How to Recruit in a Highly Competitive Job Market

When you’re recruiting in a tight talent market, the goal isn’t to have every candidate choose you over competitors. A candidate might be a poor match for your company but a great fit for a competitor.

Instead, handle the competition by highlighting your employer’s brand, showing candidates what it’s like to work at your company. Leave it to the candidate to decide what they want and determine if your company is the right fit. This will filter out the candidates who wouldn’t be happy in the role, and will allow you to hire the person who genuinely wants to work at your company.

Below are the five strategies I use to reach candidates when competition is fierce (like right now!), and show them what it’s like to work in my organization.

1. Promote your openings on niche platforms

Sometimes my friends at startups complain that they’re having a hard time recruiting software engineers. After I talk with them, their problem becomes clear: they’re going after software engineers at the top engineering schools, just like everybody else.

Companies have different needs, and many don’t need to target the same types of candidates on the same platforms. For instance, if you’re a startup building a web app, you have more flexibility to hire from schools across the spectrum. Regardless of the schools you target, you’ll be able to find great candidates who know how to code and can build your product.

In contrast, your recruiting efforts may be limited to a smaller pool of schools when your team is solving more complex and cutting edge software engineering problems. For instance, you may need engineers who have PhDs in theoretical computer science to take on massive data projects, and you’ll need to target candidates from a small number of schools with specialized programs.

Instead of relying on the same big platforms as everyone else, determine what type of candidate you really need and target them on smaller platforms where they may be spending time. Here are a few forums to consider:

  • Custom job boards: Everyone goes to LinkedIn and Indeed, so explore smaller job boards—regional boards, industry boards—where your candidates might be to gain more traction (you can find a list of these here: 50 Free Job Posting Sites to Help You Hire Faster and Smarter).

  • Alumni affinity groups: These small groups are organized by specific interests, so you can target ones that fit with your target candidate’s profile.

  • Conferences: Find smaller regional and academic conferences that your target candidates attend.

  • Meetups: Get creative here. When I worked as an individual recruiter, I would go to technical user groups and try to recruit the students who asked the best coding questions.

With these smaller platforms, you’ll encourage more applications from candidates who are a strong fit than you would competing head to head with so many other companies on the same platforms.

I would go to technical user groups and try to recruit the students who asked the best coding questions.

2. Drive referrals with a great culture, not bonuses

Referrals are a sound source for attracting candidates, even in a tight job market. According to research from PayScale, over a third of all surveyed employees received at least one referral before being hired.

Employee connections drive applications because they build candidates’ trust in an employer. A person will only ask for a referral if their friend or relative seems to like their job. By the same token, an employee will only refer their friend or relative if they genuinely enjoy their work.

Referrals lose their power, though, when companies offer employees incentives. Promise employees a thousand dollar bonus for every successful referral and they’ll care less about whether their friends and family are a great fit. Your program will probably end up generating a lot of candidates who either aren’t a good match for your company or don’t have the required skills.

The biggest must-have for a great referral program is having a company where people like to work. It may sound over simplified, but it’s true. If your employees are happy, they’ll feel motivated to help you grow your team with great people. They’ve had a great experience at your workplace, so they naturally want the same for their friends and family.

To have a successful referral program, your employees also need the tools to say whether someone they know is actually a good fit. Here are a few company resources that might help them make a referral decision:

  • Your company mission and values. Employees can judge whether their friends and family would be a good cultural fit if you’ve clearly articulated your mission and values.

  • An internal database of jobs. Employees at a large company might not be aware of every job at their workplace. If you create an internal job database with role descriptions, employees can understand whether someone is a good fit for less familiar positions.

Create a happy workplace with internal hiring resources, and employees will refer people who are a great fit for your company.

3. Build an application that needs as few clicks as possible

Candidates, especially younger ones, prefer job applications that take less time. According to a Jobvite recruiting report, 26% of millennials said that the time it takes to complete an application is the factor they care most about when applying for jobs.

