We spoke with Elena Rusanova about why it's important for companies to create an HR brand and what basic tools you need to do it.


Elena Rusanova

Headed the consulting center hh.ru for 10 years and has 14 years of experience in HR and employer branding.

She was educated in Russian and abroad, received an MBA from the Moscow State University Higher School of Business, and also attended Lomonosov Moscow State University and Employer Branding College. She has over 50 media appearances and bylines, including in international outlets, as the author of publications in print and online at Vedomosti.ru, HR Director, Employer Brand Excellence, and more.

Rusanova is the author of the practical employer branding guide HR Branding without a Budget. She has led more than 10 workshops with business executives and HR teams, roundtables, and HR business breakfasts.

Her over 100 clients span various industries and include Rosatom, AgroTerra, Sanofi, MediaMarkt, and M.video.


"A company's HR brand is its image as a workplace from the perspective of job-seekers, employees, former employees, potential recruits, partners, or providers."


Tell us a little about yourself and your professional journey.

My professional journey started with selecting young specialists for large international oil and IT companies. I picked applicants from students and graduates from Moscow State University and the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. After that, I worked with a team to create tools for selecting personnel and established the Career.ru website and magazine devoted to this subject.

Now that site has purchased hh.ru. In 2007, I transferred to HeadHunter, where I spent 10 years leading the team that worked on our clients' HR brands. We were entirely responsible for these companies' HR branding. We fine-tuned it, diagnosed issues, and helped create it.

Now I focus on educating. I wrote a book, I write articles, and I'm in the process of drafting my second book.


What is an HR brand? Does every company need one? What kind of budget do you need to develop one?


At first, the term "HR brand" seems a lot like "employer brand." Somehow an equal sign popped up between the terms "employer brand" and "HR brand" in Russia.

Basically, you can say that a company's HR brand is its image as a workplace from the perspective of job-seekers, employees, former employees, potential recruits, partners, or providers. Generally speaking, it's the constellation of people you interact with as a company, customer, or client. Every company has this kind of image, and it's important to manage it, or else it can start to be created haphazardly, and not always in a positive way.

I distinguish three situations in which a company has to start developing its HR brand.


  1. First, if you work in a very highly competitive market, having an HR brand is critical. You face the risk of losing people who don't know you as a company.

  2. Second, if you have turnover in your company, if very important people start leaving the company.

  3. Third, if you have just opened and need to launch several things at once.

Basically, start working on your HR brand if your business strategy involves hiring new people or retaining the talented employees you already have.

You shouldn't start with cash injections. Your executives and top employees should take the first step. This might include additional small creatives, but I recommend staying away from ad campaigns and heading toward natural, organic, and even native brand promotion at this stage.


How do you proceed when you feel like the person you'd like to hire is already taken, and you don't know where to find new people?

As with any difficult question, there is no straightforward answer. Many of my clients face this problem, and I can talk about a few different scenarios. But what conclusion to draw from them is up to the employer.

  1. The first scenario is going in a younger direction and intercepting people still in school before they get to a certain education level and teaching them. By creating a school for desktop publishers or IT people, for example. Then recruit anyone who's interested and let the cream of the crop keep working at your company. This is a risky and costly option. In fact, the company is just snatching people one step earlier. The main risk is that, after their training, potential employees might leave for another company.
  2. The second scenario is relocation: when a company moves its employees to, for example, Samara, Minsk, Cyprus, or Thailand. In this way, the company begins to forge its brand in a region that is more livable than, for example, Moscow, where everything is expensive.


How old are these students you have in mind?

Usually they're in the middle of their studies or closer to the end: sophomores, juniors, or seniors.

In my experience, most students' idea of a job is quite at odds with reality. They're sure their salary will be over 50k rubles, and they have no understanding of the bigger picture: out of 40 people, only 1–2 really know what's in store for them.

How can you combat students' high expectations?

This is a common problem, of course. Unfortunately, it's more or less the same everywhere, whether you're in Izhevsk, Samara, or Moscow. You have to explain the reality to students and show them the employment and salary statistics. That's all easily available. You can find it on zp.hh.ru and stats.hh.ru, sort it by any criteria (salary, age, profile, or profession), and present the data to students.

Whatever they may have in their heads, you show them numbers, examples, and statistics, and maybe that will have an effect. Of course, some people will just stay in their own little worlds. But that's no reason to get upset. Those people probably aren't your target audience anyway.

The ones who get it will listen to you and understand everything just fine. For example, there's a company of developers in Izhevsk that's decided to go even further and start working with schoolkids by hosting competitions, telling them about their work, and showing them some simple things they do. This way, they familiarize students with their profession and lay the foundation for them to understand it.

Is there some kind of criterion for a company as to when they need to start thinking about this kind of depth? Is this more relevant to companies with a billion dollars in sales?

It's not about the sales: it's about the recruitment funnel. You have to analyze it. If, for example, you have 100 people apply, you choose 10 of them, and that's enough for you, then you don't have to widen your funnel. If, on the other hand, you're a small company that needs specialists and you don't have any yet, then you need to go to universities.

