Employer Review Platforms: Enhancing or Harming an Employer’s Brand Attractiveness?
Employer review platforms present new challenges & opportunities for companies’ recruitment efforts. Job seekers look for information from different sources such as corporate websites, personal networks & employer review platforms to understand more about the prospective employers’ offerings and eventually decide whether they will apply for a job vacancy. Whilst a growing number of research studies show that employer review platforms affect employer branding, little is known about the relative usefulness and credibility of different sources of information. This study seeks to address this gap, drawing from two samples in the USA and Greece. Findings indicate that employer review platforms are considered more important compared to both personal networks and corporate websites. In light of these findings, and given the increasing use of employer review platforms, we discuss implications for research and practice.
Keywords: Employer Review Platforms, Employer Branding, Job Search, Glassdoor, Applicant Attraction
Contemporary organizations have long recognized the value of employer branding for attracting & retaining employees (Lievens & Slaughter, 2016). According to the human resource consulting firm Randstad (2018), 86% of active job seekers would not be interested in applying to a company with a negative reputation in the job market. This is affected by what the company stands for and communicated to the market via its employer brand (Lievens et al., 2016). Employer branding is established and utilized from companies in order to communicate to the job market and to prospective candidates their employer value proposition which explains how they differentiate from the competition (Wilden et al. 2010). This affects organizational attractiveness, a firm’s ability to lure candidates, and subsequently job seekers’ intention to apply to a firm (Wei, Chang, Lin & Liang, 2016). In turn, applicants who intend to apply to a firm are influenced by different factors such as the alignment of the job seeker’s career goals and personal beliefs with the company’s culture, goals, characteristics, and the vacancy’s profile (Wei et al., 2016).
Despite the increased focus on employer branding, little research attention has been placed so far on how employer branding and a firm’s ability to attract candidates could be affected by external (non-organizational) sources through which job seekers collect information for companies, such as their personal networks, social media and employer review platforms (e.g. Glassdoor, Hoye & Lievens, 2007). In this study, our focus is placed on how employer review platforms can affect companies’ ability to attract candidates and candidates’ intention to apply in a firm, (Hillebrandt et al., 2016). Employer review platforms are considered as a communication channel through which employees of a firm (current or former) anonymously evaluate their experience with an employer. In those reviews, recruiters and organizations do not have direct control over what is written, and they cannot modify or remove the reviews from those platforms (Hillebrandt et al., 2016). Therefore, reviews depending on what they represent can either enhance or damage the employer’s brand in the job market, as well as impact the intention of a job seeker to potentially apply to the respective company (ibid.). This study sets out to explore the role of employer review platforms vis a vis other sources of information in relation to job seekers’ intentions to apply to firms.
The current study contributes to the recruitment literature in three main ways. First, it is one of the first studies that seek to directly compare employer review platforms with other sources of information that candidates use when retrieving information for a firm they are interested in joining. Second, it contributes empirically by providing cross-national evidence on the sources of information perceived as more credible by the job seekers. Third, it offers empirical evidence on how information about a company presented in external sources of information (i.e. employer review platforms) can positively or negatively influence an employer’s brand.
Employer branding is characterized as a long-term and targeted strategy to manage the perceptions and awareness of employees and job seekers about the firm and can be used for improving recruitment, retention, and productivity objectives (Barrow & Mosley, 2005; Sullivan, 2004). Employer branding targets both existing and prospective employees of a firm. Similarly, to a consumer brand, the purpose of establishing an employer brand is the development of an emotional relationship between the employer and the aforementioned internal and external stakeholders (Barrow & Mosley, 2005).
An employer’s brand with a positive outlook in the market can be achieved by continuously presenting an image of an attractive workplace, reflected in characteristics such as the company’s culture, its human resource management (HRM) policies and practices, as well as leadership and management behaviors. If those characteristics fit with a job seeker’s values and preferences, then a company can observe higher levels of employer attractiveness (Sengupta et al., 2015). The existence of a coherent employer branding strategy could influence employees’ behavior so they can promote and disseminate the company’s product, through their work performance, their goals’ achievement & their overall behavior in the organization (Sengupta et al., 2015; Vaijayanthi et al., 2011). Essentially, the existence of a strong employer brand is considered an enhancer for the creation of a great alignment between the organization, the employee & the job seeker, which empowers the development of a solid emotional & psychological contact between the two sides (Vaijayanthi et al., 2011).
