If you work in marketing, you’ll be familiar with this term. If you work in any profession, you’ve probably read an article or two recently about managing your personal brand.

I’ve always believed that people should manage their career in the same way they’d manage a business, and personal brand management is a key aspect of this. But this post isn’t about managing your personal brand.

This post is about a specific type of brand management which is arguably even more important: Managing your employer brand. Specifically, during the recruitment process.

If you’re a people manager, HR or recruitment professional responsible for attracting, recruiting and retaining staff, this is the type of brand management you should be focussed on.

If you think employer branding is a ‘thing’ dreamt up by creative or brand agencies so they can sell it to you, it’s not. If you’re a people manager and you don’t consider employer branding part of your remit, perhaps you should.

Employer branding is equally (or arguably more) important than branding branding. We all know about building brand awareness and brand loyalty, putting the customer first and that staff should be treated like your most important customer. But what about potential staff?

Richard Branson says “learn to look after your staff first and the rest will follow”. He’s right. In his case, the Virgin brand is like a magnet – people want to work for Virgin and it’s possible that their biggest recruitment challenge is the sheer volume of applications and interested candidates.

But what if you’re responsible for recruiting staff and you don’t work for the Virgins, Googles and Apples of the world?

Sometimes finding the right person for the job seems impossible. Other times, there are lots of great candidates available. Regardless of what’s going on in the job market, attracting great people to your company and converting the best candidate to a member of your team can be a very challenging process.

This is where effective employer branding comes in.

Creating and managing an employer brand is about building and communicating an identity which is honest, distinct and aspirational.

But no matter what the aspects or values of your employer brand identity are, there are a few basic principles which I believe every brand should follow, particularly during the recruitment process.

For the purpose of this post, I’m not using the term ‘candidate’. I think ‘prospective employee’ is more appropriate. Perhaps that’s a mistake we make in recruitment – not imagining the candidate as a member of the team from the very beginning of the recruitment process. Perhaps this very subtle difference could be quite significant.

So here it is – employer brand management 101 – some principles to follow in recruitment.

Clear communication at every touchpoint. From the job description to the advertisement, every conversation you have and every email you send to the prospective employee – be straightforward and clear. We all know that looking for a new job can be stressful so everyone can appreciate good communication and knowing where they stand. We spend plenty of time and money ensuring we get customer service right, why is this any different?

Be honest and authentic. In my books, there is no other way. Yes, feedback can be difficult to give (and receive) but again, we should treat the prospective employee just like a loyal customer or any member of staff. You wouldn’t lie to your staff or customers, so being anything less than honest with a prospective employee won’t do your employer brand any favours.

Interview, meeting or conversation? How you conduct an interview sends a message about your management style and what it’s like to work in your organisation. Of course you need to glean certain information about the prospective employee’s skills and experience, but I believe this can be done without a clipboard and a poker face. If there are certain formalities your organisation’s recruitment policy dictates you must follow, try to weave in some informal conversation so everyone can relax and you can get to know each other a little. At the end of the day, an interview is just a conversation between two (or more) human beings.

Perception is powerful. It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to notice when the same company advertises the same role month after month. This will obviously raise eyebrows and beg questions about why. Although readvertising doesn’t always mean something fishy is happening behind the scenes, this is the message it could send to prospective employees. And without knowledge of the ‘real story’, people will start imaging why.

Get personal. Template responses and automated emails are sometimes necessary in high volume situations but where possible, use people’s names and personalise your communication with prospective employees. This might be a simple as using a standard email template but making a few small changes before you hit send. Super simple but potentially powerful.

In my 10 years recruiting marketing and communication people for my clients, unfortunately I’ve witnessed more poor examples of employer branding during the recruitment process than I have good ones.

Employer branding is a crucial part of attracting, recruiting and retaining the best people. There is no one perfect way to manage your employer brand but being mindful about how you interact with prospective employees is a good place to start.

And, if you work with a recruiter, you should expect that they follow these principles and manage your employer brand with care.