An interview with Sofia Lyateva – an Employer Brand Expert at Devexperts about what exactly is employer branding, what are the differences between HR, PR, marketing and employer branding, and how can we relate those positions to the software industry?
Hello Sofia, can you introduce yourself in a few words to our international audience?
Hi everyone, thank you Devstyler for the invitation. My name is Sofia Lyateva, I am a wonder junkie who loves her job almost as much as any other adventure. I am a PR professional by default and by definition, but ever since my junior year at the university, I have never stopped exploring the limits of this profession, which is why I suppose I am here today to tell you more about employer branding.
Where do you work, what is your position and your main responsibilities? Can you tell us a bit more about Employer Branding?
I am currently an employer brand and communications expert at Devexperts, an IT company that operates in the fintech industry. I have been developing IT communities and tech company brands for more than 4 years already. I love working with curious tech people which is why I also organize IT communities in my spare time which has nothing to do with work. My job responsibilities are so complex and vast, that you might have a headache if I start listing them one by one. Let’s simply say that employer branding is a dynamic profession to have, for sure. Responsibilities are complex because they require you to work with almost everyone inside the company from CEOs to interns. Also, it requires you to be constantly in touch with external audiences and to make sure that the company has the desired reputation outside as well as inside the organization. So, basically, my responsibilities cover almost everything in the spectre of PR, marketing, event management, creative writing and sometimes even HR.
What made you choose a career like this connected to the software industry?
Honestly, I started working as a brand reputation specialist in my senior year at the university in 2014. I was planning it to be just like an internship and then I will go with my masters in the USA and explore the career and what it takes me from there. But yes, life is what happens while you are too busy making other plans, right?
So the client and the company where I was working was a hardware manufacturer, so I went through this technical training, building PCs, which is something that I still can do, FYI. So I had to know everything about the computer setup but also be a representative of this brand online. I had to do brand reports and keep track of all the tech innovations, regardless if it is a hardware component or a software innovation.
After two and a half years there I decided it was high time for my next adventure. I got through all my exams and I was just a couple of emails away from applying for my Master’s degree in the US. However, the opportunity to become a PR manager at 25 in an IT company was presented to me and I was like: “I must be crazy if I just dismiss this opportunity.” So I decided to dive into the profession and that’s how I started working in IT basically. Employer branding wasn’t even a thing back then. I remember Google-ing how to do public relations in the tech industry and there was nothing, literally no good practices or case studies or anything to help me prepare for my interview. It’s been almost 5 years since then and so many things have changed. Not only In terms of tech, but also in my professional development in IT. This alone says a lot about how progressive and dynamic this industry really is. Anyways, I accepted the challenge and decided that it’s better to learn in practice, rather than just go straight to study some theories and who knows what else.
In the university, everybody used to say that you usually become a PR manager when you go through all these steps in the PR industry journey. I didn’t believe this. I remember going for my first internship in a PR agency after my junior year and I was like “I’m never working in a PR agency again.” However, this didn’t discourage me, I just believed that if I love what I do, then I will definitely make a living out of it. Now, I cannot imagine myself in any other industry but tech! I simply love working with IT people because I enjoy having conversations with curious and intelligent people.
What kind of education and characteristics are required to become a professional in this field?
I believe you definitely have to have a diverse PR/Communications background in order to be a good Employer brand specialist in my opinion. Of course, no PR professional is a bad communicator, so that’s the most important skill – communications and negotiations. I like to joke about it because there’s no other way to explain ROI to senior leadership without these skills. You have to possess these skills especially when you are among the first people doing employer branding in the company. You need to know how to explain the team’s needs to all the tech guys that are usually very keen on using data and seeing actual numbers. Then you have to prove why they need employer branding and how it actually contributes not only to the HR department but also to the strategic development of the company.
So yes, you have to be ahead of the curve, develop the communications and make sure that the rest of the world also gets the message.
What are the tips and tricks of building a successful branding?
The important thing is that brands are supposed to create emotions, this is how you usually build the so-called brand loyalty in customers. You cannot create this without being transparent and honest about who you are and why you are here. I think Jeff Bezos said it best:
“A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.”
What we know so far from life is that the hardest thing in the world is truly being yourself. I believe that this correlation with company and brand development is quite good because when you know who you are and why you are here you have the foundation for successful branding. The best tip I can come up with is just be authentic. Once you know what makes you unique, you can definitely build a successful branding out of it. Maybe you’ve heard about the Golden circles that Simon Sinek talks about and why some companies have the best strategies and others don’t. Those that know their WHY do it best.
What digital tools should we use to help support efforts in employer branding and social media?
In terms of online and digital tools, you definitely should look alive on your social media channels. The best way to use them properly is to do your research and find out where your target audiences are most active. You also have to make sure you establish two-way communication. Other tools that definitely have to be on the list are CRM tools. They are very important for the communication between departments and helping the recruitment team put people in the pipeline. You also need to make sure all your designs and brand visuals are aligned, so develop a brand book and follow it.
