Recruiting new talent has gotten a lot more difficult in the last two years. The skill shortages that started with digital acceleration during the pandemic have turned into full-on labour shortages across nearly all sectors and all roles. Many jobseekers are not returning to the labour market even though borders have reopened and companies are hiking starting salaries, and those who do consider new roles are often much more stringent in their evaluation of potential employers than they might have been before the pandemic.
Why is this the case? It's partly the uncertain economic situation – jobseekers question whether the risk of moving from a known position is worthwhile – and partly because the jobs themselves have changed and become more demanding.
Joy Seow, Director of Executive HR Search and practice lead for the consumer, healthcare, and tech sectors at Singapore-headquartered executive search firm Kerry Consulting, told People Matters that candidates are likely to be uncomfortable with both the expanded nature of today's roles and with the way the hiring process has changed since the pandemic – it has become more protracted, tends to involve more stakeholders, and relies on the virtual format, all of which can be a turn-off.
“Today’s role has become more fluid and candidates are expected to take on more responsibilities that they have signed up for,” she pointed out. “There is a higher element of risk for candidates to take the leap of faith amidst the uncertainty of the hiring process given the limited face-to-face interactions with stakeholders.”
Employers themselves have observed that candidates are less tolerant of delays, tedious processes, or unexpected hitches in the recruitment process – and with the current state of the labour market, they are more able to suddenly walk away at at any point if they find something too frustrating. One survey by Robert Half found that candidate ghosting has become noticeably more common today than it was two years ago, and the more in demand the role, the more likely candidates are to simply disappear and leave employers hanging.
“The employer-employee relationship dynamic has shifted the power to employees,” said Victor Leong, Talent Acquisition Specialist at London-headquartered foreign exchange fintech Currencycloud. In the tech sector, for example, he noted that recruiting IT professionals has become a highly competitive affair, one where employers really need to step up their game. “Companies need to do away with inefficient and tedious recruitment processes or they risk losing good candidates to companies that work quicker, smarter, and are more attuned to market trends.”
What can companies do about this?
Plenty of organisations have realised by now that recruitment is no longer just about candidates putting on their best displays to court an employer. The power shift means that employers, too, have to put forward their best face and convince today's often-skeptical, skittish talent that this really is a good organisation to work for. This ranges from overhauling their processes, to advertising themselves much harder during the process itself, to curating their public image much more intensively.
Michael Tan Kian Yen, Human Resources Director at ServiceNow in Asia, listed out a number of ways in which employers are trying to put their best foot forward to attract talent.
“Organisations have shifted focus toward ‘talent branding’ to meet candidate expectations of a ‘great place to work’,” he told People Matters.
“If organisations can showcase the unlimited sources of wisdom candidates can tap into by joining the organisation, they will remain a step ahead of the rest.”
In practice, he said, this means that leaders need to put extra effort into marketing the company during interviews and even on social media.
“To stand out in the recruitment process, companies have to inspire prospective talent in the interview room (or on Zoom). Leaders need to share practical examples of how the organisation lives up to their purpose and values through the work they do. HR leaders need to explain how everyone has the opportunity to grow, learn and shape their career at the company. Job seekers will actively reference check the brands they intend to work for via social media so it’s important this work is reflected on company channels, too.”
Employers cannot neglect the mechanics of the recruitment process, either, especially given that it is the first set of prolonged interactions a candidate has with the company, and will colour all the candidate's impressions of the organisation going forward
Vijay Sivaram, CEO of India-based Quess IT Staffing, Recruitment, and Search, shared some observations about how the recruitment process can be improved. One important factor is the speed of closing: “From the time a candidate is confirmed as a select till the candidate joins, there are very strict timelines organisations are putting in to ensure that the documentation is in place and the candidate is engaged periodically with various stakeholders,” he told People Matters.
He also recommended that the organisation stay in very close contact with the candidate during the period between selection and actual joining, with engagement via not just email but calls, invitations to join internal webinars, and even in-person meetings where feasible – this also serves to bring up any red flags that might have been previously overlooked.