A successful employer branding strategy could benefit an organization in several ways. First, it creates a positive image in the labor market both for internal and external stakeholders. This attribute can support an organization’s efforts to tackle challenging situations, such as the attraction, recruitment, and retention of talented employees (Kucherov & Zavyalova, 2012; Gupta et al., 2014). When a company is able to communicate clearly its brand’s characteristics to the job market, it is able to attract the right workforce for its needs and goals. People who perceive a strong fit with a company, will be eventually attracted to apply to the respective firm and potentially join it (Terjesen et al. 2007). Some employees would consider leaving their current jobs and companies if they would be offered for another position with a firm that had an excellent reputation. Most of these would just require a 1 to 10% salary increase in order to consider such a career change (Glassdoor, 2013).
Second, a successful employer branding strategy forges the existence of a psychological contract. The psychological contract refers to an individual’s beliefs regarding the terms of a reciprocal exchange agreement between two parties (Bellou, 2007). This ‘informal contract’ conveys the impression of the expected quality of the employment relationship for the prospective employees but also the quality of the employment relationship for the existing employees of a firm. In the context of an employer’s brand, the ‘contract’ is structured upon the employer’s promised benefits and the job seekers’ expected benefits (Bellou et. al, 2015). As the firm is transparent regarding its holding culture, values, objectives, it usually avoids attracting candidates who are not a good fit and therefore avoids high rates of turnover (Gupta et al., 2014).
However, in developing an employer branding strategy, there are several sources of information accessible to candidates, that may influence the success of the employer branding strategy and eventually an employer’s attractiveness. Some of these sources are within a firm’s control (e.g. corporate website), though others are outside a firm’s control, such as the employer review platforms (e.g. Glassdoor, Dabirian et al., 2016). It is well known that job seekers explore information for an organization from various external sources including social media and peers (Van Hoye & Lievens, 2007; Hillebrandt et al., 2016). Employer review platforms constitute a potentially influential mechanism because current and former employees of a firm could anonymously review and submit information with their work experience there related to the work environment, salaries, career opportunities, and others (Dabirian et al., 2016).
Employer review platforms as a contemporary word of mouth channel
The emergence of employer review platforms has substantially changed the job search process in the last few years (Nikolaou, 2014). Job search is a time consuming and demanding process for job seekers, consisting of seeking and gathering information regarding job positions, companies and their work environments (Hillebrandt et al., 2016; Dabirian et al., 2016; Nikolaou, 2014). In this process, job seekers join different social media (e.g. LinkedIn) and employer review platforms (e.g. Glassdoor) to search for jobs and collect information for their potential employers (Dabirian et al., 2016). Such platforms offer to job seekers the opportunity to access more information for available jobs and learn details for organizations they would be interested in working (Dabirian et al., 2016). Employer review platforms and social media have revealed thousands of employment experiences worldwide. Indicatively, more than 30 million Glassdoor subscribers have contributed with almost 10 million reviews in 500 thousand organizations all over the world (Dabirian et al., 2016). Using employer review platforms, current and former employees review their work experience with an employer, rate their supervisors and senior management, provide information about the culture, work environment, workload, rewards, career and development opportunities (Glassdoor, 2018).
Such information that previously became known through word of mouth information channels has now become publicly available for everyone who joins those platforms (Dishman, 2015). The content of the word of mouth information has traditionally been communicated between employees and usually behind closed doors or not really communicated on purpose because employees were afraid of negative consequences from their supervisors or/and the organization (Dabirian et al., 2016). However, word of mouth information has been adjusted to today’s needs and has been increasingly communicated in online environments, enabled by the existence of employer review platforms and social media.
