3 Simple Hacks to Find Talent in a Competitive Labor Market

If you’re involved in hiring, you know it’s gotten more and more difficult to find quality employees for your organization. Employment in the Pacific Northwest is reaching all-time highs, which is great in a lot of ways! But there’s a problem: many organizations are seeing a dip in the number of qualified candidates who apply for their jobs. So, what can you do to attract more talent in a tight labor market?

First, you’ve got to understand just how tight this market is. For the first time since record-keeping began in 2000, the number of available jobs exceeds the number of job seekers. There are literally more job openings than there are people to hire. And the problem is particularly acute in growth industries like healthcare and tech, and in the social service sector where employers can’t compete on price.

Simply put, candidates are shifting into the driver’s seat in the hiring process. In order to get more qualified candidates for your open job in this competitive environment, you need to rethink some of your old hiring policies. Here are three simple things you can do, right now, to attract more candidates, increase your talent pool, and make more great hires.

1. Ditch the degree requirement

Way too many job posts explicitly list a bachelor’s degree as a requirement, even when someone without a college degree could reasonably do the job. These rigid requirements work to the detriment of recruiting in a competitive job market.

Clearly, some positions require specific educational degrees. Doctors need an MD or DO; lawyers need a JD. These credentials signify formal training that can’t be acquired through other means.  

But most jobseven many professional positionsdon’t truly require a formal college education. The skills needed for these roles can often be gained through prior work experience or non-college training. Demanding an undergraduate degree filters out many qualified candidates who could unquestionably do the job.

Degree requirements reflects a longstanding hiring bias that candidates with college education are better than those without one. But data doesn’t support this assumption.  In fact, students and employers alike increasingly acknowledge that bachelor’s degrees aren’t preparing people for the modern workforce. So when you list list a bachelor’s degree as a must, you’re limiting the quantity of applications without getting any actual increase in candidate quality.

To make matters worse, requiring a college degree will likely decrease the diversity of your candidate pool. College enrollment and completion vary widely by race, ethnicity, and income level. Demanding a college degree in hiring may be making this disparity worse, leading to less diverse candidate and employee pools.

So consider whether the jobs you’re hiring for truly require a candidate to have a bachelor’s degree to succeed. Is your degree requirement a real necessity or a vestige of old hiring practices?

2. Share your interview questions

Here’s a tactic we’ve adopted at Mac’s List. Rather than surprising candidates with questions during an interview, we let them know, ahead of time, what we’ll ask in our meeting.

Why do we do this? So we can use the interview to evaluate candidates on their true professional substance, rather than on style points.

In many organizations, the interview is the make-or-break moment. A good interview propels a candidate to the offer stage; a bad one can negate nearly everything else in their candidacy. But it has been well established that interviews aren’t a good tool for objectively evaluating talent. As a result, organizations risk hiring the best on-stage performer, rather than the person who is the best fit for the job.

This is a lesson we learned the hard way at Mac’s List. In our last hiring process, we noticed that many candidates with amazing backgrounds and experience simply wouldn’t discuss these relevant skills in the interview. Candidates weren’t connecting their abilities to our organizational needs; instead we got vague answers.

It felt like we were weeding out solid candidates simply because they were nervous during the interview. So we decided to simplify the interview process itself.

Rather that saving questions until the in-person meeting (a dynamic that can feel like a gauntlet of “gotcha” questions from the candidate perspective) we told people ahead of time what we wanted to discuss. We asked them to come prepared to answer very specific questions topics like:

Tell me about your most successful marketing campaign. What were your goals? What data drove your strategy? What were the outcomes?

Did candidates script out responses ahead of time? Sure. Even so, their answers were more thoughtful and kickstarted more insightful conversations. (Plus, no more awkward silences while the candidate racked their brain for relevant examples.) What we lost in spontaneity, we gained in substance.

The net effect is that we were finding more qualified candidates within our existing applicant pool and increasing our options when it came to hiring.

3. Lead with your culture

Competition for talent is fierce and salaries are going up to attract the right people. This can put the squeeze on smaller organizations that don’t have the flexibility to increase pay. I know many great organizations that can’t compete on pay with big-name, big-budget businesses. The good news is, you don’t necessarily need to. Instead, show them why they want to work for you.

Job seekers aren’t simply looking for a paycheck. Increasingly, they care about the culture and values of prospective employers. According to research by the company iCIMS, 78 percent of candidates rate company culture as an important element in their job search. A GlassDoor survey found that 69 percent of candidates are more likely to apply for a job when the company shares information about their internal culture and workplace. The message here is clear: people want employment opportunities that resonate with their own values, passions, and lifestyle needs.

Most professionals will go the extra mile, and make compromises on pay and perks, when they find an employer that’s the perfect culture fit. This creates a huge opportunity for your organization to differentiate itself in the competition for talent.

Don’t be afraid to talk about what makes your organization special. Share your office culture and organizational values in all your recruitment efforts. You may even want to make culture the primary focal point of your employer marketing.

Here’s what that might look like, in practice:

  • Starting your job posts with a description of your organization’s culture and values, rather than a description of the job itself.
  • Showing how the individual responsibilities in each role positive impact the organization’s stated values.
  • Being completely transparent about your existing work-life benefits, social responsibility efforts and other culture and value-driven initiatives.

Leading with culture helps you stand out from the crowd. In a world where most job descriptions read like a the phone book, a sincere discussion about internal culture and values is sure to capture candidates’ attention. Plus, this kind of messaging is going to be a magnet for the candidates who are most likely to thrive within your organization.

What have you done to find great talent? I’d love to hear about it. Reach out to me at ben@macslist.org and let me know what’s worked for you.