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How to Compete for Talent in the Digital Age

Regardless of industry or size, all companies must now develop a digitalization strategy and, key to this, is working out what new skills and experience their employees need; this requires a new approach to recruiting

Digitalization is changing the way companies, across all industries, create revenue and deliver new types of value to customers. As companies work to make sense of how this upends their industry, their competitors, and a large proportion of their day-to-day processes, one particular challenge stands out: an intense competition for employees that have the right “digital skills.”

Digital skills are defined as the ability to develop, implement, and use digital technologies in the workplace. And, as digital advances transform business operations and go-to-market models, all firms are feeling the pressure to hire employees with digital skills. These skills are now in demand across sectors and within roles that traditionally did not require them. Marketing managers, customer service reps, accountants, auditors, and lawyers all need to be able to navigate the evolving digital landscape, including new software, analytical techniques, and reporting platforms.

Companies that are responding best to this new reality, and understand how the right employees can give them a real competitive advantage, have modified traditional recruiting approaches. This means that instead of recruiting teams just trying to do what the business asks them to (“find me better employees more quickly”), they take a more labor market-centric view of their recruitment process by understanding what skill gaps will appear over the next three to five years, and how they should start to think about filling them now.

Four Sourcing Strategies

There are four steps to taking a more labor market-centric approach to recruiting.

  1. Understanding and confronting brand misperception: At most companies, employee communications comprise a handful of blandly aspirational messages on career development and social responsibility. But candidates easily tune out this kind of “white noise” and instead, turn to other sources of information for an unvarnished look at what the company offers. This could be through social media for crowdsourced information on the company, reviews on Glassdoor, or profiles of potential team members on networking sites.

    For example, US telecommunications conglomerate, AT&T, used market research to determine why recent college graduates kept rejecting its job offers. The two main reasons were the company’s location in Dallas and a perception that the industry was not exciting or innovative.

    The company found greater recruiting success when it addressed these misperceptions. The recruiting team brought college graduates to Dallas; introduced them to the entrepreneurial community; took them to see AT&T Stadium (home of the Dallas Cowboys), where they got to see AT&T technology in action (and play some American football).

  2. Coaching prospects’ career decisions: Recruiters taking this new approach reposition themselves as “career coaches” to reach in-demand employees numbed by an overload of recruitment initiatives.

    This type of recruiter does not focus on selling the job role, but instead prompts candidates to think about their career goals, where their strengths lie, and then helps them consider their options. This transparent approach increases the chances of hiring the right candidates for the right roles.

    For example, a large investment services company created candidate personas to understand what motivated critical marketing talent. Developing candidate personas helps companies take a candidate-centric approach that outlines the most suitable personality and employee attributes for different jobs.

  3. Cultivating critical talent supply: Today, candidates are recognized as an important stakeholder in the hiring process. This is because of the scarcity of critical talent as well as the way that candidate expectations are changing. Candidates expect a transparent and open two-way hiring process that encourages feedback and dialogue.

    However, when talent is in short supply, companies must look at other ways to expand the talent pool. One way is separating the skills, intelligence, and temperament required to do a job from its description. This allows companies to access larger and different talent pools.

    For example, a financial tech firm hiring for positions with a mix of technical and financial skills might look for two members of a team, one to provide the technical skill and the other to provide financial industry experience.

  4. Adopting a flexible planning strategy: Recruiting is typically dependent on an annual, top-down hiring plan, which cannot predict the kind of talent required as needs change. Often, a better alternative is a bottom-up approach as managers are far more aware of how jobs are changing and the skills required for it.

    For example, a global engineering company, CH2M, recognized that top-down hiring forecasts from its Finance team were neither timely nor accurate enough to help recruit the right employees as the market changed. CH2M then sent talent managers to the front lines where most of the hiring decisions are made so they could collect information around how much hiring would happen over the next three to four months, what kinds of jobs there are going to be and the need for new hires.

Overall, digitalization raises the demand for new skills and the more forward-thinking companies are using labor market intelligence to identify emerging skills and avoid talent shortages. New technology means that the way to perform certain jobs is changing rapidly and, as a result, companies have to modify search criteria to identify new pools of talent.


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