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Nov 12, 2015
by James

Employment Branding Examples for Difficult Locations

Posted in Hiring Best Practices

employment branding for difficult locations

My first job in Talent Acquisition was as a Technical Recruiter for a pharmaceutical company.   It was a sleepy 400 person manufacturing site located in the shadows of Three Mile Island —  a nuclear power plant situated just south of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

When I joined, the plant had just been hit with a FDA violation that required us to hire several hundred QA/R&D/Production “types” to help bring the plant back into good standing.   The only problem was, there was no recruiting team, no ATS and no process for hiring professional-level talent at a high volume.   Oh…and it had to be done in less than 12 months.   And…since we were located in south central Pennsylvania, we would be relocating almost everyone because there was no local pharmaceutical talent to pull from.  Nice.

While the above challenges were certainly tough, none were more difficult than convincing people to consider an opportunity in the middle of Pennsylvania next to a nuclear plant, on the banks of a river that flooded periodically, in a town that was swarmed by mosquitos and covered in Mayflies by late Spring.

Or so I thought…


I used to think that Recruiters in big, desirable cities like New York, Philly, Chicago or Miami had it easier than me until I started talking to them and listening to them complain about their location too!   Here are some of the common themes I heard…

New York Recruiters – “No one wants to come here because the cost of living is too high.  The commute sucks.”

Philly Recruiters – “The best talent wants to be in a bigger city…like New York.”

Suburban Philly Recruiters – “We’re not close enough to the city.  Everyone wants to be IN the city.”

Miami Recruiters – “It’s too hot/humid here.  Everyone is afraid of hurricanes.”

San Diego Recruiters – “No one wants to come to California because the taxes are too high.”

I’ve fallen into this same trap myself.  I’ve told myself (and others) my own sob story.  But over the years as both a Recruiter and a Manager of Recruiters, I had to start changing my mindset because hiring managers don’t want to hear excuses about location!   They want results.

What I noticed at Wyeth after banging my head against the wall trying to recruit pharmaceutical talent to Pennsylvania from Boston, DC, Raleigh/Durham and California — the meccas of science — is that it doesn’t work unless the candidate has a really good reason to move.   And unless you uncover that reason and sell to it, it’s not going to work.

And while selling career stretch and more money attracts some people, there’s nothing more powerful than where someone lives.


I think companies spend too much time and employment brand budget promoting all the things that go on INSIDE their organization and not enough time branding the things that go on OUTSIDE their four walls.

In the context of “Work/Life Balance”, they focus too much on the “The WORK” but tend to ignore the “The LIFE”.

As a result, all the employment brand hype I see is built around the culture, the products, the career opportunities, the leadership, the cool office space, the cafeteria, etc.   But that’s just 50% of the Work/Life consideration set.

So what about “The Life” part?


I learned about “Branding The Life” from an early recruiting mentor of mine Jim McMillin, a long-time physician recruiter and thought leader in the space.

Since doctors are in high demand and they make a pretty good wage, they can basically go anywhere and tend to be quite mobile over their careers at a few of life’s key inflection points.  Here are some examples of when they move:

1.  Right after they graduate from med school.

2.  When they start a family.

3.  When their kids leave “the nest”.

4.  When their parents get sick.

It turns out that they go somewhere fun, move near family (or go somewhere that will pay off their student loans) right after med school.  They head for the suburbs when they start a family.  They go somewhere warm when the kids leave the nest.  And they go back to their home town when their parents get sick.

What physician recruiters do really well is they sell the benefits of their communities to candidates after quickly uncovering the key inflection point that their candidates are in.  They have a great sales pitch that include location highlights and their job postings typically include some community information. They even send out marketing emails and postcards based solely on location attributes — with just a few mentions of the job.

While this might not work for all recruiters, we can certainly take a page from this employment branding playbook by doing two things:

1.   Identifying location motivators.

2.  Creating more brand strategies around lifestyle & location.


It’s easier than ever to identify what’s happening in someone’s life by stalking them on social networks.   And if you’re using some modern tools like Entelo or Avature, for example, you can quickly conduct this type of research from a single interface and start branding the outside world to your candidates.  Some things you might want to look for and note…

–  If they (or their spouse) went to high school near your area (Facebook)

–  If they (or their spouse/kids) went to college in your area (Linkedin)

–  If they just started a family (Facebook, Instagram)

–  If they played a sport in college, if they like to travel, if they surf, etc, (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter)

Take a peak at their social profiles and see if you can learn anything about them that could be used in your first approach email or call.    It’s always better to customize your outreach for better results.  It takes more time, but your conversion rate will be higher.

If you’re not into stalking and more into talking, just ask the candidate about their geographic preferences.  They’ll tell you.


Take a close look at your current employment branding initiatives on the web and social.  What percentage is devoted to”Work” versus “Life”.

Are all your tweets about jobs, culture and leaders?   Is your Instagram all about internal events?

If you need a competitive edge, consider shifting your employment brand strategies to focus 50% of your messaging around “work” and the other 50% on things that happen “outside of work”.   It would be great if you could incorporate your employees into this process as well.  Here are some employment branding examples:

–  Highlight some employee weekend activities on your FB, Instagram and Twitter accounts.  Own it by creating your own hashtag:  #myweekendin(your town) #companyname

–  Highlight some employees who have a cool hobby that incorporates things to do in the area.  Use hobby tags to get the attention of other enthusiasts #beachday #surfing #climbing #rollercoasters #golf #hunting

–  Show how your company integrates Work/Life activities during the work day with local field trips, like this:

Bringing in the lives of employees will go a long way in humanizing your brand and providing some real connection points that candidates can refer to during the recruitment process.


While not everyone wants to live in the kill zone of a nuclear reactor, there are plenty of people out there who, for the right reasons, would love to call your town “home”.    In fact, if I remember the numbers correctly, we ended up hiring over 1,000 people into that little plant over the course of a year.

When we focused more of our sourcing, our branding and our sales pitch less on The Work and more on The Life, we really accelerated our success rate.

It turns out that people who like to fish and hunt, have a young family, went to school in the area and like a little extra yard space find central Pennsylvania really attractive.  Who would have thought?

By changing your mindset and increasing your usage of location brand strategies — ie “Branding The Life” — you’ll save yourself a lot of time, a lot of declined offers and best of all…you’ll stop whining about your location challenges to all your Recruiter friends who don’t want to hear it anyway.

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