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3 Questions with Susan Bor on Hiring Tomorrow’s Top Talent

By Grace Chiu & Tom Flanagan, Talent Marketing, SAP

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Our next interview in the HR Thought Leadership series features Susan Bor, Senior Vice President of Talent at SAP. Susan discusses the best ways to connect with the millennial generation and develop a long-term candidate pipeline. Susan also shares some strategies on what companies can do to enhance their employer branding.

Q: What do you feel is the best way to attract and connect with prospective graduate students?
The first thing is that early is good. So building visibility of your business, not just as an awesome business but as a really great place to have a career, the earlier you do that with students the more likely they are to be predisposed to thinking about you as a potential employer at the end of their studies. For instance, your organization should have a target partnership with faculty at schools because if faculties actually recognize your company as a good employer, they can potentially wield quite a lot of influence over their students in their job searches.

Nowadays it is becoming more important about what’s meaningful and relevant for students. 83% of students do not go to campus career fairs these days. You have got to find a way to be able to connect both physically and virtually with that 83%.

What we’re finding is that rather than just going in and pushing jobs at students, that if we can get business or university alliances people talk about the products and services that relate to our business or to their courses through the completion of their degrees, this builds a much higher level of interest in our organization and much higher degree of trust in us as a potential employer.

The last thing that we find which helps get early attention is inviting students to company events and getting them to act as advocates and sponsors of the great experiences they have at these events. Given the popularity of social media, two or three of these students having a wonderful experience at your events can potentially communicate and promote your brand to all of their friends. Social media is becoming an increasingly important area for recruiting.

Q: What would you say is the most effect way of getting graduates into the recruiting pipeline?
It varies a lot and the trick for us is not so much about volume but about targeting. We don’t want to attract every student there is in the world, what we want to do is to be able to attract the students in the programs that are the “A players.” So again, early is good, but you also need to have a good process for them: you need to have a good website, be able to communicate what the deal is for them, and the deal has to be appealing.

Being able to make a real impact or contribution in their work is something that is of enormous interest and part of the buy decision particularly for the Millennials – the individuals who are coming through schools and education now. We have got to have a good, compelling deal at the high level about what kind of firm they would be joining and must have some very good opportunities in terms of how they will learn and grow. You’ve got to have great pre-boarding and on-boarding programs that allow them to connect, talk and start building their communities and networks before they even start. You also should put in place programs around placing people into different parts of the business and different geographies if they are interested in pursuing such opportunities.

So what you promise you do really genuinely deliver, and again that is very important for this particular population. They are not necessarily looking for careers for life, so we want to look for where the opportunities are for them to continually grow and to actually have a richer and fuller life in all dimensions. The more an employer can match that the more likely we are able to retain the talent and get a win-win from them. 

Q: What would you say are some of the best strategies to increase the awareness of an employer brand?
First thing in the recipe is that you actually have to be successful. You have to have an amazing strategy, whether it is helping the world or improving people’s lives, and this is what you breathe rather than just the words you use around it. You need a really good foundation to appeal to executives, to professionals, and to graduates alike. Additionally, there are unique requirements that particular segments of the target populations value, and it is important to ensure your ‘deal’ has those components. For example, for developers, you start looking at some of the things that appeal to developers the most, such as how creative and innovative the work environment is, if innovation will be valued, if they can work flexibly, and so on.

Secondly, empowerment is key, especially around your organization’s value proposition. You should be able to offer your employees ample opportunities to have influence on what they work on, how they work, and how they define quality in their work. The third key point is the concept that you can grow yourself within the organization and that you have a variety of career paths – expert, manager and leadership – and that they can build themselves around the path they are passionate about.

I genuinely think giving employees the power for self-renewal and the ability to develop their own talent in ways they want to follow is one of the single most competitive elements we can offer in the brand. That transcends across all segments and geographies, and it is this winning proposition in an employer brand that is extremely difficult to beat.

Susan stresses the importance of connecting with prospective graduates early through a myriad of unique ways, including university alliances and inviting students to corporate events to get on their radar as a potential employer. She attests that the best ways to attract recent graduates is to offer them work that has meaningful impact upon the world around them and relates to their interests and passions. Finally, Susan emphasizes the importance of actually living one’s corporate strategy and providing employees with ongoing support and autonomy in their career development to improve a company’s employer brand.

What is the most attractive aspect of an employer’s brand that appeals to you? What other strategies have you used to attract the best talent to join your organization?