Encourage candidates to apply by keeping your application uncluttered. Here are a few ways to make your application as simple and straightforward as possible:

  • Use resume parsing. Build your application so candidates can upload their resume, and their information is automatically pulled from the document. This saves candidates time since they don’t need to manually enter their credentials.

  • Make your application mobile-friendly. According to Jobvite’s report, 33% of candidates would like to apply for jobs by phone, and 79% of employers already have mobile-friendly applications, according to the Talent Board. To stay competitive, make sure your application pages are formatted correctly for smartphones and tablets.

  • Use LinkedIn Easy Apply. 25% of job seekers have used LinkedIn to apply for their current or latest job, according to Jobvite. Post your job ad on LinkedIn, so candidates can easily submit their resume via the Easy Apply button.

  • Use Facebook. With a recent update, Facebook is now allowing businesses to post their ads on the platform. Users’ applications are pre-populated with info from their profile to save time, and they can edit before submitting.

As you simplify your process, make sure that your online application still meets your company’s compliance requirements. These regulations can vary based on your company’s government contracts, the number of employees, and a number of other factors. Run your application by your company’s legal team if you’re unsure about any changes.

4. Evaluate the total value of competitors’ compensation

In a competitive market, people get hung up on base salaries. Companies will increase their base salary for a role to match a competitor, and candidates will turn down an offer to take one that pays slightly more.

Compensation is more complex than a base salary figure—it also includes bonuses, equity, benefits, perks, paid time off, and more. As a recruiter, you have to be able to communicate the total value of your role and competitors’ roles—not just the base salaries—to show the strength of your offer.

Take this example—you have a strong candidate who tells you that a competitor has offered them $5,000 more for their base salary. They ask if your company can offer the same salary, but you know that the increase isn’t in your company’s budget.

Instead of trying to increase their base salary, you focus on another area of compensation—benefits. You point out that your company completely covers healthcare, but the competitor asks employees to pay $500 per month for their plan. Even with the extra $5,000 per year, the candidate will be earning less at the competitor with this extra cost.

Sometimes you might find that competitors’ total compensation is more valuable than yours. If that’s the case, analyze their package to see if there are any principles you can apply to your own compensation. By understanding your compensation value relative to similar companies, you can build the most competitive package.

5. Tailor your top talent outreach to each person

I get emails all the time from recruiters asking me if I want to be an entry level recruiter at their company. There’s just one problem—I’ve been recruiting for over 20 years!

I delete these emails because the outreach isn’t personal. The recruiter didn’t take the time to research my background and figure out how their role could benefit me, so they lose my interest.

If you’re trying to recruit in a competitive market, you have to make sure your outreach is tailored to every person. Any company can ask a person, “Hey, do you wanna work here?” To stand out, you have to speak to what’s potentially of interest to each candidate and relevant to their skill set.

Here are a few ideas for tailoring your outreach to every candidate:

  • Acknowledge previous conversations with the candidate. You might want to ignore the fact that you’ve reached out to a candidate before if it didn’t work out. It’s better though to acknowledge that communication to show the candidate that you remember them instead of building the relationship from scratch.

  • Connect their background to the role expectations. Talk about the parts of the job that the candidate has experience in, so they understand why they’re a great fit for the role. For example, you might tell a software engineer candidate that an open position requires coding in R after seeing that language as a skill on their LinkedIn.

  • Connect their plans to the future goals of your company. Show the candidate why they should be excited about the role by explaining how your future plans could help them. A candidate who is a manager, for example, would be excited to learn that your company is growing and that they would be managing a team of 50 in 18 months.

Stand out from other companies by keeping your outreach candidate-focused. When you speak to how your role can benefit each candidate specifically, they feel valued by your company and excited about how the opportunity is such a great fit for them.

Know your strengths to stand out to candidates

To recruit in a competitive job market, you have to understand why your opportunity is great. Research competitors’ offers to figure out your role’s strengths relative to other companies. As you meet candidates and understand their backstory, speak to how your role will benefit them specifically. If you can articulate your role’s strengths and tie them back to candidates’ goals, you’ll attract the people who are a great fit for your company.

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