The effect of company guest speakers on perceived employer attractiveness
Employer branding plays a vital role in attracting and retaining skilled and motivated employees for the organization. Here, a significant amount of companies addresses students as one of their focal target groups when conducting employer branding activities. In this context a wide variety of methods is applied to communicate the employer brand, such as company career websites, social media or job fairs. In Germany, another common method is to send guest speakers to universities and business schools. Here, they have the chance to give a company presentation and to talk about practical aspects of their business as part of lectures or seminars. By doing so, they also try to positively affect the perceived employer attractiveness of business students. Despite the popularity of this method, little research has been conducted on the effectiveness of guest speakers on employer attractiveness. This exploratory study is based on data collected from 416 business students who participated in eight guest lecture sessions. The results show that guest speakers’ performance significantly affects perceived employer attractiveness, and that the magnitude of this effect is moderated by the degree of students’ company awareness. In addition, it was analyzed to what extent guest speakers’ enthusiasm, communication and presentations skills, and expertise affect the overall rating of the guest speakers’ performance. It can be shown that enthusiasm has the greatest influence, while expertise has virtually none. Overall, the results contribute to research on the effectiveness of company guest speakers as an employer branding method among the target group of business students. Practical implications are also discussed which can support companies in utilizing their employees or managers as guest speakers more efficiently.
1 Importance of employer branding activities in the early recruiting phase
Employer branding (EB) has received growing attention in both research and practice (Cable and Turban 2003, Backhaus and Tikoo 2004). Given the increasing shortage of experienced and skilled workers, organizations have intensified their efforts to influence and attract talent (Kriegler 2015). When looking at Germany, labour force shortage is likely to grow in the future due to demographic change (Trost 2011, Weinert 2018). In addition, organizations struggle to attract candidates in the light of changing occupational preferences. As a result, companies are increasingly competing for qualified personnel (Woodruff 1999, Michaels, Handfiled-Jones and Axelrod 2001). Therefore, they intensify their EB activities, which are not just geared towards attracting experienced professionals and executives anymore. Organizations also show more effort in targeting university graduates. Especially those with a degree in business administration, engineering, IT or related fields (Ginsburg and Goebel 2013). We understand EB methods as those communication activities that are intended to enhance the perceived employer attractiveness among a target group of potential employees. Here, students are one of the main target groups and companies are constantly looking for best ways to address them accordingly (Böttger 2012).
In order to position themselves as attractive employers, the early phase of recruitment seems particularly important. First of all, it determines the pool of applicants from which the company can draw from (DeArmond and Crawford 2011). Secondly, perceived employer attractiveness does not change significantly during further phases of the recruiting process (Turban 2001). That makes it necessary to apply effective and targeted EB methods early on. However, little attention has been paid to this recruiting phase so far (Breaugh 2013). The focus of this study is therefore on this phase. A popular EB method in this context applied by companies in Germany to shape the perceived employer attractiveness is to send guest speakers to universities and business schools. So far little empirical evidence can be found on the effectiveness of this EB method though.
2 Popular employer branding methods
There is a rich research stream on how to address and communicate with potential employees from a company perspective (Thielsch et al. 2012). Traditionally companies have used offline methods, such as face-to-face communication and the distribution of print material to address candiates, especially within the realm of campus recruiting. Today, online instruments (e.g., company webpages, job portals, direct contact via social media etc.) are increasingly used as EB methods to faster and selectively interact with candidates in a cost-efficient manner (Hohaus 2018). Despite the rise of online instruments, there is still a tremendous amount of offline activities conducted. Some authors claim, that the effectiveness of social media instruments is overemphasized. Candidates appreciate the advantages in personal interaction when it comes to getting to know a company. Especially students ask for trustable suggestions and opinions when searching and choosing an employer. Here, the personal contact plays a significant role in building a reliable reputation (Sponheuer 2010, Turban and Dougherty 1992). In Germany, companies are intensively using campus recruitment activities to address potential employees directly, especially by company presentations throughout lectures. The disadvantage of these actions is the resource-intensive expense. However, the chance to personally interact with potential employees and to give a realistic impression about the company and related issues can be seen as one of the most important reasons why companies chose these methods (Krüger 2018). Also Backhaus and Tikoo (2004) stress the importance of perceptional accuracy about the organization when conducting recruitment activities. Unrealistic expectations of recruits can lead to subsequent disappointment at a later stage and effect in reduced job satisfaction and trust, decreased job performance and, thus, in an increased intention to quit. Therefore, a personal and realistic description about the company and the employment opportunity early-on is key to set the right expectations, to increase trust and to reduce potential role ambiguity (Backhaus and Tikoo 2004, Cable Aiman-Smith and Edwards 2000). In effect, this will reduce unreal expectations and lead to lower employee turnover (Backhaus and Tikoo 2004).
