Employer Branding Recruitment Marketing

The Harsh Truth About Employer Value Propositions

magnet attract and repel

Is your employer value proposition repelling candidates? If not, you’re doing it wrong. Charlotte Marshall and Bryan Adams walk you through what an EVP should do – and what it shouldn’t.

The Harsh Truth About Employer Value Propositions
5 (100%) 4 votes

Most companies look at their employee value proposition as their chance to “sell” their employer brand to candidates. It is a way for them to showcase the strengths, benefits, and opportunities of working at their company.

But this is only one-half of an effective EVP. The best kind of EVP is a two-way street. At the same time that you outline what you can offer employees, you should also lay out what you expect in return.

Benefits and opportunities must be a part of your EVP, but there are 3 other components you should also include in order to properly set candidates’ expectations:

  • Vulnerabilities of the organization
  • Harsh realities of the organization
  • True behaviors found throughout the organization

Many companies are hesitant to share this seemingly “negative” information, because they don’t want to scare away candidates. But in truth, that is exactly what you want to do: you repel the many to compel the few.

When you share the vulnerabilities, harsh realities, and true behaviors of your organization, you repel those candidates who will not be a good match, while attracting those few who will truly thrive at your company.

So let’s take a closer look at how to include vulnerabilities, harsh realities, and true behaviors in an EVP.

Rally note: Download a free chapter of Bryan and Charlotte’s new book, Give & Get Employer Branding


People are drawn to authenticity and truth. It’s endearing when people use self-deprecating humor. It’s refreshing when someone admits a weakness. It’s compelling to be asked for help, because one of your strengths is being recognized and appreciated.

As an organization, you must have the courage to be vulnerable. To admit the gaps. To talk about the challenges, the adversity, and the long road ahead.

What’s the worst that could happen by being vulnerable? People find out you’re not perfect. Statistically speaking, people don’t trust brands. They already know that no company on earth—including yours—is perfect.

The upside is, if you admit your imperfections, the vision yet to be realized is the biggest opportunity to engage, motivate, and connect with people. If you back up a vulnerability with the conviction to change, improve, or do good, it can be incredibly alluring and very difficult to resist, especially when someone believes they could have a significant role in getting you there.

Talking about a vulnerability doesn’t mean talking about something that’s particularly negative or a major disadvantage to competition. It simply means being honest about the challenges you face as a company.

Knowledge gaps, technology gaps, and resource gaps in comparison to industry standard are common sources of vulnerabilities. For example, this is one of the vulnerabilities at Ph.Creative, an employer brand and recruitment marketing agency: “We’re a market leader; however, we’re unusually behind the curve in several areas when it comes to our competition, so it’s essential to the business that we close the gap. When we release our tech this year, it’s got to be received well, and as it stands, we need more expertise in certain areas to make sure that happens.”

To some, it might be essential to work at a company that is already at the front of the curve in all major areas. Those people would not be a good match for Ph.Creative. For others, the very idea that these gaps exist is appealing, because it means there’s a gap they can fill, a place where they can come in and add value, create impact, and feel valued.

Harsh Realities

We’ve all seen those recruitment videos of smiles, high fives, and cringingly bad messages of “It’s awesome here every day,” and nobody believes them for a second. Instead, they shoot straight over to Glassdoor to dig into what’s really going on.

People know that flaws, weaknesses, and harsh realities exist in every business. They just don’t know what they are right away … until they read the plethora of company review websites.

We’re in a world where it’s no longer possible to control your brand. The best you can do is influence it. What better way to influence your brand reputation than with the truth?

Instead of letting review websites like Glassdoor dictate the narrative of your company’s harsh realities, take back control. When you are honest and up-front about the reality of working at your company, you gain candidates’ trust. They don’t need to worry and look for the hidden downside, because you’ve already openly shared the harsh realities.

Just as sharing vulnerabilities allows you to filter your talent audience, so too does sharing the harsh realities. Anyone applying for a role after learning the harsh realities has already mentally prepared to endure the hardships. They’ve assessed the upsides and downsides and decided (a) that they are capable of handling the challenges and (b) that those challenges are worth the benefits and opportunities to be gained. Anyone applying for this role is now culturally worth talking to.

