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Ask the HR Expert: Recruiting & Retention

Posted by NEHRA  October 8, 2010 09:00 AM

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Q. As the job market begins to pick up, what creative things are companies doing to retain their top talent?

A. Good companies recognize that retention in a lagging job market is equally as important as in a booming market. If companies have taken their eye off the ball during the last couple of years, they will most likely experience attrition as the job market begins to turn upward. Smart employers keep their employees engaged even when budgets have been cut. Even if there are not funds available to pay bonuses or give big pay increases, there are many ways to engage and reward employees. A January 2010 article in “Retaining Top Talent with Non-Monetary Rewards”, states the following 7 things companies can do to retain their top talent when spending a lot of money is not an option:

  1. Verbal Praise
  2. Achievement Awards
  3. Learning and Development
  4. Fun and Recreation Events
  5. Company Wide Attention
  6. Impactful and Meaningful work
  7. Feedback

These ideas might seem obvious, but as the article notes, often it’s the small things that have the biggest and lasting impact on people.


Q. How has the tight job market impacted the interview process?

A. Clearly the last 18-24 months have been an employers market. In contrast to the prior years, when candidates received multiple offers and hefty sign on bonuses, candidates today are experiencing longer and often more demanding processes in order to land a job. Employers are no longer feeling the pressure to truncate hiring practices in order to meet the demands of a competitive labor market. Colleagues I’ve spoken to relay stories of going in 4-5 interviews with one company before a hiring decision is made; others are being asked to conduct formal presentations and/or submit a comprehensive business analysis on how they would tackle issues.

In addition to a longer and more demanding interview process, candidates are finding the job requirements to be more demanding as well. Job postings are more frequently asking for broader and deeper experience. Employers who are searching for a specific skill set are not as willing to compromise in order to fill the job quicker. All of this points to the fact that candidates need to be at their best, which means being well prepared for the interview and ready to sell themselves as the best person for the job.


Q. What industries are hiring HR professionals and at what levels?

A. According to Boston area HR search firms, the market has picked up considerably in the last 30 days. The biotech and pharmaceuticals industry is leading the pack, with firms like Genzyme and Shire posting new jobs on a regular basis. While healthcare is showing some signs of promise, the financial services industry continues to lag and in some cases is still experiencing layoffs for HR staff.

The opportunities range from “experienced” entry level positions such as HR specialists and compensation analysts, to mid and more senior roles, such as HR generalists and staffing managers. The space that is seeing the least amount of opportunity right now is the senior to executive level. Professionals with 15+ years of experiencing are facing upwards of 18 months of unemployment at this stage and the market does not look promising in the short term. More and more people at this level are taking temporary assignments with the hopes that it will turn permanent once the job market picks up. An approach that has often been reserved for recruiters, being a “contractor” has opened up opportunities for people with 15+years of experience. Assignments such as providing coverage for an HR Director going on maternity leave or providing project management support on a major OD initiative allow experienced and talented HR professionals to continue to hone their skills until a more permanent opportunity is secured.


Q. With the business environment slowly improving, we’re feeling an undercurrent of discontent among employees, and I’m worried about a potential increase in our turnover. But, we realistically can’t worry about retaining everyone? How do we focus on retaining our key employees while at the same time providing some retention support to the larger organization?

A. It is great that you are tapped into how “engaged” your employees are. A preemptive approach to retaining your most valuable employees will save you a lot of time and money down the road. First, make sure you are focusing on and correctly identifying your “key employees”. For example, in addition to your current star players, are you including employees that have the potential to become top performers, but just might not be there yet? Your “key employees” focus needs to address both groups.

To quickly address potential the threat of losing key employees, address these two critical areas:

  • Understand who the person is- what drives and motivates them. You know what they are good at, but do you know what they like to do? A job and culture that addresses the both of these things will maximize that employee’s performance and retention level, thereby decreasing the chances he/she will look elsewhere.

  • The quality of relationship with his/her supervisor. The quality of the supervision and development an employee receives is critical to employee retention. This goes beyond how much the employee likes his/her boss, to how the supervisor addresses expectations, feedback on performance, and framework for career development. Make sure the relationship between the employee and his/her boss addresses these topics.

Regarding the larger organization as a whole, to address a larger retention problem down the road, focus on improving your communication - the how, what and when. Develop a framework for key messages and everyday communication. How connected employees feel to their jobs, the organization and the direction of the business plays a big role in how connected they are with the organization’s mission and aspirations.


Q. Having a lot of potential candidates to choose from seems to be making the right match more difficult. We are seeing a lot of potential sales candidates that are good at telling us what we want to hear. How do we look past the honeymoon phase and evaluate candidates based on what they will do when a crisis hits, or if they have the actual ability to originate sales vs. manage client relationships?

A. It sounds like you’ve experienced the pain of many of us, realizing shortly after a hire that it was a mistake. And with this mistake comes the cost of looking again (finding, interviewing, training, etc.) as well as opportunities lost while the person you hired was underperforming.

How good of a match someone is for a job and company extends beyond their education and experience. In fact, most research shows that people are hired based on their education and employment history, but are fired because of behavior, strengths, or attitude.

Let’s assume, you are clear with the industry, background, and technical requirements necessary for a person to succeed in your role. Do you know how you need this person to build relationships, how assertive they are, how much of a sense of urgency you need him/her to have, or how driven they are? What about how and when he/she delegates and or how this person will interact as part of a team?

These are questions that address behavioral competencies. Focus your selection efforts on understanding the behavioral requirements for your positions, and target your interviewing of final candidates to how they match to this profile. There are valid behavioral assessment tools that you can legally use for selection, and that have been proven to be accurate and effective in selection. They can help you build a profile for your open positions, as well as compare potential candidates to this position, providing you with key areas to address with the candidate before you hire him/her.


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About NEHRA - The Voice of HR Featuring articles and resources for Human Resources / HR professional and hiring managers from the Northeast Human Resources Association (NEHRA).

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