Leadership Perspective

Attracting Top Talent to Your Enterprise in the Most Competitive Job Market Ever

Thoughts from

Paul Lesser

TA Consultant & Former SVP Talent & Learning at Fidelity

Paul spent 26 years at Fidelity, where he held a variety of senior leadership roles in talent acquisition and HR. Most recently, he was the Sr. Vice President of Talent Acquisition, Talent Development, and Learning until he retired and took on strategic advisory roles for a variety of companies in the space.

January 26, 2022

I decided to get into recruiting back in 1987 when my mentor told me, “this is going to be a booming industry with the growing need for talent.” It was a bold statement at the time, considering most people stayed at the same company for 20+ years and we weren’t yet in the age of technology and hypergrowth. But wow, was he right.

Fast-forward to today and talent acquisition is a central driver of any company’s success – or lack thereof. Whether you need to digitally transform (like Fidelity), or simply grow faster and faster (like most tech companies), implementing the right strategies and processes to hire great people at scale is paramount. It’s a tough task under normal circumstances, and one that’s become even more complex as almost everything about the labor market has changed in the past two years.

In this article, I’ll share some of the challenges I faced leading a global org responsible for bringing in thousands of new hires per year across all types of roles – from call center representatives to technology talent that needed to be convinced to start a career in financial services.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, but through lots of trial and error, I’ve discovered a few keys to success that I hope you’ll find helpful.

New challenges require enterprises to throw out the traditional playbook

Today’s recruiting environment looks nothing like that of even a year ago. While some changes were COVID-specific, most were already on the horizon and simply got accelerated by a shock to the system. The most notable are:

  • Greater demand for labor than supply.
    The global shift to digital paired with a hot economy has made most roles hard to fill – from data scientists to engineers to the recruiters needed to hire them all. Reskilling is an important strategy, but it takes time and isn’t enough to support organizations that need rapid change at scale.
  • No region or talent pool is safe.
    Many enterprises used to be the biggest game in town and no longer are. For example, Fidelity spent multiple decades building up presences in Boston, Texas, and North Carolina. Now, big tech companies like Google and Facebook, as well as tech startups, are ramping up recruiting outside of the west coast. This increased competition makes it harder for enterprises to attract talent and keep pace with local market pay.
  • The workforce is demanding more from employers.
    Offering a good job at a good company is no longer enough. Workers are seeking location flexibility, competitive pay, an inclusive culture, more work-life balance, and continued learning and development. This is especially true for those with the most in-demand skills. Making matters more complex, the workforce is closely watching how companies support their employees during COVID, which raises the stakes on every policy decision.

Enterprise talent executives must drive organizational change

The shifts in the labor market are so drastic that we can’t leave it to recruiters and managers to figure out hiring on their own through creative recruiting. Success requires air cover from the company on everything from recruiting process and technology to compensation and talent branding. TA leaders are uniquely suited to drive these initiatives, in close collaboration with their business partners.

While there’s certainly no silver bullet, I’ve outlined four strategies that have worked for me in elevating the success of global talent acquisition efforts within today’s recruiting environment:

  1. Nail your recruiting process
  2. Embrace uncomfortable conversations internally
  3. Overinvest in technology
  4. "Show don't tell" to shape your employer brand

1. Nail your recruiting process

If there’s one thing I feel strongly about, it’s that companies with the best candidate experience win. Word of mouth, social media, and review sites can be your best friend or worst enemy. And if they work in your favor, it creates a virtuous cycle that fuels more and more hiring success.

As a TA leader, some of this is outside your control. But there’s nothing worse for candidates – and more avoidable – than a disorganized process where the panel doesn’t operate like a team. I’ve seen it far too many times where nobody asks key screening questions, other questions get asked four times, and there isn’t timely follow-up to educate candidates on where they stand and what’s next.

Creating a great candidate experience is all about teamwork and developing a consistent recruiting process that’s followed by everyone involved. Effective TA leaders partner closely with other executives to get it right, and troubleshoot quickly as issues arise.

