Written by: barbara-hyman
The new kind of battle in the war for talent
Before COVID, the conversations I was having with HR executives were about how Sapia might help them with the volume of candidates they were receiving for job openings. For every job posted there were often over a thousand candidates, and it doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to understand how overwhelmed many big organisations were. Our Ai was seen as the solution to automate dealing with candidate volume in a way that found the best people, but also touched base with everyone who applied as part of their brand building. In a nutshell, before the pandemic, efficiency was the key driver in looking for automated hiring solutions like ours.
Now that we’re emerging from the disruption of COVID, no one is talking to me about needing help with the volume of candidates they receive. In fact, they are asking how we might help them get any candidates in the first place! All around the globe, and across multiple industries, there is a need for candidates. It’s certainly been an abrupt change that has left many scratching their heads, but there is almost no time to wrap your head around it if you want to stay in the game. This is a new war for talent unlike any we’ve seen before, and candidates have the upper hand. It’s created a need for a solution to solve two things: firstly, to identify skills in candidates that traditional ways of hiring failed to identify (I call this cohort “undiscovered talent”) and a strong candidate experience (you are the one being interviewed from the moment they hit “apply”).
I thought it was worth looking at how the “war of talent” has evolved since it was first coined by Steven Hankin at McKinsey & Company in 1997. At that time there was a shift in the way that companies valued their talent, and it became seen as important to attract the best in order to have a successful organisation. It’s hard to think about this now, but at that time the whole idea of cultivating company cultures that aimed to elevate and value employees was new. At this stage though the “war” was largely for executive talent with recruiters focusing on building their brand by poaching star C-Suite talent off competitors, wooing them with big sign-up bonuses and lavish overtures like unexpected gifts and trips.
As tech companies started to become the big players in the market, the focus turned from business acumen to the need for the best digital and technical talent. Recruiting became less about material perks (though many engineers still commanded high salaries) but also about giving talent things they wanted besides just money. Flexibility, free lunches, unlimited holidays and creating cultures that were about “working hard and having fun” were how the war for technical talent was won. This was really a time of culture wars between companies, but also meant that many companies hired only for culture-fit. This resulted in fairly homogenous teams that were largely white male techbros, and eventually many large tech companies were called out on it. Beyond tech, corporates were also waking up to the fact that they had some serious diversity issues that needed to be addressed. This led to a new war. The war for diverse talent.
Pre-COVID, hiring more diversely was a strong focus for companies to find the best talent. We all know that diverse teams result in better business outcomes and anyone who had a “pale, male and stale” executive team was seen as minted in the past. Coupled with Black Lives Matter, which became a global movement to address racial inequality from the C-suite down, finding more diverse talent through reducing bias in hiring, was where the war was being fought. This is not a won battle by the way, and remains a large focus for many companies that we work with and help. Importantly, finding diverse talent is still a key part of this new and emerging next phase of the “war on talent” … the one where workers have the upper hand. The one where candidates are in short supply, and people want jobs that suit them just as much as whether they are seen as just suited to the job.
Recruiters have been forced to look at people differently – and this is not a bad thing. Factors like age, ethnicity, education, gender and even past experience that obscured our understanding of someone’s ability to do a job have all been cancelled as qualifying factors. Soft skills, or human skills, have become the focus on what we need to understand in order to assess someone’s suitability to do a job. Are they a team player? Do they like to problem solve? How aligned are they to our company values? Are they self-aware and in touch with their emotions? Can they put stress aside to achieve outcomes?
“What we recruit for” has significantly shifted for many already, but there is still some catching up to do on the “how we recruit”. To be blunt, CV’s and cover letters begging recruiters to “pick me!” serve no purpose in this new battle. They ask too much of candidates from the outset, serve no valuable purpose in the information they provide, confirm our biases and just create work on the HR manager’s side.
We need to walk in a candidate’s shoes and make sure that our recruiting process puts them first, treats them fairly and without bias, meets them where they are at, and is both friendly and informative. And, HR teams need to do this all while working efficiently and fast. Speed is crucial when talent is in short supply.
Impossible? No, not at all. Recruiters need to understand that Ai platforms like ours exist to solve all these problems. We’re not a “technical” solution, but a human one, in that we can accurately identify soft skills immediately and engage with candidates in a one-on-one way, at scale.
You cannot win this war on talent without chat-driven Ai technology. Technology like ours is the only way you can quickly understand the real human skills that every candidate brings to the table, without dismissing anyone upfront.
I can’t help but think that these issues we’re facing as recruiters and HR managers right now, where workers have the upper hand, while unchartered territory, will only serve our industry for the better. It’s a chance to give everyone a fair go, truly understand them, treat them with the dignity they deserve … and still hire better teams.
Maybe it’s not a battle after all. Maybe it’s a win-win.
For more on how to improve candidate experience using recruitment automation, we have a great eBook on candidate experience.