July 28, 2008

Where are all the candidates?

Recruiters are buzzing about a growing trend of candidates becoming increasingly hesitant to explore new opportunities unless they are being forced to do so. A number of factors are contributing to this change in the candidate’s job market, none of which will be surprising, including:

  1. rising fuel, food and living costs – we are consistently hearing candidates discuss this as an issue at all levels (yes, even in senior-level exempt searches). Candidates are voicing their flexibility of sacrificing title, salary and prestige in order to reduce, eliminate or avoid increasing their commutes. Likewise, we are seeing candidates reject opportunities that would require increasing commutes.
  2. retracting housing market – with the stalling to collapse of the housing market, we are seeing candidates less willing to consider opportunities which require relocation. This is further decreasing our available pool of candidates (again at all levels – but most especially at professional to senior management levels – the bigger the mortgage the bigger the bust)
  3. general market and political uncertainty – regardless of a personal opinion on the state of the financial market or politics, the general consensus heard across the spectrum from candidates is that we are in an environment of uncomfortable change, uncertainty. This perception ranges from a general sense of indecisiveness of what the future holds to an entirely negative perception of the near future. This uncertainty is being fed by increasing layoffs, continued financial market turmoil, and the looming presidential election.
  4. on-going candidate population trends – the start of the baby-boom retirement wave, shrinking availability of well-prepared college students and ‘mommy drain’ continue to stress the available candidate pool.

The combination of these factors is leading to a fairly typical ‘grounding’ effect on the candidate pool. As these trends move through their life cycles, candidates will have a greater tendency to ‘go to ground’ by choosing to maintain their status-quo (even it is mildly to intensely uncomfortable) rather than exploring then unknowns of a new career opportunity. In other words, from the perspective of a candidate, a major life change of a new career move in the midst of escalating living costs, depressed housing market and peak layoffs is not an ideal market to make a career move. Think a depression mentality – a bird in hand is better than two in the bush.

We are going to see reduced volume of applicants and an increased rate of withdrawals of candidates from the application/consideration process.

What can you do to encourage, engage and retain candidates?

  1. Sell the opportunity – the real opportunity, its challenge and growth.
  2. While selling, be genuine.
  3. Provide candidates the opportunity to connect with the best fit voice of the hiring team. This might be the person they resonate with best; it might be the CEO; it might not be the hiring manager.
  4. Engage with the candidate after the offer has been made, during the decision-making process and routinely before the start date.
  5. Focus on retention: Have a smooth first day of work planned, with business cards ordered, computer booted and a warm reception to joining the team. Spend a few dollars for a decent lunch either one-on-one or with the team.
  6. Focus on retention: provide a new-employee with an advocate/mentor to help them transition onto your team.
  7. Don’t assume that you have a better opportunity – from the perspective of an employed candidate a new job is RISK with unknown reward. Even if offered a better salary than they currently make, we are asking candidates to give up seniority (even informal/perceived seniority), benefits, 401k vestings, profit sharing, etc.