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  • There's an intangible cool factor that I use to help evaluate an employer's brand, Grace. Apart from getting university faculty to recognize a company's coolness, as you and Tom mentioned in this post, how do Susan and others recommend organizations enhance their cultural appeal?

    • Hi Derek, thank you so much for your comment! I can't speak for Susan, but my personal recommendation, from an employer branding perspective, is to get employees engaged in sharing their experiences and stories externally. There is nothing more "real" and genuine to me when I hear from employees directly about what it's like working at their organizations and why those are great places to work.

      And for me personally, I want to work for a company that truly cares about my personal growth, career development and work-life integration. I'm also really result-driven, so I want to be able to see quickly where my work is making a contribution and impact on my organization. If a company is able to showcase all these perks to me via their employees, I'm fully on board! 🙂  

      What's that 'intangible cool factor' you mentioned when evaluating an employer's brand, Derek? I'm very curious to learn more 🙂

      • That's a very compelling point, Grace. What are some of the best ways you've seen employees telling their stories externally?

        The intangible cool factor I mentioned is a sort of feeling you get when you encounter one brand instead of its competitor. For instance, is there a definitive reason to prefer Omega or Rolex?

        Not really. They're both exceptional timepieces.

        Yet some people see one as cool and the other as lame. Most of them couldn't empirically tell you why; it's just the vibe they get.

        • Hi Derek,

          I really like spotlight interview articles and short videos where employees share info about their roles and passions/interests and how these relate to the positive impact they're making on their organization.

          I think even candid photos employees take at work and post to social channels like Instagram or Twitter are a great and compelling way to tell stories. Can you think of any other creative and "outside the box" strategies other companies are executing to improve their employer branding and acheive that intangible cool factor?  

          • Hi Grace,

            I just happened to bump into this discussion and felt like sharing my view.

            As Susan Bor has already made the point, I think it's of prime importance that an organization actually walks the talk when it comes to empowering employees. If an organization has been successful in doing that, I think 90% of the work is done only after which does it make sense to execute the branding strategies. I say that because of two reasons both related to the rampant use of social media in today's world.

            1. In today's world, it's not too difficult for any organization to select the 'happiest' or 'most loyal' employees, do spotlight interviews and publish them globally. In fact, I won't be surprised if I am able to find employee interviews (where they are speaking highly of their organization) or similar stuff for almost all companies, both cool and 'uncool'. So, there has to be something that differentiates a cool company from an 'uncool' one and that in my view is 'walking the talk'.

            2. Due to the fact that social media has become an integral part of our lives, I think that has made it easier for people/organizations etc. to make them known to the world. I am not saying that branding or marketing is not important but just that social media has made it easier. So as you mentioned, candid photos (or even blogs or anything of that sort for that matter) shared by employees 'themselves' would be significant ways of helping build a brand for an organization.

          • Thank you for joining in on our conversation Kumar! You made a great point - if an organization does not 'walk the talk,' the branding and marketing really will not help much because, through word of mouth, potential candidates may hear negative stories or experiences from current employees and ultimately decides to not apply.

            What do you think are some of the best ways an organization can find out if they are actually "walking" the talk and are empowering their employees?

          • Well, I don't want to sound philosophical, but if you are doing the right thing, you kind of 'know' it. But yes, to avoid the risk of assuming false impressions, one should indulge in feedback gathering exercises from time to time. I think employee surveys are a very good way to do that but their success depends a lot on how they are executed.

            Formulating the survey in itself plays an important part in determining how effectively it would capture feedback but having made the point, I would leave the details to the experts. One approach used to facilitate honest feedback is to do anonymous surveys. (Unfortunately, this approach is also not fool-proof but probably it's a little compromise that we have to make. The ideal situation would be to harbour a culture of transparency and trust where people do not hesitate in giving critical feedback in the open. But, there's time before planet earth turns into planet utopia! 🙂 ) An extremely important factor in making employee surveys a success is the perceptible change they actually bring about. Following-up on the survey results, engaging employees in carving out solutions to issues and taking measures (in time) to change for the better are immensely important. When people see that their feedback actually counts, people will attach greater importance to surveys eventually leading to better quality of feedback.

            It's not always possible, especially in big organizations, for people from senior management to directly engage with the employees but I do feel that there's room for more. I would love to see colleagues from senior management find a little time out from their weekly schedules and proactively engage in one-to-one informal chats with their employees, whether it's over the phone, over lunch, coffee or even at a game of tic-tac-toe! Or even something on the lines of Undercover Boss!

