Holiday Reading List: The 16 Best Employer Branding Books (That Aren’t About Employer Branding)

Mature man relaxing at home and reading book

There are a number of good books out there on employer branding. But the ones that have helped me the most have nothing to do with branding at all.

Most employer branding books are best for those who are just getting started. But if you’re serious about developing and managing an employer brand, my list will help you level up your work. I’ve read every one of these books at least twice. Not only have they given me insight on branding, but they have also dramatically changed my perspective on my own work.

Here is my list of the 16 best employer branding books for taking your branding to the next level:

‘The Pirate Inside’ and ‘A Beautiful Constraint’ by Adam Morgan

On the surface, these are very different books, but they share a common theme: You can still do great work when you don’t have all the resources you want. “A Beautiful Constraint” explains the concept of leveraging restrictions to produce better work; “A Pirate Inside” provides examples of companies that didn’t let a lack of resources keep them from promoting a powerful brand. Together, they are an amazing one-two punch that will change how you think about your job.

‘How Buildings Learn’ by Stewart Brand

I once called this “the best book about web design written before the internet,” and it’s all about how systems change. Until you look at hiring as a system with multiple parts that interact and create interesting outcomes, you can’t drive meaningful change within your organisation. Just as an architect can’t stick a skyscraper on a foundation designed for a house, for example, you can’t build any technology you want on top of a given applicant tracking system. You need to consider the whole system in order to see the matrix of change.

‘Pattern Recognition’ by William Gibson 

Yes, this one is technically “science fiction” — but as Seth Godin once said, once you read this book, you’ll really understand branding and marketing. In fact, I love this book so much that I named my daughter after the main character.

‘The Business of Expertise’ by David C. Baker

Baker has become one of the most interesting voices in the world of entrepreneurial “positioning”: a strategy that portrays a brand as holding a certain position, relative to other brands, in customers’ minds. While the book focuses on how to position a creative agency, the rules he defines and the processes he follows are very translatable to employer branding. 

As a bonus, check out his podcast with Blair Enns. I regularly borrow ideas and language from these two to talk about my approach.

‘Tribes’ by Seth Godin

The entire Seth Godin catalog is great for employer-brand training, but this one is his most relevant. It explains using tribal mentality — the idea that certain groups of people behave in certain ways — as a means to express your brand. The more you see your company as a kind of tribe, the more powerful this book becomes.

‘Viral Change’ by Leandro Herrero

Employer branding works when it becomes embedded in every aspect of the business, which means understanding how businesses change. This book makes a convincing argument that classic “change management” (which can be boiled down to, “We told employees what to do, so we assume everyone’s doing it”) doesn’t work — but treating the business as an organism that reacts to new stimuli does.

‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield

Pressfield has two lives: In one, he writes bug fiction novels that turn into movies. In the other, he writes books about how hard it is to write. Here, I direct you to the latter. I believe that doing great employer-branding work is art, because art is about doing something meaningful and putting something out into the world that’s never been done. Pressfield’s books teach you how to deal with the fear and anxiety that comes from building something new.

‘The Art of Possibility’ by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander

Like the previous book, this is another title that helps you manage the fear that comes with being an artist — while reminding you that being a little bit uncomfortable is okay. In fact, embracing that discomfort is how you find the bravery and confidence to do something different.

‘The Cluetrain Manifesto’ and ‘Small Pieces Loosely Joined’ by David Weinberger, or ‘The Social Life of Information’ by John Seely Brown

These are old books about the internet, which is why they are so smart. Written before Google Chrome and the iPhone, these books are philosophical treatises on the ways people interact with information: a topic that becomes more and more important as more and more information is put out into the world. If you want your message heard, you need to know how people find and absorb it.

‘The Art of Action’ by Stephen Bungay

There are countless “business is war” books out there, but this one is different. Its core premise is that successful military actions aren’t the outcome of great generals or clever tactics, but rather, of developing systems. As Sun Tzu said, every battle is won or lost before the fighting starts. Bungay shows how successful armies — even ones that can’t use instant communications — can be developed from the ground up to be agile and successful.

‘The Little Big Things’ by Tom Peters

This book lists 163 little things that drive big changes in an organisation. While they are focused on cultivating excellence, it isn’t much of a leap to see how you can (and should) apply this perspective to your employer branding.

‘The Fifth Discipline’ by Peter Senge

As the de facto textbook on systems thinking for businesses, this is probably the most famous “business book” on the list. But that doesn’t mean it’s dry or academic. In fact, even if you only read the first section and “the beer problem,” it will open your mind to see the world in a very different way.

‘Moneyball’ by Michael Lewis

While everyone describes “Moneyball” as a book about metrics, the value here isn’t in the numbers. It focuses on “how to win a rigged game” — in other words, how someone who has fewer resources can compete with organisations that are more famous, have more money, carry  more clout and dominate the market. If you worry about how to compete with Google when you don’t have Google’s resources, then this book is for you.

James Ellis is host of the popular podcast the Talent Cast and Director of Employer Brand at Universum. You can also find him on Twitter: @TheWarForTalent

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.

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