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Ep 454: Effective Employer Branding Strategies

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To say that the talent acquisition market in the tech sector is complex and fast-changing at the moment would perhaps be a bit of an understatement. So how are big tech companies developing employer branding strategies that help them solve their shifting challenges, and what lessons can employers in other sectors learn from them?

My guest this week is Ashlee Gerow, Senior Manager, Employer Branding at Hubspot. I’ve always been a massive fan of Hubspot’s sophisticated and innovative approach to talent acquisition and employer branding. Ashley is very open about their recruitment challenges and how a dynamic approach to employer branding is being used to address them.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The current tech hiring market

• How employer branding is being used to solve recruiting challenges at Hubspot

• Developing a highly targeted strategy

• Cutting through the noise

• Advanced persona work

• Is who you are externally authentic to who you are internally

• Understanding where you are not converting and adapting accordingly

• How the pandemic changed Hubspot’s approach

• Working with cross-functional teams and being deeply connected across the business

• Making sure the EVP is consistent throughout the entire candidate journey

• Using employee’s stories to show, not tell

• Employer Branding as a constant marketing machine

• The role of data and technology

• Moving quickly to adapt, sprint and change

• The future of employer branding

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Clevry (0s):
Support for this podcast comes from Clevry, the leading soft skills platform for matching and recruiting backed by 30 years of scientific research and assessment development. Clevry helps you to predict job performance and hire the right talent to build a winning team. Grow faster by focusing on what matters most, soft skills. Visit www.clevry.com to discover how companies like British Gas, Aster, and Marks and Spencer hire better with Clevry, and schedule your demo today.

Matt Alder (56s):
This is Matt Alder. Welcome to episode 454 of the Recruiting Future podcast. To say that the talent market in the tech sector is complex and fast-changing at the moment would perhaps be a bit of an understatement. How are big tech companies developing employer branding strategies that help them solve their shifting challenges and what lessons can employers in other sectors learn from them? My guest this week is Ashlee Gerow, Senior Manager, Employer Branding at Hubspot. I’ve always been a massive fan of HubSpot’s sophisticated and innovative approach to talent acquisition and employer branding.

Matt Alder (1m 43s):
Ashlee is very open about their recruitment challenges and how a dynamic approach to employer branding is being used to address them. Hi Ashlee, welcome to the podcast.

Ashlee Gerow (1m 55s):
Hey Matt, thank you for having me.

Matt Alder (1m 57s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Ashlee Gerow (2m 4s):
Sure. Happy to. My name is Ashlee Gerow and I’m the senior manager of Employer Branding at Hubspot.

Matt Alder (2m 9s):
Fantastic stuff, lots of questions that I want to ask you about HubSpot and the employer brand and the work that you do. But I suppose to start off with, it would be interesting to find out from your perspective exactly what’s going on in the hiring market in, in tech at the moment, because obviously, we’re seeing lots of headlines about layoffs and, and those kinds of things. What are you actually experiencing in terms of the hiring market at the moment?

Ashlee Gerow (2m 35s):
Yeah, it’s a great question. It’s a really interesting time even in the past six to eight weeks, so much has changed and I imagine the next six to eight weeks even more will change, but in the past, let’s say eight to 12 months, we saw massive growth in the tech space, Companies just hiring in large volume and I don’t say that to say it’s unintentional. It’s just a lot of open roles and it created a really competitive and really unique talent market and I think what we’re seeing now is a little bit of a reset from that as companies kind of wait and see what’s going to happen from a macroeconomic perspective and are really taking a step back and looking at what talent gaps do we have that are necessary to fuel business growth and how do we fill those rather than maybe a more volume approach.

Ashlee Gerow (3m 20s):
But the talent market is still super competitive, especially when we’re talking about technical roles and it’s still really hard to cut through the clutter and differentiate yourself. From a candidate perspective, there’s still a ton of opportunity that demand is still super high, especially if in your you’re in one of those more in-demand roles.

Matt Alder (3m 38s):
That’s really interesting absolutely times with lots of other people who’ve come on the podcast and then said similar things that very much the talent challenges are 100% still there and obviously very interesting in terms of how employer brand might be able to help solve them basically. I suppose, to dig into that a bit deeper, tell us a bit about the recruiting challenges that you have at HubSpot right now and how your work in employer brand is solving them, and whether you’ve had to sort of pivot what you do at all.

