Here are two things you should know about today’s candidate-first talent market

  • The best companies are radically changing how they hire people in 2018. (Inc.)
  • Talent precedes growth. (Joe Galvin, Vistage)

There are only so many great people out there and every company is competing to win and keep them. We all know that. But if the candidates you want most aren’t choosing you, or if your turnover rates are anything but low, what you may not know is that you could be unwittingly setting up barriers that turn people off. Following are the six most common barriers we see in companies nationwide and some proven solutions that apply to both internal and external candidates. Look deep into your culture and practices and change anything that’s separating you from the talent you need to grow.

Barrier #1:  Compensation or compensation structure that’s misaligned with the market

Nineteen percent of job seekers say compensation was the #1 factor for leaving their job in the last year (Jobvite). Money matters. You may have a range in mind that you want to pay for a particular position. Or, maybe it’s a new position and you’re unsure what the pay level should be. Before you start looking for the right person, search the market to see how closely the compensation you plan to offer matches what candidates expect and are getting. If you are not in alignment with the market, you’ve created a barrier to getting the best person for the job.

The obvious remedy is to increase the compensation you offer. But compensation isn’t the only way to attract and engage. If you can’t realistically pay more, here are examples that can help get candidates excited about your opportunity: reduce the level of required skills or experience; look for a more junior person you can train to close the gap over time; or offer strong professional training and development programs. And always highlight what makes your organization special: your culture, team spirit, growth opportunities, and any special perks and incentives that combine to make your company a great place to be.

Barrier #2:  Scope of role or job responsibilities is misaligned with market

You may have described a particular position or role differently than how it’s typically defined in the market, making it difficult for you or candidates to find a match. Take sales for example: Sales people are generally extroverts and love connecting with people in the market; they typically hate the administrative work associated with the sales process. If you emphasize the administrative side of the job in your description, working with you will seem boring and too internal-facing. The opposite might be true of candidates who prefer to be in internally-facing roles, but you’ve mixed administrative responsibilities with a heavy dose of client interaction, which could be a major turnoff for a talented introvert.

Solutions to these kinds of role barriers could be adding an administrative person to assist sales people; or designing the job description to better fit what people want, and may be getting elsewhere in the market.

Barrier #3: Looking for “the purple squirrel” with unrealistic requirements

Purple squirrels, or perfect candidates for your jobs, are almost as rare as unicorns. Don’t end your job search prematurely thinking that you’ve caught one. And don’t make your requirements so tight that you overlook gray, red, or black squirrels who may fill the role almost as well.

Although occasionally the needed expertise can’t be compromised, for most jobs there are ways to find a squirrel as close to purple as possible: Separate non-negotiable from nice-to-have qualifications in your job description; be open to equivalent qualifications; change the scope of the job; consider relocation; color your internal candidates purple through training and development; use assessments to add rigor to your hiring decisions; become an employer of choice; and something that’s critical to every company’s recruiting process, develop an ongoing pipeline of candidates so you don’t have to hire in emergency situations.

Barrier #4:  Not understanding the market: supply vs demand and passive/competitive

You are dealing with two sides of the market: candidate and business competitor. Each of these has both an active and passive aspect to it: job seekers may be out there looking or simply open to a change; competitors may have open positions or be building a pipeline. You need a deep market understanding on all counts, a compelling sales strategy, and a “what’s-in-it-for-me?” candidate strategy.

On the candidate side, ask these questions: How many there are in the market? How many are interested in your type of job? Who’s applying to jobs; are they accepting offers; and why or why not? How can you become more attractive? On the market side: How many competitors do you have and who are they? What do they offer and pay? Are they successfully winning candidates?

Barrier #5:  Negative employment branding or reputation

Culture and mission are powerful draws. Jobvite finds that 88 percent of people say that workplace culture is very or relatively important, and 32 percent would take a 10 percent pay cut to work for a company with a mission they’re passionate about.

If you’re struggling culturally, here are some questions to ask (and resolve issues before recruiting): Every company has one or more unique qualities; what are yours? How good are your processes and practices for hiring, interviewing, and onboarding candidates? Have you done a gap analysis to evaluate your culture and determine how you compare in the market and what you need to address? How is your reputation in terms of things like bad management practices, bullying, sexual harassment, and valuing diversity? How engaged are your employees? Are your mission and values aligned with your actions?

Barrier #6:  An ineffective recruitment process

Process may seem boring, but if you don’t pay attention to it, you undermine your recruiting efforts altogether. Here are some red flags: people deviating from your process; no consistent process at all; too many decision-makers in the process; not getting or using critical feedback as part of the process; and taking so long to make a decision that candidates lose interest and go away.

Process is an area where you may need the help of an expert. My advice is often to do a gap analysis to understand your issues up front. Sorry to say that no candidate is absolute perfection. You need a process that helps you find highly qualified people who fit into your culture; allows for an ultimate decision-maker to break through stuck committees; and communicates throughout with your candidates.

One of the best pieces of advice I can offer is: “retain while you recruit.” You want to find and keep the best people, and people want to work for the best company. Don’t let easily-resolved barriers keep you or the people you want from meeting that goal.

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is CEO of TalenTrust. Her first book, Solve the People Puzzle: How High-Growth Companies Attract and Retain Top Talent, debuted in February 2016. Her firm has achieved several awards including recognition from Inc.5000 in 2015 and 2016. She speaks frequently and advises CEOs on trends in talent and how to be strategic in developing a people strategy. Kathleen has served on several nonprofit boards including Colorado Companies to Watch and ACG-Denver. Reach Kathleen at or 303-838-3334.