What Is The Job-To-Be-Done For Your Employer Brand?

In this blog post, we’ll explore the Jobs-To-Be-Done theory and how to use it to reframe the issue of activating a strong employer brand.

Back in the late 1990s, Clayton Christensen popularized the Jobs-To-Be-Done theory with a milkshake story. The paraphrased version is as follows:

People buy a milkshake because they are hungry, or because they like the flavor. By focusing on a milkshake’s flavor, or its ability to fill a belly – we might be led to believe that people buy a milkshake because they either like vanilla or are hungry. But this would be missing an important insight.

While doing some research, Christensen and his team realized that many customers bought their milkshakes in the morning – on the way to work. The “job” of the milkshakes was to be a travel buddy or something “fun”. Many other customers bought their milkshakes in the afternoon, but for an entirely different reason. For them, it was a special treat just for kids.

As Theodore Levitt said, “people do not want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.”

The morning milkshake was bought to help the morning traveler stay awake, or to help make their commute more fun. These milkshakes were made thick and required more time to finish. With a thick milkshake, a commuter had a travel “buddy” and something to do.

Also see: How to Develop Your Talent Strategy; Your Initial Steps

The afternoon milkshake was bought as a replacement for something else – in this case, “stopping at the toy store”. These milkshakes were made thin and could be finished fast. With a thin milkshake, parents were able to give their children an inexpensive, special treat that finished quickly so they could get home.

The job-to-be done for the thick milkshake was to keep the commuter busy and awake. The job-to-be-done for the thin milkshake was to reward, appease, sooth, or calm a bunch of rowdy kids. The same item but for two very different reasons.

Also see: Beginners Guide to Understanding Your Employer Brand

Before doing their research, Christensen and his team might have been led to believe a milkshake was simply a milkshake. But by reframing the issue – by asking “what job are you trying to hire this milkshake for” – they improved their own understanding and were able to make recommendations on how to modify the ingredients, communicate the value, and promote the milkshake as a “niche” solution.

This idea, reframing the issue – and considering the job that something does – is the Job-To-Be-Done theory.

Jobs-To-Be-Done for your Employer Brand

The employer brand is a valuable way to attract, engage, and retain the best people. Some talent leaders use their employer brands to serve as confirmation to employees that the company is the right place for the right to work at right now. Other leaders have established their employer brands to serve more as a beacon, something they can use to explain why or how the company will develop new skills and set some of their people (and/or future candidates) on the right career path. Still others, use it as a tool to more narrowly communicate a “true north” message, corporate aspirations, company culture, or some other combination of desired performance, behaviors, and other talent criteria.

The trick is to thread the needle, and occasionally we see an employer brand that can do it all – communicate the commitment to a mission, provide credible information about beliefs and human experience, activate talent inside the organization, and serve as a beacon for candidates who fit.

Also see: How to Conduct an Employer Brand Study

Establishing an effective employer brand can help to attract top talent, cut recruiting costs, improve pre-hire completion rates (forms, assessments, surveys, applications), reduce turnover rates, boost employee morale, strengthen overall company reputation, and more.

Where are you with your employer brand? Are you struggling and not sure how to articulate it? Not sure where to start? Unsure of how to gather data and translate it into insights you can use?

Maybe it’s time to reframe the whole issue. Instead of leading with “how can I tell the world all about the best company we have to offer”, maybe instead, take a moment to consider the most critical jobs-to-be-done for your employer brand. By reframing the issue, you just might surprise yourself.


Christopher Mengel is the founder of TalentSum LLC, a strategic talent acquisition consultancy and best practices implementation firm. Some of the world’s most notable companies partner with TalentSum to activate a strong employer brand, attract more people who fit, improve engagement and experiences, and deliver high-performing cultures.

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