Talent outlook for 2017: Fewer candidates means your company needs smarter incentives, models

By Alan J. KaplanAlan_Kaplan

Heading into 2017, professionals engaged in talent acquisition can justifiably feel they are fighting an uphill battle with a fundamental contradiction in the labor market.

America’s long, slow climb out of the Great Recession has driven unemployment rates down from recession highs of more than 9 percent to around 5 percent, and forecasters expect that level to hold steady or even inch slightly lower in the year ahead.

Meanwhile, employers’ needs for managers and workers in technology, healthcare, financial services, hospitality and other sectors continue to swell as baby boomers retire, technology advances and markets evolve. In Michigan State University’s annual Recruiting Trends study, employers in more than a dozen industries reported plans to significantly increase their recruiting of college graduates in 2017. Recruitment for jobs in healthcare, finance/insurance, administrative services and construction are expected to jump 38 to 54 percent. By some accounts, there are twice as many job openings as active job seekers in the U.S., and 95 percent of respondents to a Jobvite survey said recruiting will be more difficult in 2017.

Yet these growing demands for talent have fueled very little wage inflation. The Conference Board and other analysts predict U.S. wages will increase just 3 percent in 2017 — the same rate as the last several years. That restraint, they say, is fueled by widespread caution among employers, modest growth of the GDP, the strong dollar’s impact on exports, and international uncertainties.

So how can recruiters, HR professionals, hiring executives and CEOs still attract and retain those talented — and increasingly rare — staffers?

Pay for performance

More and more companies are choosing to focus on bonuses and incentives for talented and high-performing team members. While average American wages should rise 3 percent in 2017, average wages for top performers are expected to increase 6 to 8 percent.

Employers can further boost their ability to attract and retain talent through other performance-based compensation efforts, including company-wide profit-sharing measures, discretionary bonuses for one-time accomplishments, and a healthy process of internal promotions.

“Companies are also leveraging more technology and data to accurately identify their high performers, and then wisely investing in those individuals to retain them over the long term” says Timothy McHugh, a global services analyst with William Blair, an investment banking and asset management firm. McHugh’s specialties include executive search and temporary staffing companies.

Many companies, McHugh says, are embracing another best practice in the current economy and labor market, namely “adopting a more balanced approach between using full-time staff and temporary staff.”

Although it was fostered by a recession, the gig economy has grown even larger throughout the recovery. In October, a McKinsey Global Institute study concluded that freelancers constitute 20 to 30 percent of the entire U.S. labor force.

Employers can tap needed talent and still contain their labor costs through the judicious use of freelancers. That opportunity, however, carries one risk, McHugh says. Government agencies are increasingly scrutinizing arrangements with contract workers to ensure all appropriate taxes are paid — so employers need to be especially vigilant.

Build a better job description

Writing on the LinkedIn Talent blog, Leela Srinivasan, Chief Marketing Officer at Lever, recently argued that employers could benefit greatly by overhauling the way they write job descriptions.The job description, Srinivasan says, is an “opportunity to really capture the imagination of your potential candidate… [yet] most job descriptions are a combo of depressing and ridiculous.”

Sanitized lists of qualifications and job duties fail to inspire candidates and prevent many from envisioning how they might fit into — much less thrive in — the advertised position.

Consequently, Lever overhauled the way it crafts job postings. Each contains an “impact description” that shows what new hires will own or be responsible for; what they will teach their colleagues and learn from the organization; and how they will personally improve by joining the company. Lever’s job postings also include descriptions of what will be expected from candidates in one, three, six and 12 months.

That approach helps candidates envision — and get excited about — the possibilities in a position, and reduces misunderstandings with new hires.

Optimize your online presence

The concept of SEO is understandably anathema to many talent professionals who spend their careers focused on people.

However, Google has turned into “the biggest job board in the world,” according to Bryan Adams, founder and CEO of Ph. Creative, a marketing and digital strategies company.

Consequently, optimizing your web presence to attract the number and kinds of viewers you desire can greatly aid your recruitment efforts, Adams wrote in Inc. magazine. Basic tools, such as Google Analytics, can track the sources of traffic to your website and help you assess the effectiveness of efforts to attract key talent to your site.

Optimizing that traffic will give you greater opportunities to present a tailored message to would-be candidates, develop a larger pool of potential hires, and even lower the cost of recruitment. And those benefits directly address the challenges of recruiting talent in 2017.

Alan J. Kaplan is founder and CEO of Kaplan Partners, a Philadelphia-based executive search and talent advisory firm. www.kaplanpartners.com. Contact him at alan@kaplanpartners.com.

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