An Update from Ashley

A few years ago, I wrote a blog about the importance of taking a break to recalibrate career and personal goals. After managing this blog and keeping up with social media for years, I needed a mental break so I could find renewed passion for what I was doing in the HR and recruiting industry.

But, apparently, I never came back from that break. Oops.

It’s been nearly four years since I wrote that post. Four years since I stepped away from the hectic life of balancing a personal brand with work and everyday life. Do I regret it? No. That break allowed me to focus on other things that made sense for this stage of my life.

So, what’s been going on with little ol’ me these past few years. I’ll tell you!

Ch-Ch-Changes

  • Bye, Boston: Boston was an amazing experience, and I appreciated the threeish years I lived there. Being surrounded by so many smart people and having the chance to work at big tech organizations helped me fast-track my career. But city life was never for me. In the fall of 2016, my husband and I decided it was time to move on. We scouted out a bunch of new and exciting places, many on the West Coast.
  • Hi, Charleston: Funny enough, we’re back in Charleston. I swore up and down I wouldn’t come back. We moved away for a reason, and if I was going to move again, I wanted it to be somewhere new. However, my husband, a Sr. Site Reliability Engineer (DevOps, Cloud), got a really good job offer in Charleston. It was hard to pass up. Within a week of being back here, I realized it was a good move. Not only is it affordable, but it had all the things we missed while living in Boston.
  • Becoming a Homeowner: In Boston, we were eager to buy our first home. Despite both making a decent wage, the pricing in and around the area was ridiculous. We had high standards for what we wanted in a house–which I’ll blame on being spoiled by the cost of living in Charleston–so it was hard to swallow the prices and what we could get. Within a couple of months of being back in the South, we took the plunge. Not only did we buy our first house, but we built it in a neighborhood we loved the first time we lived here. It was a long and stressful six months but we’re so happy with the end result. This house is 100% ours.
  • Traveling the World: We were lucky enough to have lived by a major airport while in Boston, which kicked off our international travel. Being back in Charleston with its affordable living has allowed us the luxury of continuing this travel regularly. Just in this past year, we’ve traveled to Iceland, Austria, Prague, and multiple places in the United States. I’m always looking for the next adventure.
  • A Focus on Writing: Clearly, we all know I love writing (hence the blog). But this blog was a career move for me. Back in 2012, I had struggled to land a solid job because the economy was still recovering after the recession. I started this blog to show my passion and knowledge of HR/recruiting. It was basically an extension of my resume, and it ultimately landed me a pretty awesome job. However, my true passion is fiction. These past few years, I’ve written five novels and one novella with no plans of slowing down. I secured an agent in April 2019 and currently have manuscripts on submission. My goal is to become a hybrid author, so I’m in the process of self-publishing my first book while I wait to hear from traditional publishers. Thankfully, a lot of the skills I learned about personal branding for my career has helped me a lot with author branding.

Whew. That’s a lot of stuff. But I guess I should give you an update on my career too, huh?

A Career Transformation

In the winter of 2015, I landed my first job as an employer brand strategist. The role was brand new, with zero strategy behind it. I came in and built it from the ground up. It was exciting and a bit scary since it was all on me, but it was a great learning experience. I played around with strategy, built new marketing skills, partnered with other departments to produce content, and worked with vendors.

A year later–almost to the day–I was laid off due to a company acquisition. However, I had already secured a role with my current employer (a cybersecurity company in Boston) because knew it was coming. The new job was the same deal. I was tasked with building the employment branding function from nothing. I guess that’s my thing now. This is the third role I’ve been placed in that didn’t exist before me, which is kind of cool.

Thankfully, I’m still at this job more than three years later, which means I’ve had a lot of time to see how this role could grow and shift with the changes in marketing strategy and candidate markets.

