How Listening to Our Employees is Helping Teachable Build An Employer Brand

Inside our office

I began working at Teachable in July 2016. And boy, have things changed a lot since. Company-wide, we moved offices twice and tripled our staff. On a personal level, my role evolved; when I started I wore a lot of different hats, but as we’ve grown I’ve been able to specialize more in product-related work. (Last July there wasn’t even a product team!) That’s one of the things that makes Teachable so special — we encourage employees to learn and develop professionally.

Despite these changes, one thing I’ve always been interested in is the processes that go into hiring. In my past as an entrepreneur, I had focused solely on the candidate side — helping job-seekers find the resources they needed to land a job in tech.

Now, sitting on the other side of the table, I turned my focus in the other direction: figuring out how a growing startup could find and recruit the best talent. Attracting A-players is something companies of all sizes struggle with, and as Teachable’s growth exploded, the question became more interesting and relevant to me than ever.

At Teachable, a major goal for us in 2017 has been talent acquisition and company expansion. The most pressing need was for us to grow our workforce, especially the technical teams — developers, the data team, and related — so we’d have the capacity to maintain and develop our application. We’ve done a ton this year to improve upon this, and there’s much more to come.

In pursuit of our talent acquisition goals, and keeping in mind this question of finding and hiring A-player employees, one thing I started doing along with others at the company was establishing an employer brand.

What is an employer brand and why does it matter?

An employer brand can also be referred to as a “hiring brand” or “talent brand.” These terms are all relatively new, meaning that definitions may vary depending on who you ask.

But in a nutshell they mean a company’s reputation as a great place to work.

This encompasses things like its value proposition to its employees, company culture, work perks, and so on.

The very existence of employer branding challenges the notion that employees are the ones who have to impress the company and that’s it. Rather, this concept poses the relationship as a two-way street, where the employer must intentionally work to provide value in return. By doing so, companies are able to create a positive work culture that organically attracts top talent.

Larger companies have dedicated employees, or even entire teams, who focus on establishing, maintaining, and building an employer brand — externally as well as internally (because people who love their jobs are the best for word-of-mouth branding!).

But for a fast-moving startup like Teachable, where everyone has limited time and several projects to juggle at a given time, we had to start small.

As I did research, it became increasingly clear that the foundation of a solid employer brand was getting in tune with the people who already worked at the company.

Here are a few resources we used to help guide us:

The first step was to assess our current situation to figure out where Teachable stood as an employer.

Catered lunch at the office

How to gauge your employer brand

Before we could promote our hiring brand to outsiders, we had to figure out exactly why people liked to work here. We had to look internally first, and identify the qualities that make Teachable a special place to work. This would provide a foundation so we could later set ourselves apart from the competition and humanize our organization.

There are lots of ways you can collect feedback from existing employees. Examples include:

  • One-on-one interviews with top performers
  • Company-wide surveys
  • Focus groups

During this process (whichever method(s) you chose), you would ask employees questions like:

  • Why did you join the company?
  • What values are important to you at a job?
  • What do you love most about working here?

For us, the decided best thing to do was send out a company-wide survey. Our primary objective was to identify common stories, themes, values, etc. in the words of our people, and make note of the distinct value we offered. We would then use those themes to shape our employer brand — which I’ll dive into later. First, I’ll tell you about the survey itself.

How we conducted an employer brand survey

Objective: Collect current employee feedback about why they like working at Teachable. Use these insights to shape our About, Careers, and Team page(s) on the marketing site, as well as talent-focused social media challenges, and use as testimonials.

Process: Send questions as a survey. Make all questions optional (we didn’t want a person to be forced to answer something if they didn’t feel strongly). Ask permission to use feedback on marketing/social properties.

Questions we asked:

  • Why did you join Teachable?
  • What’s different about our company than others you’ve worked for?
  • What values are important to you at a job? How do you experience those values at work? (Specific examples are great!)
  • What are your biggest motivators at work?
  • What qualities do people need to be successful here?
  • What work/projects are you most proud of since working here?
  • What are your favorite parts about your job, the team, and the workspace?

We also made sure to get permission to use on other channels, and if yes, how they would like to be attributed.

Part of our survey

How we got people to answer: Let’s face it — people aren’t exactly itching to take time away from their main tasks to complete a survey, especially one that doesn’t really relate to their day-to-day. To help motivate responses, we offered a reward (an ice cream social!) if we reached a certain level of participation. I also sent the survey out via email a few times and reminded people to answer in Slack.

I tried to make the emails engaging :)

Example email I sent out

And the final email I sent out was only to people who had yet to take the survey… okay, I made it just a tad click-baity.

Another email I sent out

Results: We ended up getting 75% participation rate and had our ice cream social!

Photo of me at the ice cream social!

How we used (and will use) findings

There are truly limitless ways a company can use employee feedback after conducting a survey like this.

On a big picture level, we identified key themes as to why people want to work here. A few constants that kept cropping up in responses included:

  • Working at a fast-growing, diverse, and mission-oriented startup
  • Operating in a culture of transparency
  • Owning important projects and responsibilities
  • Developing new skills through new projects and work-related undertakings
  • Enjoying a company culture that supports work-life balance

We now know these are things that draw people to stay here. And we can leverage this information across the board.

Here are a few specific things we did with the results:

  • Hiring video — we looked out for interesting stories and themes we could use in our “Why work at Teachable” video. The video is going through the final editing phases and will be out soon!
  • Social media — we made employee quote cards to use on Twitter, and also used quotes in places like on our Glassdoor and Built In profiles as testimonials (with permission, of course).
  • Marketing site (like the careers page) — again, making sure to play up the themes that we know people value.
  • Job descriptions — writing our job ads to be aligned with these core findings.

On a related note, conducting this survey also helped us think about other aspects of hiring process — like the candidate interview experience and new hire onboarding experience. Some teams have started surveying candidates after in-person interviews to collect their feedback too!

What’s next

Ultimately, our goal with this is to make Teachable as amazing of a place to work as humanly possible. The word “brand” can be very appearance-focused, but we want the full package: not only to look like an amazing place to work, but to truly be one for everyone walking through the doors every workday.

By welcoming feedback and keeping the lines of communication open across the company, we hope to continue improving our workplace experience, attracting great talent, and propelling Teachable into the future :)

Want to check out our awesome employer brand in person? Apply to one of our current job openings. We’re excited to meet you!