7 Tips to Hiring Top Talent in a Tight Labor Market

As of February 2019, the unemployment rate is at 4.0 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is the lowest unemployment rate in the last 16 years.

That means finding top talent is harder than it’s ever been, especially for small to medium-sized businesses.

However, there are several ways to simplify your hiring processes and navigate through the tight labor market. Here they are:

1.  Adjust Your Hiring Criteria

In a recruiting landscape where top talent is scarce, it’s critical to be flexible with your hiring criteria. This doesn’t mean lowering your standards, but it does mean thinking about the most important qualifications of your job openings.

Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • How much education is really required for this job?
  • What are the completely necessary qualifications?
  • What could the candidate learn once they start?

Often, job positions ask too much of a potential candidate, so the candidate doesn’t even try to apply. Obviously, you want to hire someone who can do the job well, but being flexible and more open to candidates that can be trained once they’re hired is becoming necessary.

2. Look for Passive Candidates

When it comes to recruiting quality candidates for a job opening, most employers tell us the person they are looking for is not looking for them. These are passive candidates.

So, what makes a candidate passive? There are many indicators. At the core, they may be people that aren’t completely happy at their current job, but they’re not motivated to go look for a different job. They may be open to new opportunities, but they aren’t actively seeking new employment.

According to Gallup, more than two-thirds of U.S. employees are disengaged from their current job for whatever reason.

Additional research from Indeed reveals that 71 percent of workers are either open to a different job or are actively looking for a new job, and 58 percent look at open positions monthly.

Employees will move for money, but the more money they make, the more unlikely this will happen. They’ll also move for a better location (proximity to home) and flexible hours (especially millennials).

The longer they are at their job, the more likely they will want to move. A more likely trigger in their current job includes a new opportunity, being passed over for a promotion, a toxic co-worker, or the culture.

3. Build Your Employer Brand

Before a candidate comes in for an interview, or most likely before they even apply for a position, chances are they will have looked up your organization on Google, your website, and any social media channels you have (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter).

Candidates are curious. They want to know what you do, what you’re all about, and how you promote yourself. What they see is incredibly important, because it shapes their perception of your organization.

This is your employer brand—your reputation as an employer—and it’s also how you articulate and describe what it’s like to work at your organization. In other words, it’s how you show your workplace culture online.

Take Apple for example. Everyone knows what they do, what they stand for, and the kind of employees they want. Why? Because they do a great job promoting their culture and what they’re all about.

If your employer brand is strong Apple’s, then recruiting top talent is easier than ever. According to a leading applicant tracking system provider, 94 percent of job seekers said they would be more likely to apply for a job if the organization is on top of their brand online. A good reputation and online presence can help you stand out from your competition.

To reach this segment of job seekers, use social media to engage and attract them. That means filling your pages with ads, videos, and testimonials. If you have marketing content or a blog, this is a great place to promote that. If you don’t currently manage your social media accounts or don’t have a social media presence, now is a great time to start. Think about some content that your organization has created in the past. Could you post and share it?

Be like Apple and build your employer brand to attract top talent.

4. Retain Your Current Top Talent

Recruiting top talent is essential, but so is retaining the top talent you already have. To retain them, you need to engage them. Why? Because an employee’s engagement has a significant impact on the organization’s productivity and bottom line. Gallup revealed that organizations with high employee engagement had the following percentage increases: 10 percent customer ratings, 22 percent profitability, and 21 percent productivity. On top of that, they also experienced lower turnover.

To engage your employees and experience these benefits, you must recognize them, reward them, and train them.

A survey by David Novak and Harvard Business Review found that 82 percent of employed Americans feel that their contributions aren’t recognized enough by their managers, and 40 percent say they would be more engaged and motivated if they received more recognition. Recognize your employees by publicly recognizing them when they do something great, whether that’s going above and beyond, doing a good deed, or accomplishing a goal.

Going a step further, it’s also important to reward your employees. That could be a gift, a raise, or a bonus. These rewards show employees that you value them and that they are important to the organization. Your rewards don’t have to be huge or costly, but a little goes a long way. From a handwritten letter to a holiday bonus, your employees will feel appreciated.

Another way to show appreciation for employees is to offer professional development and coaching. Along with expanding their knowledge, it also gives them opportunities to expand their skills into other areas they may be interested in.

According to Gallup, 87 percent of millennials say professional development is important for their job, and 69 percent of non-millennials agree, too. Recognizing their talents by sending them to a conference or seminar improves confidence and supplements their expertise.

5. Communicate Clearly Throughout the Hiring Process

As candidates apply and begin the interview process, how you treat them makes all the difference. It’s best to treat candidates as you would prospects. Give them everything they need to know about your organization, what you do, and what they’ll be doing for you. This means providing realistic job previews that accurately describe what the candidate would be doing day-to-day.

