War for Talent - Employer Branding with Jessica from Zenew

We sit down with Jess from Zenew to chat about employer branding and how businesses can leverage it to win the war for talent.

Talent & Hiring
War For Talent
Interview Series

⋅ min read

For this part of our War for Talent series, we wanted to find out how employer branding might be the key to attracting and retaining top talent.

Jess is the founder of Zenew - a flexible talent solution that allows brands to attract and retain the best talent. With over 10 years of experience in talent acquisition and employer branding, Jess noticed a need for an approach that bridges these two processes. That’s when Zenew was born!

Alicia, Head of People at Ben, caught up with Jess to learn more about employer branding and discover how we can use it to become more competitive in today's tough talent market.

How would you define Employer Branding and what is an employer brand?

An employer brand is how you identify as an employer - this means considering perceptions of your brand, both internally and externally. 

“A common myth is that all employer branding is a focus on recruitment marketing and external work.” 

But, we should really be looking internally and looking at how your employer brand is being perceived from inside as well. 

When you apply employer branding work, it's how you strengthen, position and change your employer brand so it works for you. It touches every part of your business but is really important when it comes to the people aspect.

How would you say the tone of an organisation can inform employer branding?

I’d say, don’t be afraid to be brave with your employer brand. 

I think a tricky area is when you have a corporate brand, but you want to humanise it and bring it to life. But how can you do this without losing credibility for your corporate brand? 

It’s about leveraging your consumer brand to work for your corporate brand. 

E.g. Some big corporate banks are known as corporate brands because of the credibility and trust they’ve built being so important, but a lot of their employer branding work and consumer campaigns really appeal to emotional narratives through storytelling. 

From your experience, what are some common pitfalls that brands have faced when it comes to employer branding.

Finding your brave

Brave looks different to everyone. But I think a pitfall that I often see is not finding your distinctive voice. So being brave really involves this and taking ownership of your part of your industry or of the space you’re trying to create more awareness in. 

A lot of people, without finding their distinctive voice, can come across as quite generic and I’d say that’s quite a pitfall. 

When you look at job specs and career pages, you’ll notice there’s quite a lot of generic content out there. Even the way a lot of job specs are put together can be very generic. I think if you can find the courage to find your brave and be very distinctive, then that’s how you’re going to start setting yourself apart from your competitors. 

Prioritising the employer brand

Another one is not prioritising your employer brand. Employers are often caught in a consistent loophole of trying to find talent, retaining talent and keeping people happy. 

If you do the work on your employer brand then it does start to work for you. 

It’s not always about having a huge budget to put towards doing external recruitment and having lots of digital assets. Employer branding work can be done really smartly and without spending huge amounts of money. You should really focus on aligning it with your business strategy and embedding it within your business.

So, if the focus is too narrow then perhaps they might lose some of that authenticity and that message?

Absolutely - your values are almost your health check in your organisation. They underpin everything you do and how you communicate but your employer brand really sets the tone for your values and everything else as well. 

If you look at the core message of your employer brand then you can feed off pillars of where you go with that brand internally and externally. 

For example, if you look at the employee lifecycle and what someone goes through when they’re with you, there's an opportunity for you to purposefully design an employee experience that reinforces your employer brand. These little things will reinforce and strengthen your employee brand. Commercially this will do you a world of good, too.

How do you think a company can measure the success of a brand and how can you go about getting that information?

  1. Data-based decision making

It can be as simple as holding an internal focus group - whether that’s a one-to-one interview, or talking to people from different teams and getting their opinions and feedback. 

From a quantitative side, you want the numbers - your NPS score, or the likes of how many people are willing to advocate for you. So establish where you’re at now based on the data. 

Last week I went out onto the streets of London and started talking to Gen Z people about their perceptions of an employer that I’m working with at the moment.

Just to really understand if they have that awareness or if they consider it to be a desirable place to work - because that's what we’re really trying to do: drive desire. And find out what's important to them and if that’s reflected in what we’re offering. 

  1. Find your truth

With anything people related, we don’t tend to want to know where it's going wrong. But until we find out what isn't working well, we can't change it. 

So don't expect everything to be perfect and for your employees to all say they’d all advocate for your brand. So don't be afraid to get the truth out there to see what you can do to strengthen your employer brand. 

To what extent do you think the leadership team runs the employer brand of an organisation?

The leadership is a huge part of the employer brand as a whole, but everyone is. 

Getting the leadership team on board with anything you’re doing with employer branding is so important. Putting together a strategy and showing the impact it’ll have on the business tends to start with support from the leadership team. 

At the same time, the leadership team should trust someone to run with the creativity of an employer branding campaign and defining their message. So yes, they are really valuable, but it's about making sure the employer brand is representative of everyone.

