The U.S. economy ended 2015 on a high note in terms of job creation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest jobs report, U.S. employers added 292,000 jobs in December. The fourth quarter was the best three-month stretch of job creation in 2015. Job gains averaged 284,000 per month during that period.
Total job gains for the year were nearly 2.7 million, which is on top of the 3.1 million jobs added in 2014. This marks the best two-year period for job growth since the height of the dot-com boom of the late 1990s.
The unemployment rate remained at 5.0 percent for the third consecutive month; at the start of the year, it was 5.7 percent. The unemployment rate for workers who are 25 or older and have a college degree stood at 2.5 percent for the fifth straight month.
Employment rose in several industries in December, according to the BLS, including professional and business services and healthcare:
- Professional and business services added 73,000 jobs, and temporary help services accounted for 34,000 of the total. The industry as a whole added 605,000 jobs last year.
- Healthcare employment rose by 39,000 in December, ending a year of strong job growth for the industry. Healthcare added an average of 40,000 jobs per month in 2015, compared to 26,000 per month in 2016.
The BLS also reported that combined job gains for October and November were 50,000 higher than previously reported.
New year, same hiring challenges
The December jobs report is more good news for job seekers. Employers looking to hire in 2016 may not be feeling as positive, however.
The data continue to indicate that hiring challenges abound. There is extreme competition for the most skilled candidates — and with every new job created, that competition only increases.
Hiring also takes longer in a hot market. Fewer professionals are looking for work, candidates can afford to be very selective, and more and more companies are dipping into the talent pool. But employers that take a smart and persistent approach to tackling these hiring challenges can meet their staffing needs.
The following five strategies can help improve your chances of finding good candidates in good time:
1. Offer more
Let’s be honest: Money talks. Salary isn’t always the No. 1 factor candidates consider when deciding to take a new job. But it’s a big factor. If you offer compensation that is below current market levels, you simply won’t be able to compete for the talent you need.
Look to resources like Robert Half’s Salary Guides to ensure you’re extending pay packages that are in line with — or, ideally, above — what others in your market are offering for particular positions and skill sets.
If the demand for skilled talent remains strong — and all indications are that it will — salaries for these professionals will be headed in only one direction: up. Try to build some flexibility into your hiring budget in case you need to increase your offers as the year progresses.
(Learn more about the factors that are driving the demand for skilled talent by downloading our free report.)
2. Offer ‘better’
The reality is that many of the best candidates fall into one of two categories:
- They already have a job and may not be actively searching for a new position.
- They are on the job hunt and weighing multiple employment offers.
Either way, you’ve got your work cut out for you. You have to offer in-demand professionals a better deal than they can find at their current employer or through a competitor’s job.
How can you up the ante? Start by looking to the competition. What are other companies that seem to be snapping up talent offering new hires? Signing bonuses? Innovative employment benefits on par with Silicon Valley startups? A liberal telecommuting policy?
Talk to your network, read the business press and see what you can learn about strategies that are working for others. Recruiters can also provide valuable insight because they are in constant communication with job seekers and employers.
At the same time, don’t hesitate to ask potential hires directly what would convince them to join your company over another. Requesting that a top candidate be frank with you about what he or she truly wants gives you concrete information you can use to make the prospect of joining your firm more appealing.
You might even follow up with job seekers who rejected a job offer from your firm. What made a competing offer more compelling?
A final tip: When conducting performance evaluations, ask current employees why they choose to stay with your firm. What aspects of working for the company do they enjoy or appreciate most? Their answers can clue you into factors — such as a strong commitment to staff training, a family-like company culture or an emphasis on work-life balance — that you should underscore to candidates throughout the hiring process.
3. Move quickly (but not too quickly)
Speed is essential if you want to overcome today’s hiring challenges. Good candidates simply don’t remain available for long. If it takes weeks and weeks to review resumes, coordinate interviews, arrange skills testing, and have all necessary parties sign off on a new hire, you’ll miss out every time.
Do what you can to remove obstacles and bottlenecks from the hiring process. For example:
- Pare down the number of people who interview candidates to only those who are absolutely essential. Asking colleagues who will not be working directly with the potential hire to take part will only mean more schedules to coordinate and more potential delays.
- Try to schedule interviews back to back so a candidate has to travel to your office just once or twice. You’ll reduce downtime between interviews and make it easier to collect everyone’s feedback. You’ll also reduce frustration on the part of the candidate, who may need to take time off work or arrange child-care to interview. Consider conducting video interviews if it’s difficult to arrange in-person meetings.
- Make sure the compensation package has been approved before you reach the offer stage so you can extend an offer right away.
One word of caution: Don’t move so quickly that you skip key steps in the hiring process. You still need to do your due diligence before bringing anyone on board. Take time to conduct thorough reference checks and assess whether the candidate is likely to thrive in your organization’s workplace culture. Otherwise, you risk making a costly hiring mistake.
4. Be flexible
Here’s an essential truth about the hiring market that surprises many employers: Your ideal candidate may not exist. (That means some of the hiring challenges you currently face may be of your own creation.)
A good analogy is buying a house. Your wish list for a home might include four bedrooms and three baths, a large yard, and a three-car garage. The house should also be in a good school district, close to parks or trails, and within walking distance of shops and restaurants. The reality is that you’ll likely have to compromise on one or more of these criteria because no house checks every box on your list, or the few that do are outside your price range.
When it comes to adding staff, think about what skills and qualifications are essential to completing the job duties and succeeding in the role. Focus on these when evaluating candidates and consider anything else — an advanced degree or experience in your industry, for example — a nice-to-have.
Also think about if you can bring in someone with less experience than you seek and train the person on the job. It can sometimes be most effective to hire promising entry- and midlevel professionals and give them tools and resources to quickly build the necessary skills or knowledge.
5. Be prepared to wait
Even as you take pains to overcome hiring challenges and bring skilled talent on board quickly, have a plan in place so you’re not caught flatfooted if the hiring process drags on.
In today’s hot market, it’s likely to take weeks, sometimes months, to find the right person, no matter how persistent and strategic you are. How will you manage workloads and prevent current employees from becoming overloaded during that period? Augmenting your team with temporary or project-based staff, or interim management consultants for senior-level roles, is one way to stay on top of business demands as you search for the right full-time hire.
Paul McDonald is senior executive director at Robert Half. He writes and speaks frequently on hiring, workplace and career management topics. Over the course of more than 30 years in the recruiting field, McDonald has advised thousands of company leaders and job seekers on how to hire and get hired.
McDonald joined Robert Half in 1984 as a recruiter for financial and accounting professionals in Boston, following a public accounting career with Price Waterhouse. In the 1990s, he became president of the Western United States overseeing all of the company’s operations in the region. McDonald become senior executive director of Robert Half Management Resources in 2000, and assumed his current role in 2012. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting from St. Bonaventure University in New York.