Struggling to Staff Open Jobs? Answer These 3 Questions

By Robert Half January 6, 2017 at 4:17pm

It’s a tight hiring market, to be sure. However, if your company has persistent difficulty securing talent for open roles, a shortage of skilled candidates may not be the only reason. In this post, I present three questions that can help you identify other potential causes for your hiring challenges. But, first, here’s a quick look at the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

U.S. employers added 156,000 positions in the last month of 2016. That figure was slightly below analysts’ estimates; regardless, December marks a record 75 consecutive months of job growth for the U.S. economy. Employment gains for October and November were 19,000 higher than originally reported. That brings the total number of positions added in 2016 to nearly 2.2 million, or about 180,000 jobs per month, on average.

The BLS also reported that the unemployment rate rose slightly in December to 4.7 percent. The rate has been at or below 5.0 percent for 16 consecutive months. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for college-degreed workers who are 25 or older remained well below the national rate last month: 2.5 percent.

Industries that saw some of the most significant jobs gains in December include:

  • Healthcare — Employment in healthcare rose by 43,000. The industry added an average of 35,000 jobs per month in 2016, according to the BLS.
  • Financial services — Employment in financial activities continued an upward trend in December, adding 13,000 jobs. The BLS noted that this industry has seen similar average monthly gains over the past two years.
  • Professional and business services — The jobs report indicated that employers in the professional and business services industry added 15,000 jobs last month. In 2016, the industry gained 522,000 positions.

The December jobs report caps a year of solid job growth for the U.S. economy. However, for employers, 2016 was also a year marked by hiring challenges. According to the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey from the BLS, there were more than 5.5 million jobs waiting to be filled in October. Throughout 2016, the number of monthly open jobs has ranged from 5.5 million to 5.8 million.

A supply-and-demand issue: not the only hiring challenge for some employers

Persistent hiring challenges are not only frustrating but also potentially detrimental to your business. If you can’t secure the talent you need to meet your strategic objectives for the coming year, you may not be able to achieve growth targets. You are also at risk of overloading your core staff — a situation that could, in time, drive those workers to seek new opportunities elsewhere.

The inability to find skilled candidates has become an all-too-familiar situation for many employers, especially those that operate in hot industries like healthcare, technology and finance. For example, in a recent survey by Robert Half, 62 percent of CFOs said it is challenging to find skilled candidates for professional-level positions. And 35 percent of respondents said locating skilled workers was their company’s greatest hiring and management challenge.

If your firm often struggles to staff open jobs, it might not be solely due to a supply-and-demand issue, however. To identify other factors that could be hindering your ability to secure the talent your business needs, consider the following three questions:

1. How is our company perceived by potential hires?

What is your business doing to raise its visibility with in-demand candidates, other than placing employment ads online? Unless your company is a household name like Google or Apple that attracts candidates based on name recognition alone, you need to take steps to build buzz around your firm. For instance:

  • Do you use social media — including outlets widely used by millennials, like Snapchat and Instagram — to give potential hires insight into what it’s like to work at your firm?
  • Are you sponsoring events, like hackathons or Meetups, geared toward the types of professionals you are trying to hire?
  • Are you enlisting help from your current staff to generate interest in your business through their professional networks and the industry events they attend?
  • Are you, or other members of the management team, helping to elevate the public profile of the company by blogging or speaking publicly about important topics and trends for your industry?

These are just some strategies for grabbing the attention of potential hires. It can also help you build a pipeline of talent, which can make it easier to staff open jobs in the future. Of course, it takes time and effort to build a reputation as an employer of choice. But in a highly competitive hiring market, you can’t afford not to be engaged in your industry (as well as in your community) and actively promoting what is awesome about your company.

2. Is our company’s location a factor?

Exactly where a person is expected to work matters, even in a digital world that makes it easier to collaborate across countries and time zones. For instance, if your headquarters is near one of the top cities in the country to work, it could naturally lead more candidates to apply for a job with your firm. Conversely, if your business is located in the suburbs, long commutes could prevent professionals who are worried about maintaining work-life balance from considering your company.

If you sense location may be an issue, consider offering flexible schedules or setting up remote work opportunities to help expand the candidate pool beyond those in your firm’s immediate vicinity. According to recent employee benefits research by SHRM, 60 percent of employers now offer telecommuting options, compared to just 20 percent two decades ago. Providing other compelling perks, like wellness programs or on-site childcare services, can also help employees worry less about a long commute and allow them to achieve the level of work-life balance they seek.

3. Is our hiring process too long?

In a Robert Half survey, 39 percent of professionals said a lengthy hiring process would lead them to lose interest in a job and pursue other opportunities. About half (46 percent) of respondents said they were willing to wait just a week or two following an interview to find out about a hiring decision — after that, though, all bets are off, and you may find that your top candidate has already been hired by another firm.

One way to consolidate your hiring timeline is to be prepared to make a verbal offer to a promising candidate promptly after completing the interview process. Make clear to the candidate that the verbal offer is contingent on satisfactory reference check and/or background check. Also, be prepared to negotiate salary and perks, and set the start date, right away. (See this post for more ways to accelerate the hiring process.)

Don’t hold out for a unicorn

Lastly, I recommend that companies facing significant hiring challenges consider whether they have unrealistic expectations. Regular readers of my column know that I have cautioned employers before about holding out for a candidate who simply may not exist. As these hiring managers wait for a “unicorn” — that perfect candidate, with a one-in-a-million skill set — to materialize, they allow other talented people to slip away.

Think about what qualifications a candidate absolutely must have to perform the job well. When evaluating applicants, focus on true job requirements versus nice-to-haves. And always be willing to consider promising professionals who may not meet all your criteria but could still meet your firm’s needs with just a small investment in training and some extra ramp-up time.

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