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The War for Talent


Overcoming recruiting and retention challenges

By Beth Mathison and Deb Schultz

Although there is not one silver bullet to achieve success for your organization’s recruitment and retention efforts, there are key areas you can focus on. To be successful in these areas requires an open mind and new ways of looking at old problems. How well is your organization overcoming these challenges? What can your team do? Be ready to change fundamental processes for job postings, applications, interviews, competitive compensation, benchmarking, addressing internal equity issues, training and onboarding – especially if you want to differentiate your organization from others.  

The recruiting problem: The war for talent is over…the candidates won!

If you believe, as we do, in the bold new view that the war for talent is over…the candidates won, you may realize your organization needs to have a candidate-friendly recruiting process that is both transparent and quick to navigate. In our 2017 Industrial & Production Trades Survey, 78 percent of participants indicated there are just not enough qualified candidates to fill openings. Our data shows that 69 percent of respondents are experiencing difficulty in recruiting! In addition to a lack of qualified candidates, other primary reasons for the difficulty point to market competition, high demand, a technical skills gap and lack of experience. 


Are you differentiating your job postings?

When was the last time you checked Indeed.com and read descriptions for jobs similar to the one your organization is recruiting? Many look alike and are not too interesting to read, right? There is a missing element: What will motivate people to apply? Recruiters should bring focus to what a candidate would actually do when performing the job.

Consider a production lead role and the difference between two companies advertising for the same job description. Both descriptions outline the need for team building skills, creating productive work environments and travel 50 percent of the time; however, the roles are worlds apart. Help candidates understand the differences in the job posting versus just posting a job description. If you do not differentiate your job description as shown in the example below, the timeline to fill an opening could increase and you may get the wrong quality and/or quantity of candidates. 


Is your application process scaring candidates away?

Candidates are increasingly applying for jobs via mobile devices. If your application is not mobile friendly and takes more than seven minutes to complete, you are likely losing candidates who abandon the application. In the past, organizations looked at an application process as a way to determine how serious an individual was about their company. Now, organizations must look at the application process as a candidate saying, “I’d like to learn more.” Walk through your application process as if you were the candidate, and see what items stand out as areas for improvement.

Improve your interview process!

Interview processes must move faster than they have in the past. A disorganized process will give a poor impression to a candidate and can translate to a loss of interest in your company/the role. The interview needs to be a two-way conversation about the position. Tell the candidate what you need them to accomplish for success. Instead of asking candidates for past examples of situations they have dealt with, consider telling them real problems they will have to deal with in the future.

Example Interview Questions – The Old Way Versus the New Way

  • Old Way: Tell me about a time when you had an angry customer. What was the situation, the action you took and the result?
  • New and Better Way: In this role, you may deal with angry customers who are typically concerned about the timeliness of their processed transactions. How would you handle the situation? What ideas do you have that would turn the negative experience into a positive one? (One benefit of asking future-focused questions… you may get great ideas from candidates to solve challenges.) 

Quick Takeaways

  • Differentiate your organization – Think about your culture or work environment. What is unique to your industry, geography or the candidate you are trying to attract?
  • Use words that springboard a candidate to action: Your roles are exciting and fulfilling. You offer a range of benefits including vacation, family gym memberships, community stipends and community service days. Your location is in a walkable district and/or has bike trails.
  • Write a job description around actual demand, highlight problem-solving opportunities and ensure resources needed are available.
  • Agree internally on job goals, needed skills, training and costs

When recruiting for a role, it is important to reflect on what is critical to the success of the new employee. We recommend reviewing the job description to get everyone in the selection process on the same page regarding position requirements. Here is an example of a chart you can use internally to define a role. 


Distinguishing Compensation?

Are you distinguishing your organization with how/what you pay employees to create a convincing picture that attracts key candidates and retains high performers?  Fifty-five percent of our survey respondents reported the most frequently used retention technique continues to be pay increases – generally done case-by-case for individual employees or for specific jobs.

Talking with candidates about compensation has become an increasingly difficult aspect of the education and offer process since compensation is now about more than just the hourly/salaried number. While we hear from exit interview data and employees that pay is not the primary reason why people leave or accept another role, it does become a sticky issue and a differentiating opportunity when negotiating offers.  

