Searching for Stakhanovites Featured

10:09am EDT July 22, 2002

Searching for Stakhanovites

All the best employees are already working, either for you or your competitors. Reconsider not just what new recruits can do for you, but what you can do for them.

By WILLIAM HOFFMAN

To hear the recruitment specialists tell it, good help has never been so hard to find.

"This has been the most interesting labor market that I have seen in all my years," says Cathleen Faerber, principal at The Wellesley Group Inc., a Chicago-area executive search firm. She tries to lure executives away from their current jobs into positions her clients seek to fill. "People are really content, and it takes more to get someone to move today."

Robert I. Greenberg, whose Scientific Search, Inc. prescreens applicants for Philadelphia-area health-care and technology companies, notes: "Industry experts expect that, by the year 2015, there will be 20 million more jobs than qualified candidates. And we're feeling some of that demand right now." His agency "is turning away more work now than we used to be able to accept."

With unemployment lingering below 5 percent nationally, and dipping as low as 2 percent in some areas, executive search firms and employee recruiters warn that there is no end in sight. There are many tools-some new, some tried and true-for employers who fear they've plumbed the depths of their local labor market or who feel ambivalent about venturing outside of it. The experienced hands advise trying:

  • Job fairs. Organized at convention centers by local chambers of commerce and increasingly by government agencies, the "cattle call" brings hundreds of potential hires to employer booths. Most likely catches at a job fair are newcomers to your city, Greenberg says; the best candidates are hard at work at their current jobs. Caveat: "You get what you pay for," he adds.

  • Campus events. Make a presentation for your company at an appropriate technical or junior college or university in your area. This strategy works best for identifying eager, talented near-graduates unfamiliar with the hurly-burly job-search environment. "It's like a farm system," Greenberg says. "You're growing talent for tomorrow."

  • Open houses. This tool reduces the pool of applicants to only those interested in you. That can work to your advantage or disadvantage. "The open-house concept is almost exclusively used by bigger companies who have multiple openings available," Greenberg says.

In these and other scenarios, tracking the universe of applicants and their progress through the job market is essential. Resumix Inc., a Sunnyvale, Calif., company offers a software automation tool that categorizes past and future applicants, normalizes their qualifications and identifies the best candidates. "Normalizing" qualifications allows Resumix automatically to match comparable skills, notes company spokesperson Mindy Fiorentino.

Other areas employers should watch include: Your own company. "You're going to have to develop and invest in your people," says Michael Fradette, co-author of The Power of Corporate Kinetics and a partner at the Deloitte & Touche Consulting Group in Boston. You're going to lose some as employees defect to higher-paying or distant jobs, "but some of them stick. And those will make you a better organization."

Additionally, "You've got to make your [work] environment very attractive, because once you've got them, you don't want to let them go," Fradette says. New hires and current employees you want to keep will recognize a comfortable, fulfilling, energetic, collegial work environment and want to stay, reducing turnover and the need to recruit. In a tight labor market, Fradette cautions, "[Employees] have to make the decision that they want to be there."

Interim Career Consulting President Scott DePerro says that understanding the new "emerging worker" may be key to recruiting and hiring effectively in the tight labor market. A 1997 Lou Harris & Associates study commissioned by Interim found that most employees are satisfied with their jobs, unlikely to move, less affected by downsizing than once believed, and more interested in personal growth than higher income.

"The most striking difference is their definition or loyalty" when compared to traditional baby boom and post-WWII-era workers, DePerro says. "The downsizing experience over the last 10 years has fostered this new attitude, where workers have accepted more responsibility for their careers." Companies that are flexible internally, empower employees and reward achievement over seniority are more likely to attract and retain quality hires. "Companies that are arrogant are going to have a hard time finding good employees."

Recruiters are uncertain about the impact of the Internet. "The Internet is a way that's often overlooked, but it's beginning to produce results," DePerro says. More crucial is not to overlook any recruitment avenues: "It's not just one recruitment approach, but a combination of all types that it takes to recruit top talent these days," the Interim executive says. "It's very dangerous to just use one recruitment approach."