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Everything Old Is New Again: The Almost-Forgotten Skills Needed to Attract and Retain Talent in Today’s and Tomorrow’s

By: Chuck Pappalardo, Managing Director, Trilogy Search Non+Profit

Companies need talent to grow, to thrive, and even to survive, in a knowledge-based economy. Finding the right talent, with the right skills and the right experience, is never easy, and it’s getting harder than ever. With the job market heating up, companies, whether they’re small and fast-growing or big and well-established, have to work hard to find and retain the best employees — and they have to compete with practically every company in the country. Prospective employees don’t just have to sell themselves to employers. Employers have to sell themselves, too.

The unemployment rate for February was just 5.5% — not far off what economists consider full employment — and the rate for the most skilled workers, the ones your company needs most urgently, is far, far lower than that. Companies all over the country, and in every industry, are hiring, and labor economists expect hiring rates to go up steadily for the foreseeable future. That’s going to make the job market a true seller’s market for both current and prospective employees. In what I’m calling “the new new normal,” employees expect to be treated well, they expect to be paid what they’re worth, and they expect employers to invest in their career development. So if your company wants to stay competitive — or maybe even stay in business — your talent management personnel are going to have to get in touch with some basic realities.

That’s why I’m telling my clients, my colleagues, and my friends that they need to go back to the basics of recruiting and retention. In the new job market, HR professionals and talent specialists can’t just glance at LinkedIn profiles or use an automated system to sift through unsolicited resumés to find candidates. They can’t neglect compensation and benefits. And they can’t take any candidate — whether a recent graduate looking for an entry-level position or a longtime employee who might be getting a little restless — for granted.

In my view, there are three basic, essential components of effective recruiting and retention in a hot market. (You need them even when the market isn’t this hot.) Here’s what you, your company and especially your HR department/talent department need to make this job market work for you:

People. This may seem counterintuitive in the Internet/social media age, but if your company has an online-only (or even mostly) recruiting policy, you’re absolutely going to miss out on some of the best candidates out there. Remember, job candidates are checking you out, just as you’re checking them out. They have questions, about everything from future career opportunities to work/life balance. The cost of making a real person available to answer real questions is nothing compared to the cost of having the perfect candidate walk away. Want people to be interested in working for you? Show an interest in them. It’s as simple as that.

Of course, just because it’s simple, that doesn’t make it easy. Everyone involved in the recruitment process — from the receptionist who answers the first phone call to the HR professional to the outside recruiters to the hiring manager — needs to approach every potential candidate with complete professionalism. Make sure they’re specifically trained to deal with prospective employees as human beings. This is something that has consequences far beyond a single candidate. Remember, people talk. If someone isn’t treated respectfully, the word will get around — and it’ll become even harder to attract talent.

Opportunity. You’re going to have to be aggressive, really aggressive, in this economy, and you’re going to have to move fast. Companies large and small have gotten used to being able to wait to find the perfect candidate at the perfect price without much risk to the company. Today, waiting to make a hiring decision is likely to result in a significant lost-opportunity cost — one that has a real-world impact on the bottom line. And it’s likely to cost you even more because of wage inflation. So you weren’t willing to pay what the last candidate was asking for? Be prepared to pay 10% more next quarter — if you can find someone, that is.

Money. It may be the oldest business maxim there is: You have to spend money to make money. In today’s job market, that means understanding what your current and prospective employees are really worth, not just to you, but also to your competitors. You don’t need to conduct a comprehensive enterprise wide compensation study, but you do need to make sure you’re offering each new employee a truly competitive compensation package, with salary, bonus, stock options and benefits at least as attractive as what other companies in your area and your industry are providing. And don’t neglect your longtime employees. Believe me, they’re watching the job listings, and they’re getting calls from recruiters. If you want to keep them, you’re going to have to make sure their compensation isn’t falling behind.

And while we’re on the subject of money: You’re almost certainly going to need to invest in your talent acquisition resources. Many in-house talent departments are significantly underdeveloped and probably were never formally trained in the recruiting skills they need to be successful in today’s hyper-competitive job market.  Further, as employees become more sought after and more selective, recruiters’ jobs will become more challenging, requiring subtlety and sophistication. It’s time to take a long, hard look at your available skills and resources and figure out where you need to make investments. That may mean reeducating and retraining in-house personnel, or engaging experienced external resources, like specialized recruiting services. Either way, the cost is likely to be far less than the cost of not having the talent your company needs.

The bottom line: In the “new new normal,” you and your company have to remember that recruiting great talent has never been about finding people. It’s always been about attracting them, and helping them to understand why they should come to work for you. All the technology in Silicon Valley can’t do that for you.

 Upcoming post: What job seekers can do to successfully navigate the “new new normal.”