How This Fast-Growing Company Built an Employer Brand That Attracts the Right Candidates

January 27, 2020

As the fastest-growing restaurant management platform in North America, Toast is scaling at what feels like hyperspeed. We’ve doubled in size year-over-year and plan to do it again in 2020. Right now, we employ over 2,600 employees across the U.S. and in our Dublin office, and are tasked with hiring in volume without sacrificing our “toastiness” (aka quality).

If you ask anyone about their favorite part of working here, I guarantee that you’ll get the exact same answer: the people. It’s no secret that our employees, or Toasters as we like to call ourselves, are the main ingredient in our recipe for success. 

However, up until last March, we didn’t have a strategy in place to share this with candidates. We were struggling to hire at scale without lowering the bar on quality. So, we put a plan in place to tell the Toast story. Since then, we’ve doubled the number of inbound applicants and LinkedIn followers, tripled our Glassdoor following, and increased our Instagram following eightfold. We did this all through organic content generation and distribution, and by making sure that our recruitment process felt personal and human at every stage. 

Here are the steps we took to build our employer brand, which you too can use as a framework to build your own:

1. Used employee focus groups to build Toast's persona and voice

One of the first things we did was partner with Red Pill Talent to run cross-sectional focus groups to partner in formulating our persona and voice. When we asked Toasters what they felt made us unique, the responses were overwhelmingly consistent: “I can do more here, faster than anywhere else.” “The energy is vibrant. There are no Sunday scaries.” “There is a great sense of community. We help each other out without asking for anything in return.” “Friendships here last well beyond Toast.”

Toasters described our voice as “anecdotal, bold, funny, punny, informal but passionate, young with an old soul tone, culturally current, and culturally aware.” 

We then distilled these findings into four main themes to guide our content strategy: 

  1. Bring your whole self to work
  2. More than perks
  3. Teamwork
  4. Career growth and impact 

We wanted to ensure that the story we planned to tell was authentic, consistent, and mirrored the actual employee experience.

  • Screenshot of posting on Toast’s LinkedIn company page:  Social copy: We’re rolling into 2020 and “bready” to start the new year! What better way to kick things off than to show our appreciation for the people that inspired us in 2019. Tag a “roll” model in the comments below!
  • Screenshot of posting on Toast’s LinkedIn company page:  Social copy: Meet the members of our newest orientation class: The Class of Angel Food Cake! They know how to bring the energy…and serve up fantastic photo booth pics! #toastytuesday #wearetoasters #freshtoast  Post also includes photos of new employees holding up bread pun signs

2. Created social media content that stood out

What’s more important than creating content that appeals to the masses is creating content that draws in the people who will be successful at Toast. In order to attract the right people, you have to build a brand that stands for something, not for everything. 

Our sense of humor is a cornerstone of our employer brand and a core piece of our identity. It’s what makes us different from all the other tech companies hiring in Boston. We embrace our quirkiness — it’s our competitive advantage. 

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Related: Instacart’s 7 Tactics for Cooking Up a Great Employer Brand

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For example, we love bread puns. If you don’t like dad humor, you probably won’t like Toast. But that’s ok — we only want to attract people who are excited about our culture. 

One way this plays out on social is through our Toastictionary series. We share common words and how we’ve redefined them in the context of Toast. Everything from our conference rooms to our employee resource groups (communities) are named after types of bread. Think you know what a baguette is? Think again!

  • Screenshot of posting on Toast’s LinkedIn company page:  Social copy: You asked. We delivered. What do we call a Toast employee’s adult child? A baguette. Definitely not a crouton and a tad too “stale” to be a crostini. Fully baked and out of the bread basket.  Baguette Noun: A Toast employee’s fully grown, adult child. Not to be mistaken with a long loaf of French bread.

We also infuse this sense of humor into our growth narrative. Each time we welcome a new orientation class, we share a recipe that speaks to the makeup of the class. Toasters are encouraged to greet new team members in the comments.

  • Screenshot of posting on Toast’s LinkedIn company page:  Social copy: 2020 is the year of desserts! Introducing our first orientation class of the new year: The Class of Angel Food Cake. Help us give our Toasters an extra warm welcome. #wearetoasters #freshtoast  Our Recipe Class of Angel Food Cake  Ingredients: 7 teaspoons of marketing 9 dashes of people and culture 41 cups of sales 18 sprinkles of G&A 53 tablespoons of customer success 30 splashes of R&D  Instructions: Mix these ingredients together at orientation for an epic class of new hires!

By making it clear what we are all about, we’re able to attract candidates who will love working at Toast.

3. Put our employees in the spotlight 

We also educate Toasters on how they can help share our story from their unique vantage point. People don’t always trust what a company has to say, and giving our employees a voice on our channels helps us keep it real. We want the actual employee experience to align with the story that we are telling externally. So what better way to do that than to share user generated content from Toasters themselves and curate it on our Life at Toast Instagram account?

