Hiring in Virginia’s Red Hot Job Market (Part II): A Plan to Compete for Top Talent

In Part I we described the current labor market conditions caused by historically low unemployment rates.  Virginia’s employers are now in an employee’s market, and most organizations have real obstacles to landing the top talent they want and need.  

In Part II we’ll discuss how to improve your company’s ability to compete for talent in this reality.  Let’s jump right in:

Call It Out: Hiring is a Top Priority

It’s pretty simple, the HR teams at the best companies do a great job at mobilizing their hiring managers to help secure the best talent available.  Once candidates are found and engaged, everyone who comes into contact with them must be on the same page.  When deciding how to prioritize your workday in a competitive market, managers must urgently find a way to do what’s asked of them to evaluate candidates “in play.”

Shake Things Up

To compete in a red-hot labor market, the status quo approach to recruitment may need to change.  Unless you’ve got a strong employment brand, the strategy of “post and pray” will probably not be enough to attract the best.  More resources should be deployed to the in-house HR team to enable proactive sourcing — going after passive candidates. This approach requires deep research that’s very time-consuming.  If you don’t have in-house recruiters, consider adding outside help to get the job done.

Put Candidates First

To stand out in a crowded field of employers, the candidate’s perspective should be taken seriously when mapping out all recruiting and selection steps.  Consider: what will make it easier, more interesting and more credible for candidates to go after roles with your organization?

A positive candidate experience is a must-have for creating a culture that attracts top talent.  In both word and action, candidates need to “feel the love.”  Figure out how to show your company’s best possible face to candidates at each step until an offer is extended.

Move With Planned Urgency

Everyone, everywhere these days is competing for the best available.  To be ultra clear: the best talent always has options for employment, and doubly so in current market conditions.  To improve the chances of landing your #1 draft choice, it’s critical to maintain hiring momentum through solid process management and execution.

Don’t take shortcuts or lower hiring standards, but be very intentional in collecting the data you need to learn about your candidates.  Know in advance what steps you want candidates to take so they may be properly evaluated, instead of making them up as you go along. Know exactly which business leaders will be involved with candidates and why.  Cut out redundant steps, use panel interviews and leverage technology to save time. Look for ways to engage candidates in creative ways to get new information differently (e.g. simulations, work samples, role plays or video interviews).  Brief your business managers on what they should focus, what to say and how to execute their roles as well as possible. Improve information handoffs between interviewers so that time is not wasted with the repetition of low-value questions.  Make sure all candidate info is available to every decision maker once accumulated.

Maintain a Proper Mindset

A simple truth: candidates are evaluating your organization just as much as they themselves are being evaluated.  A healthy hiring culture enables learning about candidates while also conveying respect.  At each step along the path to hire, do what’s needed to help candidates relax so that your team can collect the information needed for a good decision.  Avoid creating an atmosphere of “prove-it.”

To ensure respectful treatment of candidates, live your company’s stated values. Manage expectations (what’s next? by when? with whom?) at each step and provide transparency.  Prospects need to feel that they’re being dealt with fairly and with integrity. A candidate’s experience while engaged with your company is a small window into the soul of a possible employer.  Candidates should clearly see and feel evidence of the values your company claims as their own.  Tap into the applicants’ need to understand your organization’s higher purpose.   Differentiate your company further by helping candidates understand what it does and why.

Communication: the Life-blood of (New) Relationships

OK, perhaps a bit overstated, but it’s true!  Selection activities are the first steps taken in building relationships with prospective employees.  How well a candidate and a hiring manager connect with each other early on will influence a successful hiring outcome.

When it comes to communication with candidates, the two most important questions that arise during the job search are:

  1. did you receive my application or resume?
  2. did I get the job or not?

While there will be other touch points from the point of application to final offer, these are the two most critical.  Getting the basics right is key to your team showing respect to the candidates for their interest and time invested. The hiring team can come off looking super professional by staying in touch proactively before a candidate follows up with the next question.

Reinforce Your Referral Channel

If you haven’t asked for employee referrals in a while, do so again.  Beef up the rewards. Typically, 40% of all hires come from referrals but only about 5% of a company’s employees bother to refer.  Ask for referrals again and again, and put some cash or prizes behind the request. Your current talent knows your organization best and the types of people who will make great co-workers.

Keep Pressing Forward!

While candidates are engaged with your team, don’t let up!  Remember that the best candidates always have options.  Manage selection activities so that everyone involved is driving to the goal-line together.  Keep focused on the getting the best candidates to the moment where they say, “I accept!”

Putting It All Together

Current market conditions are creating a near-crisis employment situation for many organizations.  To compete for top talent in a red hot labor market, a competitive hiring culture is needed now more than ever.  Start by considering what it’s like to engage with your organization from the candidate’s point of view. Begin process design not with what’s easy for you, but instead with their wants and needs and then plan for efficient selection activities that serve those expectations.  Maintain rigor and standards for evaluating candidates but look for every opportunity to move prospects intentionally forward through the selection gauntlet.  Communicate proactively and execute your plan exceptionally well.

As part of this competitive culture hiring, HR must also create ways to influence business managers to be engaged and committed teammates by making talent acquisition part of company-wide strategic objectives.