Sales revenue doesn't play any role in hiring. It's worth noting, however, that when you go to a university, you'll face certain difficulties with the bureaucracy there. Some universities aren't willing to cooperate and don't even let employers set up an information booth on campus. There are simpler options, like using student forums or groups on social media.

Getting in touch with the admin and posting an ad is sometimes much more effective and, more often than not, free. You can also contact large online schools, companies that offer courses, and vocational programs.

By "recruitment funnel," are you referring to people who are responding themselves, or the ones whom a company is sending out feelers to look for?

Everyone who has responded to a job ad. You just look, analyze where they're coming from, make a note of the top sources, and develop those. For instance, 80% of job seekers come from referrals, and 20% are from a website. That's worth thinking about.

How does a company increase the number and quality of respondents?

The first step is creating a value proposition. A company should know what a certain person might be interested in specifically. Of course, you run the risk of being overly pedantic or getting hung up on the material things, like the salary, the office, or insurance benefits.

That leads to my next point. Other companies likely offer a lot of basic guarantees, so you have to understand how you're unique. This could be anything: your product, the good you do for your community, your office's special atmosphere, your way of building your business from within, or even the degree of freedom and room for creativity you offer.

Ideally, you need to formulate how you will attract people and make sure your value proposition is excellent. Then, package all this and disseminate the information to your target audience.

Can the opportunity to see how a business is built, learn from a supervisor, and directly influence a company be an advantage?

For me, yes. But again, you have to consider your audience. I doubt you'll find a single universal answer, but you don't need one. It's best to start with your team. Look at the people on your team. Do you have anyone with an entrepreneurial mindset?

If so, then proximity to the owner and direct decision-making will be a plus. But you have to start with what you already have.

What should the employees, the CEO, and the founder of the company do to create an HR brand?

For the CEO, owner, or head of the company, the first thing they have to understand is what they need people for and what kind of employees they need. Create the profile of the ideal candidate. You can use research, internal interviews, or a personal hypothesis.

Then you have to talk about it on your personal blog, personal brand, social media, and other channels. You have to talk about what kind of business you have, what kind of product you offer, and what kind of people you need. Many companies—especially in IT, it turns out—are quite advanced: they send a clear message about what kind of person they need.

They spell out what an employee is and isn't supposed to do. A company can describe the typical playbook and skills an employee should have—and I'm not talking about technical skills, but value-based or behavioral skills. You do this so a picture of the people you're looking for gets painted across all channels. In addition, in many small companies, the CEO themselves participates in interviews. This is also a chance to look at someone and see what kind of person they are.

For employees, they generally don't have to do anything. From the standpoint of an HR brand, they have no obligation to attract others or tell them about the company. For them to do this, the collective must have the right atmosphere.

They can make referrals. Some small companies pay for referrals. When you're writing a text, creating a value proposition, or filming a video, ask your employees to participate.

Ask them to think of an idea or a script for the video, or start a contest for the best suggestion. Maybe even ask them to film something, if you have a lot of talented people on your team. Your employees could do all this, but it's always voluntary.

People are your resource. Use it. Engage them. They're usually willing to get involved.

The second, no-less-important part is when an employee leaves. If the CEO does an exit interview, it's important to consider it in relation to your reputation. You should say goodbye to an employee in a positive way, with an understanding of the situation. That's part of an HR brand.

What are the places to discuss this?

In terms of game development, you should look for the relevant channels and publications. I would recommend marketing-focused podcasts and other media. There are even podcasts on HR branding, like "HR Branding in Russian."

Sometimes, if one of my employees is traveling, I ask them to take a photo and talk about the country they visited, their trip, and their lifestyle. Can that be useful?

That's something that can be put into practice. Let the idea exist as a project. Think of a name: something like "adventure of the day" or "employees abroad." Come up with a set of rules and present it in some way. It can also be spontaneous, but it is more interesting as its own project.

What is the best way to monitor negative reviews online?

There are two or three big services that do monitoring. I don't have very positive feelings about them, because they don't do a semantic analysis about your company, especially if you have a lot of reviews.

If your company is small, it's better to just search for reviews and analyze them manually. For example, enter your company's name into a search engine and look through the first 10 lines. There probably won't be more than 50 reviews.

Besides, this type of review sites duplicates the same reviews.

I think doing this once a quarter is sufficient. I don't advocate digging in too deeply. But if you want to, you can set up Google alerts to notify you whenever your company is mentioned online.

What incentives attract employees between the ages of 23 and 35, besides money? Are you familiar with generational theory?

Generally speaking, I'm familiar with the theory and agree with much of it. Every age group has its own particularities dictated by the generation it belongs to, but there's also a lot of individuality. I'm a supporter taking a look at your own circumstances with every theory you adapt to, but don't apply them like a template.