About My Role

I’m the sole person in this role, and I do it 100% remote from my home office in Charleston. This means I not only have to think big picture (strategy), but also perform all the duties needed to keep it going (program management). It’s a lot, but it’s nice to own it. I’m doing everything from:

  • Strategy
  • Content development
  • Social media marketing
  • Events
  • Website & digital presence
  • Advertising
  • Photography & video production
  • Analytics
  • And more… much, much more

Working in an ever-changing role and competitive markets such as tech and cybersecurity has required me to be agile. Looking back on what the program was to what it is today is something that makes me proud. I’ve had to test new things, iterate, adjust, and replicate into new markets. This flexibility has not only allowed me to build skills quickly but gives me the freedom to make our recruiting efforts a success.

That said, I’m writing a ton for my new role. Everything you see on #LifeAtCB is pretty much me. Therefore, I will likely not write on this blog much anymore. However, if you are interested in connecting about all things employment branding/recruitment marketing, I encourage you to connect with me on LinkedIn.

I had so much fun connecting and learning from you all over the years, and I appreciate those who have read this blog!

Rediscovering Your Identity

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Identity is a funny thing. We spend our time trying to distinguish it, both personally and professionally, and then spend our lives trying to build and protect it once we know what it is. Our experiences and surroundings transform it. We go through cycles of trying to fit in, to making sense of who we are. Other times we are trying to stand out and become indispensable. And when we find a place where our identity makes sense, we get comfortable with the easy flow of knowing who we are and where we fit. But what happens when that comfortable place is gone?

It’s been a while since I’ve written last, mainly because I’ve been going through a transition that has tested my feelings towards my identity. In 2012, I developed my personal brand without even realizing it. I started this blog, joined online discussions, participated in Twitter chats, guest blogged, networked and so on. I was sharing my knowledge about HR, talent acquisition and business. And with each conversation, research and experience, my knowledge continued to grow to the point where I was able to provide valuable insight and suggestions. From the people I networked with, to the company I worked for and the clients I supported, I was able to make an impact. I started to work harder, I tied my name and experiences with my professional work and I truly believed I was going to build my career with that one company for at least five years, if not more. I was set… until I wasn’t.

A move to Boston from South Carolina made it difficult to keep up with the cost-of-living increase. I struggled but I tried hard to make it work. After all, I had built a reputation internally and externally. People from all levels, interns to c-level, came to me for brainstorming, mentorship or suggestions. My personal brand had seemed to merge into my company brand.  I excelled because my company was able to give me the things I needed to move forward that I couldn’t get myself. So, naturally, I wanted to be loyal and give back. We were a unit—an equal balance of give and take.

When it came to the point when I had to regretfully move on, I dealt with the loss. I fell silent; on social media, with those I networked with and with blogging. I had become so ingrained in the company and what I was doing there, that I truly believed that without my employment, all the things I’ve done over the last 2+ years was suddenly lost. As if with the end of that employment came the end of my worth and my ability to be impactful and valuable. It had been the first time I had felt so loyal and deeply connected to a company, that I wasn’t sure how to accept that I was now an outsider. I was no longer able to voice suggestions, develop strategies, author something or get recognition for a job well done. I was floating along without a home, without a purpose.

As I stated in my last blog, sometimes you just need time to handle the changes in life. You can be sad, in shock, in disbelief or even happy. Whatever you feel, it’s important you face it head on as soon as possible so you can start to make a plan for your next step. Over the last few weeks, that’s exactly what I did. I dealt with the sense of feeling orphaned and questioned who I was as a professional. Would my opinions matter without the backing of an organization? Or would I just be a random person who’s “faking it until I make it” and in which everyone can see right through?

But then I remembered something.

I built my personal brand before this company found me. My blog, my conversations and my interactions on social media were mine. Even while employed there, my thoughts were still my thoughts. Some of the ideas we implemented came out of my head based on what I knew or researched and my ability to make sense of it. Sure, my work at the company did help me learn more and helped me develop my professional skills because of hands-on experiences. But my capability to absorb that and develop it into something useful was because of what I knew on my own.

My identity is still my identity as long as I’m still breathing and pursuing it. It didn’t come about as some Frankenstein experiment developed by a specific employer. No; it was a compilation of several experiences and the way I processed it. My identity won’t change unless I change it myself, no matter if I’m employed by one employer for the rest of my life, work for myself or become a freelancer. This identity comes with me.