Ashlee Gerow (4m 10s):
Yeah. We’re certainly not immune to what’s happening globally at HubSpot we’ve been in hyper-growth, hyper hyper scale mode for the past, let’s say eight to 12 months. We’ve brought on an unprecedented amount of new HubSpotters into the organization and that’s all an effort of really helping us drive towards a really intentional and thoughtful five-year growth plan that our leaders have set out for us and now we’re slowing down a little bit, we’re still hiring, we’re still growing, but we’re really focusing on what talent do we need to bring into the organization to support the needs of the business, to fill some knowledge gaps across the organization and really make sure that we’re leading with diversity and inclusivity and that’s typically a much more targeted exercise, which is completely different recruiting strategies but it’s also completely different employer brand strategy.

Ashlee Gerow (4m 56s):
When you’re hiring for volume, that’s a really top-of-funnel strategy. That’s broad messaging across multiple channels to highlight your differentiators. It’s really meant to attract a large number of candidates of a certain profile into your pipeline for recruiters to then go and do their magic from there but when your recruiting strategy shifts to one that’s a little more targeted and maybe with more emphasis on things like lead nurturing, but also shift strategy. We’ve really had to take a step back and say, what are the targets that we’re really focused on here? What messaging matters to them? What channels are they on? And how do we shift from a more top-of-the-funnel, more broad approach to one that’s incredibly targeted right message, the right candidate, the right time?

Matt Alder (5m 41s):
How do you cut through all the noise that is out there and how do you use your employer brand strategy to really make you competitive in these talent markets, particularly when everything’s changing so quickly?

Ashlee Gerow (5m 56s):
That’s a great question and in some ways, that’s kind of the million dollar question. I think how we cut through that clutter is always a challenge because the clutter changes, right? What we’re trying to cut through is different all the time and I think for me, the number one thing is really make sure you understand what your audiences care about and some of that is done through persona work and that is done with a deep connection into recruiting, what are they hearing from candidates boots on the ground? What is their hierarchy of needs? And that’s going to be different depending on the type of talent you’re talking to, you’re talking to an engineer, that’s going to be different than you’re talking to somebody in sales versus somebody in maybe a backup office function and then you layer that in with people in different phases of life and what they care about and that’s all relevant to the types of talent profiles you’re looking for.

Ashlee Gerow (6m 41s):
Somebody who’s early in their career is going to have a different hierarchy of needs than somebody who’s later in their career and how are we addressing that? That has to work in parallel with your EVP, and reassessing your EVP. And are you still the same employer that you were a year ago and what are you doing that’s different versus where has everyone else caught up Is who you are externally authentic to who you are internally and once you figure that out and figure out what your EVP really is and how it’s differentiated, and you marry that with really understanding your audience, then you’ve got something that’s really compelling and it’s delivered in a very relevant and meaningful way. You also have to know that you’re not all things to all people, be decisive and lean in where you can convert, lean out where you can’t and those areas where maybe you’re not converting, whether that’s a geography or a talent profile lean into your top of funnel content, maybe build up some more awareness and mix it up and try new things.

Ashlee Gerow (7m 37s):
I think the beautiful thing about employer brand being a relatively new industry or subject matter I should say is that there’s still so much room to be innovative and to experiment and to try different content for different talent profiles and the more that you’re doing that, the more opportunity you have to be doing something different, which is what cuts through right now, especially in the tech space, when most companies are talking about the same things.

Matt Alder (8m 0s):
I want to talk a little bit more about some of the innovation and the techniques that you use, but I just wanted to pick up on what you said about EVP there and was that still relevant? And I used to all the company that you were 12 months ago, obviously with the pandemic and the changes in the way that people want to go about their work. It’s been a challenge for lots of companies in terms of what their employer brand is and how they communicate. How much have things changed for you sort of during and post pandemic in terms of the EVP that that HubSpot has.

Ashlee Gerow (8m 37s):
Right now to be transparent, we’re in the middle of that exercise, looking at our EVP and making sure that it’s still really resonates both with our associates, our employees, and with our candidates. HubSpot at the beginning of the pandemic made a really intentional and thoughtful choice to go all in on hybrid and not something that we have continued to message and amplify, and really tell the story of what that means at HubSpot in a very thoughtful way and we’ll continue to do that. But from a broader EVP perspective, taking a step back now and really saying, we know we’re all in on hybrid. We understand our culture story and our commitment to D I and B and those are things that we continue to lean in on and to amplify and to make sure that we are prioritizing as an organization internally and certainly externally but what else on top of that makes us an employer of choice.

