With an impending mass exodus and a sharpened focus on company missions and actions, a bold, authentic employer brand can attract aligned, high-quality candidates.

Touting company perks and career paths is no longer enough. Now, just as customers look to brands to speak out about social issues, so do job seekers, through empathy-driven communication and actions. The pandemic forced employers to do more for their employees’ mental health and work-life balance, and candidates want to know that their future company takes these concerns seriously.

“A lot of companies big and small wanted to shy away from certain things because they thought they weren’t appropriate. But it is in times like these where you get more visible,” says Precious Williams, CEO of Perfect Pitches, who helps her Fortune 100 clients boost their brands and storytelling prowess. “This is where you really reach out to your target market and other markets that you may have deemed insignificant at one time but now they are significant … how are you going to talk to them?”

That’s where a bold, authentic, and strong employer brand comes in. As the anticipated post-COVID-19 hiring boom approaches, companies must prioritize their employer branding—whether building or reshaping it—to be what today’s candidates expect. It can improve your organization’s reputation and also help fill open roles up to two times faster—and with the most highly skilled and aligned candidates, according to LinkedIn.

Why Your Company Needs a Bold, Authentic Employer Brand

“The great resignation is coming,” Anthony Klotz, Associate Professor of Management at Texas A&M University, who focuses on employee exits, told Bloomberg Businessweek. Workers had put off job searches while the pandemic raged. Now that vaccinations are readily available in the US and companies are calling workers back to the office, those who want more flexibility than their current job can afford will seek better opportunities. A good recruitment strategy is only half the battle. In this candidate-driven era, a strong, genuine employer brand is necessary to bring in the best candidates.

A 2018 Gartner survey found that 75% of employees expect their employer to take a position on current societal or cultural issues, whether or not they relate to their company’s products or services. With 2020’s surge in social justice demonstrations, those expectations have only heightened. Couple that with a 2020 Gallup report finding that only 40% of employees know what their company stands for. If your employer brand doesn’t speak to candidates’ needs, you’re missing out on top talent.

“When a company has a clear message and mission, it’s so much easier for a candidate to say, ‘I want to work there,’” says Austin Belcak, CEO of job search coaching firm Cultivated Culture. The Microsoft alum shares ideas on optimizing the hiring process with his nearly 800,000 LinkedIn followers. “Instead of ‘a job,’ they want to work at a company that aligns with their specific goals and values. Company branding creates opportunities for those people to connect the dots between their values and the company’s.”

Belcak admits that being upfront about what your company stands for might lead to fewer applicants, but those who apply will be higher quality. “And they’re going to be excited to come to work because that alignment is there,” Belcak says.

Data backs that up. A positive employer brand can yield 50% more qualified applicants, according to LinkedIn’s employer brand statistics, and make companies three times more likely to hire a high-quality employee. It can increase employee satisfaction and retention, too, reducing turnover by 28%.

How a Positive Employer Brand Benefits Recruiters

Besides improved mission alignment, a solid employer brand can also allow recruiters to hire twice as fast at half the cost per hire. For many companies, that equates to millions of dollars saved, notes LinkedIn.

Plus, there is a direct link between employer branding and employee engagement. And strong employer branding attracts highly skilled and aligned candidates, which “in turn leads to employees that are more apt to work for your company, and love working with you,” writes Sara Pollock, Vice President of Marketing at ClearCompany, a talent management software company.

This all can lead to employee referrals, resulting in reduced recruitment efforts and time to find high-quality talent.

Jennifer Newbill, former Director of Global Employer Brand at Dell, told Forbes that an employee referral program’s performance is a “litmus test” for an organization’s employer brand. Leaning on employees who understand how a particular department works can help recruiters source highly qualified candidates, she notes.

Recruiters therefore might spend less time on outreach, but even if not, Belcak points out that “outreach will be more effective because people are excited to engage with your company.”

Communication That Amplifies Your Employer Brand

Companies need two things, says Belcak: visibility and a clear message.