And with that notion, I began to feel better about the change. Maybe I haven’t found my “home” yet, but I no longer feel like I’m a wanderer that doesn’t belong. This is all about growing up and the sooner I get used to it, the better I’ll be at bouncing back without missing a beat.

I know well enough that I’m not the only one who has experienced this situation when going through a transition, voluntary or not. Letting go, moving on and getting used to a new chapter in your life (personally and professionally) is not always easy. An important reminder is to know that no matter what happens; you don’t lose yourself or what you’ve accomplished when something comes to an end. In fact, it’s just another addition to help shape your transformational identity.

 

Branding and Communities: Finding Your Starting Point

blahblahblahLately, I’ve had the opportunity to work on multiple projects that deal with employment branding and talent communities. I’ve come across some fantastic examples while performing research on successful and unsuccessful companies. I’ve been able to consult companies on their current state and provide suggestions for a better strategy. I’ve even had the chance to implement a few initiatives for my own company. It’s been a great learning experience from both research and hands-on experience, however, during this time I’ve also come across a lot of misconceptions regarding this. This simple misconceptions are what’s causing many companies to fail when it comes to maximizing their efforts.

In my time, I’ve seen companies with amazing branding, such as Adobe. I’ve also discovered some unique and fun talent communities, such as Zappos, GE and Accenture. I’ve even had the pleasure of demoing technology such as Work4, which has really added something appealing to social media recruitment and social media talent communities. And tech companies like Ascendify work well when it comes to having the functionality to truly make a talent community work in the way that it has been theorized. All of these things are examples that companies should look to when envisioning their strategy. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Some companies think that creating an email list to blast out their job agents is a talent community. Some companies think that throwing together a little fluff piece about their company culture or a job is employment branding. Neither are the case and, unfortunately, these scenarios are usually run by the same companies who curse communities and branding months down the line when they’ve gained no traction. To have a robust, valuable and engaging community, you not only need the manpower to run it but you also need the content to share. Content can’t only focus on sharing company news, jobs and employment branding, but also educational or informative pieces regarding the industry or job from other sources.

To have a functional employment brand, you need to go beyond the surface and really dig deep. When investigating this for my clients lately, I’ve noticed a lot of the issues seemed to revolve around the fact that they lacked an engaging or defined employee value proposition (EVP) that helped differentiate them from other companies. There were some companies that really didn’t even have one established at all. In my opinion, this is the first thing companies should focus on before they get to branding content and communities. The EVP is the backbone of all of these activities for so many reasons.

The EVP is a way a company defines itself to its employees and candidates. It’s a way of attracting new talent and a reminder as to why current employees would want to stay there. It also acts as the basis of all branding content. It gives branding a purpose, a focus and helps ensure consistency. It establishes a company’s personality and voice. And it helps branders understand what point they’re trying to make when they create content. This should be the starting point and companies should scale back to work on this before anything else.

To have a strong brand and community, companies need to know what they’re promoting. So many companies fail at this or create confusing messages because they haven’t established the consistent voice and message. Without a defined starting point (the EVP), your community messaging will be empty and provide no value. Starting at this point can also make it tremendously easier when moving forward with other parts of the development.

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Use Employment Branding to Impact Your Sourcing Strategy

In my last blog post of 2013, I took the time to reflect on what I learned throughout the year and my intentions of getting more involved in the subject of employment branding. It seems as if though 2014 is starting off on the right foot, as my first blog post of the New Year covers just that.

Due to some of the diverse positions and industries I’ve recruited for in the past, I quickly learned how creativity could impact time-to-fill and quality-of-hire. As I played around with different options to promote my jobs to candidates, I saw that employment branding seemed to add the most value while performing sourcing functions.

SourceCon was kind enough to allow me to contribute some tips from my experience of utilizing employment branding for my sourcing strategy. Check it out here.

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Recruiters: How Deep Does Your Research Go?

Richard Branson Reputation Quote

Lately, I’ve somehow found myself in the position of an informal career coach. I’ve been assisting job seekers who have been off the job market for several years and who were overwhelmed and intimidated by the way this whole process has changed. I was able to guide them through the process, from resume writing, personal branding, researching companies, and developing questions to ask during the interviews. As I went through this journey with them, I was surprised to learn that some of these questions have left recruiters scratching their heads. When I recalled my own experience in recruiting, I remember being in the same boat as these individuals. It wasn’t until later in my recruiting career that I realized how important it was to do deep research about a company to be able to confidently provide the information that these candidates wanted to hear.