Ashlee Gerow (9m 31s):
And when we’re talking about things like flexibility and hybrid, for example, two years ago we were at the forefront of that discussion. Now that’s something that everybody is talking about. It’s less about being a pioneer anymore and it’s more about showing an experience as differentiated and what that means at HubSpot versus what it means at any of our talent competitors and really making sure that we have an EVP that is connected throughout the entire organization is really important and that’s some of the work we’re doing now is bringing together a cross functional group to look at our EVP, see where we need to lean in and make sure that that’s pulled through the entire candidate journey,

Matt Alder (10m 9s):
Delving deeper into some of the techniques that you use. What’s always impressed me about HubSpot is how you really apply the DNA of your company and the software and the solutions that you sell into employer brand and recruiting in terms of how you think about funnels and candidate journey and all the, all those kinds of things. Tell us a bit more about some of the specifics of what you do. Communicating at the top of the funnel, communicating the EVP through the candidate journey. What are some of the things that work really well for you?

Ashlee Gerow (10m 41s):
That’s a great question, for me, and you might get a different answer to that for anybody you talk to an employer brand, but for me, the candidate journey is almost like an infinity loop and if you don’t consider all parts of the candidate journey, and you just think about employer brand siloed at the top of whether it’s a funnel or a loop, however you think about it, you’re missing a huge opportunity. When we look at our strategies from an employer brand perspective, we look at the content we’re putting together in our channels. We also want to make sure we’re doing that a consideration if they might experience employer brand as their first nteraction with our brand. Whether that’s our career site or HubSpot life channels, or through some of our paid initiatives, whatever that might be, that might be their first touch point, but then they immediately go into their recruiting experience, which then hopefully it goes into their onboarding experience and then into learning and development and then into talent management and then eventually they’ll probably leave HubSpot and they’ll become an alumni maybe they’ll boomerang back and they’re back into that cycle again.

Ashlee Gerow (11m 39s):
We have to make sure that we are making our strategies in partnership with all of those groups to make sure that what we’re portraying externally is authentic to what they’re going to experience. Number one, and number two, that those teams feel represented in our content and especially from an EVP perspective, that they feel that they understand it and that they can leverage it for their own programs. Employer brand is kind of step one of that journey and if you don’t think about all the other pieces, then it becomes a lot less impactful.

Matt Alder (12m 15s):
How does that kind of manifest itself? Can you give us an example of some of the things that you do, or the messages that you communicate?

Ashlee Gerow (12m 25s):
Something that HubSpot before my time even does really well is we try to show and not tell. The bulk of our messaging that you’re going to see is going to be communicated through the eyes of the HubSpot or the associate, the employee, whatever term you’d like to use, because what we want is we want people to understand how those messages translate on an individual and a team basis, because that’s, what’s really relevant to people. People want to understand, I understand HubSpot has doubled down on hybrid, but what does that actually mean? If I’m a mid-level engineer, that’s the story that we want to tell. We want to go a level down. The only way to tell that story is to make sure that we are partnering with those groups.

Ashlee Gerow (13m 6s):
For example, if I want to tell a story about what hybrid looks like or what our culture, how our culture comes to life on a product team, then I have to make sure that I’m deeply connected to that team to understand that experience, not just from a finding a participant perspective, but that I understand what the key takeaways and the messaging are to represent that team well and authentically, because that is such a different experience than if I’m doing the same exercise for somebody in sales.There is such a deep level of collaboration when you’re working in employer brand, honestly, in a way that I’ve never had before in my background, prior to employer brand, I was in the marketing and agency world for 10 plus years. It is such a deep level of cross functional collaboration, because that’s the only way to ensure that a, your content is accurate and that it’s authentic and B that it resonates because those are the people who understand what people like them are looking for, and so when we’re thinking about what is the ecosystem around employer brand, if it’s in a silo it’s just not impactful and it doesn’t mean anything.

Ashlee Gerow (14m 7s):
Every day we have such a collection of cross functional stakeholders that we’re working with, or we’re getting their input that are participating and they’re fueling all of our content, and our associates are our content machine.

Matt Alder (14m 19s):
We’ve talked about understanding the motivations of get very specific target audiences and being authentic, and also really understanding the experience within the organization that you’re trying to the experience within the organization that you’re communicating. What role data and technology now play in Employer Branding.

Ashlee Gerow (14m 41s):
That’s the million dollar question data and tech in employer brand. No one’s figured out the golden ticket there. If you talked to anybody in Employer brand, that is number one, if surely, top three, if not number one, a challenge that they’re trying to figure out because typically have multiple tech stacks that don’t talk to each other. For an employer brand perspective, most of our channels, I would call traditional marketing channels. We measure those in traditional marketing ways, through engagements, through awareness, through clicks, through likes, through all those typical marketing metrics and that does a lot to help us understand what is the efficiency or how effective I should say is our content, which then informs our future content strategy and that’s great, but that can’t happen in a vacuum.

