Figuring out how to get job offers to newly minted software engineers before the competition does is a huge recruiting challenge at many companies. It can take weeks to complete in-person interviews and even longer to send offer letters as hiring managers debate which candidates to pursue.
But that's not how it works at Amazon. Instead, as part of a new experiment, recent graduates interested in applying for a software engineering job there are asked to take online tests that measure their coding skills and cultural fit. If they score above a certain threshold, the company's system automatically generates a job offer. No interviews required.
"There's no evidence that those who interviewed did better in their jobs than those who didn't," says Danielle Monaghan, Amazon's director of talent acquisition-consumer in Seattle.
Hiring senior medical professionals can be an equally daunting task, since few are open to jumping ship later in their careers, especially if doing so requires moving to a smaller company. The solution: Invite prospective hires to a cocktail party with executive leaders, who can then schmooze with their guests while describing the unique benefits of the work environment.
"We're able to tap into a pipeline of people who are already in our backyard and generate interest in a casual setting where both parties can see if there's a fit," says Nicole Hedrick, CHRO at the Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, N.C.
Creating a world-class talent acquisition effort that incorporates cool recruiting ideas like these may seem unrealistic for many HR professionals. After all, the pressure to fill the ever-larger pile of open requisitions leaves little time for experimentation. And at smaller firms, where recruiting duties often fall to an HR generalist who has to squeeze in interviews among many other daily duties, the bar for new hires is often "good enough," which leaves the best talent undiscovered.
Yet even if you hire just one employee a month, you can leverage many of the same effective strategies as the top companies in talent acquisition, say the folks who lead them. You simply need to learn about the latest trends and then strive to incorporate some of them into your daily hiring routine.
"The hiring managers we serve expect that we're bringing in the best talent, but to do that you have to know what the leaders in the recruiting field are doing," says Tim Sackett, SHRM-SCP, a talent acquisition blogger and president of HRU Technical Resources in Lansing, Mich. "You don't need to reinvent the wheel. If a tactic works really well for someone else, copy it, and it likely will work really well for you, too."
Most HR specialists agree that they want to get better at talent acquisition. In a 2016 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey of more than 2,300 HR professionals, respondents said recruitment was their top business/HR challenge, ahead of compliance, employee training, and compensation/benefits. Finding the time to implement new ideas can be as challenging as the work itself.
To that end, here are the 12 most meaningful steps to developing a more effective talent acquisition effort, according to a range of leading voices, including those who participated in a panel discussion on hiring trends at SHRM's Talent Management Conference Exposition in April. Many of these strategies don't require a major investment of time or money, and they can be incorporated into the recruiting practices you're using already.
1. Brand Your Company as a Great Place to Work
If you don't tell your story, others will do it for you – and it likely won't be the narrative you want. Having an attractive careers website was a prerequisite 10 years ago, but it's time to up your game. Not only must you use your site as a platform to showcase what makes you special to potential candidates, but you also need to carry that brand message through all your marketing materials, across social media channels, and in the stories you share in person. For example, you might post written and video testimonials on your website and social networks from current employees explaining why they enjoy their jobs. Doing so will create an image among prospective hires of what it's like to work for your company.
"When we went out into the marketplace, the only recognizable part of our name [was] Duke and everybody already had a brand perception of us," Hedrick says. "We've had to work tremendously hard creating a communications strategy for potential hires and then [using] it to share with those folks who we are and why we're a great place to work, which is paramount for recruiting success."
She says the networking cocktail parties her team launched allow potential hires to meet others they may one day be working with, which humanizes the recruiting message.
2. Maximize Employee Referrals
An astonishing 96 percent of companies with 10,000 employees or more – and 80 percent of those with fewer than 100 workers – say referrals are their No. 1 source of new hires, according to a 2016 SHRM benchmarking survey.
"So why are most incentive payments so low?" asks Tom Darrow, SHRM-SCP, founder of Talent Connections, an Atlanta-based executive search firm, and chair of the SHRM Foundation's board of directors. "It's widely known that employee referrals are the best source for candidates. Yet many companies offer pitiful 'bonuses' of $500 or $1,000 to their employees while offering search firms a $20,000-plus fee for the same position."
Darrow suggests encouraging workers to tap into their networks to help fill open positions.
"Every employee should be a recruiter for the company, but few think that way," he says. To fix that, companies must offer rewards that make it worth employees' time to reach out to their contacts, rather than expecting them to do it out of the kindness of their hearts.
"You must truly incent folks, not just say 'thank you,'" Darrow says.
3. Pay at Least as Much as Your Competitors for Talent, and Be Transparent About What You Offer
Make sure your total compensation package is competitive with your industry and company type. Emphasize what sets you apart from everyone else. At the same time, if any aspect of what you offer is lagging, tell candidates why. Then work with your senior management team to improve your offerings.
"Create a competitive compensation package that reflects your culture, then put the dollars in front of candidates at the start and you'll likely have to negotiate less," says Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP, executive director of human resources at LaRosa's Inc., a Cincinnati-based restaurant group, and a member of SHRM's board of directors. "It's a brass tacks approach, but be sure to supplement the dollar discussion with the other workplace benefits you offer, including flexibility, autonomy, the workspace and more."
By highlighting what makes your offer attractive, Darrow adds, you can help deflect attention from what doesn't.
4. Consider Hiring More Part-Time Contributors, and Embrace Their Flexibility
If the full-time talent you seek is too difficult to find or excessively costly to hire, fill each open position with multiple part-time employees who have embraced the gig economy. And don't punish them if they decide to move on and try something else.