What's more, if this level of attention sounds like something that might previously only have been directed towards candidates for top leadership, it's no longer the case. According to Sivaram, an increasing number of companies are doing this for candidates at all levels.
“When you recruit, you are not dealing with a product that comes in a shape and a size, you are dealing with a human mind,” he pointed out. “Organisations today are trying to stay away from the old school approach of selection-to-offer, and moving to a more employee experience-focused process because of an increasing number of offer declines that are happening in the present time.”
Don't underestimate the attracting power of flexibility
Research over the last year has clearly underscored how important flexible work has become to employees and, by extension, to candidates. For example, one 2021 study by Cisco found that as many as 60% of employees worldwide would consider hybrid or flexible arrangements a factor in deciding whether to seek out a new job. And other studies have indicated that a significant proportion of employees – varying by region – may outright quit their jobs if not provided flexibility.
Jonathan Perumal, Country Manager for Safeguard Global ANZ, told People Matters that sustainable recruitment today is going to rely heavily on employers' ability to provide and communicate that flexibility.
“Employee expectations of the work experience have changed in the last couple of years – what they want from their experience and how they are willing to work. As a result, how companies build sustainable recruitment needs to change,” he said. “People want a flexible experience that prioritises a life/work integration – where their lives come first, not the other way around."
"Implementing sustainable recruitment practices means exploring new ways to recruit and update policies around locations or asynchronous work and how workers are classified.”
Flexibility also means, in many cases, a flexibility of mindset – to consider candidates who might previously have been overlooked due to automatic prejudicial assumptions. This includes candidates who might once have been discounted because their age, qualifications, experience, background, or even location did not match the industry 'standard'.
Ong Shi Ming, Talent Acquisition Manager at HP Southeast Asia, told People Matters that mindsets toward mid-career hires, for example, have shifted over time. “It has been common practice within the [tech] industry to hire candidates of a specific background and experience,” she admitted. “But we have recognised that diversity is extremely crucial to how we innovate.”
Attracting diverse talent means ensuring that they are represented within the hiring process itself, Ong said. For example, the panel of interviewers who interact with a candidate may be chosen to reflect that the organisation is not just comfortable with candidates who fall outside the traditional industry image, but actively aspires to consider candidates with different backgrounds and experiences.
“This gives them a first taste of our work culture, and we believe it is critical to how we stay competitive as a employer,” she explained.
Where do employers go from here?
Amid the economic and geopolitical uncertainty that dominates markets worldwide, it is difficult to predict what the next shift in the labour market will look like. Many employers are already planning their future strategies on the assumption that current trends such as hybrid/flexible work and an employee-centric focus are here to stay, and they may continue on this path even if the talent shortage starts to ease, simply because they have come to believe it is the right thing to do.
“Many companies are trying their very best to adapt to the new hiring landscape and the demands of the candidates,” noted Kerry Consulting's Joy Seow. “It is a fine balance to ensure that the business thrives while maintaining a high quality of candidate acquisition experience.”
ServiceNow's Michael Tan suggested that for many companies, there is still some way to go in adapting, and a lot of the distance may be bridged by the least tangible but most difficult change – in mindsets.
“‘Unlearn’ and challenge the way you’ve always done things,” is his advice.
“There’s no doubt some of your experience may still apply to recruitment today, but a lot also doesn’t. If you’re approaching each process with the candidate in mind, you’ll be asking different questions, gaining insights, and picking up new things that build rapport and help your organisation to stand out.”
“Paint a picture for how your candidates’ career could transform and use the interview process to personalise the path with the candidate. Explore the opportunities available to them based on their interest.”
“Better process always beats perks: Organisations too often focus on benefits to attract talent and help employees better balance their time between work and the rest of their lives. But investing in processes that help people work more effectively can deliver far greater dividends by gifting people time back in their day to focus on the work that fulfils the individuals’ career aspirations. Leaders need to show they are investing in making work better for their people. To grow and scale your company, streamline the recruiting process so it is scalable and repeatable.”