To really create a positive and informative candidate experience during the interview process, a recruiter has to think like a candidate thinks. I know when I was a job seeker, the first thing I would do was essentially stalk anything and everything about a company before my interview. If I came across something negative, I wanted it cleared up early in the process so I knew whether or not to move forward. When applying this knowledge to my recruiting career, I noticed a huge difference. Transparency helped me build a trust with my candidates and they felt more confident when it came down to making a decision.

How can recruiters go the extra mile?

  • Talk to people within the company: Even if you work at the company you’re currently recruiting for, it’s important to speak to several people in different roles or departments. Getting an overall idea of employees’ opinions of the company can help you paint a solid picture for your candidate. So rather than saying, “It’s a great place to work,” you’re able to provide several perspectives, making your examples well-rounded.
  • Check out reviews on Glassdoor: Alright, I get it. I’m kind of a snob when it comes to this point but it’s definitely something that needs to be discussed. I’ve had plenty of job seekers tell me that they completely stumped a recruiter when they referenced specifics from these reviews. Needless to say, the job seekers would drop out of the interview process because they felt like there was a disconnect or that the company was potentially hiding something.
  • Know your employer brand: Employment branding is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Being on the marketing side of things, I see the amount of effort companies put into their brand to make sure they have various examples of why working for the company is great. The content put out can be a fantastic resource to provide to the candidates and can help keep them engaged throughout the process.
  • Do a deep Google search: What’s your reputation? Employment branding and content pushed out by a company attempts to paint the company in the best light, but what about the stuff that WASN’T put out by the company? What are brand ambassadors, customers, clients and/or competitors saying? Do credible news sources or amateur bloggers have something worthy of sharing? Are your employees bashing or praising the company on social media? Knowing these things beforehand can help you discredit things that aren’t true, give a deeper explanation for things that are, or promote things that are aligned to what the candidate values.

When I started doing this in my own recruiting practices, I was able to really make the most out of my conversations with candidates. If they mentioned something they were interested in, I had the specific details they needed. If they were concerned about something, I was able to ease their mind or give them the hard facts so they could make the call. If I was a job seeker, I would hope that the interviewer would do the same for me. After all, job seeking is hard these days and accepting a job offer can be nerve-wracking.  Essentially, a candidate is making a big decision based on referrals and other people’s opinions. It would make a huge difference if recruiters were able to incorporate these details during the interview loop.

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Employee Value Proposition: Building a Stronger Employer Brand from the Inside Out

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While I was in talent acquisition and HR roles, I was often involved in strategy development for candidate attraction and retention. I would help my team come up with creative ways to attract talent, which could be especially tricky depending on the type of candidates we were aiming for. Once I started in HR and recruitment marketing, I realized that these were also hot topics when it came to developing copy for employer branding initiatives. Regardless of the role I was in, I knew the importance of brand marketing, effective recruiter communications and reputation damage control. Although these are all exceptional ways to help a company become an employer of choice, I believed that companies missed a step in the process. Sure, employer branding is great but you can’t truly make it strong if you have nothing behind it. To be an employer of choice, you must start from the inside and develop your employee value proposition (EVP).

Having an employer brand isn’t going to be nearly as effective if your employee value proposition isn’t robust. Companies need to focus on developing this first before they can brand themselves in good conscious. If your previous or current employees were to give a testimonial, what do you think they would say? What about the candidates that already interviewed with your organization? With technology making it easier for people to find news and reviews about your company or social media allowing candidates to communicate with employees, companies need to realize that they can’t just “fake it until you make it.” People will see right through it.

