Attracting and retaining top talent is a challenge for most middle market firms. According to research by the National Center for the Middle Market in partnership with The Novo Group, to overcome these obstacles middle market firms are creating compelling employer brands and employee value propositions (EVP) to build their reputations as great places to work and reward associates for coming to—or staying with—the business. This post outlines 4 best practices for establishing an effective employer brand and EVP and offers recommendations for spreading the word about these important assets.

Time and again, middle market companies tell the Center that attracting and retaining talent—senior and executive-level talent in particular—is a challenge. The reasons vary. But part of the problem is lack of name recognition. Sometimes, companies can’t match the compensation packages of larger competitors. Or they are headquartered in less desirable locations. However, when middle market firms have strong employee brands and EVPs, the organizations not only do better at attracting talent; they also outperform their peers. Clearly, investing in these critical assets is well worth the effort.

How does your firm build a strong employer brand and EVP?

The good news is, it doesn’t need to cost money. But it does take commitment from senior management. If you’re game to put in the time, here are a few best practices for establishing the most effective employer brand and EVP:

  1. Understand your current employer brand. Whether you know it or not, you have an employer brand. And it’s well worth finding out just what people think about working for you. Talk to employees candidly. Survey them anonymously. And don’t forget to factor in the perspective of past employees (they left for a reason), job candidates (including those who turned you down), and even the general public. What’s being said about your business on social networks and employer websites like can also provide insight.
  2. Differentiate yourself in meaningful ways. Once you know where you stand, find ways to stand out. Gather your senior leaders for some brainstorming. An EVP is about more than salary, which can easily be duplicated by other firms. So think about what really makes you unique and will resonate with top talent. Will new leaders have a chance to directly influence future growth? Is your culture inviting? Does it stress work/life balance? Is the work meaningful? Is your company environmentally conscious? If so, it’s all part of your EVP.
  3. Keep it real. Your employer brand and EVP should be unique and compelling. But they have to be authentic and genuine. In other words, don’t overpromise and under deliver. And don’t try to be something you’re not; you’ll only end up attracting people who aren’t a good fit.
  4. Get the experts involved. Make your marketing people or external marketing partners part of the process. As branding experts, they’ll have an invaluable perspective that can help ensure your employer brand and EVP are relevant, persuasive, and authentic.

You’ve got the assets. Now spread the word.

If you build a compelling, genuine employer brand and EVP, it doesn’t mean top talent candidates will automatically come. You need to find ways to uniquely showcase your strengths and capture the attention of both current and prospective employees. Middle market executives say that successfully packaging and delivering the employer brand message is critical to its success. Top recommendations include:

  • Putting it on paper. Create an internal document that clearly articulates the EVP and provides critical talking points for hiring managers. This helps ensure a consistent message for prospective candidates. And it can prevent anything important from being left out of the conversation.
  • Creating ambassadors. Your people—and especially your senior leaders and executives—are the outside sales force for your employer brand. Encourage them to talk to their networks about your company and to be ready to mention your business to potential candidates. You may want to create a referral program that incentivizes associates to bring qualified candidates to the table.
  • Making it visual. Showing people what it’s like to work for you—instead of just telling them—can go a long way toward attracting attention. If you have a careers page or site, or if you have presentation tools that you use at career fairs or in interviews, make sure they visually reflect the brand you’ve built.
  • Going digital. Candidates will likely research your company online. So give them plenty to find on your site and social media channels. Make sure you convey a strong sense of your organization and culture, and that you do it in a dynamic and interesting way. Consider using pictures of actual employees doing real work, or non-scripted sound bites that tell your story from your employees’ perspective. You may even want to invest in video, as some middle market firms have done. For example, Synacor created this video to spread the word about its open engineering positions:


And Zendesk created this video to communicate its unique employer brand:


It’s clear that creating and using an employer brand and EVP takes some work. But middle market companies that do it—and do it well—are rewarded with the talent they need to drive growth and improve performance.

To learn more about creating and promoting your employer brand and employee value proposition, see Building the Top Team: How Middle Market Firms Attract and Retain the Top Talent that Fuels Their Success.

Six things your middle market company can do to establish a great employer brand and EVP. View Infographic >

Take a deeper look at how your company can build a team of top talent with these 11 steps. View Infographic >

This post is part of a larger research project by the National Center for the Middle Market. Get the full picture through the resources below: