Those candidates you most want to recruit? They’re also in demand by your competitors. And recruiting them doesn’t start with the first time you meet them at a career fair, through an independent recruiter or on their college campus.

It starts long before that -- because everything a candidate has ever heard, read or witnessed about your company will enter into the decision of whether work to work with your company. Before a job candidate ever knows you, he or she will know about your company.

In short, that’s why employer branding makes a difference in recruiting efforts. But an employer's brand is more than just a first impression. It plays an important role throughout the recruitment process. Three of the important stages of recruiting are influenced by the employer brand:

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1. Reputation. The information that job candidates hear or read about your company will leave them with a basic impression of what it’s like to work there. If social-media postings about working for your company are overwhelmingly negative or employee reviews repeatedly point out an important weakness, some candidates may choose not to interview with your firm. That’s why it’s important to monitor the online conversations about your company and respond to reviews online. Adding your voice to the conversation can give your company some control over its reputation as an employer.

In addition, if a job candidate has never heard of your company and has no frame of reference about what it’s like to work there, he or she may be wary of interviewing with you. No reputation at all may be better than a negative one.

But the best scenario is to ensure that plenty of positive information is circulating about your company so that potential employees become familiar with your company, at least in name, and consider it a good place to work. To populate the web with that type of information, as well as lead to positive word-of-mouth communication, take control of your employer brand and rely on employee ambassadors to help communicate your messages.

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2. Career offer. The type of offer you extend to a potential employee also represents your employer brand and is vital to successful recruitment. Does the offer include a competitive salary? Are the benefits generous, even unique? If not, you’re unlikely to recruit the most valued candidates and your employer brand will suffer.

If, on the other hand, your offers of employment are generous and promise challenging jobs with opportunities for career development, personal development and other components that are important to your audience (such as international work or work-life balance), your brand will shine and your recruiting efforts will succeed more often.

Related: Sizing Up Candidates for Cultural Fit Throughout the Hiring Process

3. Corporate culture. Savvy recruiters know that the corporate culture observed by job candidates plays an important role in their decision whether to accept a job offer. Your company’s culture is also a vital component of your employer brand. If your company is known for flexible work arrangements or strong employee camaraderie, those cultural benefits can help solidify your recruiting efforts.

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