Why Your Employer Brand Must Be International

05 March 2019      Martin Higgs, Communications Officer

Internationalisation has fundamentally changed the way today’s academics search for jobs, writes Erik Björkander, CEO of Academic Media Group. Top talent is free to move and has no shortage of potential employers. What does this mean for the universities and research institutions who hope to hire top talent? It means it has become significantly harder for universities to get candidates’ attention and earn their consideration. Higher education institutions are no longer competing with just the other universities in their country for candidates, they are competing with the entire world.

This is where employer branding comes in. As Robert Peasnell of TMP Worldwide put it in the last UHR blog post, “employer branding is all about supporting organisational performance by facilitating the attraction, retention and engagement of the people who are going to drive and deliver against strategic aims.” We believe that it is essential when building your employer brand with some of the key learnings that Robert identified to look beyond your own borders. This is why we always urge our clients to develop an international employer brand, rather than an employer brand.

Universities like to think that every candidate knows their institution and that they will automatically be among a candidate’s top choices. This is an outdated mindset. The reality is that many international candidates will not be familiar with institutions outside of their home country. Likewise, an institution that tops the national rankings will not necessarily have the same kind of name recognition internationally.

If academic institutions want to stay top of mind among top candidates, they need to communicate their values an exciting way that will make candidates consider their institution as a potential employer. Some universities are starting to do this and we’re now seeing an increase in international marketing efforts towards employee recruitment. Among our clients, certain universities stand out for their international employer branding efforts.  

KU Leuven is one such university. They are an established university that consistently ranks as one of the top 100 universities in the world. Many universities would consider a reputation like this enough to attract stellar faculty, yet KU Leuven hasn’t rested on their laurels. They know that they need to showcase themselves as an employer to continue to stay on top in an increasingly competitive market. For this reason, they have consistently been early adopters of our employer branding products.

The University of Oulu has also distinguished itself by creating an internationally marketable brand. It has a strong reputation within Finland but it is not as well known as other Finnish universities internationally. Despite this, Oulu has built an exciting brand that leverages their heritage as one of the northernmost universities in the world. As their website notes, “the demanding conditions of the far north have always forced people to be inventive and resourceful,” which are coincidentally the same qualities that make for excellent researchers. The University of Oulu has used its location and history set itself apart, branding the university as “science with Arctic attitude.”

Young universities like Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have also used international employer branding to their advantage. KAUST is highly regarded in the Middle East but does not have the same name recognition in the West. However, unlike Western universities, KAUST has more resources to allocate towards branding activities. Combined with a high-quality research output and an attractive employee package (i.e. very competitive salary), the university has been extremely successful in recruiting international faculty. Fast-rising universities like KAUST pose the biggest threat to universities that ignore international employer branding.

Universities that aren’t paying attention to the wave of internationalisation and aren’t actively communicating their international employer brand will fall behind. In order to attract top international talent, universities need to build awareness among their desired audience and start convincing international researchers why they shouldn’t join their competitor instead.

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