There’s no denying it: The employer-employee dynamic has flipped—maybe for good.
If you’re a hiring manager or business leader, you’ve probably seen it firsthand. Good candidates for key roles are scarce. They left jobs during The Great Resignation in no hurry to return, or they’re taking advantage of sudden supply-and-demand leverage. Many highly skilled professionals, across a range of industries, are fielding multiple interviews at a time, parlaying the competition into a best-possible package.
The best talent is seeking more than a gaudy contract offer. As Harvard Business Review noted, more workers want their prospective employers to showcase a commitment to growth, equity, community, and workplace flexibility. With their skills and experience in relatively short supply, these leverage-wielding laborers are willing to weigh organizations and their offers against each other.
The upshot for many human resources teams? Your hiring approach has to be efficient and impressive. Whether you know it or not, these candidates are evaluating your recruitment process and company culture as much as you’re assessing them.
That makes hiring in 2022 a high-stakes competition—but one in which the companies with a talent strategy can separate themselves and create a competitive advantage. Using scientifically validated assessments to gauge a candidate’s behavioral and cognitive abilities is a great start, but in 2022, there’s a lot more to it.
Why you need top talent
It’s a core tenet of talent optimization: Talent strategy is essential to business strategy. All business problems are ultimately people problems.
Some companies have long recognized this truth. Others have learned—or are learning—the hard way. The post-pandemic labor landscape is defined by employees making wholesale reevaluations of their professional purpose. Businesses who were in survival mode in 2020 can now plainly see: You can’t take your people for granted.
Yet tellingly, the 2022 State of Talent Optimization Report revealed an ongoing gap: More than 60% of responding executives admitted they don’t have a talent strategy in place—even as three-quarters of the same survey pool acknowledged The Great Retention took a significant financial toll.
Talent strategy directly impacts business performance. And yet, the challenge of finding the right talent has long perplexed even the most progressive business leaders.
Knowing you need top talent to meet your objectives is one thing. Designing and executing a system for hiring and retaining that talent—sometimes referred to as talent mapping—is an altogether separate effort. Even the most people-forward organizations have to tweak and tailor their systems. In 2022, that means optimizing the entire candidate experience, from phone screen to first day. If you’re disorganized or misaligned, you’re losing the best candidates before you ever had a chance to woo them.
The stakes are too high to treat talent as an afterthought anymore. The good news? You can take some simple steps to improve your recruitment process, quickly transforming it from uncoordinated to competitive.
Top talent is scarce.
The effects of The Great Resignation are well-told, but at a macro level, they bear repeating: Though the labor market added jobs to start the year, the U.S. workforce has still significantly shrunken.
Even after adding nearly 700,000 positions in February, per the Bureau of Labor, we remain some 2 million jobs short of pre-pandemic employment levels. Hiring advances are happening unevenly. Health care, construction, and hospitality— industries among the hardest hit in 2020 and 2021—are reporting steady gains, but there’s legitimate concern that the broader white-collar workforce will never return to its previous size.
For human resources teams and hiring managers, that puts accuracy at a premium. You need to know that a candidate has the skills to succeed, but also that they will fit within your team and company culture. People data can bolster your hiring and retention efforts by giving you insights into a person’s head and heart, as well as their briefcase.
So while there’s speculation that macroeconomic factors could force some who left the workforce to re-evaluate their lots (again), this is how the hiring landscape looks for the foreseeable future. The best candidates can be super-selective. They can cherry pick the LinkedIn recruiters they engage with, and identify the incentives they value most. Employers, meanwhile, must adjust, or get left in the dust.
What top talent wants in 2022
Today’s top talent may not want anything different from their predecessors—they’re just in a better position to get what they want. The indefinite labor shortage empowers candidates to ask for previously unattainable perks like upfront bonuses, unlimited vacation time, or inflation protections, with greater assurance than their predecessors. It’s a truly unprecedented time in the labor market.
But if you were to identify one single thing top talent wants? In a word: choice.
Of course, some companies are in better positions to provide attractive options than others. Maybe you can’t have a construction field manager work remotely, but it’s in your best interest to make that choice available to a web developer.
A recent report on the state of talent in the software-as-a-service (“SaaS”) space showed a continued uptick in the number of workers who expect remote-friendly offers: 89% of respondents said they prefer to be fully or partially remote post-pandemic. In other words, companies who force candidates to work on-site when they can get their work done remotely are essentially disqualifying themselves from the start.