Word of mouth is an independent and interpersonal information and communication channel, outside of a company’s recruitment activities (Van Hoye & Lievens, 2005). This can include for example, information conveyed by former employees, or discussion with friends and colleagues (Van Hoye & Lievens, 2005; Cable & Turban, 2001). Word of mouth represents a certain type of informational social influence in which the influencer is considered as an independent party of the organization and an external information source that does not have a particular interest in providing information to someone else (Cable & Turban, 2001). Thus, information provided by recruiters and HRM professionals of a given organization is not categorized as word of mouth. In contrast to an organization’s established information and communication channels such as the corporate website, word of mouth is derived by people who are not necessarily interested in promoting the company to other parties (Van Hoye & Lievens, 2007). Consequently, the information distributed via word of mouth can include both positive and negative comments, depending on an individual’s experiences from the respective company (Van Hoye & Lievens, 2007). Research has established that word of mouth impacts various outcomes such as company attractiveness and job market image, applicant’s intention to apply, and the decision to join a firm (Van Hoye & Lievens, 2005).
Hence, word of mouth is a powerful source for information regarding the employer and may be accessed in the entire recruitment process. (Jaidi et al., 2011). In comparison with other recruitment channels, such as web-based recruitment and recruitment events, word of mouth has a unique & incremental variance in the context and diversity of the available information that a job seeker can find for a company which is usually not offered through the traditional recruitment channels (Van Hoye & Lievens, 2009). In contrast with organizational controlled channels, word of mouth can provide job seekers with more trustworthy information because it does not exclusively aim to promote the respective company (Van Hoye & Lievens, 2005). The evident advantage of employer review platforms is that individuals can remain anonymous, therefore they can express without any constraints their opinion for their employer (Dabirian et al., 2016). This information is valuable for job seekers who look into social media & employer review platforms not only for available job positions but also to seek information for potential employers (Dabirian et al., 2016; Nikolaou, 2014).
It follows that employer review platforms, as contemporary word of mouth information sources, can significantly influence employer branding efforts. The emergence of employer review platforms alongside social media has placed new challenges to organizations and their HRM teams that did not previously exist. Employee reviews may be in contrast with the company’s rhetoric and its espoused values. This is particularly likely in cases of dissatisfied employees, as a study of 38,000 Glassdoor reviews found that 70% of them were written for companies with the worst work environments (Dabirian et al., 2016). These transparent reviews can tarnish a firm’s employer branding efforts. Conversely, organizations tend to attract talented applicants if the available information through the various sources demonstrate a positive outlook (Gomes & Neves, 2011). It follows that managers needs to consider how to interpret and use information found in such online platforms (Dabirian et al., 2016).
In conclusion, employer review platforms are a main source of information for job seekers, which job seekers use in parallel to other sources, such as corporate websites and personal networks. However, in the recruitment literature, little research attention has been placed on the relative trustworthiness of these different informational sources. The aim of this study is to compare three different main informational sources that job seekers examine: corporate websites, employer review platforms, and personal networks. In addition, given that job seekers may derive a different kind of information from those sources, we aim to understand what kind of information job seekers are looking for in these sources.
Given the above, we aim to compare the perceived credibility of the three main different information sources from which job seekers retrieve information for a company, as well as the perceived effectiveness of these information sources. Hence, we posit the following:
Hypothesis 1a: Employer review platforms are considered a more credible source compared to corporate websites.
Hypothesis 1b: Employer review platforms are considered a more credible source compared to personal networks.
Hypothesis 1c: Personal networks are considered a more credible source compared to corporate websites.
Hypothesis 2a: Job Seekers perceive corporate websites as a more useful information source.
Hypothesis 2b: Job Seekers perceive employer review platforms as a more useful information source.
Hypothesis 2c: Job Seekers perceive personal networks as a more useful information source.
Sample & Procedure
Two separate surveys with the same set of questions were distributed to 200 job seekers in Greece and the United States of America via the Pollfish survey platform. The sampling method employed by Pollfish is called random device engagement and partners with mobile applications. People are asked to participate in surveys in exchange for an incentive that stays on the philosophy of an equivalent application in which they are engaged. The advantage of random device engagement is that it monitors the unique identifier of the smartphone device and prevents fraud originating from single users and multiple accounts (Goel et al., 2017).
Different variables are utilized to create valid measures of concepts (Bryman & Bell, 2015). All variables were measured at the same time with the same questionnaires. The study’s variables are the usage of information sources, the credibility of the information sources, the usefulness of information sources, firm attractiveness, and job seekers’ intention to apply.
