Employer Branding For Startups: 5 Steps To Get Started

Employer Branding for Startups: 5 Steps To Get Started

It can’t be emphasized enough that in today’s world, hiring is a two-way street. During the recruitment process, it’s not only the companies that are assessing candidates’ fit; candidates are also deciding if they would even like to work at the company.

So, if your startup wants to win the race for the top candidates (or even be in the hunt), you need to invest in your employer brand.

Before we get started, I want to say a huge thank you to the employer branding experts Marek Unt at GrünfinKatrin Koha at Nortal, and Vivi Brooke at Finders Seekers for contributing to this article!

Employer Branding Definition

Employer branding is your company’s attractiveness to candidates on the job market. Simply put, it is what prospective candidates and current employees think about you as an employer.

Companies with a strong employer brand are more likely to land higher quality candidates in their pipeline and close candidates during interview rounds. All this results in a more efficient and cost-effective hiring process.

Employer branding consists of:

  • The story and mission
  • The company culture
  • The channels where you will showcase and communicate the above

For startups to begin with their employer branding activities, it’s important to have these three things in place. It goes without saying: employer branding is not a quick fix. Instead, it’s a continuous process during which you engage your desired candidates through different touchpoints and channels. 

Why is employer branding important?

The best talent gets approached by different companies on a daily basis. They have so many options to choose from, and most of the time it’s exactly the ones that they will go for that have a good employer brand.

Here’s how Marek from Grünfin puts it:

“Imagine yourself as an employee floating through a space filled with different opportunities. You are being pulled by your current job, while competing jobs exert their own pull on you. Now, if your current job’s pull is weak – you’re unengaged with your role, don’t have any quality relationships, and aren’t learning – you’re more susceptible to the pull of other jobs. Or, as it often happens, a conflict with your direct leader or a burnout experience sends you back to space. The companies and roles that manage to pull you closer have to do with inspiring people, the ability to learn new things and make a change, and positive company culture.”

To hire the best candidates, you need to be able to communicate to them how working at your company will help them get to where they want to be as an individual. 

What is an employer value proposition (EVP)?

An employer value proposition is the value a company brings to its employees. An EVP provides employees with reasons to stay with the company.

Here’s a quick exercise for you:

Do you know why your employees have chosen you as their employer?

What makes your employees stay? 

What motivates them daily?

An EVP is way beyond a salary, stock option, and other tangible benefits. It also includes the intangible benefits, such as company culture, onboarding experience, which you can offer to candidates. According to a study by Randstad, besides salary and benefits, the other four popular reasons to choose an employer are job security, work-life balance, a pleasant work atmosphere, and career progression.

Employer Branding For Startups: 5 Steps To Get Started

Now, let’s look at how you can get started with employer branding.


1. Define your employer branding goal

Before you get started with employer branding, you need to define why you’ll invest time in it in the first place. Some of the reasons could include:

  • Attracting the right candidates for your startup
  • Reducing time to hire
  • Retaining current employees
  • Increasing offer acceptance rate
  • Increasing referral rates

Once you know the why, you want to communicate this to your employees. Here’s a very important note from Katrin from Nortal: “Employer branding can’t be done by just one person or the HR department – it’s a joint mission!”

2. Identify key messages

All of the employer branding specialists we have talked to agree that employer branding starts internally. With the help of your current employees, you want to find answers to questions such as:

What makes your startup unique?

What impact is your product/service having on the world?

What work-related challenges are your employees facing?

What are the personal growth opportunities?

What are your company values?

What’s your company culture like?

What does an average day look like in your company?

Answers to these questions will be the basis for your employer branding strategy. It’s what you will communicate to candidates through different channels.

But be mindful. According to Isabella Lampela, employer branding lead at Wolt, It’s key that you are authentic in your communication“No candidate is going to believe you when you say that working at your company is an everyday joy and your company is like one big family.”

Also, here’s how Marek from Grünfin views it:

“An employer brand is like a promise. The things we do and the promises we make (and keep) define how we’re perceived. So before you start looking for the best employer branding channel, ask your employees about the promise that made them join. Find out if and why they would recommend you.”

Vivi from Finders Seekers added: “Candidates want to know whether they’ll be able to do something meaningful that is aligned with their values. Will they be able to contribute to a bigger societal challenge? What kind of things can they learn? Can they grow into something that they want to become? Obviously, other things such as salary must be at a desirable level, but ultimately you have to cater to candidates’ intrinsic motivations.”