Employee choice isn’t just about location, either. People increasingly want to feel they belong, not only within an organization, but on their team or project. Fewer candidates are willing to accept roles that don’t inspire or fulfill them, and they have the ability to demand those sort of intangible benefits.
Employers are realizing an attractive salary and some sweeteners might not be enough—you need to convince people they’ll thrive and grow in their position. You need to show them they’ll be part of something bigger.
8 ways to attract the best talent
If employees have all these cards to play, what’s the employer’s move? It’s a question businesses need to ask themselves, not only to secure top talent from the outside, but also for the sake of employee engagement and retention.
After all, if your top employees are disengaged, who’s to say they aren’t fielding multiple interviews themselves?
Progressive companies always prioritize talent, but they also evolve their approach as needed. Here are a handful of ways you can attract—and keep—top talent in 2022’s top-heavy market:
- Understand how you are perceived and act on it.
Can you define your company’s mission and vision? Maybe more importantly, can your people? Do some internal information gathering and confirm your people understand the “why” behind your goals. If they can’t articulate your organizational objectives, it won’t reflect well when they try to answer an interviewee’s questions about the business’ broader purpose.
- Refine your EVP (employee value proposition).
What makes a standout employee at your organization? You might value output, or you might emphasize innovation. Whatever the top traits, codify them. Put them in writing and promote them across the company. Celebrate the people who model these values, and highlight examples of the value proposition in action. People (both within and from the outside) will take notice.
- Build your employer brand.
Today’s top talent has the advantage of evaluating you (the employer) at every level, before you even get them into the interview room. For better or worse, your employer brand is part of the candidate experience. Is your website up to date? Do the products and services pages reflect your current offerings? What does the company LinkedIn page tell about your culture? Make sure the message is consistent, and above all else, confirm for candidates that you have an identity—one you’re confident in showcasing.
- Showcase your company culture and values.
Remember that employee value proposition? You can toot that horn externally, too. In today’s market, you need to seize any opportunity to differentiate your company culture from the competition. Does your company have fun? Is it intentionally inclusive and dedicated to improving? Find creative ways to tell your audience—it could make the difference for a candidate comparing suitors, hoping one will stand out.
- Write attractive job descriptions.
All your other efforts might be for naught if you don’t nail this one. One of the quickest ways to turn off a highly sought-after candidate is with a snoozer of a job description. Writing more compelling job descriptions is a mix of art and science, but there are a few quick wins: Eliminate the corporate jargon, be specific about responsibilities and expectations, and speak to the behaviors (not just the skills) suited for the role. You’ll see fewer ill-suited candidates when you’re explicit in who you’re seeking.
- Make the hiring process easy and pleasant.
One surefire way to make the candidate’s experience better? Get your team on the same page. Have a hiring process, establish people’s roles clearly, and, once it’s working, stick to the system. If your hiring team is misaligned, candidates will sense it—especially if they’ve seen better. Put people in positions to succeed, from recruiters to managers, and you’ll help the interview process run smoothly. Your target candidates won’t forget.
- Promote your job offer where top talent is.
It’s a different dynamic than many employers (or recruiters) are accustomed to. If you want to secure top talent, you need to meet them where they are. Do the candidates you hope to attract get job alerts on LinkedIn, or are they so in-demand that people are directly messaging them on other social media channels? To compete, you’ll need to know—and adjust accordingly. A multichannel approach will cast a wide net, which might be necessary in a labor market marked by candidate scarcity. You’ll save yourself time and headache if you also know how to narrow those candidates based on the behavioral traits that lend to success in the role.
- Reach out directly to the top talent you want to attract.
Speaking of knowing what (or who) you want, that clarity can become an employer advantage. As you refine your needs, both behaviorally and in terms of skills and experience, you may find your team zeroing in on specific candidates. If you know a person is a fit for the role, as well as your culture, don’t deliberate too long.
Seek out top talent like you would any other competitive advantage. Take the initiative, and tell the best candidates why your company is their best destination. When you’re secure in your hiring process and selection criteria, you’ll impress the best—because they’ll sense that you hire with confidence.
How to attract specific profiles
Knowing who you want to hire for a given role isn’t just a matter of identifying specific skills. You might see a qualified accountant on paper, but how does that person show up at work? How do they fit behaviorally within your organization, and within the team they’ll join?