1. Usage of information source: The perception of whether job seekers use an information source was measured using a 5-item scale adapted from Nikolaou (2014). Participants rated their usage of each source on a 5-degree scale, ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (always). Sample items for this concept are: ‘During my last job search I gathered the information for a company through peers’, and ‘During my last job search I gathered the information for a company through online employer review platforms’.
2. Credibility of information sources: The credibility of the three information sources was measured on a five-point Likert type scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree) adapted from Nikolaou (2014), with questions such as the following: ‘I can trust the information given for an employer through its website’, ‘I can trust the information given for an employer through the comments of my peers’.
3. Usefulness of information sources: The perception regarding the perceived usefulness and effectiveness of information sources for job seekers was measured using single-item questions with a 5-degree scale ranging from 1 (not useful) to 5 (very useful), adapted from Nikolaou (2014). The sample item is: ‘I believe that an employer review platform (e.g. Glassdoor) is a useful and effective source to use during my job search.’
4. Intention to Apply to a firm: Job seekers’ intention to apply to a firm was measured with the two following two questions adopted from Wei et al. (2016): “If I saw a job opening for this firm, I would apply for it” and “If I were searching for a job, I would apply to this organization.” Participants responded using a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree; 5 = strongly agree). The scale was modified for this research and understand whether job seekers would apply in companies with positive / negative employee reviews. The sample items include the following statements: ‘Would you apply for a job in a firm with positive employee reviews?’ & ‘Would you apply for a job in a firm with negative employee reviews?
Table 2 presents the analysis of the usage of different information sources, their perceived credibility, as well effectiveness. Job seekers seem to use corporate websites more extensively, in comparison to employer review platforms and their personal networks. However, it is noteworthy that corporate websites are considered less credible and less effective in comparison to both other sources of information. These results suggest that employer review platforms are considered a more credible and effective source of information compared to the other means.
Job seekers were also asked to rate their intention to apply to a firm in different scenarios, in which they developed conflicting views through the information sources. Indicatively, tn the first scenario, they were asked to rate their intention to apply if they developed a positive view about the firm though a negative view after seeing their corporate website. Results are presented in Table 3 and suggest that corporate websites are probably the most influential sources of information, affecting employees’ intention to apply more strongly even in the presence of contradictory information.
For the significant difference between the mean values of the two groups, the t-test was conducted on the following 2-tailed statistical hypothesis:
The difference in the mean values between the two groups is d = 0.31 points. From the t-test, we observed a t statistic equal to 2.509 (with 198 degrees of freedom) which corresponds to p-value 0.013.This indicates that the data provides enough evidence in any level of significance lower than a = 1.3% to reject the Null Hypothesis (Ho) in favor of the alternative (Ha). Regarding Hypothesis 1, job seekers perception on which informational source is considered more credible, Hypotheses 1a, 1b, 1c are considered true:
Overall, it is evident that Employer Review Platforms like Glassdoor score higher on credibility for job seekers compared to the other informational sources. Similarly, word-of-mouth sources (Glassdoor & Personal Network) scored higher in the credibility perceptions compared to the corporate websites. As for Hypothesis 2, we are rejecting H2a: Job Seekers feel more satisfied with the information presented on Corporate Websites (mean score: 3.355) & Job Seekers feel more satisfied with the information presented on Personal Network (mean score: 3.355), which score a lower mean score compared to Employer Review Platforms (mean score: 3.515).
Therefore, we conclude that H2b: Job Seekers feel more satisfied with the information presented on Employer Review Platforms (Glassdoor) is true, since it scores the highest mean score on the job seekers satisfaction.
Overall, this study emphasized how the external / word of mouth sources of information (personal network and employer review platforms) could influence a job seeker’s decision of whether to apply in a firm or not. Also, the study explored how the information presented for a company in the different external sources of information, can impact (positively or negatively) the company’s image in the job market, and eventually its ability to attract talented candidates (Van Hoye & Lievens, 2005 & Cable & Turban, 2001. In their job search, job seekers could usually gather information for a company, from a company’s internal sources of information like the corporate website, as well as from the external sources of information like their personal network & the employer review platforms (Van Hoye & Lievens, 2005 & Cable & Turban, 2001).
Τhe findings of the literature review were congruent with the findings of the primary research in our study (a survey delivered in two job markets with different characteristics: United States & Greece). A first explanation on why more and more job seekers today show higher levels of trust in the information they can gather through employer review platforms like Glassdoor and not through their personal network; is the greater amount of information they can gather (Dabirian et al., 2016).
