Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Race for Talent is ON!

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!! The race is on...for talent, that is. Over the last six weeks there has been a gradual increase in job posts by companies and recruiting firms, job search activity, interview requests and hiring. These are leading indicators that the pendulum is swinging back in the direction of an improving job market. Here's what hiring manager's can expect to change over the coming days, weeks and months.

Good talent won't wait for you:

In the last three years if you have become accustomed to interviewing 10 - 15 people for each open position over a twelve week period, that process will no longer serve you. Several of my clients have held out for Ms./Mr. Perfect Candidate only to find out they don't exist, then lose the one or two that would have fit the role quite nicely. Candidates have choices now and they won't wait around for a Company to do exhaustive comparative interviews for months. By all means, conduct thorough interviews and continue to harvest quality potential employees. But also be prepared to hear from your top two or three would-be hires that they are either off the market, or receiving competing offers. They aren't waiting for you to make a decision, they are going with the best "timely" offer.

Make strategic offers:

Before you strike with an offer make sure you think about the timing of your candidate's readiness to receive it. If you are the first one to the gate, the candidate will undoubtedly see you as the most motivated Hiring Manager with a "lets get it done now" attitude. This shows your ability to influence, garner internal consensus and to make a decision. Getting an offer should mean a lot to your candidate and treated with proper consideration, so they may need a few days to make a decision.

However, if your candidate is still in the middle of his/her process, you may end up waiting at the altar for a few weeks while they consider other proposals from suitors who show up late to the game. Inquire as to where your candidate of choice is in their interview process after the first round and determine whether it makes sense to strike fast and early, or hold out until they have a few more rounds and are further along in vetting the job landscape and their market value. Unfortunately, this can mean losing your leverage, and your favorite candidate. But making a grand offer early can set the expectation that you may be willing to wait and counter-offer against a higher bid. You never want to buy someone, but you don't want to make yourself too vulnerable as your offer may be used as leverage to get a higher bid from a competing company as well. In this case, look very closely at that person and determine whether they are worth the wait and the tug of war. Do they want the job for the right reasons, or are you simply hiring a flight risk?

When you have determined that there is no better candidate for the position, provide a written offer (not verbal, the less tangible it is the less real it seems to the candidate) and indicate an offer expiration date on the letter. This lets your candidate know they have to make a decision and can demonstrate they want the job based on the merits of the position, and not the compensation itself. Make it a week or two, but not a month. More than two weeks gives an impression it is O.K. for them to shop on your time.

Also, try to hold off on offering the top of the scale in case a competing offer comes in higher. Your candidate should be in touch to keep you informed of their progress. If contact with your candidate lags for more than a week, you may have a problem. Keep your alternate candidate close and keep your search open.

Never Stop Closing:

A signed offer letter and gracious acceptance never stops a person from considering an attractive counteroffer, even when they are already in their new seat. Between the day your new employee accepts the offer and the day they start, it's a good idea to do three light "touches". There are many acceptable reasons to call your new employee, for example, a call to make sure they received the pre-employment package and payroll data has been processed. Perhaps a call to ask them if they have everything they need for their first day (time to report, dress code, what to expect the first day). Maybe a day or two before their start date you call to let them know you're taking them to lunch on the first day. You can come up with your own reasons for the "touch" points, but it can help encourage a deeper rapport, lets them know they are important to you, and the organization, and allows you an opportunity to ask them if their "giving notice" process went well.

As you probably know, giving notice is very stressful for most people. Some candidates expect strong responses from managers and colleagues...and often get both positive and negative emotions. But really valuable performers almost always receive some sort of counteroffer from their current employer...and not always in the form of more money. Often an emotional counteroffer can trigger an even more emotional response, and result in reconsideration of the new employer's offer. Many good managers have special attachments to their people and, if they are highly motivated to keep someone, they will pull out all the stops. How can you blame them? The very reasons you want to hire that person are likely the same reasons their manager wants to keep them. Unless that candidate has other reasons to leave (relocation, layoff, company struggling), you need to be prepared for a fall-off.

Once the candidate is in the door, stay vigilant. Talk to them every day if you have to until you feel sufficiently satisfied that you all made the right decision and they are with you to stay.

Retention and Growth:

As a manager, retaining people and keeping them happy remains one of your biggest challenges. You can't hold onto someone who doesn't want to stay. So, if one of your top employees decides to give their notice, make sure you do everything you can to get to the bottom of their RFL (Reason For Leaving). There may be one or two things you can't do anything about (promotion to a higher level, salary, geography), but there may be other ways you can entice your people to stay. If they trust you, they are more likely tell you what the primary considerations were in deciding to put their resume out there in the first place. If you are empowered to make adjustments to their situation to retain them, do so. It will cost you a lot more time, money, and grief to hire and train their replacement. If you decide to make a financial counteroffer without addressing deeper concerns, be aware that this may be just a temporary band-aid. After time, the employee's real problem(s) will resurface and they will ultimately may take six months to a year, but statistically it is well understood that once an employee has mentally checked out, you don't really want them there anymore. When an employee sites "lack of growth" as their primary RFL, take a good look at your team. Chances are, if one person feels this way, the others on the team may as well. Once the market picks up unhappy employees will sometimes move on en mass, crippling a group, division or a whole company, and creating an internal disaster for the management team. When an employee gives their notice, this is a great time to consider growing one of your people for the opening in the group. Demonstrating that you care about your employee's future and a desire to invest in their job satisfaction could keep you from losing more of your best and brightest.

If no one is qualified to fill the position, it may be a good idea to implement a training program and have a few people ready and able to step in the next time an A player unexpectedly goes AWOL. On the other hand, an infusion of fresh energy and ideas could be just what you need in your group, a new employee can also improve the dynamics of your team. So go hire yourself a new Superstar...they're out there right now!