In summary, company presentations and guest lectures play an essential role in effectively recruiting (see also Arachchige and Robertson 2011). Especially students of business-related studies positively evaluate company presentations and guest lectures as an instrument to gather information about companies (Thielsch et al. 2012). Also, research about the future development of recruiting activities shows that those methods, based on personal interaction – like guest lectures and company presentations – will be of significance to foster the employer attractiveness (Lohaus et al. 2018).
3 Employer attractiveness
The above mentioned EB methods have in common that they try to create a positive employer image, which is viewed as attractive by the target group. Employer attractiveness can be defined as „the envisioned benefits that a potential employee sees in a specific organization“ (Berthon, Ewing and Hah 2005, p. 151). In order to be able to examine attractiveness factors, it is necessary to clarify what is perceived by applicants and future employees as a benefit. Although various market research studies exist that try to determine what shapes employer attractiveness (when looking at Germany, the Trendence Institute regularly publishes their so called „Graduate and young professional surveys“ for example Trendence Institute 2018), these studies are quite heterogeneous in terms of target groups, disciplines and regions. Thus, they show very different results, which, at best, provide a first indication of which factors are generally important to employer attractiveness. However, they do not sufficiently indicate which factors are particularly important in the early phase of recruitment. For this purpose, the attractiveness factors must be classified according to their temporal availability. Lohaus, Rietz and Haase (2013) have come up with such a classification. They cluster the different attractiveness factors in four categories:
(1) Factual company characteristics are for instance industry, size or location. Such features are mostly publicly known or can be easily researched. Therefore, they are easily available early in the application process. They are often used for personnel marketing purposes and it has been shown that they are relevant for employer attractiveness (Turban and Keon 1993).
(2) The public perception of the company is linked with its reputation or image. Such features are, just like the aforementioned, publicly known or can at least be easily researched. Being part of an organization people are aware of, and which has a positive reputation or image can result in a symbolic benefit for the employees (Backhaus and Tikoo 2004).
(3) Actual conditions of the employment contract refer to compensation and benefits, working hours, place of work etc. These factors are also actively shaped by companies but such information is not publicly known and can hardly be researched (except, for example, as general information, such as salary levels laid down in collective wage agreements). As such, this information is known by applicants in late stages of the application process.
(4) A fourth group of characteristics is called lived values, which is linked in particular to the corporate culture, developmental opportunities, career progression or job content. These factors are also used to increase employer attractiveness. They are only very limited publicly available but company representatives (such as guest speakers) can represent these characteristics. In other words, they serve as testimonials.
The employer attractiveness factors of the first two groups are also known as symbolic corporate attributes, while the two others are called instrumental corporate attributes (Highhouse, Thornbury and Little 2007). This study examines how symbolic and instrumental attributes affect employer attractiveness. Specifically, in this context, the awareness of the company (known versus unknown) as a symbolic attribute and the performance of the guest speaker as an instrumental attribute is examined.
4 Theory and hypotheses
In terms of employer choice, reference is frequently made to the person organization fit (P-O fit) approach. P-O fit is the degree of correspondence between individuals and organizations, mostly in terms of values (Leung and Chaturvedi 2011). Subjectively perceived fit has proven to be the most important driver of recruitment outcomes (Ployhart 2006, Highhouse, Thornbury and Little 2007, Uggerslev, Fassina and Kraichy 2012). For example, P-O fit correlates with employer attractiveness and the choice of job offer, performance, job satisfaction, commitment, and turnover (Backhaus 2003, Hoffman and Woehr 2006, Piasentin and Chapman 2006). The P-O fit approach is the theoretical basis for the investigation of instrumental corporate attributes (Piasentin and Chapman 2006, Ployhart 2006), but is barely studied in the context of evaluating employer attractiveness in early stages of the recruitment process (Slaughter and Greguras 2009).
