Tackling the Challenges of Low Unemployment

Feb 13, 2019

The unemployment rate recently hit its lowest point since 1969, dipping to 3.7%. While that’s great news for candidates, it might stir a little bit of fear in the hearts of HR professionals.

This unprecedented low unemployment isn’t just an HR problem, though; it’s a business problem. And despite the gravity of the issue, hiring is still often considered “HR’s problem.” I hear clients (who don’t fully understand how recruiting works) lay blame on HR when they can’t get quality candidates as fast as they want them. And while HR has traditionally served as a “finder of talent,” this becomes significantly more difficult when the unemployment levels are so low that you’re having to steal candidates from competitors instead of recruiting those looking for a job.

Finding better hires despite the low unemployment challenge starts with a change in the hiring approach. The first step involves giving hiring managers a more active role in the recruiting process. From there, your HR team will be better equipped to address existing challenges, experiment with new recruiting tactics, and course-correct as you move toward a better system overall.

1. Loop in the hiring managers.
Hiring managers typically have different levels of involvement in the hiring process depending on the organization and the HR team. But when the candidate pool dries up, the finger usually points to HR. Unless hiring managers recognize that the game has changed and that talent is in short supply, they’ll continue to leave it to HR to source talent, and that’s not working in today’s market. As a result, HR gets the blame for something that is only partially within their control.

To get hiring managers’ attention, make sure they understand not only the problem, but also their necessary role in the solution. For instance, hiring managers know their candidate market well and can help expand on traditional avenues of job advertising. They’re familiar with the feeder schools, the competitors, social media, and professional associations where talent congregates. By tapping into their expertise, you and your team can cast a wider net and even find new sources of top talent.

2. Zero in on the challenges (with data).
Once you have the hiring managers on board, work together to understand the weaknesses within your existing hiring strategy by reviewing your data. Are you advertising but getting too few responses? Are you getting responses, but candidates are not showing up for the interview? Are you making offers that are turned down? Are people accepting the offer, yet leaving soon after being hired?

From there, do some analysis. As Jim Collins says in his book, Good to Great, confront the brutal facts and as, “What is really going on?” If you are getting inquiries but not applications, think about how you market your organization and the job. If you are getting applications but not interviews, look at the time it takes to contact and schedule the candidate; jobs are offered at light speed these days. If job offers are being turned down, is pay competitive? If you are turning over new hires, are you setting realistic expectations about the job?

Once you understand the problems, you can work as a team to find the solution.

3. Think “outside the box”.
In addition to addressing existing challenges, improving your hiring process in a low unemployment period might also mean taking a brand new approach. Brainstorm ideas. If there is a dearth of candidates, where else can you source potential employees? Directly from schools? Through professional associations?

In my work, I’ve found that enlisting the help of existing employees to help solve staffing problems is often a successful strategy. In one healthcare setting, employees came up with multiple ideas for sourcing that neither HR nor the hiring manager had considered. One idea was to create postcards about an upcoming job fair for employees to pass along to their friends in similar jobs. The job fair was very successful.

Another successful tactic is to broaden your candidate pool by letting go of requirements that could be trained after the employee is hired. One organization I worked with let go of the requirement for “industry experience,” and looked for customer service experience in other industries. This reduced time-to-hire because it tapped into a larger talent pool. Industry training was conducted through peer mentoring and the result was a fully-staffed and engaged department. In a similar vein, it might be time to consider building your existing employees’ skills to address staffing needs by offering specific training.

4. Rinse and repeat.
Once you’ve started to implement some of these changes, go back to the data (with the hiring manager as a partner). What’s working and what isn’t? Rather than a one-time approach, this process of involving hiring managers, analyzing the data, thinking outside the box, and implementing new changes needs to become a regular dialogue. Beyond just low unemployment, the market is changing quickly. If you haven’t already, now is the perfect time to implement a nimble talent search process not only for today, but also for the future.

Written by: Carol Anderson

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