The one with the brands

As I make my merry way around the recruiters who may be kind enough to peddle my wares to their clients, I am asked, regularly, who I would like to work for? Now, most questions I get asked have a ready (if not, at times overly long) answer, however this question leaves me scratching my head/stroking my chin/looking dopey [depending on the day] as I have very little idea how to go about answering the question.

At an event hosted by Reconverse in November the recruitment website reed.co.uk presented some data from a survey they had conducted. The survey asked amongst other things, which employer would you most like to work for. The survey received over 2000 respondents, who had no problem answering the question and the top 10 are listed below:

1. Virgin

2. Apple

3. Google

4. NHS

5. BBC

6. John Lewis

7. Barclays

8. PWC

9. BP

10. Coca-Cola

[Source: Reed.co.uk via @Reconverse, original recording can be found here]

I don’t know a lot about recruitment websites but I would imagine given reed.co.uk’s roots in High Street employment agencies the demographics of the sample would be interesting to understand but that was the Top 10 of their brand index as they termed it.

I must admit when I first heard the list there were some that were no surprise i.e. Apple & Google. These companies have managed to create a sense in the market that working for them would be more like a spiritual experience than a job and good luck to them. John Lewis being included was a dead cert both for their partnership model but also because of favourable TV coverage this year about working there.

Some, however, took me a little more by surprise…. Yes, the NHS (in fact if you listen to the transcript of the session someone loudly exclaims “why?” after they are announced) and I must confess I was a little bemused at their inclusion but the NHS brings an interesting point as like Virgin that’s a catch-all for numerous different organisations – the NHS does not have one amorphous culture, leadership style, operating model etc likewise I’m sure that working at Virgin Cosmetics in Chichester is very different to working for Virgin Atlantic all of which lead me to a thought:

Do people want to work for the companies (or brands) they admire as consumers?

Coca-Cola, Virgin, Apple, Google, John Lewis and possibly the BBC are all well-respected consumer brands that I would imagine score very highly in their consumer brand relationships so are people answering the question based on their affection for their iPhone, the dreams of Virgin Upper or the simplicity of the Google search page?

Part of the reason I think I struggle with answering the question is that what I do/have done in organisations is often very little to do with consumer perception. The information that would make me able to answer the question is very often NOT in the public domain. Which brand wants to admit it has a deficiency in its leadership? Which brand wants to talk about a need to refocus its culture? Which brand wants to admit it has an inadequate succession plan?

The companies that interest me (and let’s face it are interested in me) are those that are at transformational stages of their life, have identified change agendas and the will (for that read resources) to want to do something about that in the people arena. Whether I love my iPhone has got very little to do with any of that but saying that I have been fortunate enough to experience Virgin Upper Class and any job that involves that on a regular basis – I’m in!

So, another question unanswered but if you have any views you’d like to share I’d be really interested to hear them as this was just my gut reaction to hearing the list and I may be very very wrong (but would be loath to admit it!)

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “The one with the brands

  1. It was ever thus Rob! The original employer brand has always been – and for most of the general public probably still is – the consumer experience…actual, vicarious and perceived. In my recruitment experience most candidates have been interested in the ‘aspirational’ brands.

    Had the list been done 10 or so years ago then companies like Marks & Spencer, British Airways and Sony would certainly have been on it…as would more banks. Now the shift is towards businesses such as Google and Apple – surprised no mention of eBay – and in the US you’d probably find Amazon, Starbucks and Nike fairly high.

    You mention NHS but I’ve found that public sector has traditionally been of interest to a number of jobseekers – depending on discipline.

    I’m not sure who Reed surveyed (did they say?) as there is often a difference between candidates who are actively and passively looking, and those currently working for ‘aspirational’ brands and those who never have.

    The one thing I would add though is that the list will vary between disciplines. Over the years I’ve recruited in finance, sales, HR and marketing and you find some differences depending on a business’s reputation in that discipline.

  2. Great post Rob, from the retail perspective, some businesses are easier to ‘sell’ than others. Most people will have a view based on their store experience and of course where they shop.

    Some of the most interesting appointments I have worked on have been with businesses that have been new to market, or are deemed ‘not cool’. Similarly, candidates with an open mind to listening to different opportunities are also the most enjoyable to work with.

    Maybe the top 10 above is more to do with great marketing (minus NHS!) rather than being a great place to work. All certainly have a great employer brand, buy hey, we all buy into branding, but give some of the uncool guys a go, they really could offer you so much more than bragging rights.

  3. Working in the digital marketing and advertising space allows me to have a different experience of this. We have people who come to work with us because of the brands in our portfolio. Some are quite ‘sexy’ and ‘exciting’ such as Virgin Atlantic, and others aren’t seen that way at all such as LloydsTSB. In both cases, and more, we see that it’s the brand perception which is attractive more than anything else. In reality, we’ve found that some of the most exciting work we’ve produced has been with brands willing to give things a go and see how they fare, which isn’t necessarily the Virgins of this world.

    In another respect, I wouldn’t see working for that top 10 as being attractive because in a similar way to you, I’m more interested in the people agenda and how they want to lead on that. I’m lucky in my current work, there is a lot to achieve, and I’m being challenged on most things in this area so I’m being kept more than engaged on all of this.

  4. This may be a dodgy statistic but I think I’ve read that 7% of the UK employed population work in the NHS. Given Reed’s market, it’s at least possible that a high proportion of their sample were applying for NHS roles at the time they completed the survey.

  5. Really enjoyed this. I am looking at employer branding at present and what I think these companies and some others do really well is market their signature experience. I have never worked for Google or Apple yet I feel like I have an idea what it would be like to work there. This is huge as it means they should be attracting people with the right fit for the organisation and those people who do not think they are the right fit can self select out. The key to this is ensuring that what you market is actually reality.

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