Social identity theory (Tajfel 1978, Tajfel and Turner 1985) can be applied to explore the impact of symbolic corporate attributes (Backhaus 2003, Love and Singh 2011). They can serve as a source of pride and increase an employee’s self-esteem as being part of a special social group. Belonging to an in-group can serve as a means of expressing one’s own preferences. It makes it possible to stand out in a positive way from relevant other groups (out-groups). Studies show that symbolic attributes such as image and reputation are important predictors of employer attractiveness (Ployhart 2006). Symbolic attributes are considered a distinguishing feature between companies when all other factors (e.g., job content, salary, i.e. instrumental corporate attributes) are more or less the same. Accordingly, they have incremental value (Highhouse, Lievens and Sinar 2003, Ployhart 2006, Highhouse, Thornbury and Little 2007) and are less significant than the instrumental attributes. But there are also indications that instrumental and symbolic attributes are equally important or that symbolic attributes are even more valuable than instrumental ones (Breaugh 2013). The findings are ambiguous and more research is required on this topic (Tsai and Yang 2010).
Accordingly, symbolic as well as factual corporate attributes should have an influence. Their relative influence on employer attractiveness is unclear though. An interaction cannot be derived from theoretical approaches and previous findings. Accordingly, the following hypotheses are derived:
Hypothesis 1. Companies (represented by a guest speaker) which are known are considered more attractive as unknown companies.
Hypothesis 2. Companies are considered more attractive when a guest speaker’s performance is considered positive.
Only a few studies on company guest speakers exists. However, scientific evidence can be found in related disciplines, which can enrich our understanding of what contributes to a successful company guest speaker session. In general, guest speakers are perceived by students as very beneficial as they enrich their education. They provide first-hand knowledge about the company such as the working environment and they give career-specific information (Metrejean, Pittman and Zarzeski 2001). Garretson and Niedrich (2004) found spokescharacters to create positive brand attitudes.
A recent study of Nachtwei (2018) among German students found 21 attributes in sum that had a positive effect on the evaluation of a professor’s lecture performance. The four most important ones are „fairness“, „respectfulness“, „reliability“ and „expertise“. The latter was again found to be important in a survey conducted by Chang (2013) besides „likeability“ and „relevance“ for a favourable evaluation of company spokes-persons among Taiwanese students. According to Turban and Dougherthy (1992) the attribute „interest“ in the candidate, had the strongest influence of a guest speaker on the attraction of students.
In addition, it is acknowledged that logically structured presentations are perceived by the target audience in a more favourable way (Minto 2008). A vast amount of studies in sales and marketing shows that sales people performance is positively influenced by presentation and communication skills (e.g Drollinger and Comer 2013, Johlke 2006, Boroom et al. 1998). On the basis of the available findings, it cannot be clearly stated which factors have the greatest influence on guest speaker performance. As part of this study, three factors are examined in more detail. Accordingly, the following hypotheses are derived:
Hypothesis 3. Perceived company guest speaker enthusiasm has a positive effect on guest speaker performance.
Hypothesis 4. Perceived company guest speaker communication and presentation skills have a positive effect on guest speaker performance.
Hypothesis 5. Perceived company guest speaker expertise has a positive effect on guest speaker performance.
5.1 Procedure and sample
Data were collected end of 2017 and in early 2018 from 416 business students enrolled in an university of applied sciences in Germany. The students participated in eight guest lecture sessions. All students were in their last year of their bachelor’s degree education. About the same number of female and male students participated (female = 205; male = 202). The mean age of the respondents was approximately 22 years (mean = 22.39; SD = 2.44). Participation was done on a voluntary basis. Data were collected anonymously and via a paper-pencil questionnaire which was distributed to the participants and filled out directly after each guest lecture session. To alleviate possible priming effects the students were only told that they participated in a research project on EB.
5.2 Dependent and independent variables
The dependent variable employer attractiveness was measured via a six-point likert scale (1 = very low to 6 = very high) on the basis of five items. The items were taken from the study of Turban and Keon (1993) and translated into German. An example of an item was „I would very much like to work for this organization“. Reliability estimates yielded a Cronbachs α of .89. Awareness of the company represented by the guest speaker served as an independent variable. It was measured with one item „Have you already heard of the company before the guest lecture?“ (yes versus no). The guest speaker performance served as another independent variable, which was measured by the item „How would you overall rate the guest lecture session?“ (1 = very bad to 6 = very good). To perform a two-factorial analysis of variance though the variable was transformed to an ordinal scale (ratings 1 and 2 = bad, rating 3 and 4 = neither good, nor bad, ratings 5 and 6 = good). In addition, it was analyzed to what extent guest speakers’ enthusiasm, communication and presentations skills, and expertise affect the overall rating of the guest speakers’ performance. Each factor was measured by three items. Examples of items are „The guest speaker shows authentic emotions to inspire others“ or „The guest speaker shows comprehensive presentation techniques“. The internal consistency of the enthusiasm (α = .84), communication and presentations skills (α = .81), and expertise (α = .61) scales was satisfactory.