People between 23 and 30 are very different. It all depends on their professional group. For example, there are young people who are going into medicine or the pharmaceutical industry, and, besides money, experience and practical work are important to them. They want to be directly involved in saving lives. But the IT industry has completely different motivators.

It might be the freedom to do what you want, making an important and useful product, or a comfortable atmosphere, psychologically speaking. There are exceptions, of course, especially for people who work in communications.

An HR specialist in business development told me about a CRM system for working with employees. It's supposed to help me understand why they are choosing my company, satisfy the needs of my existing team, and look for employees in the same field. Do you have any thoughts on that?

If it's a CRM, then that's fantastic. It automates things for you: when data is entered, it flows into a system, and it generates stats that can be viewed and analyzed. But if you don't have it and don't have time to implement a CRM system, then it's worth doing research by engaging a focus group or interviews and recording all the ideas and solutions you hear.

A value proposition can be drawn up from this information. You have to make it more specific and enter the market with that. One more interesting thing: you can invite one of your employees to interview a new employee and ask them to tell the recruit about the company. That way, the person will say what actually attracts and motivates them, what they consider important.

What other tools would you suggest for searching for candidates, besides HeadHunter.ru?

First and foremost is your site's landing page for candidates. Your website should be well made. Candidates should be able to look at photos, video interviews, and information about the ideal candidate.

Create sections on your site with the option to be added to your database. Offer applicants the ability to submit their email address to receive interesting news or additional information. You're creating a field of information and a way to socialize.

What would you call this landing page, in terms of your basic site?

The most important thing is that it's normal, human language. There's a bunch of options: "Work with Us," "Careers," etc. It's important to make it clear what kind of section it is and why someone should click on it. And, if your company already has this kind of landing page, then you can make use of a free page on HH.ru too.

All you have to do is add good copywriting with a description of your value proposition, a profile of the ideal candidate, and a link to your site. A good example, although it's from a different field, is a chain of beauty salons that made a landing page for every city with a specific description of the job available. There are also other budget-friendly tools, like adding questions and tests to a job ad.

With these, you'll be able to get answers to basic and critical questions and convey the specific traits you're looking for. You shouldn't overlook auto-responses either, so that an applicant gets a follow-up when they respond to your ad. You can add additional targeting tools to job ads and set up an ad for a specific word, professional sphere, or region.

I'm always in favor of using a product, sales channels, and even your clients as HR branding tools. There are all sorts of ways to organize this, including parties for clients, phone charms with the suggestion to start a career at the company, or a built-in offer in an app or game.

It's very important to provide the ability to share a job ad instantly by sending it via email or messenger.

Geolocation systems. Yandex or Google Maps. Add your relevant offices and keywords to these sites so applicants will find your job ad and see what kind of employees you need when they search.

Additional industry-specific resources related to your business. This could be chatting through messenger services, websites, and blogs. You can find them through your employees: the ones they're interested in, the ones you're interested in—these will help you create the right image for your company.

Social media. The active accounts of your employees, especially an executive's page, work especially well. Create a post, add a hashtag, and ask your employees to make posts on their pages.

What are some typical mistakes made in job ads?

The first one is sticking too close to the book. Conditions, requirements, bureaucratese, and old ways of wording the ad. If you're promoting the job ad natively—using natural means—then you need to create an appetizing and readable text. It should underscore the special qualities of the company and the industry and contain slang. If it's justifiable, you can run a search for a candidate from the first-person point of view of, say, the CEO.

Check the contents of the ad to make sure the wording corresponds to your personalized and cultural code.

Another mistake is a lack of uniqueness: look at other job ads and think about how you can stand out. Try not to repeat what your competitors wrote.

What mistakes happen during the final interview, from the standpoint of HR or the company's owners?

The first is making it a one-way street. This relates to both owners and HR specialists. It happens when the interviewer thinks the candidate isn't considering anyone besides their company. That's the wrong approach. Actually, you need to sell yourself, your company, and your product to the applicant.

Of course, you only have to start selling after it really becomes clear that the person is a good fit for you. Often interviews become only about choosing an employee rather than selling the brand, the job, and the company. You need to be doing both.

Another mistake is getting carried away with the latest trends, like a stressful interview or asking the candidate to "sell this pen." These might not be a match for your company at all, but HR specialists hear or read about them and then try to put them into practice. This often pushes applicants away. You can only use special tactics if they come naturally, and the idea came from within, not outside the company.

How do you determine an HR department's effectiveness?

Judge it based on a specific objective. Figure out what you need: if it's recruitment, then get the relevant metrics: time to close a job ad, recruitment funnel conversion rate, and maybe even reach.

If your objective is lowering turnover and working on retention, then set a turnover rate and take a look at the metric over a certain period of time.

If you want your current staff to work effectively, you have to understand engagement. Take the corresponding metrics, like engagement rate, eNPS index (how much your employees are willing to recommend your company), or look at the participation metrics. The most banal ones are attendance at your events, responses to engagement activities, participation stats, and assessing email open rates. You can take a look at all this, make your calculations, and gather statistics.