  • Screenshot of posting on Toast’s “Lifeattoast” Instagram account.  Photo is of woman and her two children and two dogs.  Social copy: What’s it called when you gather a toaster, crostini, crouton, and two biscuits? A bread basket! #croutonsoftoast #toastytuesday
  • Screenshot of posting on Toast’s “Lifeattoast” Instagram account.  Photo is of 5 people sitting on a couch and all are wearing flannel shirts  Social copy: The temperature may be dropping in Chicago, but #flannelfriday is keeping us extra toasty

Aside from posts, we frequently re-share stories from Toasters across our offices and in the field to show people’s day-to-day experiences in real time. If you’re curious, we save these stories on our Instagram story buttons. You’ll see people at team outings, celebrating milestones, spending time with their croutons (yes, we call the babies of Toast employees croutons), and more! 

We also run a weekly organic LinkedIn marketing campaign called #ToastyTuesday where Toasters are encouraged to share their stories and experiences online. There is no official prompt for these posts, and we don’t tell Toasters what to write. We let them do the talking.

  • Screenshot of Megan Dreyer, Toast’s Senior Candidate Experience Specialist, on her LinkedIn page  Social copy: Celebration 365 days at Toast, Inc! #toastytuesday  Photo is of Megan sitting beneath neon sign of Toast logo

4. Treated job descriptions like job ads

Many companies use the same language to describe their workplace. You’ve probably seen the same descriptors: “We’re a top place to work with amazing amenities and tons of growth opportunity. We’re developing cutting edge technology.” Sound familiar? We didn’t want to be another tech company with the same boilerplate company description, so we made ours “toasty” by adding a dash of restaurant lingo and a sprinkle of information about our non-traditional culture.

It’s our opinion that job descriptions are essentially advertisements, which is why we’ve started calling them job ads. With so much competition for talent, recruiters must also be marketers. 

5. Took the “thyme” to create thoughtful more personalized emails for candidates 

It costs $0 and a little extra time to craft thoughtful emails to candidates. In fact, you can design branded emails in your applicant tracking system (ATS) and teach your recruiting team how to personalize them. These personal touches really go a long way in improving your candidate experience and in turn your brand. There is another human sitting behind their computer screen reading your email, afterall. 

If you’re really pressed for time, prioritize branding the emails that you most frequently send to candidates. While we can’t share most examples of these communications for privacy reasons, below is one example of a “thank-you-for-applying” email that we’ve sent to candidates. It’s written in a fun way that’s reflective of our culture and demonstrates our appreciation for their interest in Toast.

6. Created a unique and thoughtful interview experience 

Have you ever forgotten to add seasoning to a recipe? It changes everything. That’s why details matter. Interviewing at a company can often be a nerve-wracking experience, so putting candidates at ease is a top priority of ours. We try to provide candidates with detailed information about how to get to our office space, what to wear, and what to expect after the interview ends. 

We’re our candidates’ biggest champions. We want them to shine in the interview room. While we can’t tell them exactly what they’ll be asked, we do try to make sure that they feel confident and ready. We do that by sharing an interview guide with all candidates that are coming onsite. We also provide them with our accommodations email address so that we can address their special needs in advance of the interview. It may sound quirky, but we also share our Toast Jams Spotify playlist with candidates. It includes a smattering of Toasters’ favorite songs; we think it makes for a great interview pump-up playlist.

For candidates preparing a case study or presentation, we often set up prep calls to provide coaching and guidance. This is especially important for our sales candidates who are required to prepare a pitch, and in some cases, a restaurant analysis. We really want to see their passion for the restaurant industry shine through. To ensure their success, our sales recruiters conduct three separate prep calls with candidates. 

7. Made sure that our interview experience was inclusive 

Above all else, our goal is to make all candidates at Toast feel welcome. We strive to create an inclusive environment, and one way we do that is by providing pronoun stickers at the front desk. It gives candidates an easy way to share their gender pronouns with us. It’s arguably the most important part of the on-site experience. It’s our way of being explicitly clear about our commitment to inclusion.

  • Photo of Toast employee holding up gender pronoun stickers in shape of pieces of toast

Once checked in and settled, candidates receive a guided tour of our space. This may seem trivial, but it matters. If you’re going to spend 40+ hours in a place, you want to make sure that it feels right. Plus, we like to point out all the funky decor around the office like our Lego wall, our pizza dog daily mascot, inflatable unicorn, and more!

  • Photo of man in dog costume in front of painting of dog in pizza cape above the hashtag: #pizza-dog-daily

(Fun fact: Pizza-dog-daily is one of our most active Slack channels with 405 members. What’s the channel description you ask? “I post the same picture of pizza dog every day.”)

Aside from the office tour, we also provide candidates with an agenda so they know what to anticipate. And in true Toast fashion, it incorporates our toasty lingo. In addition to the agenda, candidates are provided with a $5 coupon for Toast TakeOut. What better way to end an interview than by grabbing a quick bite near the office? The best part, Toast TakeOut enables you to order ahead for pickup. Convenient? We think yes. 

That’s a wrap 

As we continue to evolve as a company, we’re always looking for ways to spice things up. But while some things change, many remain the same, like our love of bread puns, our passion for the restaurant industry, and our relentless desire to delight our guests both in the office and beyond.

Natalie Audelo is the employer brand manager at Toast.

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