The descriptive statistics of the two-factorial analysis of variance are shown in table 1. The results could not confirm hypothesis 1, according to which known companies are judged to be more attractive than unknown companies (F (1, 410) = 0.98, p = .322, η2 = .002). Hypothesis 2 could be confirmed though (F (2, 410) = 116.52, p = .000, η2 = .362). Companies are considered to be more attractive when a guest speaker’s performance is considered positive. The interaction between both independent variables is also significant (F (2, 410) = 6.62, p = .000, η2 = .031). The interaction is shown in figure 1. Positively perceived guest lecture performance by representatives of well-known companies show a stronger impact on perceived employer attractiveness compared to positively perceived guest lectures by representatives of unknown companies. However, it turns out that negatively perceived guest lectures by representatives of unknown companies show a not so marked decline in perceived attractiveness compared to negatively perceived guest lectures by representatives of well-known companies.
Dependent variable: company attractiveness
Table 1: Descriptive statistics of two-factorial analysis of variance
Figure 1: Effect of guest speaker performance and company awareness on perceived company attractiveness
To test hypotheses 3, a multiple linear regression was carried out to investigate whether guest speakers’ enthusiasm, communication and presentations skills, and expertise could significantly predict guest speakers’ perceived performance. The descriptive statistics are shown in table 2. The regression indicated that the model explained 44.7% of the variance and that the model was a significant predictor of guest speaker perceived performance, F (3,412) = 111.225, p = .000. While enthusiasm (B = .463, p = .000) and communication and presentation skills (B = .312, p = .002) contributed significantly to the model, expertise did not (B = .086, p = .351). Accordingly, hypotheses 3 and 4 could be confirmed, while hypothesis 5 could not be.
Table 2: Descriptive statistics of perceived enthusiasm, communication and presentation skills, as well as expertise on guest speakers’ performance.
In the described study, the effect of the EB instrument „company guest speaker“ on perceived employer attractiveness in the early phase of recruitment was examined. The impact of company guest speakers at this stage of the recruitment phase on perceived employer attractiveness has not been the focus of research so far. However, it is of particular importance as it determines whether or not job seekers apply to a company, and therefore determines the pool of candidates from which a company can draw from.
Compared to the majority of previous research, this study is unique to the extent that it examined the effect of both instrumental as well as symbolic corporate attributes on employer attractiveness. As discussed before, previous research on the relative impact of symbolic versus instrumental corporate attributes on employer attractiveness is inconsistent. As such, further studies are needed.
Symbolic company characteristics, which are available publicly and early in the application process, were expected to affect perceived employer attractiveness. Symbolic corporate attributes are for example company size, industry, location or reputation. The latter was examined more closely in this study as a symbolic feature. Previous research indicates that company reputation is an important factor in attracting qualified personnel (Turban 2001, Brooks et al. 2003). The results of this study, however, show no significant influence of corporate reputation on perceived employer attractiveness.
Instrumental corporate attributes such as compensation and benefits, personnel development opportunities or corporate culture usually become visible in later stages of the application process, some even after a person has signed the employment contract and joined the organization. Company guest speakers though serve as representatives of their organization and its values. As such, they represent soft instrumental corporate attributes. The results of this study show that guest speakers’ performance significantly impacts perceived employer attractiveness. The effect of company guest speakers (η2 = .362) is also far greater than that of company awareness (η2 = .002). This finding confirms the results of Highhouse et al. (2007), Lievens and Highhouse (2003) and Ployhart (2006) according to which instrumental corporate attributes exert a stronger influence on employer attractiveness than symbolic ones. In addition, a significant interaction between company awareness and guest speaker performance was found. This shows that both factors in combination influence employer attractiveness.
When it comes to the factors that contribute the most to guest speaker performance it was found that perceived enthusiasm has the greatest effect, while guest speakers’ expertise has virtually none. Given the relatively little empirical evidence when it comes to the factors that make up for a well perceived guest speaker session, additional research seems necessary. In particular, Weilbaker and Merritt (1992) showed that campus recruiter were perceived very differently by men and female students. For female students „interest“ and „friendliness“ were more important than for male students. The study revealed as well significant differences between other sub-groups based on students’ work experience and career orientation.
An important limitation of the study is that it was done exclusively with business students. Accordingly, the effects on students of other subject groups should be reviewed. In addition, studies show that students – at least in Germany – prefer to work for private companies rather than for other organizations, for instance from the public sector (Trendence Institut 2018). Subsequent studies should therefore investigate the extent to which the type of organization the guest speaker represents has an influence on the perceived employer attractiveness.
