How to compete for scarce talent

Every recruitment team has some roles that are hard to fill due to a need for a rare blend of skills and experience or because the need for a particular skillset is in high demand.  It amounts to the same thing. Data related roles are a great example of this. As recently as ten years ago data scientist and data analyst roles were niche but the proliferation of data generated by today’s connected technology means that telecoms companies, finance giants, online retail start-ups and many other sectors are all chasing a pool of candidates which has grown nowhere near fast enough to match demand. The cost of delays in recruiting these hard to fill roles is significant – lost productivity, loss of billable hours, time spent recruiting, the impact on the wider team and more.

Here is how to address the challenge in both the short and longer term.

Step 1: Understand the challenge

The first step to filling these roles is to develop a profile of the perfect candidate – qualifications, experience, soft skills, specific technical skills, remuneration package etc. And then challenge the hiring manager to separate these attributes into necessary and desirable: for example, can any of the skills and knowledge be learned? The more flexibility there is around potential candidate attributes, the wider the candidate base available.

Step 2: Map the market

While it is logical to fish in pools where you have previously had success finding similar candidates, the wider you can cast your net the better the candidate you are likely to find. Some skills, again data related roles are a great example, are transferable between industries, sectors and geographies. The more flexible your criteria the more likely you are to succeed in your hunt. As part of the market mapping process pay attention to salary levels as these can vary widely and may immediately enable you to discount some talent pools and see others as particular opportunities. In my experience there are always new places to look.

Step 3: Short term strategy – be agile

When searching for candidates with a scarce skillset, it is important to make the most of any opportunities that you get. Remember, good candidates with an in-demand skill set are rarely on the market for long – sometimes less than 48 hours – and so your standard recruitment process will almost inevitably result in disappointment. It is crucial to have a streamlined recruitment process in place together with a very clear proposition for the candidate as to why they should join you.

Before you start advertising the role:

  • make sure budget for the role is confirmed and ring-fenced;
  • ensure you have identified all key stakeholders in the process and that they understand the importance of making themselves available at short notice; and
  • plan the interviews/assessment stages to minimise the number of rounds you will need to do.

While it is thorough to have two or three rounds of interviews at your offices over a couple of weeks this is not always realistic. Those involved in the interview process need to be prepared to make themselves available out of hours, and/or to use digital (video) interviewing as a way to accelerate the process. If all stakeholders have met the candidate, consider whether a further interview is really necessary.

The ability to tailor and accelerate recruitment processes is the key to success or failure when recruiting for these roles so make them a priority from the start.

Step 4: Long term strategy – develop an Employer Value Proposition

If you are struggling to attract candidates for certain roles this often indicates that your “employer brand” is weak. With their skills and experience in such demand candidates need to be clear what you offer and why they should want to work with you.

If you can’t provide a concise answer to the question “Why work for us?” then develop your employer value proposition (EVP). An EVP is much more than a competitive remuneration package – it encapsulates the values of the organisation, its vision and its culture. Organisations that align and embed these factors, like Ben and Jerry’s or Google, create a narrative which means that even if current and prospective employees can’t articulate what makes that organisation an attractive employer, they have a clear idea of what it offers them.

Developing your employer value proposition is a medium to long term strategy but the investment pays itself back rapidly, reducing the time and resources needed to attract suitable candidates for roles across the organisation, and in particular making roles with scarce skills easier to fill.

Author: Katherine Travell, CEO, Futureboard