In addition to those two areas, you also want to focus on the overall recruitment process. Is it difficult? Complicated? Nerve-racking? Time-consuming? You may need to change your process to cater it to the candidate, allowing them to have a simple and pleasant experience. When you do this, make sure you keep your candidates involved and informed every step of the way.

6. Try Contract Staffing

Another option is to change up how you hire candidates. Instead of always looking for full-time, permanent positions, consider hiring contract positions, which you can do in-house or by utilizing a staffing company’s expertise. Contract positions give you flexibility to take on additional workforce to help manage the ebb and flow of your business cycle, without a long-term commitment up front.

Think of this almost like a trial period, where you can decide if the candidate is the right fit, while also keeping your employment costs down. If the candidate is a great addition to the team, then you can either renew their contract or hire them full-time.

In addition to flexibility, a staffing company allows you to not have to worry about employee tax, workers’ compensation, and benefit costs, such as ACA (Affordable Care Act). This allows you to recruit for your specific needs, while keeping your costs under control.   

7. Hire for Behavior, not just Skills.

Too often, organizations unknowingly hire someone based off their skills on their resume, instead of their character and personality. Skills are important, but they can be learned along the way. It’s harder to learn the right attitude. Conduct behavioral interviews to determine how a candidate would react to certain situations. This gives you a better measure of how the candidate would fit in your organization.

Another way to do identify this is by utilizing pre-hire assessments. Pre-hire assessments are 35 percent accurate, and can help make your decision easier and help you feel more confident in your decision, since you have data to back it up.

Pre-hire assessments shouldn’t be the only form of evaluation for hiring someone, but it can be very effective when used in conjunction with interviewing, once you’ve narrowed down the candidates.

There are four types of pre-hire assessments that are beneficial: cognitive ability, personality, integrity, and job knowledge. Let’s break them down one by one.

Cognitive Ability Assessments: Cognitive ability tests use questions or problems to measure the candidate’s ability to learn quickly and use logic, reasoning, reading comprehension, and other enduring mental abilities that are fundamental to success in many different jobs. Cognitive ability tests assess a candidate’s aptitude or potential to solve job-related problems by providing information about their mental abilities, such as verbal or mathematical reasoning, and perceptual abilities, like speed in recognizing letters of the alphabet.   

Personality Assessments: Some commonly measured personality traits in work settings are extraversion, conscientiousness, openness to new experiences, optimism, agreeableness, service orientation, stress tolerance, emotional stability, and initiative or proactivity. Personality tests typically measure traits related to behavior at work, interpersonal interactions, and satisfaction with different aspects of work. These kinds of assessments are often used to determine whether candidates have the potential to be successful in jobs where performance requires a great deal of interpersonal interaction or working in team settings.   

Integrity Assessments: Integrity tests assess attitudes and experiences related to a candidate’s honesty, dependability, trustworthiness, reliability, and pro-social behavior. These tests typically ask direct questions about previous experiences related to ethics and integrity OR ask questions about preferences and interests, from which conclusions are drawn about future behavior in these areas. Integrity tests are used to identify individuals who are likely to engage in inappropriate, dishonest, and antisocial behavior at work. 

Job Knowledge Assessments: Job knowledge tests typically use multiple choice or essay type questions to evaluate technical or professional expertise and knowledge required for specific jobs or professions. Examples of job knowledge tests include tests of Microsoft Office product proficiency, data entry or typing, basic clerical skills, accounting principles, A+/Net+ programming, and industrial evaluations such as blueprint reading.

In addition to these four pre-hire assessments, there is also a DiSC assessment, which can be beneficial to more accurately gauge a candidate’s behavior. This test focuses on four different behavioral traits: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. By asking how you respond to specific challenges and rules, and preferred work pace, it determines what personality type you are. You shouldn’t make hiring decisions based solely on a DiSC, however, it can help you evaluate for compatible attributes and find the right fit. It also allows you to get to know the candidate at a deeper level.

These different kinds of assessments help you determine which candidate possesses the right skills and behavior that fit the job and your company’s culture. Using these tools can reduce the risk of making a bad hire, and demonstrate how the candidate thinks, which won’t change when you hire them. Assessments are also a good management tool for after the hire, and can help you identify how your current employees think and operate.

Attracting and retaining top talent in today’s labor market is no easy task, but if you’re persistent and willing to implement these tips into your recruiting strategy, then your organization can continue to recruit quality candidates, while your competition struggles.

What is your organization doing to attract and retain top talent?

Katie Roth

Katie Roth has been in a leadership role in the employment industry for the majority of her career. Currently, she is Manager, Talent Acquisition for Oasis, a Paychex® Company. Katie is a graduate of the University of Iowa and is certified by both the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), as a Senior Professional in Human Resources, and the National Association of Personnel Services, as a Certified Personnel Consultant (CPC).


November 17, 2017

Posted by

Katie Roth