4 Ways to Prevent Damage to Your Talent Brand

March 26, 2015

A recent study from Cornell University discovered that when job candidates are exposed to negative information about a company, they're much less likely to consider working there and likely to remember that negative information for a long time.

The reverse, however, isn't true. The study showed that job candidates tend to shrug off and quickly forget positive information about a company. In other words, the old rule "there's no such thing as bad publicity" doesn't apply to talent brands.

Because of this, recruiters and talent-brand managers must concentrate less on creating positive publicity and focus more on preventing negative publicity and on damage control when such publicity occurs.

While angry customers and bad product reviews certainly take their toll, the worst publicity from a talent-brand standpoint comes from employees or former employees, who now have the power to broadcast their dissatisfaction through social networking.

With that in mind, here are four ways to avoid damage to your talent brand:

1. Treat your employees decently.

No matter how much money you spend on public relations to burnish your talent brand, if you mistreat your employees, it will eventually create bad publicity that overwhelms positive attributes you're attempting to define.

In recent years, companies have seen their talent brand damaged by news reports about low wages, suggestions that workers apply for government aid, failures to provide adequate safety measures, discrimination towards women, and so forth.

Regardless of whether those accusations are valid, when they're reported in the media it damages a company's talent brand.  The best way to avoid such publicity is to actively address any possible sore points before they become part of the public discourse.

Similarly, when bad publicity about the way you're treating employees does take pace, move quickly not just to handle the immediate PR crisis but also to address the root problem.

2. Train employees on proper use of social media.

Before the advent of social networking, companies only allowed vetted executives to talk to the media. Today, however, every employee has a world-wide soapbox and therefore the ability to create a talent-brand disaster.

For example, employees at a restaurant in Delaware recently posted Facebook and Instagram photos of receipts from bad tippers, accompanied by racist comments and hashtags. Needless to say, when the story broke in a local paper, it damaged the company's brand. Just as important, the story identified the restaurant as an employer who hires jerks.

Similar problems can be avoided by having written rules and making employees aware of them. However, to ensure that employees really understand such rules and their importance, employment lawyer Jon Hyman recommends the use of training videos, citing these examples from Zurich Insurance and KPMG.

3. Treat job candidates as talent-brand ambassadors.

Recruiters and hiring managers naturally focus their energy and attention on winnowing down a list of candidates to find the candidate who's the best fit. However, the candidates that you don't select will emerge from the experience with an opinion of your talent brand too. And they're likely to share that experience online.

For example, a web search on "bad job hunting experiences" spills out comments like this:

"I want to share this unfortunate event to everyone out there that there are plenty of good recruitment agency but when you chance upon a very bad recruitment agency like Executive Network International, it scars you for life."

Needless to say, that's not the kind of "buzz" you want for your talent brand. Fortunately, you can lessen the likelihood of job candidates who badmouth your company by following three common-sense guidelines:

  1. Everyone who applies for a job gets 1) a confirmation that his or her application has been received, 2) a confirmation that the job has been filled.
  2. If a job application requires substantial effort on the part of a candidate (such as writing essays), the candidate gets a personal note (not a form letter) when the job has been filled.
  3. Every candidate who takes the time to be interviewed gets regular updates about the decision-making process and a personal call to inform that candidate if he or she did not get the job. The call should include a discussion of the reasons the candidate wasn’t chosen.

While it might seem like a lot of bother, the alternative--treating job candidates shabbily--can create hundreds or even thousands of people who will lambast your talent brand any time your corporate name comes up.

4. Let employees vent during exit interviews.

According to a recent article in Forbes, one of the top five reasons employees leave jobs is that they don't feel as if management respects them. In most cases, this perceived lack of respect probably manifests itself as a failure on the managers' part to listen to what the employee has to say.

It's a truism about people that everyone wants to be heard. If an employee is leaving because of managers' failure to listen, the exit interview can give that employee an opportunity to finally be heard, which will probably make that employee less likely to post negative comments online.

The same is true of employees who are fired or laid off. According to some experts, such employees needn't be interviewed because they "may have a few choice words to share that will make him/her feel better but won’t provide constructive feedback."

With all due respect, that last advice totally misses the point. Giving such employees an opportunity to vent in private makes it less likely that they'll vent in public.

Some companies wrongly believe that a non-disparagement clause in the employment contract will restrain former employees from badmouthing. Unfortunately, while such clauses have been upheld in the courts, former employees can simply post their comments anonymously without much fear of reprisal.

None of the above is likely to be helpful, of course, if your company already in the midst of a full blown brand disaster.  However, as the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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* image by bored-now

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