It’s normal to seek change—and the joy, or success, that comes with it—after a tumultuous period.
“Over the past year, no area has undergone more rapid transformation than the way we work,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in his company’s 2021 Work Trend Index, which has found that 41% of people around the world are considering leaving their jobs.
One need not lead a multibillion dollar company to sense, viscerally, how the past year has changed work and life. Indeed, owners of small and midsized businesses might be feeling, for the first time, that they are now competing for talent with companies around the world, given the ubiquitous nature of remote work.
Amidst the great bounce back, the first step for business leaders is to fine-tune the recruiting process, say experts in human resources, diversity and communications. Fortunately, small and midsized businesses don’t have to break the bank to find good people.
Yes, competition for talent is tight as the economy reopens. The national unemployment rate has decreased to 5.8% in June 2021 from 14.8% in April 2020, the highest level since data collection began in 1948, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Adding to the strain, certain jobs are in exceptionally high demand.
LinkedIn’s Jobs on the Rise, a January 2021 list of the most sought-after positions, reflects macro societal trends. We see a reflection of the enormous boom in e-commerce, propelling the need for more drivers and package handlers—not to mention the digital marketers, web developers and content producers fueling our scrolling culture. The demand for all types of health professionals is on the rise, too—from nurses and pharmacy technicians to mental health practitioners. As companies see growth opportunities post-pandemic, sales and business development positions are opening, as are tech jobs fueling innovation: data science and artificial intelligence.
Companies seeking to fill positions should enlist the help of the employees they already have, said Kristin Graham, a former Amazon and Expedia communications executive who recently joined Ragan Consulting Group as a culture and employee engagement consultant.
“You don’t need a giant recruiting function to have talent scouts,” Graham said. “Invest in the people who are already there, who can speak better than any recruiter. LinkedIn is their Rolodex.”
- Kristin Graham, culture consultant at Ragan Consulting Group
While companies may advertise open positions on their websites, employees don’t typically go to that page. The best way to educate them on the jobs you’re trying to fill is via the intranet, a wiki and emails. She recommends updating the jobs list monthly, so the employees know to expect it.
“Do that and send it to all employees—it is low cost but high touch,” Graham said. “It’s a marketing campaign you don’t have to pay for.”
Frequent hire club
When Graham led recruiting at Expedia, the company gave bonuses to employees for referring candidates who were then hired. The travel company also created a frequent hire club for employees particularly keen on this incentive.
“Every company will have its own budget. When you make it meaty enough, employees will donate time and energy and be willing to talk about it,” she says.
If monetary bonuses aren’t feasible, lunches with the CEO will give employees and their new recruits an opportunity to shine—to feel like their voices matter.
“It’s making the recruiting process accessible and transparent,” Graham says. “Culturally, it sends an important signal—we trust you and we value your network.”
Timeliness and transparency are emerging as major recruiting themes in a post-pandemic era, consultants and recruiters say.
“With social media and the digital world, it is very easy for everyone to hear about every job at every organization,” says Roxanna Maciel, director of talent acquisition and attraction at BOK Financial®.
“If I’m trying to attract talent, I’m competing not only with companies that sit next door to us or in our industry. We’re competing for top talent with everyone in a global world.”
- Roxanna Maciel, director of talent acquisition and attraction at BOK Financial
As such, it’s important to have candid conversations with candidates along the interviewing journey, says Maciel, a certified diversity professional. Job seekers, especially Gen Z, expect full transparency. Addressing candidates’ personal needs is also an item on recruiters’ to-do lists.
“Hiring managers have to remain very agile,” she says. “For example, we might talk to a candidate who is very qualified and interested, and by the third or fourth interview, we discuss her childcare situation. We then have to circle back with the hiring manager and talk about flexibility.”
An important aspect of transparency is a prompt response after interviews, Graham says. While hiring managers may not have a decision 48 or 72 hours after an interview, sending an email saying “We haven’t forgotten about you” shows organization and courtesy. Even if the candidates are not chosen in the end, frequent communication will leave them with a more positive feeling about the company’s employer brand than weeks of the silent treatment.
“Resetting communication standards will fundamentally improve the candidate experience,” she says. “Hitting refresh on an inbox and not seeing an email has never felt good to a candidate.”
Creating and promoting one’s corporate culture is an integral part of recruiting. For businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees, strength can come from the relative intimacy inside the organization. As digital as the world is, some employees are comfortable in smaller environments, where they don’t feel like a number.
“Illuminate that aspect in your recruiting materials,” Graham says. “Put your culture on a web page or in a PDF that your recruiters can send. Make your culture super accessible, online and as an attachment.”
While small and midsized businesses may not have huge HR departments or chief diversity officers, they should nevertheless make a concerted effort to recruit diverse candidates and publicize that fact widely.
“Instead of thinking about cultural fit, I like to think of it as additive to our culture,” says Keri Gavin, a partner and director of the Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Practice at executive search firm Hanold Associates. “There’s something to be said about different perspectives, whether it’s diversity, ethnicity, tenure, thought or socioeconomic status. How can they help us be a better organization?”
“Intentionality” is a word Gavin often uses with her clients when describing how to devise recruiting strategies and plans for keeping the current workforce engaged and motivated.
“When it comes to DEI, there are a lot of people that say ‘I just don’t know where to look, or people aren’t interested in working here.’ Stop, pause and be intentional.”
Such a refresh requires an assessment of one’s networks and proactive outreach to new partners. Corporate executives, regardless of the company’s size, should share their job postings with career advisors at local universities, historically black colleges and universities, and the heads of student-led groups, Gavin says.
Likewise, business organizations for people of color—such as the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce or the National Association of Black Accountants—are plentiful. For her part, BOK Financial’s Maciel contracts with Circa, the SaaS-based workforce development company formally known as LocaJobNetwork, to distribute job postings to 125 diverse organizations.
2 ways to recruit intentionally
- Create culture specific material for website and recruiters
- Reach out to new networks when recruiting
Here and everywhere
Given how virtual many jobs have become, an “inclusive” recruitment strategy may also mean looking outside one’s own community.
“Without restrictions on location, you can find talent anywhere,” Gavin says. “It expands the talent pool but also allows you to reach candidates that you would not have had access to, in particular, diverse candidates. In some instances, having a remote workforce is not possible, but where there is that flexibility, you make yourself that much more compelling to potential employees if you look outside your area.”
Gilbert Gerst, manager of BOK Financial’s Community Banking Development Group in Dallas, sees ample opportunity for businesses to invest in local, Black talent.
As a member of the company’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, he hopes more Black people will enter the finance profession. And as a member of the Black Covid Task Force established by city council member Casey Thomas, he is helping to secure public training dollars for the most in-demand positions in Dallas, which mirror national trends. His vast network serves as a reminder to business executives elsewhere: remember the value of public-private partnerships when it comes to finding qualified workers.
While some jobs can be done virtually, Gerst advises community organizations and nonprofits, in particular, to avoid remote hiring practices. When tackling complex, local issues, people need to be there.
“In my line of work, in order to get the trust and understanding of the community, you have to be in it. It would be hard to know the challenges without being there and having those conversations.”
– Gilbert Gerst, community banking development group manager, BOK Financial
The best candidates for nonprofit jobs may not always come with the latest technical skills, he says. Rather, the top qualifying characteristic should be commitment to the cause.
“If you can find someone with the right energy, the right passion, the right mindset, you can teach them the technology,” he says. “In community development, I can find people who are technically sound but if they don’t have concern for the community, they won’t be successful at this job.”
The same is even true in banking, he says.
“I can teach them how to underwrite commercial real estate, if they have the desire to learn.”