Elon Musk’s Employer Brand Strategy (and Why You Should Be Taking Notes)

Elon Musk’s Employer Brand Strategy (and Why You Should Be Taking Notes)

Emily Smykal

What does the company Tesla bring to mind? Electric cars, or Elon Musk? For lots of people, it’s both. While many popular consumer brands build recognition through their products, Tesla has achieved household name status through its goods and its CEO.

That’s because Elon Musk has made it a point to be the face of the company. As an entrepreneur, engineer, and investor, Musk has made millions of dollars and countless headlines by running successful companies (PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla) and by promoting extraordinary ideas for our future (the Hyperloop, a Mars colony).

How many other CEOs with this level of recognition can you name, for both their products and their ambitions? When you think of Google do you think of Sundar Pichai? Do you know the CEO of Coca-Cola? We’re not saying every CEO needs to command and generate the attention that Musk does. But recruiters should view their leaders from an employer branding perspective, as this kind of recognition trickles down to the candidate experience.

Who Wants to Work for Elon Musk?

At first glance, an outlandish and outspoken CEO might turn off some job seekers. That kind of personality in the boardroom might lead some candidates to imagine a high-pressure workplace where they would face unreasonable demands. But Musk has made a real effort to show he cares about employee well-being and working conditions.

A recent investigation into a subcontractor at a Tesla facility in Northern California found workers who routinely worked seven days a week, 10 hours per day, but earned as little as $5 an hour. While Musk wasn’t directly to blame, many larger automakers in this case would shy away from outright apologies and quick responses. But Musk immediately tweeted an admission that things had gone wrong, and promised to investigate and, “make it right.”

Musk has also led Tesla in a push to hire American veterans. In California alone, Tesla employs over 6,000 people. As of 2014, at least 300 of those workers were veterans, and the company reported an additional 600 in their hiring pipeline.

And in the Universum rankings of most popular employers, Tesla made it to the top five for U.S. engineering students in 2015 and 2016. We’ve talked about employer brand before, including some other CEOs who understand it’s importance. But by producing goods that excite consumers, and widely advertising his strengths as a CEO, Musk has developed an incredible ability to make more people want to work for him.

Leadership’s Role in Employer Branding

Why should recruiters care about their CEO when it comes to employer brand? Many top executives find success while staying under the radar. Consider Toyota, one of the most profitable companies in 2015. The company boasts of tens of thousands of workers in the U.S., but how many of us are familiar with CEO Akio Toyoda?

There is a lot more to your employer brand than your CEO, but having such a well-known, and well-liked public personality as the face of your organization can attract a lot of positive attention. And if candidates want to work for that specific person, they’ll be more likely to come to you, rather than requiring recruiters to source them. Applicants who genuinely want to join your team, rather than those who just need a job, can help improve your quality of hire and reduce time to fill.

Plus, an employment branding boost from your CEO doesn’t require a lot of resources. Whoever is in charge already has a responsibility to make public statements and engage with a wider audience. Talent acquisition leaders can make simple suggestions to their executives about the issues candidates care about. Then the CEO in turn can do something as easy as post a comment to Facebook or Twitter. Showing workers you’re confident enough to speak out on sensitive issues, or admit mistakes at your own company, just might convince them to apply.

The Trickle-Down Effect in Employer Branding

So recruiters should focus some of their efforts on helping CEOs promote their employer brand, with the goal of spreading that message to quality candidates. But it’s important to remember the CEO can also have a positive effect on existing employees. Just as negative outlooks and punishing schedules can trickle down and reduce employee morale, positive messaging and shared success from the CEO can increase the engagement of a company’s existing workforce.

Essentially, when leadership shows they care, the people below them tend to follow suit. Your employees are some of your best employer brand ambassadors, and research has shown they’re also one of your best sources of candidate referrals. Having a CEO in place who promotes your employer brand from the top down will help boost employee engagement from the ground up.

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