The fact is that often companies do have very different employee value propositions, but in an attempt to say what they think students want to hear, they wind up communicating the same thing. “Innovation” has become one of the biggest buzzwords when it comes to describing a company’s culture. What does it mean though? Surprisingly, in the Universum Student Survey for the USA, students voted Volkswagen as the employer they most associated with innovation! Innovation at a large company likely means something very different from innovation at a small startup. At the big company you may be afforded access to the latest technologies, while at startups they may be talking about innovation of thought and resourcefulness.
The day-to-day experiences at each of these places are probably at opposite ends of the spectrum, but those subtleties are lost when both communicate the same message. Likewise, “work-life balance,” another popular attribute that companies think will resonate with students, could have vastly different meanings in practice, from working fewer hours to enjoy personal time to simply having control over one’s own time, regardless of how much time is spent at work.
By communicating only surface-level attributes and buzzwords, companies risk serious retention problems. Because attributes like innovation and work-life balance mean different things at different places, when students and employers make assumptions about what they mean, expectations won’t be aligned. Even if companies are looking for candidates with similar academic backgrounds, the right-fit candidate is probably different for a large corporation and a small startup. When communication about the value proposition doesn’t align with the actual experience, both students and companies will be disappointed.
Companies need data to make decisions. Not just any data, but the right data. For every article that states that millennials want and need work-life balance, there is a sophomore who genuinely wants to be the next CEO and truly understands that sacrifices will need to be made to achieve that goal. For every study that proves that millennials are tech geniuses, there is a 23-year-old grad student who simply cannot figure out Evernote. That is why it is necessary to define the target group and understand how they are different from the general population. Without that, companies will likely miss the mark.
Data will reveal trends and ideas, new information and even unexpected surprises, but big data on what the millennial generation wants cannot be the only data used when creating the employer branding strategy. Companies also need to look inside to understand who they are as an organization, and find the intersection between the two.
Companies need to understand what their target group wants, define the attributes that make their organization unique and craft their messages in a way that makes what they are offering differentiated and genuine. Rather than communicating a message of having it all, companies should focus on a few attributes that truly resonate and communicate those well. Buzzwords can be imitated, but an organization’s culture cannot.
In aligning the preferences of their target students with the true experiences of their organization, companies will have a strong message that resonates — perhaps not one of having it all, but having all that matters to the right people.
About the author
Melissa Murray Bailey
Melissa is President of Universum Americas