Further research should also examine the extent to which the results presented here can be transferred to other countries and cultures. Using company guest speakers for EB or recruiting is not a phenomenon limited to Germany. Especially in the US, this method has been used for years (Weilbacker and Merritt 1992, Metrejean, Pittman and Zarzeski 2002). Nevertheless, systematic comparative studies on EB methods in general and the use of company guest speakers in particular are lacking.
Coming to the practical implications of this study, it can first be stated that company guest speakers can be a successful EB method to increase employer attractiveness among the target group of business students. This applies to both known and unknown companies. Particular importance seems to be attached to the choice of the guest speakers. How they are perceived by the students significantly influences their rating of employer attractiveness. In particular, guest speakers seem well-suited who show a lot of enthusiasm and have comprehensive communication and presentation skills. Therefore, companies seem well advised to pay more attention to selecting the right company representatives as guest speakers. Soft aspects like the aforementioned seem to be much more important than hard technical competence.
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Kľúčové slová/Key Words
employer attractiveness, guest speaker, employer brand
atraktívnosť zamestnávateľa, hosťujúci prednášajúci, značka zamestnávateľa
JEL klasifikácia/JEL Classification
Vplyv hosťujúcich prednášajúcich spoločnosti na vnímanú atraktívnosť zamestnávateľa
Značka zamestnávateľ a zohráva zásadnú úlohu pri získavaní a udržaní kvalifikovaných a motivovaných zamestnancov organizácie. Tu značné množstvo spoločností oslovuje študentov ako jednu zo svojich ústredných cieľových skupín pri vykonávaní aktivít súvisiacich so značkou zamestnávateľa. V tejto súvislosti sa na komunikáciu značky zamestnávateľa používa široká škála metód, ako sú webové stránky spoločnosti v oblasti kariéry, sociálne médiá alebo veľtrhy práce. V Nemecku je ďalšou bežnou metódou vysielanie hosťujúcich prednášajúcich na univerzity a obchodné školy. Tu majú možnosť v rámci prednášok alebo seminárov prezentovať spoločnosť a hovoriť o praktických aspektoch svojho podnikania. Tým sa tiež snaží pozitívne ovplyvniť vnímanú atraktivitu zamestnávateľa u študentov obchodu. Napriek popularite tejto metódy sa uskutočnil malý prieskum účinnosti hosťujúcich prednášajúcich na príťažlivosť zamestnávateľa. Táto prieskumná štúdia vychádza z údajov získaných od 416 študentov obchodu, ktorí sa zúčastnili ôsmich hosťujúcich prednáškových relácií. Výsledky ukazujú, že výkon hosťujúcich prednášajúcich významne ovplyvňuje vnímanú príťažlivosť zamestnávateľa a že rozsah tohto účinku je zmiernený stupňom informovanosti študentov o spoločnosti. Okrem toho sa analyzovalo, do akej miery ovplyvňujú nadšenie hosťujúcich prednášajúcich, komunikačné a prezentačné zručnosti, komunikačné a prezentačné schopnosti a odborné znalosti celkové hodnotenie výkonu hosťujúcich prednášajúcich. Je možné preukázať, že nadšenie má najväčší vplyv, zatiaľ čo odbornosť nemá takmer žiadny. Celkovo výsledky prispievajú k výskumu efektívnosti hosťujúcich prednášajúcich spoločnosti ako metódy budovania značky zamestnávateľa u cieľovej skupiny študentov obchodu. Diskutuje sa aj o praktických dôsledkoch, ktoré môžu podporiť spoločnosti pri efektívnejšom využívaní svojich zamestnancov alebo manažérov ako hosťujúcich prednášajúcich.
Kontakt na autorov/Address
Prof. Dr. Stephan Weinert, University of Applied Sciences Ludwigshafen, Department of Marketing and Personnel Management, Ernst-Boehe-Straße 4, 67059 Ludwigshafen, Germany, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Dr. Elmar Günther, University of Applied Sciences Ludwigshafen, Department of Marketing and Personnel Management, Ernst-Boehe-Straße 4, 67059 Ludwigshafen, Germany, e-mail: email@example.com
Prof. Dr. Edith Rüger-Muck, University of Applied Sciences Ludwigshafen, Department of Marketing and Personnel Management, Ernst-Boehe-Straße 4, 67059 Ludwigshafen, Germany, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Dr. Gerhard Raab, University of Applied Sciences Ludwigshafen, Department of Marketing and Personnel Management, Ernst-Boehe-Straße 4, 67059 Ludwigshafen, Germany, e-mail: email@example.com
8. March 2019 / 20. March 2019