As we’ve entered the second quarter of 2010, we’ve noticed shifts in the employment market. Five of our previous six “Q1’s” have constituted the strongest hiring quarters in their respective years (2005-2009). Oddly enough, this included the difficult markets of 2008 and 2009. 2010, however, has shown a slower start but has increased exponentially in the last six weeks unlike any other quarterly transition we’ve experienced.

We’re noticing this precipitous rise in hiring needs of our clients as well as increases in requests from prospects and anecdotal requirements that never cease to come from our acquaintances seeking free-of-charge referrals. This is a great sign for the market in general, but it should also set off alert bells for companies looking to hire the best talent.

The most substantial shifts you’ll notice include improved quality of your prospective candidates as well as the degree to which those candidates scrutinize your organizations as potential employers. Disintegrating are the days of “easy” pickings for employers because of the high number of unemployed candidates.

Many of the stars that waited patiently throughout this volatile market will enter the job-changing game and selectively evaluate the best companies. The “under-employed”, those individuals who are inadequately employed through a lower-paying job or one that requires less skill than they possess, will also begin to more actively pursue attractive positions. As you start to notice a more balanced mix between quality and poor candidates, you’ll need to bolster your recruiting efforts to secure the stronger individuals.

Effectively Position Your Company – Know Your Candidate’s Evaluation Criteria
To aid our clients, we provide a detailed look into a candidate’s “value-package criteria”. We define this as the candidate’s non-discretionary and discretionary criteria she uses to evaluate whether the employer satisfies her needs to the extent she should make a career change. It is ultimately aimed at ensuring the candidate makes a good long-term decision to join a company.

This information helps us determine whether our clients’ offerings match our candidates’ needs, but more importantly it provides our clients with critical information to help sell their organizations to the candidates (i.e., Sales 101 preaches you sell to the need).

Your recruiters and interviewers must elicit this information to effectively sell your organization and highlight its most attractive offerings to the candidate. To provide a head start, we’ve cited – in order of importance – the most common criteria gathered from our last 100 candidates. Keep in mind, milewalk candidates include individuals from various generations (Baby Boomer, Generation X, and to some degree Generation Y-Millennial) and that criteria varies based on age, gender, and role.

    1. Company’s Track Record & Position for Growth – Virtually every candidate I’ve ever worked with has heard me say this. “You join a company. You don’t join a job. If you join the right company, you typically don’t have the same job for very long. I mean that in a good way.” Practically all individuals cite this as their first condition. Over the last decade, people have seen the market ups and downs and understand there is no such thing as a truly stable company or role. They can, however, evaluate a company’s history and position for future growth. If you can speak to your organization’s evolution and, more importantly, its readiness to handle the challenges you’ll encounter in the next 12-36 months, you’re in good shape. If not, start coaching the interviewers because strong candidates can smell uncertainty a mile away.
    2. Culture – Based on our analytics, Cultural Fit is the most correlated predictor of recruiting and retention success (followed by Capabilities, Achievement Track Record, and Skills & Experience). Therefore, it should surprise no one that this condition would be high on the list. Culture has many elements rather than being a criterion in and of itself. That is, every company’s culture is defined by a more complete set of descriptors such as entrepreneurial, high-energy, fun, etc. Know how to articulate it and evaluate for it. Most importantly, make sure all employees have a common understanding and definition as opposed to the “we know it when we see it” syndrome.
    3. Contribution – I also refer to this one as ‘impact’. Today, individuals are much more interested in making a significant contribution that improves the well-being of the company. This has become more critical than “what’s my career path?” or “how can I achieve personal growth?”. People realize that making contributions increases their chance of learning and growing. They’ve also seen, because it’s more commonplace, that companies have moved away from rigidly-defined career paths and organization charts. Companies are becoming more egalitarian, and individuals who can operate in the grey areas are more desirable. They also are the ones creating new positions unforeseen on an organization chart. Ensure your interviewers can provide candidates with success-story examples of individuals who have been rewarded for taking risks, being creative, and breaking new ground.
    4. People – This will always be a critical element of any company because the people make the place. Even so, I’m surprised when employers design a recruiting process that places flat performers in the leadoff spot. Put high-energy, enthusiastic, and passionate individuals into the process. People buy from who they like. When interviewing, people are the product and the company.
    5. Boss – This one surprised me a bit. Not that it’s on the list, but that it’s so far down. Corporate surveys we’ve reviewed as well as our statistics indicate that 80% of individuals quit their jobs because of their boss. I suspect this will always be the case because people tend to quit people before they quit companies. Why then would this be fifth? I’m not sure, but it is an important element to securing the best talent. Even though candidates expect their boss will change from time to time, many indicated they will only accept a new position if they are well-aligned to their first boss. We recommend employers insert a candidate’s boss early and late in the interview process to allow for rapport building.
    6. Compensation, Benefits, et. al – The quality candidates rarely mention compensation. When we discuss this, they typically indicate, “Oh. Of course. I just want to be compensated fairly.” We’ve witnessed, at almost a 100% rate, that individuals are more concerned with the entire compensation package including base salary, bonus, other equities, vacation, expense reimbursements, etc. More important than the actual cash compensation, they are interested in the opportunity to earn if they produce extraordinary results (i.e., upside potential).

Anyone still reading this is welcome to reach back to me for items seven through 15!

We hope this provided insight to help better position your organization with potential employees. While we don’t advocate a one-size-fits-all approach, we do encourage you to be prepared to discuss these areas with your candidates because it will increase your success rate in recruiting the strongest resources.