3. Identify key channels of communication

Once you have outlined your communication strategy, you need to identify the marketing channels where you will communicate those messages. Essentially, you need to find out, through research and testing, where your target audience spends their time. For instance, if you are looking to hire new developers, then is creating adverts on a channel like LinkedIn where they get approached daily going to be effective? Probably not.

An effective way to find out the key channels is to survey your own employees. Ask them, where do they consume content, what type of content do they like, where they get information, where they learn about their work, etc.

You are probably thinking, but what are the best channels for employer branding? There can only be one answer to this question: it depends.

Vivi from Finders Seekers puts it very well:

“Choosing the channels of communication depends entirely on your target talent audience. Who are you trying to attract? Where do they spend time outside of work? How can you reach them directly and indirectly? Are you looking for volume hires or niche roles?”

“However, some channels that are very good for employer branding are, for example, Instagram as you can visually showcase who you are as an employer with authentic photos, animations, and videos by putting your employees in the spotlight. LinkedIn is also an important channel to grow your overall awareness. Hosting events and offline branding is a channel in itself – and this is probably one of the best channels once you have already peaked the interest of that person.”

4. Empower your employees to be ambassadors

When it comes to employer branding, word-of-mouth is powerful. Employees who have a positive experience with a company are more likely to encourage others to apply.

You have to empower your employees to share your company story, values, and mission with the outside world. This doesn’t mean you tell them what to do, but rather you inspire them and give them the tools they need. For instance, this could be encouraging them to feature on a podcast, encouraging them to be active on social media, and showing them what a good post looks like.

“To understand and be able to choose what are the most effective channels for branding your company, you should start from the inside and work on your internal branding first. This will give you needed insights and the advantage of getting your current employees to be brand ambassadors and engage new talent.” – Katrin from Nortal.

“Get your employees involved in your employer branding work e.g. by organizing social media training and how to be an employee ambassador!” – Vivi from Finders Seekers.

5. Combine high and low engagement tactics

Whilst marketing tactics such as job adverts, Facebook ads, and career sites are important, they only allow you to get a candidate’s attention for a short period of time. Research shows that an average candidate engages with a company seven months before applying. So, the chances that a quality candidate applies to your company after merely seeing your job advert is quite small.

That’s why it is important to combine the low engagement tactics with the high engagement tactics. High engagement tactics could include going on a podcast to talk about how you are building your product. Or, going to an event and doing a presentation that provides value to your target audience.

According to Katrin from Nortal, it all comes down to testing: “Analyze the findings and make smart decisions depending on if you want long or short-term results.  I believe in keeping a balance of promoting adverts for short-term quick wins but also not to forget to create content that you can use long-term and also have on your website. So, make sure that if somebody Googles your company, they will find relevant information, such as your careers site, Glassdoor profile, and LinkedIn page.”

Hear from the experts – how startups can get started with employer branding

Marek Unt, Chief Marketing Officer at Grünfin

Begin by understanding what makes your organization special to your employees. You’ll want to amplify their stories, whether it’s through referral programs, blog posts or Instagram stories.

Also, don’t expect this to be a quick process. The purpose of employer branding isn’t to fill positions quickly, it is to attract and keep people over a long period of time.

Katrin Koha, Head of Employer Branding at Nortal 

Before anything, the most important part is to understand how much time you can or need to spend on employer branding. Take into consideration the business goals and understand how employer branding influences that as well. This will give an understanding for all stakeholders to help set goals. Only this way can you kick off employer branding that brings the most value with limited resources.

After that, internal branding is the next topic to focus on. This involves understanding the company’s plans, values, and mission. This links to all the other internal activities that your company offers to employees – such as events, benefits, internal communication, candidate experience, etc. To start successfully with internal branding, the company’s management needs to be on board as a stakeholder and an internal advocate.

A strong internal brand will give you a strong external brand! 

Vivi Brooke, Head of Employer Branding Services at Finders Seekers.

Start by reflecting on where you are now with your employer branding activities. Do you have a long-term strategy outlined or do you do things reactively based on immediate recruitment needs? If you only do things reactively you are already too late! If you don’t have an employer branding strategy – you should start from that and create the roadmap of how you will achieve becoming a top-of-mind employer for your target talent audiences.

Don’t know your target talent audiences? Then you need to work on your talent personas and clarify your key selling points for them. Sometimes refining or creating from scratch your Employer Value Proposition (EVP) is necessary!

Find the low-hanging fruits and put them to use! It’s important to identify what you already have internally that has not been shared or communicated externally yet! Document, no need to over-create – unless it’s missing!

Enjoyed this article? Read out previous Recruiter’s Corner blog post about employer branding with Isabella Lampella from Wolt.