To build or revamp your current EVP, consider the following:

  • Surveys: Give the people what they want! Getting candid feedback from your employees can help you understand what retains them, what things they value over others and what they’d like to see for future offerings. Also, get additional feedback from candidates. Learn more about what attracted them to your company to begin with and why or why not they decided to move forward with the interview process. Accumulating distinct details about attraction and retention can aid in the development of new offerings and nix the ones that make no impact.
  • Competitors: Look at direct competitors within your industry to see what you’re up against. If a candidate is interviewing at multiple organizations, having this competitor intelligence can make it easier to seal the deal and help make your organization present itself as a stronger choice.
  • Voluntary Turnover/Exit interviews: If an employee is leaving your company voluntarily, it’s in your best interest to find out why. Any information you gather from their exit interviews can be invaluable when it comes to knowing where your company is falling short. For example, did the employee leave because of the long commute? Incorporate telecommunication opportunities. Did they leave because lack of growth potential? Work with HR about career succession. Every exit interview can be an opportunity for improvement.
  • Forecasting and continuous revamping: The world is fast changing, which means the landscape of employment, candidates and offerings will change quickly too. Employers need to focus on correcting or revamping their EVP for the here and now and they also need to stay on the forefront of what employees or candidates could want in the future. Staying ahead of the curve can limit any risk and make your talent acquisition strategy proactive. Revamping the EVP can keep it fresh and engaging.
  • And, of course, branding: Once you get all the details of the EVP squared away, you then have a really strong backing to help with your employer branding initiatives. Your brand can speak to things you’ve already implemented and employees can give their testimonials to confirm that your company practices what it preaches. Showcasing your future initiatives and how you value employee and candidate opinions can make those researching your company more engaged and excited to see what’s to come.

Your brand has to start from the inside. Before you can catch up with the trend of building a brand, social media recruitment, video branding and candidate experience, you have to make your employee value proposition into something worth talking about.

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Employer Brand: Is Yours Costing You Candidates?

After being in the working world for a few years and seeing the many different working environments an individual could be involved in, I believed that performing extensive research on a company’s brand was important for me once I returned to the job market. When I looked for jobs a few years ago, I never thought to look further than the job description I was applying to. Needless to say, I was often unprepared and didn’t have any intelligent questions to ask the recruiter once I landed an interview. Even worse, I wasn’t prepared to make an informed decision if I was offered a job and would occasionally find myself in work environments that were less than appealing. After seeing the difference that research can make, I often try to preach this to the candidates and job seekers I speak to.

Recently, I saw how helpful research could aid in a job seeker’s journey for a new opportunity. One of my good friends had just graduated with a new degree but was having a hard time moving up in her current company. Her current company was a tech giant and although it offered great opportunities and benefits, red tape and politics made it nearly impossible for her to transition into a new role. Reluctantly, she decided to apply to jobs outside of the organization to see if there were better chances for her elsewhere.

A few weeks into applying, she received a call from a recruiter asking to set up a phone screen. I told her the first thing she should do to prepare for the interview is to complete in depth research of the company. This included anything from press releases, social media, forums, Glassdoor sites, etc. Of course companies try to do a great job of presenting their employer brand in a positive way on their career sites, so it’s important to get some feedback from real people, such as employees or previous interviewees. Needless to say, she saw some red flags via employee reviews on their Glassdoor page. With this being a job out of state and with a company that wasn’t as secure or well known as her current company, this was a bit disturbing. I urged her to bring up these questions in her interview.

The first phone interview went well but when it came time for her to ask the recruiter questions, she completely stumped the recruiter. Apparently, the recruiter had no good response to the probing questions referencing what their current employees were saying about the company. Despite the poor responses, the recruiter suggested that my friend ask the hiring manager during the next phone interview. Although hesitant, she agreed for the next interview just to hear the hiring manager out. Unfortunately, the hiring manager also didn’t have much good to say ease my friend’s mind. It’s a bit concerning when members of company don’t even know its own brand well enough to be able to answer these types of questions during the interview process. How did they expect to convince people that they were competitive against tech giants?

Candidates should take note of the situation to properly prepare themselves to make good career moves. Additionally, companies should work with their recruiters and hiring managers to ensure they prepared for these sorts of situations. Needless to say, when my friend received a job offer from the company, she quickly rejected it. She was thankful to have taken the time to research its reputation otherwise she might have left her great company for something that was an awful career move.

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