When a company grows, cultures change - to what extent does your brand change internally and externally? 

I think that’s why it’s important for brands to do an employer health check every so often. Because as a brand you need to do different things at different times. 

From a Zenew point of view, operating as a startup, I need my employer brand when I'm hiring people to work in a very different way to if we grew to 100+ people. You have to adapt to the time, so what might have worked for you a year ago might not work for you now. 

Attracting talent is a huge challenge at the moment for many organisations - who do you think is smashing it from an employer branding perspective, and why? 


I think Adidas are smashing it at the moment and doing a lot of work around employer branding that’s really strong. 

I think you have to be careful in conversations like this. Someone with a small team of 10 doesn’t have as big a budget or creative team as Adidas to focus on the employer brand. They might wonder how they could do the same and get the same reach.

Always look out for smaller companies that are similar to yours. When you’re doing your health check on your brand, don’t compare yourself to someone who’s well established. Look at your competitors, look at their careers pages, how quickly they’re hiring people, what kind of narrative they’re sharing on linkedin. That initial bit of research doesn’t cost. 

Service Now

Servicenow - a workflow platform- were number 1 in the Glassdoor top 50 companies list. 

They’re a huge global company, but what they’re doing so well is simplifying everything. Not over-complicating their messaging, it's very clear who they are. 

They have very powerful tag lines which hook people in if they’re looking at the careers page. Simple messaging that leans on emotion - they talk about belonging, bringing yourself to work, happiness and wellbeing. 

These are important to people and should ideally be corporate pillars for everyone, but they really deliver that well through employee stories and social media content. The experience they’re putting together for their people is reflected in everything they’re doing. That’s why it's worked so well for them. 

Glassdoor is very much a proof point for an employer brand. It’s not about getting people to say really nice things about you, but it’s about looking at that as a truth point. 

I always advise clients to look at proof points, or truth points. These are so important because they give you credibility. If someones looking to work with you, they’ll look at these.

Proof points can be employee stories, job descriptions. Make sure they’re true, because they’re everywhere. It’s easy now to find out the truth so that’s why an employer brand needs to be embedded everywhere.  

With Brewdog, we found that the brand that we see from the outside wasn’t necessarily reflected internally. What do you think organisations can learn from events like this? 

With the Punks with Purpose case with Brewdog, I applaud their bravery for speaking out because it’s not easy for people to do.

What we can learn from these situations comes back to proof points. I think now [if people] want to share something about a toxic work culture, bullying or harassment in the workplace, it's very easy to do so because we have social media. And I think it should be that way because if you don't have a toxic work culture and you’re treating people really well, then it isn't something you need to be concerned or worried about. 

“What we can learn from that is we have to do what we say we do. You need to prove it and live by it.”

With Punks with Purpose, it was interesting from an employer branding point of view. Obviously it can cause damage, and rightly so, but it’s all about recognising that you have to live your values. Are internal and external perceptions actually aligned? Are your core values really thread through everything you do? If not, you can address it. 

The key takeaway should be to find your authentic truth and make sure it's working for you. There is always a chance that people will talk about the truth, so if your truth isn't working for you then it can be very damaging. 

What would be your top 3 pieces of advice for someone who is responsible for overseeing an employer brand initiative?

  1. Data-based decision making.

Always start there. You don’t need to bring in a full research team or specialist to do this. You can simply hold internal focus groups, or understand by a survey what the awareness is externally.  Think about if you’re a desirable place to work, if it's not, why not. Thinking about your core message and what you want that to be. Until you get the data it's very hard to understand where you’re at. 

Then have key data points that you can use to track if what you’re doing is working and tracking the impact of your work. 

  1. Finding your brave and distinctive voice.

This can be something huge, or something about creative expression and being brave in that way. 

Or simply considering how you can find your distinctive voice in your space and how it's going to work for you. And that could be looking at external and internal comms, the way you write job specs, or how you hold your company-wide meetings. It’s considering how you will have your voice. 

  1. Don’t forget the internal brand!

The starting point for a lot of people is recruitment and marketing because we know there is a war on talent and it is tricky to get people they need through the door, happy and embedded within their team. That is always going to be your first starting point. 

External work is great, but you have to do the internal work at the same time - if not, before. As much as your efforts should be put into external and employer branding work, also look at the internal work that you can do too.

This also loops back to collecting the data and understanding where you’re at and how you’re going to improve and strengthen your employer brand internally and deliver on your core message that you want to share with the world. 

Even if you’ve never done any work on it before, the opportunity there is huge. It could help you to attract, retain and engage talent. 

Do you have any advice on where people can go to find tools, information or any groups they can follow to find initial inspiration or ideas?

  • Universum are a brilliant voice in this space. They have some really interesting data to help you understand how the pandemic has impacted what people want from an employer brand. 
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