For example, if a job seeker is interested to apply in a particular company, he / she might know someone from his / her personal network who can provide his / her experience on how is to work for this company, how the work load looks like, what are the characteristics of the culture, what is the outlook of the senior management and maybe some information for the financial part of the employment (Dabirian et al., 2016).
However, a job seeker could consider as more trustworthy the information from an employer review platform because all the above aspects could be found in more details for a firm, as well as he/she can access several reviews from various employees (current or former), therefore having a holistic view of the workplace & make safer judgments (Dabirian et al., 2016). Moreover, Glassdoor has been the leading employer review platform in which job seekers retrieve information for their potential employers from numerous submitted reviews of either current or past employees of a firm and are trying to cross-check those findings from the information that they gather from the internal sources of an employer (e.g. corporate website). (Dabirian et al., 2016). Specifically, the job seekers can access easier key information that can make them consider changing jobs, such as the offered salary and benefits.
Usually, companies do not share this kind of information publicly however most of the available reviews in platforms like Glassdoor mention the salary level per job category and seniority level (Dabirian et al., 2016). However, this process of retrieving information by the job seekers places another challenge to the HRM professionals. HRM professionals should be careful on this because the information’s availability for an employer on so many different sources can have a negative impact to the employer’s brand because a job seeker can be exposed on many negative reviews and negative work-related experiences from current or former employees of a firm, which can distract him/her from applying there (Reeve, 2004).
The findings of the primary research were congruent with the literature’s findings; that job seekers utilize different informational sources before their final decision on whether to apply or not to specific job positions & companies. However, this study besides the conclusion that job seekers utilize different informational sources, identified which informational sources they consider as more credible before they applied to a firm (Bilgiç. 2012). The results indicate that between the aforementioned sources, an employer review platform like Glassdoor is considered a more credible source than corporate websites for example.
Therefore, employers & their HRM teams should be more careful about what is communicated for their workplace by third parties (e.g. current or former employees) and possibly alternate their strategy (e.g. gather feedback frequently from their employees regarding their employment experience in order not to damage further their perception & most importantly credibility on the labor market (Sullivan 2004; Allen et al. 2004). Some of the factors that can influence a job seeker’s decision to apply (or not) in a firm are: the available information on different sources, how satisfied the job seekers feel with the information he/she has gathered, as well as how credible is the information perceived by the job seeker.
The information’s availability from different sources, the job seekers’ satisfaction for the presented information, and the information’s credibility can definitely influence a job seeker’s intention to apply or not in a firm (Van Hoye & Lievens, 2005 ; Cable et al. , 2000 ; Dabirian et al., 2016). Positive comments for an employer seem to have a positive impact by boosting employer’s influence on attracting candidates. Whereas the negative comments, do not necessarily create a negative impact. The job seeker is not necessarily distracted from applying to this company. Most probably, job seekers have second thoughts whether they feel that they should work there and eventually if it is worth to apply; and other factors could be taken under consideration (Wei et al. 2016 ; Dabirian et al., 2016 ).
As for the personal network’s influence, it seems that this behaviour needs further explanations as the literature review states, on why job seekers select to apply in specific firms and on how they identify themselves with the given company. (Wei et al. 2016). However, results seem congruent with the literature’s findings, that job seekers tend to perceive as more trustworthy & credible the information obtained from personal direct communication rather from the indirect one (Cable et al., 2000).
Consequently, it is evident both from the literature review and the findings of primary research that the word of mouth sources and specifically employer review platforms like Glassdoor, can provide to the job seekers both qualitative & quantitative content regarding a workplace which is not really the case with the other available sources. Glassdoor can be characterized as a satisfactory & credible informational source because it is an independent source, not controllable, and influenced by companies and their HRM teams who would like in some cases to mispresent or provide a different reality regarding their work environment and what they can offer to prospective employees.(Van Hoye & Lievens, 2005 ; Cable et al. , 2000 ; Dabirian et al., 2016).