Here’s an example of a harsh reality from Ph.Creative: “The organization runs lean, and quite often there’s a lack of enough resources to get something done comfortably. You must think creatively, work together as a close team, and apply brute force and just put the hours in to get things done.”

Will this repel some candidates? Absolutely. But the candidates who do apply will be much more likely to succeed at our company.

True Behaviors

Culture can be defined as nothing more than a set of consistent behaviors found within an organization. Thus, when you share the true behaviors of your company, you are sharing your culture.

Candidates want to know about the culture of a company so that they can assess whether they are a good match. If you do a good job of accurately describing the typical behaviors that people consistently exhibit within your company, you’re providing a valuable, useful service to your talent audience.

Culture is usually positioned in employer brands as a benefit—something people are lucky to be part of—when in fact it’s more of a question of whether there is a good match or not. Even the most celebrated or renowned working cultures in the world aren’t for everyone.

Because everyone has a different idea of what is a “good” culture, you can’t simply claim, “We have a great culture.” Instead, you should give clear, tangible examples of the types of behaviors found in your company. Candidates can then make an informed and correct decision for themselves about whether they will be a match for your culture, based on those behaviors and who they are.

In sharing the true behaviors, include both challenging behaviors and supporting behaviors.

Typically, challenging behaviors come from the pressure of the business strategy and leadership. They are not necessarily “bad” behaviors, but they are behaviors that candidates should know about ahead of time, because some people might struggle with them.

Here’s an example of a challenging behavior: “If you ask a colleague for help before getting to know them first, there’s a good chance you could be flat-out ignored here.”

Supporting behaviors come from the employees and leadership in response to the pressures of the business strategy and leadership. Here’s an example: “If you have a personal issue, challenge, or problem, you’ll immediately get instant support from everyone around you. We put family first every time when it matters most.”

When you include both challenging and supporting behaviors, you make it very clear what kind of behavior is required to thrive at your company, which makes it easy for candidates to determine whether they’ll be a good addition.

Balance Give and Get

Remember that these three components should be only part of your EVP. They lay out what an employee must be prepared to provide, commit, or sacrifice. This is what the employee must give.

It is just as important for you to outline what the employee will get in return. This is the traditional part of an EVP: the strengths, benefits, and opportunities.

The give and get must be balanced. If the benefits don’t measure up to the adversity people must face, then Houston, we have a problem.

But when you do achieve that balance, the results are extraordinary. Your EVP becomes a precise, effective filter that repels mismatched candidates and attracts those special few who will go on to survive and thrive at your company.

For more advice on employer branding and EVPs, you can find Give & Get Employer Branding on Amazon.

Bryan Adams is the CEO and founder of Ph.Creative, recognized as one of the leading employer brand agencies in the world with clients such as Apple, American Airlines, GVC, and Blizzard Entertainment. Bryan is also a bestselling author, podcaster, creative strategist, and specialist speaker. Charlotte Marshall was named the 2019-2020 Employer Brand Leader of the Year and has successfully built and launched five Fortune 500 employer brands. She is an in-demand international speaker and the global employer brand lead at Danaher Corporation.

Give & Get Employer Branding Virtual Workshops

The Harsh Truth About Employer Value Propositions
5 (100%) 4 votes

About the Author

Profile photo of Charlotte Marshall

Charlotte Marshall

Charlotte Marshall is a brand strategist, keynote speaker, and author with a track record of successfully building and launching five different F500 employer brands. Charlotte's work inspires and enables marketing, communication, and HR professionals to attract the talent their businesses need to grow and scale.

About the Author

Profile photo of Bryan Adams

Bryan Adams

Bryan Adams is the CEO and founder of Ph.Creative, recognized as one of the leading employer brand agencies in the world with clients such as Apple, American Airlines, GVC, and Blizzard Entertainment. Bryan is also a bestselling author, podcaster, creative strategist, and specialist speaker.

[ FREE Video Class ]
[ FREE Video Class ]