Hostile Recruiting Market

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Multiple offers, last minute indecision and reversal of interest, counter offers and the generally mercenary and hostile current recruiting market.

While I was considering topics for the second article in my 25th anniversary series of articles, it became pretty apparent that nothing matters if we can’t get candidates across the finish line and onboard.

The idea to write this article came to me recently, after a candidate turned down a regional leadership role and decided to stay at his current employer. We had been referred to him and told he was one of the best in the market. I met with this candidate personally and discussed his current situation—he’d been with his employer for over 20 years and was frustrated that there was no succession plan with limited opportunities for advancement. Our offer had everything he was missing and, at the time, seemed to be a slam-dunk. Without getting into too much detail, I’m sorry to report that it didn’t work out. I truly believed the candidate was making a mistake, and at the client’s request, I tried my best to turn the candidate around. After another two weeks of frustrating conversations, unreturned phone calls, and missed meetings, the deal officially died a slow, undignified death.

As I performed postmortem analysis, it became clear that this deal represented a growing trend, not just in our practice, but in many conversations,  I was having with clients, candidates, and other search and HR pros. I decided to investigate why this was happening so often. My hope is that this article will be a wakeup call to help us and our clients refine the approach to recruiting and hiring.

The Recruiting Market in 2019

We’re currently in the most competitive recruiting market many of us have ever experienced. The mid 2000’s was a walk in the park compared to this. The increased occurrence of counter offers, self-declared “passive” candidates getting multiple offers, candidate indecision, and turndowns are at an all-time high.

The last big recession took out roughly a third of the already diminishing AEC workforce. Today, most companies are staffed by a bunch of old guys and kids. We could blame the millennials; however, lately I’ve seen the trend of indecision, multiple offers, and counteroffers more prevalent with older candidates. I’m hesitant to offer a succinct reason for this foolishness, but I think we can start by exploring what goes into a job change from the candidate’s perspective. Perhaps we could become a little more strategic, process oriented, and “user friendly “during the hiring process.

To start, let’s explore the gravity of a job change. Most people define themselves by their career. The decision to make a job change and the change itself are both extremely difficult. This is a big decision, right? You’d think so, but many people approach a job change, and the interview process, with very little thought. Think of a major life decision you made: how long did you date your spouse before you decided to get married? After many months or years making the decision to spend your lives together, most people end up waiting another entire year before the actual ceremony! Compare that with companies making offers after one or two interviews and the candidate and company barely get to know each other. This is where our problems start. Building relationships, trust, and good decision-making take time.

The severe shortage of talent, a booming economy, and the fast-paced competitive nature of the AEC industry has contributed to rushed decisions by both candidates and hiring authorities in the heat of battle. This rushed environment results in bad decisions, counter offers, and turndowns.

Are you hiring for potential or are you looking for a lateral transfer of skills? I’ve found that hiring for potential, thus searching for candidates with the best reason to make a change, is the best strategy. Of course, sometimes you need someone to hit the ground running with skills your company doesn’t have. While the statistics for lateral move success are low, the reasons a candidate is seeking a lateral move are important.

What’s your company’s counter-offer policy? Talk with the candidate about their thoughts on counter offers and their current company’s policy. Most candidates will tell you that they won’t consider a counteroffer, but then they do. Every candidate I’ve worked with who’s taken a counteroffer told me repeatedly they wouldn’t consider one. Then their company pulled out all the stops and got them to stay.

Multiple offers! This never used to be an issue. Now it’s so common that it should be expected with every candidate. I’ve even noticed an increase in candidates getting offers from suppliers and other industries associated with the AEC business. This can only confirm that all industries are experiencing similar talent shortages. I think it’s likely a sign that there’s increasing burnout in our industry and it’s compelling some candidates to see if the grass is greener in other industries.

Moving Forward with Empathy 

We need to empathize with the candidate—a job change is a big, life altering deal. We need to help them by understanding their reasons so we can help them make the right decision during the process. This approach develops trust and helps ensure that both parties make the right choice.

Is the position and opportunity you’re offering really a good move for the candidate? Would you take the offer? Do the candidate’s reasons for making a change align with what you’re offering? Do you know why the candidate is looking? The candidate may be a good “fit” on paper, but what are the REAL reasons they’re considering a change? Will those reasons be addressed by joining your firm?

Work the Process

I constantly preach about the hiring process and how, when it’s followed, searches end successfully. Whether you’re working with a recruiter or hiring on your own, a hiring process that includes a detailed overview of your company, candidate/position profile, hiring process/timeline, and summary of the hiring process including number of interviews, interview participants, interview itinerary, any predictive analytics testing and if appropriate when an offer might be made.

Make it Personal

Take more time to get to know candidates and their families. Establish mutual interests in outside activities, talk about their parents, the schools they went to, vacations they take, their hobbies, meet the spouse, and ask about the children. If possible, have candidates attend office functions or stop by project sites. Consider having dinner with your spouse, your senior leaders, and their spouse. Make it personal.

Making Offers During Wartime

Chances are the candidate you’re considering will receive a counter-offer or another offer from one of your competitors. In our market we’re undergoing a war for talent so you cannot low ball candidates and hope they’re interested in the opportunity more than the money. People work to pay their bills, take care of their families, send their kids to school, go on a decent vacation every once in a while, and save enough to comfortably retire—of course money is important!

As a rule, money should not be discussed during a first interview. Only after a mutual interest has been established should money be discussed in detail. I encourage all my clients to make an offer in person, if possible, and on the phone, if necessary. A written offer from HR is very impersonal and easy to turn down. The offer should include monetary incentive to make a move and a full explanation of benefits, perks, vacation time, and, when possible, an explanation of first- and second-year expectations and potential career path.

The “In Between” Time

Finally, staying in close contact with the candidate after an offer has been accepted is extremely important. Literally anything can happen, and it usually does. Establish a schedule that includes signing employment documents, meeting with staff members and or peers, information about upcoming projects, and other company news. In other words, use anything and everything possible to stay in touch during the transition from acceptance to start date.

Hopefully this article will be helpful and remind you of the very personal nature of hiring. I know it has reminded me that while technology is great, recruiting is a business that deals with people’s lives. They trust us to help them through a very important transition. Let’s do everything we can to help them make the right choice.