On the other side, current or former employees of a firm, who submit those reviews do not have an objective of promoting the firm and/or mispresent their work experience there, since they are not obliged by their employer to submit those reviews as well as their opinion can remain anonymous, so they are not really afraid for facing any consequences for what they will write. Moreover, job seekers are able to read several reviews for a firm via Glassdoor, cross-check even information from those reviews, and receive a more holistic view, both from positive and negative reviews that can exist. (Van Hoye & Lievens, 2005 ; Cable et al. , 2000 ; Dabirian et al., 2016). So, what organizations should do in order to align with the new status quo of the job search process? Definitely, they should reconsider how they present themselves in the job market, what information they share for their workspace as well as what kind of messages they send to potential job applicants.
If job seekers, are retrieving more information (both in quantity & quality) from the external sources of information like peers & Glassdoor, most likely they consider them more credible, therefore the signal sent from the company’s internal sources (e.g. corporate website) is not so positive (Suazo et al. 2009). Organizations can fix this on their side, if they are more transparent for their workplace, communicate more aspects of their employment relationships. Failure of this adjustment can possibly damage their employer brand further and definitely the company’s ability to attract talented candidates. (Hillebrandt, 2016).
Implications for HRM
Firstly, companies regardless of their industry, location and size should adjust to the technological changes that affect their recruitment cycle. Specifically, their HRM teams should invest more in social media & utilize them for example on identifying and attracting candidates. Also, they should become more familiar with employer review platforms, so they can monitor what former & current employees say for them, listen to their suggestions & feedback and possibly adopt some of those suggestions for fixing certain aspects of the employment experience, enhancing their employer brand & improving their ability to attract talent. Secondly, the HR professionals & especially those charged with the recruitment efforts should be trained and acquire knowledge and skills relative to social media (and employer review platforms). Acquiring such skills can help them to tasks relevant to the first implication such as: monitoring in different sources what is communicated about their organization and identifying and attracting candidates. Specifically, employers can reply to the comments posted on Glassdoor and either thanks the reviewer for the positive comment he/she left or reply to a negative comment and present the company’s perspective on the matter. Afterward a job seeker while reviewing those comments, could have a more holistic view of the organization that she/he is interested to work for. Definitely, the training of the existing employees. Alternatively, a firm could hire employees who have provenly acquired such skills in previous positions and/or hire younger employees (for junior HR positions for instance) who in the majority are more familiar with social media and could overtake the above-mentioned tasks Thirdly, organizations should seek and receive regular feedback from their employees (e.g. from bi-yearly performance reviews), understand how employees feel towards the organization, how they feel on working there, how they feel with their collaboration with other employees. Also, the feedback shall include information on what employees could tell others about working for this company and if they could recommend it. By establishing such a mechanism, companies could better understand what their employees feel about their employment relationship and how the organization is really presented to third parties (e.g. who would be prospective employees of the firm). Lastly, companies should share more information (as specific as possible) in their available communication channels regarding employment’s aspects such as financial rewards, career & development opportunities, senior management & work environment. Thus, they can establish a solid relationship with job seekers who are looking to learn as much as possible for an employer before they decide to apply there. That was also a conclusion of our research study, whereas the interviewed job seekers were not really satisfied with the available information through a company’s website and were relying more to the other available sources: personal network & employer review platforms.
Overall, this research study has contributed to the fields of recruitment & employer branding. Specifically, it provided more insights on how & why today’s job seekers trust more the information for an employer received from external sources of information like personal network but especially the one coming from employer review platforms like Glassdoor. This has led to a changing scenery where companies and their HRM teams do not have a direct control on what is communicated for their workplaces, therefore affecting their ability to attract candidates. Especially, when the information presented for an employer in an employer review platform is negative makes the efforts of recruiters to attract candidates even harder. So far, the findings of the literature’s review are somehow limited for this phenomenon but has provided some useful insights which were congruent with the findings of our primary research. For example, in both cases (literature review & primary research) it was evident that job seekers always seek information for an employer from different sources. In the case of the primary research, where job seekers from Greece and United States were interviewed results were identical. Lastly, employer review platforms seem to have a protagonist role in the job search process and how eventually companies are presented in the job market from the eyes of their employees. Employer review platforms are considered an adequate source of information both for their quantity and quality. Moreover, they are considered a more credible source of information by the job seekers and that was evident through the primary research that employer review platforms like Glassdoor seems to influence job seekers more as to whether they would apply or not to the firm.
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