The War on Talent: Hiring and Retaining Talent in a Hot Market

As our economy continues to recover from the coronavirus crisis and the ensuing Great Resignation, human resources professionals hold a critical position between company leadership and the talent pool. The biggest challenges of this latest battle in the War on Talent have been attracting and retaining talent and rethinking the interview process in a remote work environment. Economic pressures and cultural trends are changing candidates’ employment needs, and the candidate experience during the hiring process is long overdue for a change. However, when it comes to talent acquisition and retention, executives need the input and expertise of their HR teams to make wise decisions and change their processes to create fast and positive change.

We had a great three-part discussion about responding to these challenges with Jeff Eyman, founder of JLE People Solutions, as part of our Mulberry Conversations series. In a quick recap on the War on Talent, he pointed out that McKinsey coined the phrase in 1997 to describe the upcoming wave of Baby Boomer retirements just before the dot com crash. The problems they identified then were retaining and attracting talent and building talent and knowledge capture or retaining the valuable knowledge of employees retiring after long, successful careers. In contrast, just nine years ago, Amazon was opening up a distribution center for the first time in Washington, DC, with 600 positions open; they received 23,000 applications.

The point is that the War on Talent isn’t new but an ever-changing situation. Today we don’t lack talent or open positions, but candidates are paying more attention to factors that are emerging as incredibly important during the job search process. Rebuilding the entire hiring process has been challenging for companies across all industries and markets. Still, it has given us an opportunity to reconsider why we do things the way we do and how we want these processes to feel for everyone involved. Our next task is to figure out what we can control and what we can’t.

We have a lot of control over our hiring process, and there are some things we can do to set candidates up for longer retention:

 1. Communicate with Culture in Mind

Ahead of benefits, compensation, flexibility, and remote work options, the #1 requirement for candidates today is culture. 78% of job candidates believe that how they’re treated in the hiring process is a clear indicator of how a company will treat its employees. As recruiters, we see this all the time: hiring companies are busy and haven’t refined their application and interview processes. Communication from the company is usually a one-way street, and there’s little to no connection with how the applicants are feeling during those critical first interactions. To show candidates you have what they want, leaders need to understand the concept of culture from the candidate’s perspective and what it means to them.

“Culture” means many things to many people, and it’s a leader’s job to create a hiring experience that sets accurate expectations. Have conversations internally to find out what your current employees think about their culture and see how it aligns with what candidates want. It’s also important to show transparency by being upfront about the company’s challenges. Try sharing some of the current problems you’re facing and ask, “Are those the kind of problems you would like to help solve?” Follow up at the end of the process to ask candidates what the experience was like, where there were disconnects, if they expected to hear different questions and anything about the company you didn’t address.

2. Recreate the Interview Experience

Now, our challenge is to communicate better using digital tools that don’t compare to meeting in person. As always, the interview process’s quality and difficulty should match expectations for the job, and the experience should preview the values and relationships your leaders espouse with authenticity. Virtual interviews are tricky because you want to mirror the experience of hybrid or remote work. Still, it’s tough for the candidate to assess company culture when they’re not in a physical space with interviewers. For now, with the mask mandates, for the most part, being lifted, we’ve got a valuable opportunity for more in-person interviews.

While you’re rethinking this process, remember you need to create the best experience for candidates, not just for internal folks. We’re hearing that candidates feel like they’re in a meeting—not necessarily an interview. It may take some training on how interviewers can transition from internal meetings with colleagues to interviews with candidates: for instance, not jumping into questions right away or ending abruptly. For some companies, it might make sense to recreate the experience of being greeted at the door, undergoing three-hour-long interviews, and wrapping up with the next steps. But for others, it might be better to represent values like speed and efficiency by planning a panel interview with all three managers present. Finally, remember that interviewers need to stay fully engaged with the conversation, and if you’re not prepared, candidates can tell and will likely disconnect.

Think about the candidate as a customer and prepare them for who they will meet and why it’s essential. Amazon has a challenging interview process, but they also have an internal interview coach helping candidates along the way, telling them about each person they’re going to meet with and how to prepare. You may want to create a resource for candidates with tips on how to interview virtually. At the end of the day, you need to provide everything the interviewees need (including time) to make their decision in a fair and unbiased way. You’ll achieve better retention if they know exactly what they’re getting into and don’t encounter surprises a few weeks into the job.

3. Show Leaders Why and How to Change

During the pandemic, the function of HR was to be helpful to company leaders. Staying relevant is one thing, but we have to influence leaders to do the right thing. For example, most executives know they need to attract and retain talent, but many don’t follow through. Jeff reminded us that change is inevitable. It’s our job to influence leaders to attract more of the right kinds of candidates and support them.

Candidates are looking at the leadership team’s behavior to see if they truly align with the mission, vision, values, and company culture. For example, if a candidate knows the company or organization values agility to work at a fast pace, but it takes a week or two to hear anything after their interview, that’s a sign that you might not be walking the talk. We can help get leaders out of task mode to have a dialogue about these disconnects, listen to feedback from candidates and employees, strategically problem-solve and ultimately change processes as you go. Sharing data to support these claims will make them more impactful. For example, when a position is hard to fill, is this happening because of high turnover or a lot of competition? We can provide the data that will help leaders make critical decisions.

4. Managing Expectations and Relationships

There is still a long way to go before employees feel satisfied with compensation, engagement, and recognition. The Great Resignation has turned into The Great Regret; much of the talent that left jobs to pursue other opportunities are already on the hunt again. In addition, remote and hybrid work has made it harder to retain talent because people have more time to look—and there’s a belief that they’re more likely to get a larger pay increase by switching jobs.

It’s increasingly important to keep your promises about when you will get back to candidates and work with leaders to create connections. Those connections are critical for building trust and showing you’ll do what you say. New software can automate some of these communications at a high volume. Assessments are helpful for higher-level positions; they allow you to vary questions based on the interviewee’s tendencies.

Click the links below to watch the recordings of these insightful conversations—we couldn’t fit all the brilliance into this article!

War on Talent Conversation Series

Attracting and Retaining Talent
Objectives and Challenges of Hybrid Work
Rethinking the Interview Process

If you’re ready to re-think your hiring process, contact us, and let’s talk about the challenges and opportunities of your situation.

Mulberry Musings

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