Comparing Compensation Apples to Apples

Help candidates be in a better position to compare job offers. Companies that can clearly define their total rewards strategy will be more successful in offer acceptance. While candidates care about other intangibles of their total rewards, they are also conscious about take home pay to manage their household budgets. Consider providing candidates with a worksheet to help them compare an offer from your organization versus their current role or a competitive offer. When they enter in numbers from their current role or a competing offer, it may be clear for them to see a net increase even with a lateral move, or recognize an offer that is technically less than their current role.  It is best to include tangibles at the top and intangibles at the bottom, as shown in the example below. 


Benchmarking Differently

Benchmarking a position with reputable compensation survey data is important to be competitive and aggressive. It is also important to understand nuances with positions that require opposite skill sets. For example, if you have a position demanding a technical aptitude that also requires good customer service skills you will need to look at compensation data differently.  For example, consider an engineer who has been consistently rewarded but whose role now encompasses not only integration, engagement and satisfaction with external customers but with internal customers too. These types of hybrid roles have become more common and can be challenging to benchmark for a competitive wage.  


How are you addressing internal equity issues?

With the hot marketplace for talent, internal equity issues are becoming more common. Your organization must decide what is most important. Opportunity costs need to be a driver for these conversations as they are not isolated decisions.

  • Do you let a position sit open for six months because filling it with a candidate who will cost $5K more will cause an internal equity issue/ripple effect?
  • Do you fill the position with the talent at the pay rate you need? 
  • How is the work being accomplished while the role is open?
  • What impact is this having on the business including rework, turning away business and overtime costs?
  • Are you experiencing employee burnout and potentially higher turnover because you are short or inappropriately staffed?
  • What risks are you willing to take to secure the right talent?


Fifty-eight percent of our survey participants indicated they are hiring less qualified candidates and then training them.  Investing in training to fill critical openings is increasingly important for both new recruits as well as for the fifty-five percent of organizations who are promoting from within to fill openings and retain (and retrain) employees.

With so much difficulty finding talent possessing the exact skillset needed, companies are doing more to develop their internal talent by offering training opportunities.  Many organizations will say they do not have time to train. If you are having extreme difficulty in recruiting, then training may be more cost effective and offer comparable or sometimes faster timeframes. According to the Association for Talent Development’s (ATD) 2016 State of the Industry Report, commitment to learning is strong and manufacturers had an average per employee direct learning expenditure that was slightly more than $500. Many organizations specialize in offering training and other related services. These organizations can provide cost effective training and a breadth of curriculum that will help your employees develop leadership, management, communication and professional/ technical skills.  Often, these organizations can help manufacturers who have little or no learning/development staff through training the trainer courses, onboarding or instructional design. 

Create your own university

When you think about your internal talent, you might realize you have in-house experts for many of the training topics that your new hires might need. The piece missing might be the organization skills to outline the training and document it appropriately, or the skillset of the person with the knowledge to train. Consultants who specialize in learning and development can help you take your company knowledge and create an appropriate topic-themed university that includes job specific/general training.  According to JJ Janiszewski, director of learning and development at MRA, “We find that many of our manufacturing member companies are using internal subject matter experts to design, create and deliver training.  You would be surprised at the talent that exists in your own organization.”  The 2016 ATD State of the Industry Report highlighted that internal resources play a critical role in the development of the workforce. They noted that about 50 percent of organizations use on-the-job coaching by managers or peers.


Onboarding and Defining Expectations

While a job description details responsibilities, you are hiring someone to make an impact. It is critical to define what is expected of the candidate to succeed. Companies that define success and training objectives for the first 12 months will be more successful in retaining new hires and helping them to be productive in a shorter time. When a new hire starts, outline the critical success expectations for their first weeks/months:

Week One Example

  • Team introductions
  • New hire paperwork
  • System logins and access 

Month One Example

  • Learn how to utilize the database system and navigate to find customers
  • Know your top accounts and key contacts
  • Review objectives for key accounts 

Month Two Example

  • Schedule meetings with top accounts for next 30 days
  • Present account management plan to your manager

What now?

Smart business leaders need to invent creative ways to overcome recruitment and retention challenges in this candidate-driven job market. Change fundamental processes. Keep an open mind and be open to change. Differentiate your organization from others. Get outside help when you need it.

How is your organization stacking up?

Beth Mathison is Director of Employment Services at MRA-The Management Association, beth.mathison@mranet.org, 262-696-3346. Deb Schultz is Director of Total Rewards at MRA-The Management Association, deborah.schultz@mranet.org, 763-253-9134. Founded in 1901, MRA-The Management Association is a not-for-profit employer association that serves more than 4,000 employers headquartered in the Midwest covering more than 800,000 employees worldwide. To learn more about MRA, visit www.mranet.org. 


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