In some cases, you’re looking for a very specific behavioral profile. Knowing this, you can actually shorten the time-to-hire curve, making your hiring process more efficient. But to attract top talent by profile, you’ll want to be creative with your messaging.
Let’s consider some specific examples:
Attracting top marketing talent
Marketing talent comes in many forms, but let’s say you’ve identified a marketing manager role that requires a person to handle multiple priorities and people. You realize you’re looking to hire a Captain—someone who loves rising to meet new challenges.
With this knowledge, you can devise a job description that speaks to these specific behaviors. You’re looking for a multichannel, brand-whispering whiz, sure, but you also need a person who’s simultaneously sociable, self-starting, and innovative.
Be real about what this role will entail: Speak to the need for flexibility and an ability to endure change. Consider how this person balances your other marketers, and align your hiring team to narrow its search selectively.
Attracting top customer service talent
Customer service talent is in high demand, like many other roles, because people who succeed in these positions tend to exhibit specific workplace behaviors. One of those behaviors is patience—you can’t get easily frustrated when juggling customer needs.
Operators usually fit these needs, as they tend to be pragmatic, cooperative, and helpful, yet also conscientious and reliable. Most importantly, they are known to remain calm in stressful or complicated situations. But you need to determine how to hire a customer success manager who fits your organizational needs.
Snagging an Operator—or whichever profile you determine to be the best fit—for a key customer service role could again come down to your job description. Give candidates a realistic picture of what the service demands entail, and stress the need for someone like them to come join your already-capable team.
Attracting top sales talent
There are a lot of notions about how to hire a top-performing salesperson. The theory goes that you generally want people who are persuasive, personable, and active listeners to sell your products or services. But talent-savvy companies know you can’t paint sales success with a broad brush. Instead, think of the behavioral traits that support success in your industry, and on your team. Those same traits will benefit your sales squad.
Maybe the team is full of Persuaders already, and you could benefit from a Captain or an Adapter. Captains still fall into the social profile quadrant, connecting with colleagues easily. But they’re also natural leaders who raise the bar for the group (not a bad trait if it’s a quota-driven crew). Adapters, meanwhile, are the ultimate balancers, stretching effortlessly to meet the needs of the moment or objective.
Behavioral data doesn’t just promote awareness at the individual level. A sound talent strategy helps you visualize the natural behaviors—as well as the strengths and potential gaps—of every member of a group. With that visual compass, you can better address gaps, and work with an awareness and anticipation of the challenges likely to arise.
Attracting top developers
Developers benefit from candidate competition as much as anyone, in part because they are specialists, possessing specific and essential skill sets companies rely on immensely.
But just as sales teams need balance, your developers are best when diverse, especially if your organization is in aggressive growth mode. Some of the more common profiles for developers include the Scholar and the Analyzer. Both are marked by mastery of their given craft, as well as an ability to work well independently on special projects. But depending on who you already have, you might bolster your growing team by mixing in an Individualist or a Maverick. These relative iconoclasts occasionally challenge the status quo and spur innovation in ways that help the collective coalesce.
When evaluating how to hire a developer, remember that this talent might not come to you. To find and attract the best, you may need to explore niche communities, or find freelancers seeking full-time work. Developers can generally work autonomously, from anywhere, so in addition to the desired behavioral traits, you can appeal to their desire for flexibility.
Think about the person who will manage this role, and whether they can grant that freedom without relinquishing good guidance. Talent optimization is often less about the individual hire than it is the environment they enter, and how naturally that environment nurtures their strongest drives and preferences.
Attracting top engineers
Similarly well-positioned in today’s job market, engineers possess distinctly different skill sets from developers. In some industries, such as the software-as-a-service (“SaaS”) sector, building out a team of talented engineers is priority one. The competition for top engineering talent, from fresh Gen Z grads to long-toothed coder vets, can be extra fierce.
Like home buyers attending open houses amid an inventory shortage, you can’t sacrifice your key criteria. Don’t let aggressive growth goals cloud a carefully constructed talent strategy. Talent optimization means always thinking about these priorities in tandem. Hiring a hot name might hurt your competition now, but will it help you long-term?
Hire with purpose, even if you have multiple engineer roles open at one time. Think about how this expanding department will interact with the rest of the business. Consider how it scales, what growth and development paths on the team might look like, and who’s equipped to lead it.
