August 10, 2017

In the Age of Low Unemployment, SMBs Must Learn How to Recruit Passive Candidates

As of May 2017, the U.S. unemployment rate was 4.3 percent — significantly lower than the 10 percent peak we saw during the Great Recession. While this sharp decline in unemployment is a generally welcome development, it does make recruiting and hiring a little more complicated.

In today’s job market, the candidate is king. With top talent calling the shots, organizations have to be particularly responsive to the needs of qualified candidates in order to make hires.

Combine this smaller talent pool with skills shortages in many industries, and today’s employers find themselves hunting for currently employed talent in order to fill their open roles.

Sourcing candidates is hard enough; convincing passive candidates to jump ship for your organization is even more difficult. This is especially true for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). While larger corporations have a little more leeway when it comes to salaries and benefits packages, SMBs are working with smaller budgets. They can’t rely on remuneration to lure people away from their current roles.

But all hope is not lost for SMBs. If they adopt the right tactics, they’ll have just as good a shot at passive talent as their larger competitors do. Here are three techniques all SMBs should adopt:

1. Frame Your Recruiting Efforts in Terms of an ‘Opportunity Gap’

According to a 2015 study from Workfront, 74 percent of employees work because they want to pay the bills. When you’re hiring for an SMB, you likely won’t be able to offer the most lavish of salaries.

Luckily, however, paychecks aren’t the only thing workers want from their jobs. Many people are looking for jobs with a purpose. In one survey, 48 percent of baby boomers, 38 percent of gen. X-ers, and 30 percent of millennials said they prioritize purpose over pay. These employees are ripe for the picking, so long as you frame your open role as a chance for them to close an “opportunity gap” in their career.

According to recruiting expert Lou Adler, opportunity gaps are critical components of any strategy for recruiting passive candidates. The phrase refers to a gap between the opportunity offered to a worker by their current job and the opportunity offered by your job. For example, maybe you can offer an employee a faster track to an upper management role, the chance to manage a larger team, or a range of responsibilities the employee doesn’t currently own. Whatever opportunity it is, your job is to sell that opportunity to the candidate.

You need to be careful here. Do your research. Talk to the candidate first: Find out exactly what kinds of opportunities they’re looking for. The opportunity gap angle only works if you’re offering the candidate some kind of meaningful work they genuinely want but can’t have at their current job.

2. Offer More Flexibility

Better work/life balance ranks among the top five reasons why passive candidates will consider ditching their current role for a new one. Luckily, this is fairly easy to give to candidates, especially in our hyper-connected, tech-driven age.

Offer candidates better work/life balance by giving them more flexibility and autonomy. Let them decide their daily hours and work from home when they’d like to. These are simple enough steps, but they can have a profound impact on how open candidates are to moving to your company.

Even if your organization requires employees to be on site together, you can still offer some flexibility by instituting “core work hours.” These are hours during each day when everyone must be in the office. Once you’ve set these core hours, you can give employees autonomy over the rest of their schedules. So, if core work hours are 12 – 2 pm on weekdays, employees can decide whether they’d like to work 7 am – 3 pm, 12 – 8 pm or whatever might work best within the parameters.

You can also give employees more flexibility by offering unlimited PTO time. Don’t worry: Doing so won’t turn your office into a ghost town. If anything, it might make employees even more productive.

3. Turn Your Company Into a Destination Workplace

A destination workplace is a company that has a widespread reputation as a great place to work. Whereas the aforementioned techniques were all about going to top candidates with great offers, this technique centers on getting candidates to flock to you. As such, it takes a little more time and planning, but it’s well worth it.

To become a destination workplace, you have to establish your organization as a leader in its industry. If you don’t have a blog set up yet, do that now. Starting publishing thoughtful, illuminating, and industry-relevant articles on your blog. Share them via social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and the more niche options your prime candidates might be using.

Speaking of social media: Get involved in industry conversations. Position your organization and its employees as thought leaders in your space. Steadily, over time, you’ll build up a reputation as a smart, thriving company in the industry — and curious candidates will start looking your way.

You also want to use your company blog and social media platform to showcase the culture of your company. Through videos, photos, and other media-rich publications, show candidates how exciting and engaging it is to be a part of your team. Once you’ve sufficiently established your organization as a leader in terms of both the employee experience and the industry itself, it’s only a matter of time before formerly passive candidates start chasing you.

SMBs definitely have the leg up here, believe it or not. While large companies may have bigger marketing budgets, they also have more red tape. As an SMB, your company can move more quickly and engage with industry communities on a more personal level. While big companies blast shiny ad campaigns, you can build trust and goodwill directly with candidates.

If you’re not already recruiting passive candidates, there’s a good chance you will have to in the future. The pool of active and unemployed candidates is shrinking, and it’s likely that the candidate who has the skills you need is already gainfully employed. While it takes a little more work to source and hire passive candidates, it can be done. All you need are some smart strategies.


Matthew Kosinski is managing editor of Recruiter.com.

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