Recruitment leader James Ellis talks about how employer branding impacts candidate identity

“The value of a brand is that it reinforces someone’s identity, creating even more value. The value isn’t from the job. It is in how the job lets us be seen. The value is how it confirms and proves how people see themselves.”

James Ellis
Principal of Employer Brand Labs
James Ellis


I assume you’ve seen this trend on LinkedIn over the past two years.

“Ex-Googler, Ex-MSFT”

“Ex: Facebook, Postmates, Uber”

“Ex-Amazon, Ex-Netflix”

It’s getting pretty common. LinkedIn Recruiter search (grain of salt exemption applied) brings back 110,000+ results from a search for “ex-facebook.”

There, right after their names and “titles” (or headlines if they are doing it right), is this tag showing that they once worked for some “way cool” company. 

(And some less cool companies. I mean… “ex-Yelp?” Okay, whatever.)

In the same way that HR pros collect certifications and extend the alphabet soup after their name, people who worked at these FAANG (and FAANG-adjacent) companies want you to know their pedigree. 

Regardless of where they are now, be it a startup no one’s ever heard of, or a company no one thinks is cool, they picture of themselves wrapped up in this previous job.

I’m leaving aside the question of whether this idea is smart (connecting the old company’s brand recognition to your own) or sad (like the 30-year-old still wearing their high school varsity jacket because they played football there) to focus on something more important.


When we think about “our employer brand,” we usually focus on “how we’re seen.” How our company is seen.

Are we seen as an innovative place to work?

Are we seen as a company that cares for our people?

Are we seen as being the place where people are pushed to perform at their best? 

But we’re missing a bigger opportunity. 

Think about National Public Radio (NPR), your college alumni association, or even a local bookstore.

NPR doesn’t give away tote bags because people need tote bags. They give away tote bags because people who give to NPR want to be seen as the kind of people who give to NPR.

The tote bag is a badge that tells the world something about themselves, that they are the kind of person who cares about balanced and open reporting, and that they see themselves as smart and informed.

The reward isn’t the bag. The reward is in how its owner is seen. The reward is confirmation of identity.

You know how important a job is in informing how people see themselves. People introduce themselves to strangers with their name, title, and company. 

Or the first question we ask people is often, “Where do you work?” This isn’t idle chit-chat. We use the company as a signifier of something. When you say you work at a certain place, people make judgments.

Don’t believe me? Go down south and say that you work for PeTA. Go to California and say you work for a tobacco company.

People will judge you based solely on where you work.

So are you tapping into how your employer brand is allowing people to say something about themselves? And are you using that idea as messaging to prospects?

It’s easy to say, “We focus on performance” or “We help you perform at your best.”

It’s harder to say, “The people we hire want to push themselves to greatness.”

It’s even tougher to say, “When you work here, people will know how hard you work and what you’ve accomplished. They will know you’re among the best of the best.”

There’s no question that the last statement will scare away applicants. But it will attract the people who want to be seen that way, and you can see how you support their own vision of themselves.

They will wear your shirt and swag not because the company is generally successful but because of what wearing that shirt tells the world about them.

Instead of thinking about how prospects and candidates see us, are we spending time wondering how people want to be seen when they join us?

Are we asking, “How will joining our company change how people see themselves?”

Like the NPR tote bag, the value of our brand is that it reinforces someone’s identity, creating even more value.

The value isn’t from the job. The value is in how the job lets us be seen. The value is how it confirms and proves how people see themselves.


James Ellis

James Ellis is an authority on employer branding, focusing on companies who think they have no choice but to post and pray for talent. He is the principal of Employer Brand Labs, a bestselling author, keynote speaker, practitioner, and podcaster with a wealth of experience across multiple industries for almost a decade. 

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