SI Review: May 2013


Up Close and Personal

Customized outreach is the key to conquering today’s recruiting challenges

By Leslie Stevens-Huffman

Forget blind ads, robocalls and mass email campaigns. Modern job seekers won’t respond to impersonal, shotgun recruiting tactics.

It takes target marketing and old-fashioned relationship building to garner the attention and trust of savvy candidates — who conduct extensive research before agreeing to partner with a staffing firm. In fact, more than half of candidates had an existing relationship with a company prior to applying, according to a 2012 survey by the Talent Board.

“Generic referral bonuses and ads have limited impact,” says Jack Wellman, president and COO of Joulé Inc. “Our financial success hinges on our ability to build robust talent pipelines by engaging candidates in ongoing dialogues.”

Infinite Recruiting Cycles

Credit recent layoffs or the advent of mobile technology, but 74 percent of workers are actively looking for work whether they’re employed or not, according to a recent survey of candidate behaviors from CareerBuilder. As a result, the recruiting cycle goes nonstop and the line between passive and active job seekers has all but disappeared.

Because 66 percent of candidates think about looking for a new job for six months before actively searching, shrewd recruiters use talent mapping to identify prospects and utilize multiple platforms to convert perfect strangers into “likers” and followers.

And they don’t rely on ads to reach their target audience. Astute recruiters use CRM tools to stay in touch and SEO-optimized blog posts, online discussions and YouTube videos to dispense market intelligence and career advice.

Data from the Talent Board suggests that candidate job search engagement through social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Glassdoor is growing and effective as long as the interaction offers value to the candidate.

Recruiters at Artech Information Systems for instance don’t send impersonal communiqués or laundry lists of open positions to highly skilled professionals, says President Ranjini Poddar. Instead, they mine the firm’s ample database to identify groups of contractors with niche skills and then build credibility by emailing prospects detailed job descriptions that specifically match their talents and interests.

“Highly skilled professionals won’t respond to vanilla job postings or recruiters who don’t speak their language,” says Poddar. “You need to wow them with your technical knowledge and show respect for what they do to bring them into the fold.”

Talent Gap

Don’t let the nation’s high unemployment rate fool you. Federal economists say the skills mismatch increased unemployment by 30 percent during the last recession and sporadic talent gaps won’t subside anytime soon.

The McKinsey Global Institute predicts a potential global shortage of 38 million to 40 million highly skilled workers in 2020, which represents 13 percent of demand. They also predict a shortage of 45 million middle-skills workers, which accounts for 15 percent of demand.

However, staffing owners like Poddar say the talent gap is already acute in some regions. For instance, her team never had a problem sourcing tech support professionals, until a client needed contractors to service point-of-sale systems on weekends throughout rural Louisiana. It doesn’t help that Artech’s nearest branch is nearly 200 miles away.

To bridge the Bayou talent gap, Artech recruiters invited qualified contractors to join an exclusive club on LinkedIn. The elite network now boasts some 2,000 members, who frequent the online community to get first dibs on upcoming gigs and share technical tips.

In Santa Barbara, Calif., where the agricultural talent pool is small and employment opportunities travel by word of mouth, recruiters at PrimeSkill Staffing Services plaster flyers in local laundromats and retailers to source temporary workers for a fledgling orchid distributor.

PrimeSkill President Pamela Graves says location sourcing isn’t sexy like social media, but community outreach is still the best way to find manufacturing and distribution workers in small markets.

“Despite advances in technology, there’s no substitute for personal contact in tight-knit communities,” says Graves.

Retention is always important, but it’s crucial when the supply of qualified professionals is finite. So, when Wellman discovered that Joulé’s recruiters were spending most of their time renegotiating rates with assigned contract engineers, he instituted a tenure bonus to deter poaching by wily competitors.

Contract engineers receive $1,000 after working 1,600 hours within a 12-month period. Although $1,000 may seem like a hefty price to pay for loyalty, the rustling attempts have stopped and recruiters can focus on relationship building and filling new assignments.

“I’m not tracking the tenure program’s ROI, but any time you can eliminate rework and increase efficiency without increasing staff, you’re bound to come out ahead,” notes Wellman.

More Than a Paycheck

Although pay is still king, candidates overwhelmingly want an opportunity to increase their skills, according to a survey by Jumpstart: HR. These priorities aren’t surprising when you consider that companies slashed training and development budgets during the recession and the opportunities to stretch their skills have been scarce.

Artech recruiters dangle opportunities to work with cutting-edge technology in front of IT movers and shakers every chance they get. Despite Wall Street’s voracious demand for mobile application and user interface developers, the firm is able to fill those difficult requests because contractors are anxious to add financial services sector experience to their portfolios and résumés.

Nearly half of employers in a survey by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) cite a lack of training investments and a lack of commitment by senior leaders to employee learning and development as a primary cause of the skills gap. Worse yet, up to 12 percent of respondents cited candidates with sales skills as among the most difficult to find.

After the Great Recession ended and the pickings were slim, Wellman enticed new sales prospects by promising to invest in their professional development. He’s managed to add 30 salespeople to his firm over the last 18 months by simply bucking the trend.

Joulé newbies attend a comprehensive, company-paid consultative selling course after 30 days of employment. The curriculum is so popular that candidates often shun more lucrative offers from insurance companies and financial services firms that have a reputation for testing the mettle of new hires by throwing them on the phone.

“Salespeople don’t want to work for a company that won’t invest in their success,” says Wellman.

Branding and Reputation Resurge

Today’s job seekers are savvy consumers. On average, they tap 15 sources per search to thoroughly vet staffing firms and their clients before making a commitment.

Nothing is sacred. Contractors share pay rates, markups and they bad mouth clients and agency staff who leave them hanging or misrepresent an opportunity.

Millennials in particular are very vocal about their job search experiences, with 92 percent saying they relay their job search experience in person and through social media. The rise of candidate due diligence makes it critical for staffing firms and clients to invest in brand perception and reputation management. Artech recruiters tout the firm’s relationship with 75 members of the Fortune 500. But they also monitor the health of their brand by tracking online feedback and key metrics like filled and completed assignments.

“A client’s brand makes all the difference in the world when a candidate has multiple offers,” says Poddar. “Staffing firms and companies develop a reputation for how they treat IT contractors and it’s incredibly difficult to overcome a bad image.”

Leslie Stevens-Huffman reports on recent trends in recruiting.


Creative Recruiting Unleashed

Here are some techniques successful recruiters employ to source candidates.

  • Mine for hidden gems. Mine user groups, technical discussion forums and content sharing sites like Pinterest for highly skilled professionals who share exceptional technical knowledge and insight.
  • Offer coaching. Increase your candidate base by helping cautious, employed professionals weigh the pros and cons of contract-to-hire opportunities.
  • Use opt-in sourcing. For example, advertise for warehouse workers on local Spanish-language radio stations; set up a site near your client where you can interview walk-ins.
  • Leverage acquaintances. Instead of cold calling a stranger you find on LinkedIn, ask a mutual contact to introduce you for a finder’s fee.
  • Share candidates. Network with fellow recruiters and offer to exchange candidates that don’t meet your needs.
  • Pay market rates. Boost your status in the marketplace by using top clients and assignments as a hook and paying scarce contractors above market rates.


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