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3 Golden Strategies to Attract Top Talent in an Ultra-Competitive Job Market

I've led a global executive search firm for 27 years, but never have I witnessed a talent market like this.

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Many businesses are booming, yet simultaneously struggling to adapt to a work world turned upside down. Employers face pandemic-weathered candidates who have no problem walking away from solid jobs or even signed offer letters. Just look at labor statistics: The U.S. reported 11 million job vacancies in December, yet an unemployment count of 6.9 million. Hiring has become a nationwide game of musical chairs, only the music never stops, and no one is sitting down.

As such, the playbook for competing for and winning professional talent is being rewritten as we speak. If you’re a hiring manager in fields like tech or biotech, you’re facing the most competitive talent market in at least a quarter-century.

Here are three battle-tested tips to upgrade your recruiting efforts to meet the moment.

Define job requirements broadly

As a recruiter, I’ve learned that many of the strongest candidates don’t possess the precise backgrounds hiring managers initially expect. Hiring managers tend to be too literal in their job descriptions and hesitant to differentiate between “must-have” versus “nice-to-have” attributes. I coach my clients to hire less for direct experience and more for growth potential. This approach brings more candidates into the process — a must in this market.

For example, I often advise pre-IPO clients searching for chief HR/people officers to consider candidates without direct IPO experience but who understand public company compliance and compensation. Similarly, director-level professionals who have managed teams or divisions in large corporations can make great functional leaders in startups.

Sometimes the jumps are even greater. I’ve seen retail executives with zero tech experience revitalize highly technical companies. Candidates like these, who might seem like imperfect fits, frequently perform extraordinarily well and become highly sought-after leaders once they join the tech firms. In many cases, certain missing niche skills can be outsourced, learned or mentored. What matters most is the candidate’s raw leadership DNA.

Related: What to Consider When Hiring Employees

Complete interviews and offers quickly

When it comes to interviews, time kills all offers. One highly influential startup recently lost out on its top choice candidate to whom they were planning to make an offer first thing Monday because a rival company swooped in over the weekend, had the entire team interview the candidate and closed the deal Sunday night, beating the first startup to the punch.

In this hiring market, it’s too risky to allow strong candidates to wait. They’re likely to entertain multiple opportunities and receive offers quickly, so leverage speed as a competitive advantage. Since much of the hiring process remains virtual, it has never been easier to squeeze in interviews at off-hours. Offer interview slots as quickly as possible, and work around candidates’ schedules, not yours.

As you rework your recruiting processes for this market, remember that candidates are also interviewing you. You are competing with other companies for job seekers much more than they are competing with each other for jobs, so design thoughtful, tailored interviews and engage in frequent, professional communications to keep the candidate engaged and excited. Furthermore, expect to repeat the recruiting process a few times per open role. Employers who have long enjoyed high acceptance rates among candidates are finding themselves needing to make up to five offers to reach a single acceptance.

Related: A Healthy Approach to Hiring That Actually Works

Make competitive offers with personal touches to make candidates feel special

Prepare to make aggressive offers given the competitiveness of the market. Wages are trending upwards across job sectors from small businesses to tech. In my core area of HR, I’ve seen packages rise about 30% in six months. Job candidates have resources available like Glassdoor, Comparably, Indeed and Salary.com to confirm market rates, though note that, given the frothiness of the market, those sites can provide data that lags actual market rates.

Swaying candidates may require tossing in creative perks such as broader job scopes and higher compensation ranges, work-from-anywhere benefits, management training programs and even guarantees on career progression. Encourage your most charismatic executives, board members, investors or noteworthy advisors to help close the offers.

Once an offer has been accepted, keep in close contact with hired candidates before their start dates. Remember that the strongest candidates likely have multiple offers in play ⁠— even after they’ve signed the offer letter. Even junior candidates just out of college are getting poached after a few weeks, so consider signing bonuses that require candidates to stay for periods.

Send welcome packages with swag and goodies. Have executives send congratulatory notes. Pull out all the stops to ensure that your hard-earned recruit becomes a loyal new employee.

If your hiring is suffering in this ultra-competitive market, make overhauling your recruiting process core to this year's business objectives. Reimagining job descriptions, shortening the interview process and offering competitive, personalized packages will differentiate your company and help you attract top talent in 2022 and beyond.

Related: 10 Strategies for Hiring and Retaining New Employees

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