“The associations we have with companies aren’t an accident. They’re curated by that company, and the ones with the largest presence tend to be the ones that we feel the most clarity around.” That’s why your company should use many digital channels, including social media and a careers page—to tell stories—and not consider these an “ancillary” part of their strategy, says Belcak. “They can be some of the most powerful tools for growth.”

To begin, Curtis Grajeda, Founder of LevelUP, which delivers recruitment management solutions to Fortune 500 companies as well as startups, recommends brands decide how they want to be perceived, including what they want to be known for, and then to promote it.

“Start at the top with your company’s mission and values, then work down to how you communicate with your employees during a crisis,” he told Forbes. “Remember, you want to attract people who will thrive within your culture, so your employer brand should be authentic, not just what is cool or trendy at the moment.”

Sharing your story must go beyond simply a corporate page on Facebook or Twitter, advises Craig Fisher, Founder of TalentNet Media, an employer brand and recruitment strategy firm. Fisher has led talent acquisition teams at Fortune 500 companies and strategized digital branding for Toyota, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Yum! Brands, and more. “There really should be either subpages or separate pages for careers on all social media sites that tell the story of employees at all levels … on why it’s great and fun to work there.”

The aforementioned LinkedIn survey found that 52% of candidates first seek out a company’s website and social media pages to learn more about a potential employer. So, Fisher recommends employees scatter their day-in-the-life stories across social media, professional networking sites, and employer review sites.

For example, Nestlé USA found that not being able to meet colleagues in person was one of the greatest barriers to candidates making a job change. In an effort to emphasize their strong remote culture, Emily Rutt, Manager of Social Media and Community Management, tweaked existing content to ease candidate concerns about adapting.

She and her team converted the Nestlé BFF series, which got co-workers together in casual conversation, to Nestlé Remote BFF. At the 2021 RallyFwd Virtual Conference, held by Rally Recruitment Marketing, a community that shares innovative employer branding ideas, she revealed that the company saw a 50% year-over-year increase in digital engagement from potential talent.

Fisher also suggests executives lead forums, host Twitter chats and LinkedIn Lives, or invite job seekers to a Clubhouse session to chat with a particular team to strengthen the employer brand and push authenticity.

Commitments Companies Should Make to Support Their Employer Brand

“Many companies talk a big game but are slow to take action,” says Belcak. “You need to commit with public statements, rebranding, commitments to employees and customers, and a space for continued feedback.”

Companies taking bold, authentic actions to back up their statements and employee stories show that they are committed, which can lead to aligned, passionate candidates.

For example, Microsoft committed to going carbon negative by 2030 and is touting this widely.

“Employees can feel like their work is making an impact beyond just dollars,” Belcak says. “The positive sentiment associated with that branding makes employees proud to say they work at Microsoft.”

That extends to candidates and customers too. Belcak told Toptal’s Talent Economy Podcast that he notices a rise in connection with brands that feel “a little bit more human.” “Wendy’s is famous for having a humanized Twitter account; Netflix does the same thing,” he says.

In 2020, the latter company adjusted its employer brand to match the new work and social landscape. For example, the company shares stories of Asian American entertainers and African American employees to express solidarity and has showcased their employees by sharing a photo of team members wearing the colors of the rainbow during a video meeting.

A Bold Employer Brand Is Crucial to Long-Term Recruitment Efforts

As more candidates look for companies that hold strong stances on social issues, take meaningful action to support employees, and highlight how their talent thrives within the culture, recruiters will increasingly focus on employer branding, LinkedIn predicted in their latest Future of Recruiting report.

The report also found that 63% of talent professionals expect their employer branding budget to increase or stay the same.

As your company invests in employer branding, first consider: “What truly differentiates your company from another? Why should somebody work with your company?” asks Williams. “If you can’t answer those types of questions, if you can’t differentiate your zone of genius, your secret sauce, then you’re already dead in the water.”

Because mere differentiation isn’t sufficient anymore, companies must additionally publicize how they’re supporting employees, customers, and communities, including partnerships with nonprofits, employee assistance programs, and acts of kindness. That storytelling across channels will optimize recruitment efforts—as well as your workforce—for years to come.