Having your own attractive visual identity also helps your brand recognition and communicating your corporate culture properly. There are so many tools nowadays, and I am sure many colleagues will agree with this, but for me, these are the most important ones. Everything else needs a human touch so to speak. It is not something that you can automate.
What are some best practices for reaching tech talent?
Again, proper targeting of that tech talent. I mean you can reach a vast pool of tech talent but are you actually reaching the right people that would fit into your culture? That’s the questionable thing and that’s the point where our team helps HR because this is how you lower the attrition rate. You need to find the proper way to target them and make sure that these people actually associate with the brand and the corporate culture of the company.
Is employer branding more of a communication marketing topic or an HR topic? Who should be in the lead?
It’s not a matter of “either-or” in my opinion. The profession is a super complex mix of both. I believe the future holds a lot of opportunities for the development of employer branding because it only came to be because companies, especially in tech, needed it to be. We have great examples to follow like the industry giants or the innovative spirits of Silicon Valley but a lot more industries will see Employer branding’s worth in the long run.
I believe that 10-15 years from now you will be able to graduate with an employer branding degree and you will be able to explore different career opportunities much like PR professionals do nowadays. The curriculum of this specific degree will be a mix of HR, marketing, PR and also business development because you will need to see the big picture and to know how businesses operate in order to actually develop any sort of strategies for them. When you come to the basics of it, you are still developing a communication strategy, just for a different target audience than those for marketing or sales.
Is there anyone who influenced your career development?
My gut instinct. My career plan definitely changed in the past 5 years. Now I’m just glad to be in a field that has so much potential for development- I speak not only about employer branding because I think the tech industry will unfold many more opportunities for people with no IT competencies. I kind of feel like an innovator because you still can’t read about what we do in the course books at the university. I have never put any limitations on myself, so I might take my career to a whole new level someday. Who knows?
How do you see the tech industry in 10 years in relation to the market, employees, workplace, diversity, etc?
It’s definitely gonna grow a lot. I surely see almost every tech company having its own chief diversity officer, for example, which is something even newer than employer branding, especially if they strive for growth in diverse markets. I am happy that so many companies see the worth of having diverse teams and do that properly.
As for the future of the workplace?
In my opinion, this is still going to remain in hybrid mode for a while after COVID, so we all will have a lot of work to do coming up with initiatives and employee engagement practices in this remote work atmosphere. However, I believe that the best is yet to come.
DevStyleR will announce soon new research related to Burnout syndrome. How do you find your balance between work and leisure? How many hours per day do you usually work? Has it happened to you to work overtime?
Yes, it happens, every once in a while, but the good thing is that I find ways to compensate. I know myself enough to avoid Burnouts, but sometimes Burnouts are, to be honest, inevitable, especially when you are a productive professional, regardless of the field you operate in. In my opinion, the hack is to notice when burnout is approaching and make sure you avoid it. However, everyone has their own threshold, so I cannot say generally where that line is. The best way to prevent burnout is to be mindful of everything in your life. For example, I would say that on my best days, I am most productive for 4-5 hours, but I usually work 7-8 hours. Having a structured daily routine and a to-do list with priorities definitely helps avoid burnouts.
Moreover, a lot of companies are adopting new methods of employee engagement practices that tackle this issue and it’s important to follow their example. For example, we support the healthy lifestyle of our employees in general, that’s kind of our corporate culture since the beginning of the company. Before COVID, we also had a lot of internal sports communities, which formed kind of “organically”. Now I think companies should focus more on employees’ mental health. These pandemic times definitely made a lot of people feel uncomfortable even from the safety of their homes.
A year ago we started doing a lot of online corporate initiatives that allow our employees to literally “take a breather” from their routine, relax, be in touch with their fellow colleagues and still form communities, even if it’s remotely. For example, tomorrow we are starting an online gaming tournament and we have teams formed from all our locations.
Can you give a “Take-home message” to our audience, how to be successful in the software industry?
To be frank, YOU HAVE TO LOVE IT. There’s no other way to be successful in anything. I think a lot of people go for IT for the wrong reasons. Ok, we know salaries are good for tech people, but once you have that, if you don’t actually love what you do, will you still be fulfilled with your life? I mean we spend over 30% of our life at work, and in my head, it doesn’t make sense to make yourself feel miserable about it.
So find what you love, explore your capabilities, develop new skills and most of all trust your journey. Never stop being curious about yourself and the world around you. I love what I do, I love working with remarkable people, I love contributing to their personal and professional development and I love building amazing tech communities with them.
The best is yet to come for the software industry because now we’re even more dependent on digital products.
But first, we need to find ourselves and see what makes us truly happy. Maybe you are a university professor, maybe you are the waitress that serves smiles with pizza and muffins but that’s all in service of that higher purpose – to be authentic and know why you are here.