Dealing with Choosier Job Candidates

Continued tightness in the labor market is forcing employers to find out what today's jobseekers are looking for.
By: | January 2, 2017 • 6 min read

Amy Williams says there’s been a noticeable change in the job candidates that her insurance company, Penn Mutual, is interviewing these days.

“Three years ago, people were just looking for something to pay the bills until they found their dream job; now, they’re much choosier,” says Williams, assistant vice president of human resources for the mid-sized Horsham, Pa.-based life insurance company.

Williams’ experience is hardly unique these days. With the unemployment rate at an 18-year low and jobseeker confidence near an all-time high, HR and talent acquisition leaders find themselves having to hustle like never before to attract qualified candidates. This year promises to be even more competitive, with employers in all 13 industry sectors expecting to add staff during the first quarter of 2018, according to ManpowerGroup’s latest Employment Outlook Survey, with employers in industries such as construction and durable-goods manufacturing forecasting their strongest outlooks in more than a decade.

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Candidates can afford to be choosier than in the past, which means employers must learn how to market their open positions in ways that resonate with what today’s jobseekers are looking for, says Dan Weber, director of global workforce analytics at Aon Hewitt in Austin, Tex.

“The over-arching trend we’re seeing is that candidates want answers to questions like, ‘What are you, as an employer, going to do to help me advance my career, my personal development and help me align my personal goals with the work that I do?’ ” says Weber, who advises companies in the technology and life sciences industries on how to attract and retain top talent.

At global software firm SAP, which came in at No. 11 on Glassdoor’s latest list of the best places to work in 2018, the company’s new employee value proposition, “Bring Everything You Are, Become Everything You Want,” is designed specifically to appeal to the desire among today’s candidates to get a genuine sense of what it’s like to work at a company, says Jenn Prevoznik, the Walldorf, Germany-based company’s global head of early talent acquisition. The campaign includes video testimonials from a diverse group of SAP employees explaining what drew them to the company and what keeps them there.

A few years ago, college grads tended to be focused on benefits, says Prevoznik, who oversees SAP’s campus recruiting. However, today’s grads are focused on the work they’d be doing: Who will I be working for and with, will the company invest in me, is the work compelling? “Companies tend to overpromise and under deliver, so being authentic in the conversation from the very beginning is super-key,” she says. “The best way to communicate our EVP is to have employees speak on our behalf.”

Executive recruiter Angie Salmon says she’s been seeing many more questions from high-level candidates about organizational culture than in years past.

“We’ve been getting a lot more questions about diversity, philanthropy, flexibility, what type of organization it is and whether they could see themselves working there long-term,” says Salmon, senior vice president at EFL Associates in Kansas City. “That’s different from what we saw seven to 10 years ago, when it was all about cash, base compensation, and short-term and long-term incentives.”

To be sure, executives are still interested in those things, she says, but culture and flexibility are increasingly seen as equally important.

“That’s consistent across all levels of candidates” from exec to entry level, says Salmon, who helps companies fill positions at the C-suite level. Additionally, more candidates are turning down a job because they feel “the job didn’t seem like a good fit” rather than inadequate compensation, she says.

The economic turmoil of the late aughts is also a factor, says Prevoznik, who says she’s noticed a change in what young candidates are looking for today compared with a few years ago. “They still want great pay and benefits, but the awesome cafeteria and bring-your-dog-to-work day are no longer a priority — this is a generation that saw their parents battered by the Great Recession and is struggling with heavy school debt, and they want financial stability,” she says, adding that SAP is emphasizing financial counseling and is looking into student-loan-forgiveness programs. “Financial wellness is almost as important to them as physical wellness.”

However, viewing “millennials” as a monolithic bloc is short-sighted, says Weber.

“There are two groups of millennials — established millennials and emerging millennials,” he says. “Both groups want cool perks, but their perspective changes as they settle into the workplace.”

Established millennials, the older members of the generation, tend to have young children and are focused on work/life balance, while the emerging group puts more emphasis on factors like pay and fun — and also want to know whether a job meshes with their purpose in life, he says.

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