3 min read

Are Employer Branding Platforms Worth Your Budget?

Why startups are wasting their money and what they can do about it.

4-minute read

This is a longer post than normal. But it’s an important topic. And something I’ve been thinking about for a while. My hope is that it inspires thought and curiosity. Enjoy!

For most VC-backed startups recruiting competitive talent, candidate quality is controlled by recruiter outreach.

Why? Inbound volume is low. And even when it’s not, the quality still is.

The candidates that do come inbound typically lack the necessary skill and/or experience that builds complex products, grows revenue quickly, and meets founder (and investor) expectations.

There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s purely a function of a startup needing to recruiter smart people who don’t know much (or anything) about their company. The need (talent demand) doesn’t match the awareness...yet.

With this being the case, tell me why paying to be featured in listicles is valuable for any of these startups?

Tell me why being featured in a “Top 5” list that goes out to junior and mid-level talent matters when they’re trying to recruit senior-level engineers and salespeople––most of which are currently well employed.

Tell me why any “employer branding” platform offering these content opportunities is worth even a penny of their budget.

This is about attention. And a company should only invest in things that get the attention of its target audience. Period.

Yet, Talent and Employer Brand leaders at fast-growing startups are being duped by these platforms, being sold on the idea that the “views” they provide are somehow a valuable metric.

Views mean nothing.

Views are what cause recruiters to spin their wheels by talking to the wrong people.

High-growth startups intuitively know this. It’s why they still go outbound. It’s still the only place they get their quality.

And if these third-party platforms actually delivered on their promise of attracting the right applicants, their customers wouldn’t have to do outreach at the scale they do.

But these platforms can’t deliver. So they choose views as their primary metric.

Because let’s face it, views are still the vanity metric that we want to believe in. And it’s how they trick you into justifying your spend.

Here’s the game:

  • First, pay for a “culture” page on their platform.
  • Then, pay more to create basic content to populate this page.
  • Then, pay more to get that basic content sent out to their special email list of candidate subscribers.
  • Then, pay more to create “premium” (still basic) content that goes out in a listicle featuring other companies who’ve done the same.

Then, pay more to have a basic article featured on another third-party PR site (Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur) that the platform has a relationship with. Btw, no senior-level candidate cares about any of these sites.

*Some platforms even make you pay to license the content back from them for your own use.

Bottom line: These platforms are charging money for content and attention.

That’s common and not the issue.

The issue is that they’re charging startups a lot of money to create mediocre content (at best) and gain access to the wrong audience––all by touting a bogus metric.

Instead, startups need to redirect their dollars and invest in:

  1. Making their outreach so good that it cuts through the noise.

This means seeing recruiter enablement as the top priority by:

  • Creating highly informative content specifically designed for outbound.
  • Realizing (and believing) that as of today, recruiters are the number one distributor of content and that their messages are the number one channel to reach their audience.
  1. Building a brand organically in the right communities of talent.

This means:

  • Creating a culture worth talking about.
  • Designing and executing an amazing candidate experience.
  • Content, content, content + distribution.
  • Showing up a lot, for a long time
  • Having a ton of patience

The more that I look into these so-called “employer branding” platforms that many growth-stage startups are wasting budget on––and the more of their customers I talk with––the more that I question their validity.

I realize that this will rub some of my industry peers the wrong way.

But this isn’t about agreeing or disagreeing––you can choose to spend your company’s money however you want. And I hope that you know which investments produce the highest ROI.

This is about questioning our industry’s norms. And if we care about the progression and credibility of our industry, these are questions worth asking.

Note: I want to reiterate that I am speaking specifically about VC-backed tech companies that are competing for senior-level talent. If you’re a startup hiring for junior roles, these third-party sites might very well be worthy of your budget. They MIGHT be.