How to Align Your University Recruiting Team on Employer Branding

employer brand

Quick poll: What makes your company attractive to students?

Got your answer? Good.

Now imagine that I had just asked that question to everyone on your team—or at your organization. Would everyone give me the same answer? Or would I get a mish-mash of different responses that left me wondering if you were all talking about the same place?

It’s okay. Be honest.

If it’s the latter, you’re not alone.

Many university recruiters wrestle with the idea of how to sell their brand to students. And even if you’ve spent time and resources on this issue, you might find that not everyone on your team is on the same page or telling the same story to potential applicants.

We recently talked with Shannon Smedstad, Director of Employer Brand at CEB about the basics of employer branding, some common pitfalls and challenges, and a few tips to help you and your team make sure your efforts pay off among millennial job-seekers.

Smedstad Headshot

What is CEB?

CEB is the leading member-based advisory company, with more than 4,200 employees in 60 offices around the globe. Based on our high-quality research, we are able help executives—from many of the world’s top companies—more effectively manage talent, information, customers, and risk. Our member companies include 89% of the Fortune 500, 76% of the Dow Jones Asian Titans, and 85% of the FTSE 100.

This year, CEB was named by Forbes as one of the most innovative growth companies. I’d also like to add that typically, graduates start their CEB careers as research analysts, business development associates, or account management associates.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Since 2008, I have been working in various aspects of social recruiting and employment branding, and was a driving force behind GEICO’s employment brand strategy. Currently, I am the employment brand director at CEB, and also write about related topics via

In a recent NACE blog post, you mentioned the CEB 2014 Employment Branding Effectiveness Survey. Who participated in it?

The CEB Employment Branding Effectiveness Survey launched in November of 2013 and we collected data until March of this year. In total, 113 member organizations participated and we received 2,400 responses from recruiting professionals at all levels, from coordinator all the way up. Our findings were first shared during a CEB member event in April 2014 and then published for all members this past July.

What were some of the most interesting findings of the survey related to millennials and the job search? How can employers apply this to their university recruiting strategy?

When it comes to millennials, they are more apt to learn about potential employers via social media. However, they don’t always trust what they read online.

Therefore, it’s important for employers to make the information that millennials read online more trustworthy. Be up-front and clear about who you are, and offer information that candidates can depend on. One way to do this is to brand for influence. Creating honest messages—for online use and as recruiter talking points—will help this generation to understand whether or not they will fit within your company, culture, and roles.

You suggested that employers pay particular attention to candidate experience to improve conversion rates—what are some specific actions they can take to make this happen?

As there is more competition for talent, it will become more important that candidates have a good experience with your company. The candidate experience is an opportunity for you to differentiate yourself, and a great place to integrate your employment value proposition into conversations that your teams are already having.

Our survey shows that future career opportunities, the growth rate of organization, and development opportunities are the top drivers for millennials when making offer decisions. They care less about retirement and whether or not you have a collegial work environment than other generations. You should encourage your recruiting teams and hiring managers to focus their energy on discussing things that millennials care more about. For example, have them talk to people at your company whose career paths or experiences align with the experiences that they want to have.

What are some of the unique aspects of the millennial generation that employers should be aware of when engaging in university recruiting?

Millennials are 50 percent more likely to use mobile devices than other generations, yet only one third of respondents in a recent CEB survey said their career sites are mobile-friendly. Optimizing the career site was a big project that I worked on while at GEICO, and it’s something I am working on now at CEB. It’s important to make your information user-friendly and accessible via mobile devices in order to reach this talent segment.

Somewhat surprisingly, working for a company that is socially responsible is not a top 10 driver for millennials, and is on par with other generations. It’s important, but not as important as other characteristics.

How can organizations measure and improve their employer brand?

For many employers, your first goal is to create awareness; that is when you’ll look at metrics such as impressions, social likes, click through rates, and application volume. It’s important to spend some time gathering initial measurements on career site traffic, social media metrics, online review site statistics, Google keyword search data, and other numbers to get a baseline for where the organization is prior to any concerted branding effort.

As you begin to move from creating awareness toward branding for influence, you’ll begin to focus less on these vanity measurements and more on qualitative metrics. From a campus perspective, can you compare quality across campuses? Can you track quality of hire back to individual recruiters?

Employment branding is also a mechanism through which you can assess the effectiveness of your recruiting teams. If your recruiters understand and can expertly articulate your brand, they can begin to influence on-campus perceptions of your company as an employer.

As they continue to have face-to-face interactions with students, professors, and career center professionals, they can begin to empower others to tell your brand story, which should affect quality over time. If your organization currently has a poor brand on campus, recruiter training may be a great place to invest time and resources.

Let’s say I’m a recruiter on a small team with limited resources. What steps can I take to improve my employer brand?

A good first step is to understand what people are currently saying about your company. Employee opinion surveys and online review sites are great starting points for gaining an understanding of how people perceive your organization. This could also help you to identify positive attributes to leverage, negative perceptions to combat, and blind spots in the candidate experience so that you find—and prioritize—areas to improve.

CEB’s employment brand research looked at lower-cost ways that employers are branding for influence. As a recruiter, you could go to your corporate career site right now and think about ways to better customize or segment your messaging. Or, look at how you write your LinkedIn status updates or Facebook posts. Can you be more approachable or consultative? Can you say more than just “I’m hiring”? How can you get more value out of the work that you are already doing? Sometimes this is as simple as thinking about your words or approach a little differently.

One thing you can do immediately is work to ensure that your candidates have positive interactions with you. How people perceive their interactions with you will tie back to what they think and say about your company.

Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you’d like to add with regards to employment branding and university recruiting?

According to CEB’s research, fewer than half of recruiters understand and can articulate the employment brand of their respective organizations. Recruiting teams will have a much bigger impact if they can expertly deliver on employer brand messages. I would encourage Talent Acquisition leaders to think creatively about how they can up-skill their teams on how to more effectively tell their story.

The next step: Shannon mentions that one common shortcoming among recruiters is a struggle to share the employment brand of their organization. Is everyone on your team on the same page about your message? What can you do to ensure you’re all sharing the same story to prospective employees?


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