- Workplace environment. Do you offer personal attention, flexible hours, a supportive boss, effective teamwork, plenty of positive encouragement, enthusiastic coworkers, open communication, interesting work? Can you provide any evidence (e.g., employee surveys, workplace awards) that yours is a special place to work?
- Career development. Does your firm have a strong training program, clear career paths, active mentoring, ongoing performance feedback, meaningful incentive compensation? Are these distinctives documented? Can you demonstrate that there's no better place to build a career?
Yes, the standard is high. That's why the process of developing your value proposition is so critical. You need to determine what your firm can realistically do to distinguish itself in the intense competition for talent.
Create recruiting-oriented marketing materials. With your value proposition in hand, you now need to communicate it effectively. There are two primary audiences for your message: (1) specific candidates you are pursuing and (2) unidentified prospective candidates out in the marketplace. Both can be served by targeted marketing materials such as brochures, fact sheets, website, and video. I'm surprised how many companies in our business are seriously deficient in this area. Yes, just as in the pursuit of clients, marketing materials are no substitute for skill in face-to-face selling (interviewing) and building relationships (see below). But they still fill an important need.
At job fairs, for example, you definitely need recruiting-oriented materials to hand out. Do you think a promising candidate is going to remember your sales pitch among the several firms he talked to? What about your website? According to PSMJ, 23% of visitors to your site are prospective employees. Only 5% are prospective or existing clients. Which audience does your website focus on? And don't overlook the value of marketing materials to your own employees involved in recruiting. These materials reinforce your value proposition for those who must take it directly to candidates.
Commit to some aspect of the "We find them" approach. There a two basic recruiting strategies: (1) the traditional "They find us" approach that amounts to placing your ad in various places hoping to attract qualified candidates, and (2) the "We find them" approach that involves identifying and actively pursuing the people you want. Many firms in our business use the latter approach when they hire a headhunter. Other firms avoid headhunters because of the costs, or concerns about the ethics of directly recruiting from competitors (seethis article on ethics in recruiting).
I'm convinced that the passive "They find us" approach will not be adequate for growing firms as the availability of qualified engineers, architects, and other technical professionals continues to tighten. So how will you find the people you need? Much the same way that you find clients. With clients, you identify who you'd like to work for and actively pursue them through a sales process. A fundamental difference with prospective employees, of course, is that they aren't advertising their availability as clients advertise requests for proposals.
In fact, most aren't even looking. According to one study, 54% of workers are passive job seekers, meaning they would seriously consider another job offer. But only 16% are actively looking. That means only a small percentage of prospective candidates are going to see your ad no matter how widely you broadcast it. If they're not looking for you, you need to go look for them. The best place to start is leveraging your relationships.
Develop and leverage relationships for recruiting purposes. Your greatest recruiting asset is your employees who know people. They all have former colleagues and classmates, friends, neighbors, and family members who could become a valuable addition to your firm. The secret is getting your employees actively engaged in the recruiting process. I know, most firms offer a referral bonus for this purpose. But most lack a true "recruiting culture" where everyone is constantly looking for candidates to join the firm.
This gets back to having a genuine value proposition. Are your employees passionate about your firm? That naturally spills over in their active engagement in recruiting (with a little direction). At my last place of employment, I felt I was working for the best firm in the business. So without prompting, I pursued friends and former colleagues who I thought not only would be great hires for our firm, but would be grateful for the opportunity. We succeeded in hiring a couple of them. Now imagine multiplying that effect by the number of your current staff.
Most firms are focusing more attention on their recruiting efforts at universities. This is another place where strategic relationships are important. You should get to know deans, department heads, and professors by getting involved with on-campus activities. This can include speaking in classes and studios, providing free seminars for students, joining curriculum advisory boards, sponsoring student professional groups, and funding scholarships.
The important point is this: Begin transitioning from activity-driven to relationship-driven recruiting. Sure, there's a lot of things you should be doing. But the ultimate goal of all your activity, as it should be in business development, is to develop strategic relationships.
Offer a competitive compensation package. That's pretty obvious. I only mention it because so many firms still come up short in this area. If yours is among them, I feel your pain. It's not a simple problem to fix, and it has ramifications well beyond recruiting. While compensation is not the most important factor in hiring and retaining talent, it is still very important.
Some firms, for various reasons, find it difficult to keep pace on salaries and benefits. Small firms often struggle. So do firms that provide mostly cost-sensitive commodity services. Other firms are constrained by high overhead. The problem of salary compression is growing, where the labor shortage is driving up salaries, throwing existing pay scales out of whack.
Solutions to this problem are elusive and beyond the scope of this article. But you have to deal with the problem nonetheless. Here are some suggestions:
- Pay for high value. In other words, be willing to invest above the norm for special talent. This is particularly true for those who have demonstrated ability to bring work in the door or who are dynamic leaders (where their impact is multiplied among those they lead). Focus on ROI, not just qualifications or pay scales.
- Deal with underperforming employees. What does this have to do with recruiting? Paying for underperforming employees limits your ability to pay for better performers. Plus they occupy positions that could be more capably filled by others. Of course, one of the reasons we don't let poor performers go is we're afraid we can't find suitable replacements. That's another reason to be continually recruiting, regardless of openings. Keep the pipeline full and you have more options.
- Hire more technicians. Many technicians represent some of the best values for the salary. They generally command lower pay than degreed professionals, but can perform most of the same functions (given a similar level of experience). Finding good technicians may not be any easier than finding degreed professionals, but they potentially provide better ROI for the money.
- Close the gap with incentive compensation. This involves offering a lower base salary with the opportunity to earn above average compensation through performance-based incentives. Generally, this option appeals to only to a small segment of prospective employees, but they tend to be top performers who are confident of their ability to maximize their pay. For this option to gain traction, you usually have to meet the following criteria: (1) the base salary should be within the lower range of industry averages, (2) the earning potential through incentives needs to substantially above the norm, and (3) the performance metrics need to be clear and objective.
If you simply can't compete on salary, you'll have to compensate with a compelling value proposition. You will need to be such an attractive place to work that people are willing to give a little on compensation. In this case, you want to have the candidate "hooked" on the benefits of joining your firm before the subject of compensation comes up.