Employer Value Propositions for Different Target Groups and Organizational Types in the Public Sector: Theory and Evidence From Field Experiments

Published date01 December 2023
AuthorFlorian Keppeler,Ulf Papenfuß
Date01 December 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2023, Vol. 43(4) 701 –726
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X221121050
Employer Value Propositions
for Different Target Groups
and Organizational Types in
the Public Sector: Theory
and Evidence From Field
Florian Keppeler1 and Ulf Papenfuß2
Public employers struggle with recruiting talents and labor market competition.
Research on the understudied topic of employer branding can help address this
challenge. This study presents five large-scale, pre-registered field experiments
(n = 155,634) aimed at increasing the number of individuals initially interested in a
job at a public employer. In social media ads, public sector values served as signaled
employer value propositions (EVPs). The results show the importance of target
groups and points of difference related to public employers’ organizational type.
Significantly fewer women show interest in a job, and for a municipal administration, a
fair pay EVP has a negative effect. This study enhances the understanding of potential
recruits’ environment- and self-processing, bridges EVPs with public values theory,
and provides a missing theoretical link between publicness and recruitment. It shows
the importance of testing common assumptions about what works in recruitment in
field studies with high external validity.
employer value propositions, public values theory, publicness, recruitment, social
media field experiments
1Aarhus University, Denmark
2Zeppelin University, Friedrichshafen, Germany
Corresponding Author:
Florian Keppeler, Department of Political Science, Aarhus University, Bartholins Allé 7, Aarhus, 8000,
Email: florian@ps.au.dk
1121050ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X221121050Review of Public Personnel AdministrationKeppeler and Papenfuß
702 Review of Public Personnel Administration 43(4)
Talented, motivated, and well-trained employees are a core resource of public
employers (Fowler & Birdsall, 2020; OECD, 2016; Piatak et al., 2020). Recruiting
talent for the public sector is key to ensure the provision of basic public services
(Linos, 2018; Sievert et al., 2022). Public employers face strong competition from
private employers in the labor market, which increasingly invest in employer brand-
ing to attract the interest of potential recruits. In this “noisy” market environment
characterized by asymmetric information (Lazear & Oyer, 2012, p. 494), employers
need to generate sufficient attention for their job offers (Collins & Han, 2004;
Mahjoub & Kruyen, 2021). It can be challenging for public employers to enter the
initial choice set of potential recruits. Employers need to raise awareness during the
first stages of recruitment so that individuals develop an initial interest in knowing
Public sector recruitment research mostly uses person–organization fit (Chatman,
1991), person–job fit (Carless, 2005), or related concepts (for a review, see Korac
et al., 2019). These “interactionist processing” theories (Ehrhart & Ziegert, 2005, p.
906) are useful to analyze how the fit between potential recruits’ preferences and char-
acteristics of the job, employer, or other factors contribute to attraction. However,
understanding recruitment processes requires more than the fit between employee and
employer side. Two major research gaps remain. First, public administration literature
cannot yet answer questions about competitive advantage and points of difference in a
noisy labor market (Wilden et al., 2010). When faced with information overload and
uncertainty, potential recruits do not have the resources to process job ad signals com-
prehensively and analytically. When scrolling through social media ads or job plat-
forms, they are likely to heuristically process such signals to reduce their search efforts
and produce a satisfactory initial choice set before devoting more time to evaluate the
fit with each organization (Luan et al., 2019). In convoluted and noisy job markets, it
is key to understand how potential recruits process their perception of the job market
Second, little is known about how signals affect different target groups differently.
According to social psychology research, attitudes and views toward signals of public
employers are related to personal characteristics, such as age or gender (Ehrhart &
Ziegert, 2005; Keppeler & Papenfuß, 2021). Enhancing the understanding of potential
recruits’ self-processing will help employers to develop effective job ads oriented
toward specific target groups.
Employer branding research can help to foster the understanding of environment
processing and self-processing. Employer branding is defined as an “approach to
recruitment and retention that involves internally and externally promoting a clear
view of what makes an organization uniquely attractive as an employer” (Theurer
et al., 2018, p. 155). Despite the increasing interest of scholars on the topic of branding
for the public sector (Alon-Barkat, 2020; Eshuis et al., 2021; Fay & Zavattaro, 2016),
there is a lack of studies on public employer branding and the implications of this for
human resource management (HRM).

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