From interview logistics to how an organization retains its talent, experts share advice on what makes the best modern hiring strategies.
by Lauren Dixon
August 3, 2022
In the haste to fill open roles, some companies are “hiring scared,” says Lisa Gonzales, CEO of ELKALYNE, a boutique talent acquisition firm with a focus on diverse IT and marketing talent. She compares this approach to musical chairs, when the music stops and people scramble for a chair so as not to end up empty-handed.
U.S. unemployment continues to fall, sitting at 3.6 percent in May 2022 and indicating an economy at full employment. Still, job openings outnumber available workers by nearly 5 million. Employers report struggling to fill their open roles — competition for talent is on.
Gonzales sees hiring managers dropping their standards out of desperation. “All of a sudden, it becomes about who can we get in the door and how quickly, instead of is this person a good fit?” she says.
While organizations need to fill roles to keep critical business functions running, “hiring scared” lacks long-term strategic approach. Gonzales advises that if talent acquisition leaders recognize that their hiring practices are fueled by fear, it’s time to reassess the full employee journey.
Karel van der Mandele, senior VP of Right Management North America, a ManpowerGroup talent solutions firm, says that he sees a tendency of companies investing more resources in talent attraction than talent development.
“That’s actually undermining your ability to hire talent because your culture — your actual organization — is actually a key draw for hires,” he says. An investment in development of current talent yields higher engagement rates, improves the employer brand, increases retention and new hires, ultimately helping the performance of the organization. “If you’re looking at hiring in isolation, if you’re not looking at it from a total talent management point of view, then you’re really missing out,” van der Mandele says.
No company or organization is ever going to be Great Resignation-proof, “but if you have these basics in place, you can really limit your exposure to the Great Resignation in a big way,” van der Mandele says.
Rethinking the interview process
Having the right people in place from the start of the hiring process is important, and that starts with quality talent acquisition teams or individuals, Gonzales says. Though talent acquisition takes a specialized skillset, organizations often expect HR generalists to be specialized. Gonzales says this is an outdated approach.
Gonzales also recommends tapping others in the organization to provide input and even help during the interview process. As opposed to having a stagnant list of interview questions, staff could share interview questions and potentially sit in on interviews. No matter who conducts the interview, the process should go beyond checking boxes — they should be asking questions and uncovering best practices, she says.
The interview process should also be relatively quick. In a tight labor market, candidates are often having multiple conversations and considering multiple offers, Gonzales says. And if a candidate goes through a long interview process that involves giving a presentation, only to be rejected, it can be very defeating, she says.
“It says a lot about what your journey will be like if you were to get hired at that organization,” and the candidate likely wouldn’t refer anyone else to interview, Gonzales says. That candidate experience can even be detrimental to the employer brand and future hiring efforts.
In the past, hiring managers viewed resume gaps as a red flag, whether due to raising children, caring for relatives, or some other reason. Ed Cohen, chief people officer at SprintRay Inc, a digital dental company, even retired for two years and returned to the job market.
“Companies should be ready for any kind of return to the workforce, no matter what the reason, and be willing to welcome that talent into their company,” he says.
LinkedIn even added a “career break” feature, where its users can choose from 13 options to classify what they did, a move meant to destigmatize time away from paid work. Cohen recommends companies adapt to the fact that some talent that is going to come and go, some will stick around for medium-term and few will stay long-term.
Still, higher retention rates reduce the need to hire new talent. One method for increasing tenure is hiring for potential as opposed to an exact match to the job description. “It’s all about hiring for potential and for aptitude and ability to grow as team members,” Gonzales says.
Organizations can then cross-train staff to learn a variety of roles and skills in an organization and better weather changes in business, she says. This also helps mitigate layoffs and hiring leaders spend less time filling roles from outside the business.
Updating benefits packages
In the aftermath of COVID, workers have largely shifted mindsets to think about what they value in their lives, especially when it comes to their family. Benefits packages should take into consideration the employee, along with others in their lives, Gonzales says. She sees trends around family planning benefits such as in vitro fertilization coverage and extended time off.
“If the employee considers people in their lives when making a decision to join an organization, you should be considering that, too,” she says. “What comes with this employee is a whole support system behind them that we need to be mindful of.”
