Flexibility is key for finding and retaining talent.
Did 2023 feel a little… short-handed in terms of hiring and retention? You’re not alone. The last year saw one of the toughest job markets in recent memory with millions of workers changing jobs, changing fields, or raising their asking prices to stay put.
“We started off the year with really unprecedented tightness, especially in the tech recruiting space,” said Victoria Ringwood, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A.
The pandemic was “kind of the icing on the cake,” observed Jessica Crowley, senior vice president of the office technology industry recruiting firm Copier Careers, but the problem goes back further than that. “We were in this bad spot prior to the pandemic; there were not enough people to fill the roles,” added Paul Schwartz, Copier Careers’ president. “The industry is going through a generational change.”
With people retiring, leaving the industry, or simply exiting the workforce entirely, conditions were already challenging recruitment even before COVID-19 turned the working world upside-down. “It just heightened so much,” said Copier Careers’ Crowley. “The concern for our clients right now is finding the right people at the right time.”
Denise Miller, senior human resources consultant for GreatAmerica Financial Services’ human resources services company PathShare, has seen these recruiting issues up close. “Hiring remained a top challenge,” said Miller, noting that sales hiring was the most challenging of all. Many of her clients struggled not only with finding candidates but also with identifying which ones were the most likely to be a good fit and to stay with the company long-term.
With ever-growing product ranges, increasingly complex technology, and the industry-wide shift towards more consultative sales relationships, staffing is no longer just a question of finding enough warm bodies to fill seats.
“Technical recruiting for the last twenty years has been in demand increasingly,” said Konica Minolta’s Ringwood. “The hot skills have changed, there’s an ongoing evolution of technology, and we say it will never be as slow as it is today.”
“There’s just not enough skilled, trained, experienced people to go around to maintain or grow this channel,” said Copier Careers’ Crowley. “Now, you add in the last two and a half years and significant wage inflation. It’s the combo platter of all of the above that has, in a lot of ways, made it even more challenging.”
With all of the challenges of recruiting only getting more difficult, one thing that has changed is employers’ attitudes. It’s no longer possible to be in denial about what the recruiting landscape looks like or how big the talent pool is.
“There’s now an acceptance that this is a situation,” said Copier Careers’ Schwartz. “There’s no training, no onboarding of new people, but there’s more of a realization that oh, we’d better deal with this.”
One of the ways companies have adjusted is by reconsidering their focus on credentialism—the prioritization of degrees and connections with high-profile institutions above all other factors.
“That’s where things have really taken a sharp turn,” said Ringwood. “Historically, it’s all been about who you know, coming from the best schools, but for us and the organizations that are evolving, there’s a hyper-focus on skills, either having the skills or the ability to learn the skills. In many cases, we don’t even require degrees where skills will enable the person to do the job.”
Employers that are succeeding in this evolving market are the ones that can both narrow down what they’re truly looking for—be it the pedigree of a prestigious university degree that really matters, or the work ethic and aptitude for learning that it represents—and know how to find it. So much can come down to interview skills on both sides of the table.
What GreatAmerica’s Miller sees in the companies that hire well is an aptitude for identifying not just the skillset they’re looking for, but the traits and behaviors their most productive workers share. What roles need someone detail-oriented? For a sales role, is this candidate proactive, hunting out leads? A well-run recruiting team will design interview questions to uncover these traits and draw out stories from candidates about the times they’ve put the desired skills to use. After that, the key is to actively listen to what interviewees are telling them.
“Some people say a lot, and then, if you’re really trained to listen, they didn’t say anything,” observed Miller. “Part of good interviewing is not only asking good questions, but also listening. Did they even answer the question? Don’t be afraid to ask for a specific example.”
At the same time, companies should not drag the interview process on too long, lest they risk alienating their best candidates and possibly even losing them to competitors. With rising salaries and ever-tightening budgets, there can be a tendency to be over-cautious and hold out for some imagined perfect candidate to walk through the door, but as in all things, perfect can be the enemy of good.
“I think there’s a fear of making a bad decision or a bad hire, and everyone overthinks it,” said Copier Careers’ Schwartz. “It becomes all about the compensation and finding just the right person. Some of these organizations haven’t added a lot of new people in a while, but the flip side of that is it’s not a candidate pool, it’s a candidate puddle. Having seen one or two candidates, you might like to see three or five, but the three or five don’t exist.”
Perhaps, it’s time to stop ignoring the elephant in the room. Salaries: They’re up. Why wouldn’t they be, with housing, groceries, and health care costs rising as much as 30% since before the pandemic? A job applicant is a prospective team member, yes, but they’re also someone selling a service, and the law of supply and demand cuts both ways.
While there was some easing in the market in late 2023, with a rash of layoffs at massive tech companies like Google and Facebook that may have had a trickle-down effect on the IT sector, the companies with the most optimistic outlook for hiring in 2024 are the ones who have found room in their budgets and in their hearts to raise wages.
The savvy hiring manager can embrace this new balance as freeing them to go after the best of the best, namely, the candidates who aren’t wasting their time on employers who are still trying to pay like it’s 2019.
“The clients, they’ll tell us, ‘We’re willing to compensate an individual, but they have to be the ideal candidate, trained and certified on specific devices.'” said Copier Careers’ Crowley. “There’s so much competition, they need to have their sales reps fully know what they’re selling and how they set themselves apart from any other dealer. Everyone can sell the same type of solution.”
For the reader flinching away from yet another increase to an already beleaguered budget, never forget the cost-free solution: Flexibility. Remote options, flex time, and alternative schedules, workers love these options, and they’re frequently willing to sacrifice a little salary to get it, especially if the competition is being sticklers about return-to-office policies. Premium perks attract premium candidates. In a job interview, as in a sales pitch, the objective is the same. As Crowley emphasized, “Prove to me that you’re worth what you’re asking for.”