Ashlee Gerow (15m 27s):
Then we’re also looking at recruiting data or looking at candidate management system data. We’re looking at internal HR systems data, and we’re looking at people analytics and all of those things are on different tech stacks and different types of data. You’re looking at all of that and you’re trying to make, you’re trying to make some educated hypotheses off of that for what actually moves the needle, because at the end of the day, typically leadership wants to know, I understand that you’re your channels are your content. Your channels might be effective, but is that helping us get butts in seats? And that’s a dotted line at best right now, you could say it’s correlated not causal when we’re talking about that data.

Ashlee Gerow (16m 8s):
It requires, honestly, a lot of hands-on work to really make sure that you’re connected into those different teams that own those different pieces of data, and that you’re all collaborating to understand. If we look at all this stuff at a macro level, what is it telling us, how are we all making decisions together based on this data, not in silos, not in a vacuum and that’s a really intentional effort that takes a lot of work to not only kind of pull and organize that data, but to really make sure that we’re doing that on a consistent basis. There’s no, there’s no quick solution there. And it just takes a lot of commitment from the entire organization to really make sure we’re understanding what story the data’s telling us.

Matt Alder (16m 47s):
Leading on from that, in the past employer brand was seen as a long-term project and activity that took a kind of, a lot of, a lot of time. There was a huge amount of research and things that weigh into it, obviously with technology and with the crazy nature of the talent markets that we’re, that we’re working with, things are moving very quickly now. How quickly do you think employer brand teams need to move to help solve the recruiting challenges that organizations have?

Ashlee Gerow (17m 22s):
Quickly? I think it’s a constant exercise that I’m focused on. Where do we sprint? Where do we move quickly? And where do we take our time? And that’s down to the project level most of the time, the way we position our employee brand team is we are a content marketing machine for the most part and there are other organizations that I’ve worked at where employer brand is a bit more programmatic and does take more time to kind of build some larger programs and we do have large programs that we take our time with, but we move at HubSpot across the organization. That’s part of our culture. We pride ourselves on that and EB is no exception and we really look at everything we do from the lens of can, or should this be a sprint? Are we going to miss the window of being impactful if we wait?

Ashlee Gerow (18m 5s):
And then one of the things that just are going to take some more collaborations and more brain power, some more buy-in and where do we maybe take some more time? But I would say, especially right now with William market is moving the bulk of what we do. We’re moving fast, we’re iterating, right? We’re launching, we’re iterating on top of that, where we need to, or pivoting quickly but if you wait too long, you miss the window. I mean, just look at where the talent market is now versus six to eight weeks ago. It’s entirely different. If it took us four weeks to create something, we would, we wouldn’t be impactful.

Matt Alder (18m 36s):
Final question, obviously, a very difficult question, because making any kind of predictions at the moment is almost impossible, but I would really be interested in your thoughts in terms of what you think might happen in the Employer Branding in the longer term over the next sort of 18 to 24 months, how do you think it might evolve as a discipline?

Ashlee Gerow (18m 57s):
If I have my crystal ball out Matt, I would say a couple of different things. I think what we’ve seen in the past year employer brand has become more important to organizations. I think previously it was seen as a nice to have had everyone really understood what it did and I think now just look at the sheer jobs that are posted for people who work in employer brand for subject matter expert that implies that there’s a scaling up of the function. But also I think it’s becoming a business function. I think we’re before employer brand was maybe a fun content or fun marketing group. I think a lot of organizations who were doing employer brand really well, see it as a business function, working in lumps, lockstep with recruiting and so I think we’re going to continue to see an importance on the function and with that, there’s going to be an emphasis, continued emphasis on data and making data-driven decisions with employer brand.

Ashlee Gerow (19m 52s):
I’m going to say data-driven, I mean, rooted in business data, rooted in full funnel data and making decisions accordingly as the talent market is going to continue to be competitive and with that Employer Brand’s going to need to become more targeted. I think we’re going to be moving away a little bit from seeing companies who really focus primarily on top of funnel messaging. I think that’ll always be there, but I think we’re going to see a much more targeted approach from employer brand, especially in the larger tech spaces and in diversity inclusion is going to continue to be a priority and drive a lot of the strategy and decision making across DB to really make sure that companies are finding talent that reflects their customer base and the world around them.

Matt Alder (20m 37s):
Thank you very much talking to me.

Ashlee Gerow (20m 39s):
Thank you, Matt. It’s a pleasure as always.

Matt Alder (20m 43s):
My thanks to Ashlee. You can subscribe to this podcast in apple podcasts on Spotify or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at Recruiting Future.com on that site. You can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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