Hung Lee

Candidate attraction is usually one of the biggest recruitment challenges for SMEs.

Life’s alright for these big businesses with well-known names and sexy products. Brand recognition is everything. But how should smaller businesses handle candidate attraction? 

Is it even worth investing into employer brand when you’re competing for talent against the major players, with a fraction of the resource?


Yes, absolutely. And we’ll show you how.


We spoke to Recruiting Brainfood’s Hung Lee and three fabulous panellists to learn how small business recruiters should approach candidate attraction and employer branding. 

Watch the webinar on-demand here or keep reading for key takeaways from the panel:

  • Hung Lee, Recruiting Brainfood
  • Gianluca Rosinia, HR & Talent Consultant
  • Imran Sharif, Group People Manager, Trofi
  • Christina Robinson, MD, Green Umbrella Marketing


You have an employer brand (whether you like it or not) 

Let’s get one thing out of the way. You can’t ‘opt out’ of having an employer brand. Every brand has one, the moment it exists. 

You have candidates coming through your process who don’t choose you; you have candidates who see your adverts and never apply. If you employ people, you have an employer brand. 

Your EB is what people think about you. Your only decision is how much you control it and leverage it as part of your approach to talent attraction. 


Candidate attraction starts by looking inwards

You’ve decided to take control over your employer brand. Great. Off you go to LinkedIn… right? Nope. 

Often the EB conversation becomes about the trappings of employer branding. Engaging social posts. Cool adverts. A snazzy careers site. All that stuff is true. But you can’t build a house without the foundations.  

Hung points out that some businesses that are great at candidate attraction also then have an attrition problem, because they’re attracting candidates who aren’t right for the organisation. 

That’s what happens when you don’t get the foundations right. EB should start internally, with talking to your people. It should also be a true reflection of your values. You can’t just head online and copy-paste from some template. Authenticity is everything. 


Employer branding surveys: insights from the horse’s mouth

To develop a strong employer brand that’s the lynchpin of your candidate attraction strategy, start with internal surveys. You’d pay a management consultancy many thousands of pounds for the insights you have on-tap, from the people who know you best.

If there’s budget, you might choose an external tool – Culture Amp or Qualtrics or such. In practice, most smaller businesses will go low-fi with SurveyMonkey or similar. 

You don’t need snazzy platforms here. Just a straightforward mechanism to listen to your people’s voices—anonymously. (That’s crucial, so people feel safe to share honest feedback and know they won’t be penalised). 

Hung and the panellists talk through six questions it’s worth asking:


Six-question employer brand survey template

  1. What do you like most about working here?
  2. What would you change about working here?
  3. What definitely shouldn’t we change?
  4. What would you add to make your working life better?
  5. Would you recommend working here to friends and family? Why or why not?
  6. What else would you like to say?

Hung points out that this exercise might actually feel like you’re going backwards. When you ask questions like this, you have to be prepared not to like the answers. 

But remember — these problems existed before you asked about them. The only thing that’s changed is you’re empowered with the knowledge that something’s wrong. Hopefully before it can escalate into bigger issues. 


Next steps: acting on surveys 

OK, so, surveys are done. But how do you get from surveys to an authentic, strong employer brand? It’s not simply a case of writing up people’s responses into a document, although you might also want to do that.

The panellists talk about the importance of closing the loop, to show your people you’ve really listened and value their input. That might mean:

  • Collating and publishing results
  • Discussing results openly at a town hall
  • Working on improving problem areas 
  • Integrating regular targets around employee satisfaction


Raising SME brand awareness and building brand presence

You’ve done the foundational bit—you know what your employer brand is all about, and you’re working on shifting anything that needs shifting. 

But now what? How do you actually raise brand awareness and get your brand out there? How do you increase your brand presence? 


1 – Collect and tell your stories

Christina talks about the importance of listening out for the employee stories that bring your brand to life. Employer brand shouldn’t be a dead document that prospective applicants can download. It should be living, breathing content.

Your employees are the most powerful source for this. Town halls are an awesome source of insight, but also use them for generating content. How can you leverage your people’s voices, to spread the word about your brand?

Gianluca suggests some ideas:

  • Create a candidate persona to guide you strategically around topics/themes
  • Run a LinkedIn Influencer Ambassador programme for employees
  • Ask employees to create a 60-second mobile video about what they love

Hung points out that employer branding for SMEs isn’t about creating heaps more work for talent acquisition. Recruiters don’t have to shoulder the entire burden of creating videos and content. 

It’s about creating a channel for the people in the organisation to talk about themselves, in a permissive but guided way. 


2 – Work with the local community

Imran recommends getting out into your local community as often as possible. Could you align with an important local issue that makes sense for you? What can you do pro bono – like volunteering or raising money for charities – that gets your name into the right circles?


3 – Give back to the candidate community 

Gianluca suggests offering free mentorship for candidates — how to complete a CV, for example. This gets your name out there among candidates, raises awareness of your jobs, and builds good-will. All good stuff. 


4 – Leverage strategic partnerships 

Which relationships do you already have within your business that you can leverage, to increase your reach? You’re probably already connected to influencers in your domain—capitalise on their audience and influence, to build brand association. 

For example, could you offer to guest post for them? Could you be a guest on their podcast? Anyone creating content is usually eager for support. Offering to share your expertise is great for them and great for you. 


5 – Keep your house in order! 

Gianluca emphasises the importance of reviewing your recruitment processes alongside this wider candidate attraction strategy. 

Review your end-to-end recruitment data, to ensure your candidate experience is aligned with your brand. If you’re saying one thing externally but then treating candidates poorly once they apply, your efforts will be self-defeating.

(Struggling to get the data to review? If you’re using spreadsheets for recruitment, that’s a major problem. It could be time to consider an ATS.)


Measuring impact: employer branding metrics

The final part of the employer branding puzzle: measurement. Showing your impact is critical. Our panellists highlighted several specific metrics that are worth collecting here, to measure your candidate attraction and employer branding efforts:

  • Candidate sentiment
  • Employee sentiment
  • Application volume 
  • Churn rate
  • Offer acceptance rate
  • Application to offer rate
  • Application to acceptance rate
  • Team social media engagement 
  • Social listening to track brand awareness

In essence, you need to know: have you ticked up on the numbers you want to tick up? And down where you want to trend down? And if not, why not, and how can you keep improving?

Getting a good handle on your numbers is essential for stakeholder management. 

Mastering candidate attraction is typically one of small businesses’ biggest recruitment challenges. It can feel impossible when you’re pitted against well-known brand names with snazzy products and huge budgets. 

But small businesses actually have an advantage here, with smaller, tight-knit teams and a stronger culture. When you’re nimble, it’s much easier to get a handle on your employer brand and leverage employee advocacy to help you build brand presence. 

You might never compete with Google. But you’re the best You. Shine a light on that proudly and your application flow, candidate quality, fill-rate, retention, and recruitment costs will start trending in the right direction. 


Tribepad Gro is ready built, ready-to-go recruitment software for growing teams. Take your recruitment to the next level. 

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