Like the best developers, many good engineers need space and time to do good work. Operators excel at using facts to make objective decisions, plowing ahead on clear priorities. You can appeal to these preferences by outlining not only a specific job description, but by articulating the vision for your company.
Let that unicorn engineer know: This is something you want to help build!
Assurance of your organizational identity is attractive to any candidate, but especially to those (such as engineers) whose services are in such supreme demand.
Attracting top designers
Design talent is in increasingly high demand, but not necessarily for traditional reasons. Branding is now among the criteria by which candidates are evaluating companies. Basically, they’re looking to see who has their stuff together. A tight brand identity is nearly as important as confidence and clarity in your company mission.
And guess who’s often responsible for establishing and maintaining that brand? Good graphic designers are the glue that keeps an expanding organization connected. As you consider how to hire a top designer, think about that evolving structure. Does the designer sit with Marketing? Or are they part of a broader, cross-functional team? The answers will help dictate the behavioral target you create for the candidate.
Like web developers, many designers are accustomed to dabbling in multiple projects at once. They might even have their own business, their work ebbing and flowing along with client demand. How does that compare with the role you envision filling?
High-performing designers are often Specialists, precise and efficient, but they may also profile as Adapters. It all comes down to your hiring needs. If you expect this person will field requests for T-shirt designs the same day they pump out a pretty PDF, draw up a job ad that appeals to the Adapter’s moldability.
Attracting top leaders
It’s a core maxim of talent optimization: Develop leaders at all levels. Whether you’re devising a talent strategy for a company of three or 300, it’s a novel approach. Every behavioral pattern is uniquely valuable, and every person within an organization is uniquely equipped to lead in their own style.
If you’re hiring for a leadership position, consider the context of that leadership. That means asking tough questions like:
- Who will this person report to?
- Who will they manage or oversee?
- What are the core responsibilities and success metrics?
- How do we envision this company evolving?
- How will this position evolve with it?
The first two questions account for your current employees’ engagement. Manager fit is one of the four forces that drive disengagement, so this leader should work well with not only other leadership, but any presumed subordinates.
Crucially, attracting top leaders also means hiring for cultural fit. That’s not the same as a culture-add, but you might determine the ideal candidate achieves both. Revisit your core values. Include your mission in any effort to advertise for this role. Make clear this person should be a leader of people, but also a champion of your company’s cause.
You might not apply a traditional recruitment strategy to your search for leadership talent. Many C-Suite candidates are solicited regularly by specialized staffing agencies, or they already sit on boards that bring opportunity to them. Solidify the sort of leader you’re looking for, behaviorally and in terms of skills, and start networking with intent.
Whether you’re adding to the executive team or looking for an individual willing to take the reins of an entirely new department, many of the same hiring principles apply.
Set your behavioral target. Consider the characteristics that will set someone up for success in this role. Account for the other behavioral profiles they’ll interact with, and proceed with purpose. Leaders come from all levels—including the team recruiting them.
Attracting top managers
Managers have absorbed the brunt of the attrition that defined the COVID-era labor market. When employee retention is an issue, middle management is often left to pick up the pieces. They reassign work, they manage morale with the people who are left, and they answer questions from leadership about how they’ll do more with less.
The 2021 People Management Report confirmed the toll this all took: More than half of surveyed managers admitted they were considering leaving their own jobs.
With millions of Americans still quitting their jobs every month, it’s safe to assume some of those managers are on the market, carefully considering their next move. Attracting them to your company may mean proceeding with care.
The Center for Creative Leadership identifies empathy as one of the most vital soft skills people managers can cultivate, especially when they’re coordinating with a distributed team. Hybrid work can enhance understanding and compassion among coworkers, but only if the team (and its managers) are adequately supported.
If you’re weighing how to hire a manager who suits your specific organizational or team needs, think about the specific reports: Are there time zone differences? Who has children, or other dependents? Whose schedule gets complicated? Whose behavioral pattern might not jive with remote work, and how can their manager help?
How PI can help support your hiring needs
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve picked up on a couple overarching themes: No matter the position you’re looking to fill, top talent is likely in high demand. And whether they’re joining a team of two or 20, the behavioral makeup of that team plays a major role in determining your behavioral target.
But if you can pinpoint the behaviors you seek, candidate scarcity isn’t such a scary concept. You’ll regain confidence and purpose in your hiring process—and perhaps even flip the employer-candidate dynamic back in your favor.