            Other ways of interacting with the employees, like informal discussions over coffee, skip level meetings, online forums etc. are also useful ways to feel the pulse.

            Leveraging tools and applications on the rise today that look at social media content to gauge public opinion about various matters can help organizations understand how 'outside' people perceive them.

            Also, the attrition rate should be a good indicator for an organization to get a sense of how it's faring.

          • Wow - these are fantastic and very insightful ideas Kumar! I think you would make a great HR & Employee Engagement consultant for any company 🙂

            You've made a very good point about senior management directly engaging and making themselves more accessible to employees. I think this is a very critical piece to improving a company's employee engagement and satisfaction level.

            Google is a company well known for its weekly TGIF meetings with executives like Larry and Sergey to discuss company issues in an open environment. Employees can then volunteer to work on projects that seek to solve these issues. They also have a ticketing system where employees can file issues about anything and the company will review and take necessary action against the problems.

            Do you think these tactics will work for all companies? Can you think of any other successful tactics that you've seen implemented which have significantly improved an organizaton's employee engagement and brand?

          • Ha ha, thanks! Let me know in case you have vacancies in your team 🙂 . By the way, I think you will be a great quizzer for the simple fact that you love to ask questions! 😉

            No, for now, I can't think of more tactics. Rather, I would like to leave it to others. 🙂

          • Keep an eye out for the job posting board then! Our HR organization for the next couple of years is very dedicated to hiring and growing talent from within, so there will lots of opportunities for you to develop and advance your career 🙂

            Thank you! I am usually not a quizzer, but I guess I naturally turn into one when I'm participating in online discussions 😛


    There are many ways to enhance the cultural 'cool' appeal.  I hope our learning's at SAP help you.  Key for us is that SAP's cool factor is enhanced by working with and designing cutting edge technology.  We are fortunate to work on a whole of cool projects that make a huge difference to the everyday world we live in.  Our technologies, amongst other things, help people listen to the music they want, fly to locations across the world, help supply chains function including helping get the right amount of fresh food into our supermarkets daily.  Technology that is not only cool but makes a difference to the way we live lives.  Our technology touches billions of people daily.  How cool is that!


    We also have to recognise that Employment Brands are built from the 'inside out'.  What our employees say about us says more than any marketing campaign.  Hence we have to ensure that we are a 'cool' company and that employees enjoy their time here.  SAP does all it can to support employees be it through our traditional routes like compensation & benefits, training & development, providing different career choices, free/subsidised food but more importantly provide & encourage fun activities for employees to engage in.  I am sure you have seen many fun, organised activities in the past year, which are great in bringing together employees.  These can include shows, parties, football competitions, photo competitions and networking drinks events.  


    With all these great activities we hope our employees feel engaged enough to spread the word about our culture.  This is not only telling their friends and former work colleagues, but also spreading the word through Social Media i.e. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube.  Great events and stories going viral helps demonstrate our culture to the wider world.


    As a company we also engage in Social Media as it is a great tool to spread the word and let people get an insight into our great company and great people.  'Behind the scenes' access is what candidates want.  Graduates are not the only ones using Social Media.  


    Helping us spread the message we also enter into 'Great Places to Work Awards', which allows us to benchmark ourselves against peers but also reaffirm to employees that we are a great place to work.


    There is much else we can point to that we seek to enhance and promote our culture.  We have not even touched on marketing but returning to my first point, our best marketers are our employees as they are our Employment Brand.

  • Hi Grace

    As I see it there are 3 keys aspects about millenials -

    1/ Something which is cool or creates a buzz in their spheres of influence ( community) catches their interest ( a real-life wow which the business solves)

    2/ They like to engage in a conversation,

    3/ They prefer to find info( generally short messages), connect the dots and form their own opinion instead of receiving a hand-out of pointers.

    If we look at point 1, Connect the real-life ‘wow’s to the service offerings – for example SAP's in-memory database will enable visitors to query more than 50 years of stats, including details on the latest games

    This could then led to point 2 and 3 where they can do case studies and incorporate what they study. Trick is to have strong community programs to create a multi-way communication and also identify the top candidates. In order to sustain business growth in the future, being a 'networked' organisation is a key differentiator, and the core of this organisation needs to have candidates who are 'natural networkers with a drive'.

    So the most important aspect of an employer is 'Purpose'