Friday, April 26, 2013

Finders/Keepers: Surprising Trends in Hiring and Retaining Great People

My colleague and good friend, Christy Hillman, Recruiter Extraordinaire with Career Management Associates in Maine gave me an invaluable piece of advice the other day.  I had been unable to reach several entry-level candidates who were actively seeking new opportunities, and having tried both phone calls and emails, I became increasingly frustrated and concerned that I was losing my recruiting instincts.  With two magical words Christy made a suggestion; do what they would do to reach each other:  "Text them" she said.  You could practically smell the smoke from the imaginary lightbulb that suddenly burst into flame over my head.

It was a revelation, and it was extremely effective.  Why didn't I think of this sooner?

Having no knowledge of who I was, why they were getting a text from me, or how I got their cell phone number in the first place (trade secret), I received almost immediate responses, and no shortage of interest from them in learning more about what I was working on.  I was hooked!   More importantly, so were they.

Get ready hiring managers, the digital natives are populating our workplace at explosive rates, and staying ahead of them requires a lot more mental fitness and flexibility on our part.  Your success in hiring them will be based on speed, determination and the ability to project your companies as savvy and streamlined enterprises.  That extends to your recruiting partners as well, which is often a candidate's first glimpse into how you do business. 

What attracts candidates today may surprise you, and I'm not sure this will cover everything, but here's what they look at outside of a good compensation package and a jazzy title:

Who else works here and what do they like/dislike about the company?  Yep, social networking has a wonderful ROI for those who have used it wisely.  Anything they want to know about a company's culture, financial health, or turnover rate can be easily acquired through a little research and due diligence.  If your company has high turnover, questionable financial health or a 'cultural toxicity' problem, address this upfront and don't let the A Players walk away with the wrong impression. 

What kind of smart phone will you offer?  Believe it or not this is important to young, busy professionals who have invested a lot of time in learning and populating their cell phone with must-have apps.  If they need to carry two phones (one for personal use, one for work), that can certainly lead to another type of usage concerns.  But exposure to multiple systems will also keep them up to date on the latest important benefit to you.  This goes for laptops, tablets or any technology your company employs to get the job done.

K- that you offer one?  Is there a match?  How about tuition reimbursement?  The cost of education continues to rise and many people are putting their advanced degrees on hold until they can afford it, meaning tuition assistance through their employer.  Encouraging a candidate to pursue their education can be mutually beneficial, but protect your investment. Institute a tuition reimbursement agreement that requires employees sign a one or two year commitment contract that kicks in once they graduate.  For those who are picking up a class here or there without declaring a degree program, offer a partial reimbursement...and if you're boot strapping, reimburse only for those classes that are relevant to their jobs.

Can I see myself here?  What vibe does your workplace reflect?  Is it dark and stodgy or light and airy?  Will they feel a sense of collaboration or are these closed doors and green florescent halls reminiscent of a Mad Men-esque office?  Give employees an opportunity to make suggestions, or if they have a private office, allow them to make subtle but meaningful contributions to the decor...even a new coat of paint can make them feel more productive.  Set the ground rules though, and check on the details of your office lease for restrictions.

Is this a Flexible Environment?  For non-essential personnel, do you offer the flexibility to work from home weekly, or on occasion?  An enduring '8-5 fits all' standard operating procedure that prohibits anything but the punch-in, punch-out corporate culture can stand between you and your best candidates.  If you can't change it, focus on the importance of a face-to-face connection, highlight the benefits to creating a strong and creative culture, and tell them it's a precedent that works best for the entire Company.  Work day flexibility may become more critical to people working further away, who have transportation limitations, or long commutes due to overpopulated road ways.  Offering staggered work hours can take the burden off your employees and translates into more productive hours and less car-lag...a new health problem brought on by too many hours stuck in traffic.  Speaking of which...

Pikes, Bikes & Tolls
Do you offer a commuting allowance?  Subsidies, train passes, gas reimbursement, even bicycle rental...getting to work has never been more expensive.  If you cover any of this, you should mention it to candidates during first interview rounds.  If you are hiring a salesperson, this can become the critical differential between your company and a competing firm.  A sales leader who needs to hire a team will be tasked with an uphill battle if she can't offer a strong travel reimbursement policy.  Help HER help you increase those revenues...incentivize, incentivize, incentivize!

Not just Greenbacks 
Are YOU green?  We're interested in knowing about your sustainability program.  Don't underestimate the young professional's value system.  They may have grown up in a consumer crazed world, but many have developed a conservative attitude relative to the efficient use of resources.  Some recent college grads have told me personally that they will not go to work for a company that doesn't at least have a recycling program in place.  Now more than ever, greening up your corporate practices can set you apart from competing offers.

Bench Strength and Mental Breaks
Do you have a fitness center?  How about day care facilities?  Access to health/fitness facilities, a decent cafeteria and on-site childcare are still extremely desirable.  These benefits create a personal/professional infrastructure that can help alleviate stress and take a lot of pressure off working parents who struggle with affordable childcare.  As for wellness, don't be surprised if your potential new hire negotiates for more vacation time instead of a bigger base salary.  There's no point in arguing with them, they know the burn out rate for executives is high, and being able to recharge their batteries on a regular basis will make all the difference in your employee retention rates.  If you don't have a hard corporate policy on how much vacation time each employee is allotted (based on tenure or level), this is a great way to offer flexibility without having to increase your hiring budget.   

Retaining your star employees means paying attention to a wide variety of trends and finding out what the competition does to keep their people happy.  Identifying flight risks in advance of their leaving also means keeping an open door, and mind, to learning what they value in an employer.  These wants/needs change as an employee matures, but one thing never changes; they all want to feel valued, cared for and secure.