Gettin’ Schooled: The Academics Behind Employer Branding

Six years ago employer branding sort of fell into my lap. I didn’t major in it in college. There was no formal “this is how we do it.” I talked to experts in the field, read everything I could find, and drank a lot of coffee (creativity by caffeine). So, when I recently saw a MOOC offered by eCornell, I thought … why not? Let’s see if what I am doing is right by academic standards?

What’s a MOOC?

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Class. My MOOC – taught by Chris Collins, an associate professor at Cornell – was on employer branding and social media. Oh, and best of all, it (like many MOOCs) was free and self-directed.

3 A’s of Employer Branding

In the course, Collins defines employer branding as the “perceptions and beliefs” that others have about a company as a place to work. I think most of us will agree with that. He then goes on to talk about the three A’s of employer branding: Awareness, Attitudes and Attributes.

  • Awareness:  Does your target audience know that your company exists? Does your target audience recognize your company as an employer of choice?
  • Attitudes:  What are the general feelings that people have about your company?
  • Attributes:  What is the detailed knowledge that people have about your organization’s pay, total rewards, training, etc.? How do you stack up against your competitors for talent?

Does this make sense? These are questions that I’ve asked, though I never sat down and mapped them out as the “three A’s.” If you are early in your employer brand journey, I would encourage you to understand the A’s as they relate to your company.

Employer Branding & Recruitment Marketing 101

Before creating a Facebook page or Twitter handle, there are several precursors to do. Here are a few areas that you’ll want to explore:

  • Internal assessment: What are your company’s existing values? What do your current employees – at all levels – say about what it’s like at your workplace?
  • Target audience: Who are you trying to attract? What do they want from an employer?
  • Value proposition: What differentiates you from other companies? What makes you special? Does your value prop align with information gathered during the assessment stage? Does what you have synch with what your target audience wants?

Once you’ve done your homework and truly get your brand from the inside out, that’s when you can start developing communication channels. That’s when consistency in messaging starts to matter and when the employer brand storytelling begins.

Back in 2008, I worked with a research team for more than four months prior to implementing brand initiatives. That foundation had a huge impact in setting our course. Additionally, over the past six years we’ve taken the time to analyze and modify as needed.

What just made business sense, apparently makes academic sense, too! You may now move to the head of the class.

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Shannon Smedstad

Shannon Smedstad has nearly 20 years of recruitment, employer branding, and communications experience. Currently, she serves as the Principal Employer Brand Strategist at exaqueo. Previously, she held employer branding and recruiting leadership roles at CEB and GEICO. She’s a work at home mom raising two awesome girls who also enjoys reading, running, leading a Girl Scout troop, and her morning coffee. You can connect with Shannon on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Reader Interactions


  1. Rayanne Thorn says

    HI Shannon–

    Great post. Sometimes, the basics are the most difficult to grasp and implement. Doing the foundational work, asking the questions “how are we doing?” and “what can we do differently?” in the onboarding process can make all the difference to the future of a company’s employer brand / employment brand. I am excited to see how effective story gathering and telling will have an impact on internal branding. Hopefully, positively and not send HR and marketing teams back to the oasis with their heads in the sand because “this isn’t how we do it” is so ready to escape their lips.

    Thanks again!
    -Rayanne Thorn

    • Shannon says

      Hi Rayanne –

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Knowledge is power and , to me, research is a critical first step. We might assume we know the brand, but being “out in the field” and hearing directly from our employees can be eye-opening. I hope you have a great week! – SS


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