The biggest cultural shift for Browne's company was in accepting that new employees often move on much more quickly than they did in the past, he says. The leaders at LaRosa's make it clear that they want to ensure that whatever amount of time workers can offer them is as worthwhile and rewarding as possible.
"So if you decide to become an Uber driver, congrats! We enjoyed having you while you were here," Browne says.
This approach recognizes that people can make hasty and even poor career choices and then seek to return to their previous jobs once they realize their mistakes.
"You have to allow people grace in this economy," Browne says.
5. Build Strong Talent Networks
Learn to develop relationships with potential new hires long before relevant job openings are posted. One approach is to create "communities of engagement" online through social media. These are networks through which candidates can learn about your company and see how current employees can make a difference.
"Too often, I see companies aren't hiring the best of the best; they're hiring the best of who they stumble on based on their poor sourcing strategies," Darrow says.
Darrow advocates using social media and networking to build a deep pipeline of potential candidates for whom you may not have jobs today, but into whom you can tap when appropriate openings emerge down the road.
6. Learn and Implement Predictive Analytics
The role of HR metrics has grown dramatically over the past decade. While you may not need to hire a full-time data analyst, you (or your vendors) should be able to measure the effectiveness of all aspects of your recruiting efforts.
"Employers have to be able to assess the probable yield of a recruitment ad in a certain location, among a certain demographic or at one salary point vs. another, and then instantaneously measure the results and make changes to that ad placement and content on the fly," says Peter Weddle, CEO of TAtech.org, an association for talent acquisition solutions in Stamford, Conn.
By managing your recruitment marketing efforts this way, you'll optimize the results and lower your cost-per-hire, he adds.
7. Retain the Personal Touch
While advances in technology have dramatically changed the efficiency of recruitment, courting top talent still requires a personalized message – as well as a promise that a potential employee's career will flourish when they join your team.
"In our area, there are a plethora of career opportunities just five minutes up the road for folks to do the same kind of work they would with us, so that says to me 'Why don't we know these people more?'" Hedrick says.
Creating onsite events where prospective hires and senior management can meet each other in a social setting and see if there's a good fit has worked well for her organization.
"Some people we'll click with better than others, and that's what we're looking for," she says.
8. Simplify Job Applications
Online applications that are daunting to complete can result in the loss of top applicants, among other problems. For example, negative word-of-mouth assessments about overly complicated processes – or bad reviews on ratings websites such as Glassdoor – may harm your brand. And companies can even lose money from abandoned applications if they are operating under cost-per-click recruiting models.
Yet despite these consequences, poorly designed online application systems remain a widespread problem. About 60 percent of all job seekers quit in the middle of filling out online applications because of a form's length or complexity, according to CareerBuilder.
Fortunately, companies can increase completion rates by more than 300 percent by reducing the length of the process to five minutes or less, reports Appcast, an online recruitment service.
"You have to make applying simple, fast, and mobile-friendly, or you won't attract the best candidates," Sackett says.
9. Embrace Mobile
Speaking of mobile, recruiting leaders say offering candidates a clean, well-branded mobile presence is now a basic requirement for an effective hiring strategy. Once that's in place, you can focus on ways to grab candidates' attention and differentiate your job opportunities.
"Even my generation [baby boomers] uses mobile phones outside of work more than they use computers," Monaghan says. "And my kids use mobile phones for everything, including researching companies, job searches,and completing applications."
Research shows that more than half of all candidates are job hunting exclusively via their mobile devices, Weddle says, "so if you don't have an advanced mobile recruiting platform, those candidates won't find you."
Fortunately, he adds, the cost of implementing a smart mobile recruiting presence has fallen dramatically in recent years.
10. Expand the Use of Remote Employees, but Have a Plan to Manage Them
Why fight the relocation battle? Talented candidates have myriad career options, and many of them will opt against moving to pursue a job opportunity. So, to expand your applicant pool (and your global footprint), consider allowing remote workers to handle tasks that don't require personal interaction with colleagues. But before you start down this path, be sure to create a realistic plan for managing those employees.
"A recent study showed that [more than] 80 percent of today's workforce wants to work remotely in some fashion," says David Lewis, president and CEO of OperationsInc in Norwalk, Conn.
But "the reality is that most organizations fail to effectively structure and manage remote workers," Lewis says, which can turn a potential solution into a waste of resources as remote workers struggle to understand and complete their duties.
11. Forge Relationships With Relevant Colleges and High Schools
If you aren't finding the skills you need in the open market, try working with institutions of learning to co-create a curriculum in return for gaining the first shot at new graduates.
"As companies complain about a lack of available skills, the training they offer hasn't been keeping up with the speed of change in innovation, technology, and business," Darrow says. "Companies need to partner with centers of higher education to help produce the talent they need."
He cites examples of organizations that have underwritten the cost of new courses at local community colleges in return for getting first crack at recruiting new grads as they emerge from those programs.
12. Hire More Recruiters
Talent acquisition isn't a cost center that should be squeezed during every budget review. Hiring is an investment in the future, and the companies that adopt this belief will attract the best and brightest candidates.
"Most in-house recruiters are underpaid, underappreciated, and overworked, so many of the best are transitioning to outside search or contract recruiting," Darrow says.
At the same time, "surveys show that recruiting and retaining top talent is one of the top things that keeps CEOs up at night," he notes, so making an investment in effective recruiting efforts is critical – and that "starts with having top recruiters setting the strategy and driving the results."
A version of this article originally appeared in HR Magazine.
Tony Lee is vice president of editorial for SHRM.