Use a Strong Employer Brand to Stand Out in a Tight Labour Market

Struggling, again, to find the staff you need? An industry-wide shortage of skilled workers makes a recruitment strategy more important than ever for hospitality businesses. And whether you’ve got 5 staff or 500 the key to your strategy is to treat potential employees like potential customers, using your brand to attract them.

The tourism and hospitality industry will have more than 106,000 new job openings in the decade through 2028, according to projections. That means the top talent has a lot of options. Developing and marketing your employer brand can provide a competitive advantage for your business by catching their eyes (and hearts).“Without a strategy I think (businesses) are going to get left behind,” says Arlene Hall, regional director of Talent and Culture for the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver.

Adds Vivek Sharma, former general manager of Sun Peaks Grand Hotel & Conference Centre near Kamloops: “We have a strategy as to how we look for business. Exactly the same thing needs to be applied for talent acquisition.”

The results can be impressive. “We really noticed our new and improved brand for our company has resulted in a higher number of applications for all positions,” says Heather Bodnarchuk, vice-president of operations at Prestige Hotels & Resorts in Kelowna.

Here’s how you can make branding the cornerstone of your recruitment strategy:

1. Build your brand as a preferred employer

A reputation as a great place to stay draws customers. Similarly, being known as a great place to work draws job applicants. And in both cases, the branding will succeed only if it is authentic. Your actions must deliver on your words. “Our potential employees are also looking at TripAdvisor. They’re seeing what our guests are saying,” says Hall.

The essence of a brand as an employer of choice? “You must have a good culture,” advises Ian Powell, general manager of the Inn at Laurel Point in Victoria. Good HR practices also matter. “Be known for it,” he adds.

Start by assessing how you are perceived as an employer. Consider conducting a confidential staff survey. People on your payroll can tell you how they feel about your salary, benefits, vacation time, job duties, hours of work, and work environment. Do they see you as a company that cares about them – the hallmark of being an employer of choice? Check their perceptions against your own. If you’re all in sync, you’re delivering on your brand promise. If not, consider making some organizational changes to keep you competitive.

You should also ask employees what they value most about working with your organization. The answers may give some new insight into what your brand should convey to job applicants. Employee turnover can provide good intel too. A revolving door not only negatively affects your bottom line but is also detrimental to branding your company as a great place to work. If your turnover is high, try to determine why and then put employee retention strategies in place to fix the problem.

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2. Think of potential employees as new customers

Bringing guests through your doors keeps you in business. The same is true of employees. To recruit both, you need to answer a critical question: What’s in it for them?

“Our branding piece plays into the career growth and opportunities,” explains Kimberley Hughes, general manager of the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe. “It really does attract hospitality professionals who are looking to advance their careers.”

It’s about more than a paycheque for job seekers. They’re also looking for companies that value a positive impact on society. “We get a lot of interest when we talk about our social responsibility program,” Hall says. And that’s not just a millennial mindset. Applicants of all ages care about causes and a sense of community. They want to feel a sense of connection, and to be engaged, with their workplace. Your brand, therefore, needs to reflect your values. And don’t forgot that many applicants are looking to the industry for a career, so promote professional development opportunities too.

Just as repeat guests can be your best marketers by spreading the word, your current staff can be your best recruiters. Are they radiating “come work for us” vibes? Do they share great work experiences on social media? You can encourage their referrals by offering incentives, and sometimes just by asking them to tell their friends. Another way to involve them is to invite them to sit in on job interviews and to share examples of what they like about working at your business.

Finally, know what sets you apart from your competition in the eyes of job seekers. Tell them why they should choose you over someone else. To do that, determine your company’s unique strengths and communicate them in your brand.

3. Plan for the long-term as well as today

You need “heads in beds” tonight but your marketing also seeks guests for the coming weeks, months and years. Similarly, your recruitment strategy – and activity — needs to address immediate or short-term needs but focus on the future. “Talent acquisition is a year-round process,” Hall says.

The goal, says Sharma, is to “subtly and softly have your brand presence in their mind.” When he speaks at hospitality training schools, for example, he tells students, “I’m not coming here to hire you.” Instead, he’s planting a seed about his resort so that when students graduate and need work, they may recall the brand and seek it out.

4. Be innovative in spreading the word

When it comes to getting your message in front of guests, social and new media dominate the landscape. The same holds true for recruitment strategies. But don’t limit yourself to the mainstream networks like LinkedIn and Facebook. Think about niche channels too. You can post on Reddit. Or put your brand on Instagram, suggesting why people should join your staff, with hashtags like #workingfor(company name).

Some other creative ways to share your brand:

  • Use staff, rather than management or hired actors, to tell your story in videos or in a “jobcast” (similar to a podcast)
  • Encourage referrals from staff and former employees who have teenagers, young adults or even parents who  may be looking for work
  • Post job ads that reflect the brand rather than simply list duties. Injecting some humour shows personality; acknowledging the job’s challenges demonstrates honesty
  • Hold meet and greet sessions that let your staff and potential applicants mingle
  • Contact past applicants (or seasonal employees) with reminders about new opportunities

5. Sell the job, don’t just advertise it

A basic description of your business – “we have beds and a restaurant” — won’t wow customers. Similarly, a basic Help Wanted message that only summarizes the job opening won’t attract potential employees. You need to inject some emotion to increase your appeal.

“We try to highlight how much fun it is to work here, ” says Hughes.

At the Crest Hotel in Prince Rupert, general manager Scott Farwell says his business used to emphasize its status as an award-winning, full service hotel. “We have noticed that this type of approach has limited candidates who feel they may not have the experience to apply so we have adjusted our branding to include more of a lifestyle,” he says.

Your ads should portray job openings in an employee-friendly manner. Detail the learning and incentives available to staff. Talk about your policies and programs that help employees balance life and work. And include a description of your workplace culture that emphasizes your values.

Promoting your brand makes good business sense. Using it in your employee recruiting does too. In the struggle to win the war for talent – a battle that is challenging today and will be more difficult tomorrow — finding and retaining good people is more than a competitive advantage. It’s a matter of survival.