One sign of a successful benefits and talent strategy is when employees share their gratitude. Gonzales says some of the best organizations have staff that post on LinkedIn about their gratitude for their team or they feel valued during maternity leave, for example.
“You must be doing something right if your employees are voluntarily going out there and telling the world how happy they are with their employment,” Gonzales says.
Mental health care support is another increasingly popular benefit. Handshake, a career platform for college students, found that 92 percent of Gen Z talent expect employers to provide mental health benefits. “Employers who validate Gen Z’s struggles and prioritize their overall well-being will be integral in creating a positive, lasting change in the working culture,” says Paloma Thombley, VP of people at Handshake.
Thombley echoed the need for time off, adding that Handshake recently updated its benefits to include COVID caretaker time off and companywide days off “to ensure all employees can fully step away from work to recharge and take care of themselves and their families, on a regular basis,” she says.
Reconsidering work location
“We all really need to reconsider this whole thing about where people are going to work,” Cohen says.
COVID forced office workers home and employees proved they can still perform remotely. According to Pew Research from this year, 78 percent of workers who currently work from home say they’d like to continue.
Cohen adds that companies should indicate their expectations about work location during hiring. “People want to know up front. They don’t want to negotiate it in,” he says.
SprintRay defines three types of roles within the organization, which determine whether a role is remote, hybrid or in person. Cohen says defining work location creates stability and consistency for staff, and informs the recruiting team regarding locations in which they’ll need to recruit.
Aligning culture to better connect
SprintRay Inc also updated its talent management strategy and culture, identifying a set of nine organizational behaviors, using the culture to guide the interview process and annual assessments. Cultural fit is ultimately what SprintRay’s focus is, with other necessary skills honed via training and coaching. “What we find is that if we hire somebody who is a true fit to the culture, we will be more likely to invest in them if we discover that they have competency gaps, than if we have somebody who is not a fit to the culture,” Cohen says.
That culture fit can inform another method of talent acquisition: employee referrals. “People who are really aligned with our culture and feel that this is the right place for them to be, they refer other people who they believe will be aligned with the culture,” Cohen says. “That creates a fit before you even determine if they’re functionally capable of doing the role.”
Onboarding and ongoing adjustment
Some organizations see the offer letter as the end of the hiring process, Right Management’s van der Mandele says, but they should instead be sure that talent is set up for success with a strong onboarding program.
To tell if onboarding is successful, examine the first 90-day attrition, he advises. When new hires leave during that time, the organizations face both lost productivity and a high cost per hire — as high as five to six months salary, van der Mandele says. “That’s really detrimental to an organization’s performance.”
An ideal onboarding process goes beyond the mechanics of the job and getting their computer set up. Onboarding should cover understanding the business, the industry, competitors, organizational capabilities, key players in the company and expectations so the new hire truly understands their role and definition of success, he says.
Leadership can even get involved in onboarding. Van der Mandele says within a month of a new hire, he checks in with the new colleague and asks about their experience with the hiring process. He then channels feedback to the team leaders and HR, reinforcing what went well and addressing what should change.
Gathering feedback can also help in being aware of future skills or certifications needed at the organization. Talent leaders should listen to customers about what they need, hire for potential to make those changes, and listen to people internally, van der Mandele says. “It’s all about keeping your eyes and ears open.”
When it comes to getting ahead on talent acquisition needs of the future, Thombley says companies should focus on how they’re adapting their recruitment methods to mirror the makeup of the next generation of talent. College enrollment has been declining since 2010; many people are enrolling in community college, trade schools or other lower-cost avenues for education.
“Are [organizations] facilitating equitable opportunities for all students, regardless of their educational background, to apply and potentially work at the organization? Are [organizations] considering removing GPA requirements?” Thombley asks.
Thombley also advises organizations to amplify internship programs as a talent attraction tool and even consider students still in school, with the goal of a full-time conversation in the future. “This means developing a program that not only excites and engages early talent, but also nurtures their career and encourages them to want to return to the company.”
Ultimately, Thombley recommends strong organizational design and thinking about the employee experience before they’re ever a candidate. “The experience of a candidate at every step of the hiring process is critical to them making a significant life decision, to join our company or not. We take that responsibility seriously.”