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all model, but here are a few process changes I’ve implemented to improve candidate reviews and feedback:

  • Ensure recruiters can speak the language of their candidates.I’ve accomplished this by embedding recruiters within specific business units and teams. If they come from the field they’re recruiting for, even better. Domain expertise is the only way to effectively provide clarity on the position and sell the opportunity to passive candidates who aren’t actively looking.
  • Cover disqualifiers upfront.
    These include skills gaps, comp misalignment, and reasons for leaving past positions. This seems obvious, but a consistent screening questionnaire has to be built into the process or you’ll find out in the debrief that nobody collected the information that’s needed most.
  • Clearly define roles within the interview team.
    Each person should be assigned specific competencies to screen for, which leads to a more complete picture of the candidate’s fit while eliminating the possibility that the same questions will get asked over and over. The best way to get aligned is with a standardized prep doc filled in by the recruiter and hiring manager, as well as a pre-brief meeting with the whole hiring team.
  • Provide honest feedback that helps the candidate improve.
    Most companies share generic reasons for a lack of fit and miss a great opportunity to build a positive relationship amongst the candidate, recruiter, and hiring manager. It’s very possible they’ll be a fit for a future role, or will know someone who may be exactly what you need. Recruiters and hiring managers rarely enjoy delivering tough messages, but a 15-20 minute discussion will go a long way toward nurturing the candidate relationship, while demonstrating the respect the company has in its talent selection process.

2. Embrace uncomfortable conversations internally

Recruiting is a team sport and the Head of TA needs to insist that leaders throughout the company do their part. Otherwise, the TA leader is set up to fail, which is bad for everyone.

The primary grounds for debate is usually the balance between hiring speed, quality, and diversity. Unsurprisingly, business leaders and hiring managers want it all. But getting all three at the same time is impossible on a consistent basis.

That’s why, at Fidelity, I pushed hard to measure success by more than just time-to-hire. We also looked at the number of diverse candidates interviewed and the number hired, all the way down to the individual role.

Diversity improves team performance and we have decades worth of data to prove it. But recruiting for diversity – whether that be gender, race, educational background, or skill set – takes time. And hiring managers, while well-meaning, usually just want to hire quickly and get their projects done. That’s why the TA Leader needs to insist on alignment from their executive counterparts.

One controversial stance I took is that we should rely less on employee referrals. People tend to know others like themselves, so if you have a diversity problem, you won’t solve it by raising the referral bonus. You may even make it worse. 

For diversity to become a reality, teams need to take a number of steps. One is to open roles more proactively and build in time for diversity sourcing. Another I recommend is mandating interview training, which should include a D&I component. We have all sorts of unconscious biases that we need to be aware of in order to interview in a way that’s inclusive, consistent, and fair to all. By making training a requirement for opening a job req, there is a natural incentive to ensure it happens.

Getting the recruiting process right means everyone involved has to dedicate a lot more time to training and interview prep, which can be a tough conversation to have with busy executives and hiring managers. Even if they’re aligned with you philosophically, putting the plan into action can create resistance when it puts their short-term objectives at risk. 

Effective TA leaders will embrace these discussions, no matter how uncomfortable, because they’re crucial to the candidate experience and the success of the company in the long run.

Recruiting is a team sport and the Head of TA needs to insist that leaders throughout the company do their part. Otherwise, the TA leader is set up to fail, which is bad for everyone.

3. Overinvest in technology

Recruiting tech has undergone massive change in the past 2-3 years and modern software can give you an edge by automating tedious tasks and providing real-time data that guides decisions.

TA Leaders should be working closely with the CHRO, CFO, and CIO to discuss and agree on the technology strategy for recruiting. I’ve been most effective in securing buy-in by starting with a needs assessment, then using a cost-benefit analysis to determine the right level of investment together.

A big area where technology can give you an advantage is candidate experience. In most cases, top candidates are not actively applying to roles, and when you catch their attention, they are more likely than others to drop out of the process at the slightest glitch.

Setting aside time for sourcing in order to build quality, diverse candidate slates is a must. There are now tools that help automate the process of capturing candidate information, enriching profiles with contact details and skills, and reaching out via email, InMail, or other methods.

In addition, a good candidate relationship management (CRM) tool can help you track interactions with candidates – both sourced or inbound – in one place and coordinate custom engagement sequences based on where they are in the process.

Finally, it’s now possible to have data on everything. Much like our counterparts in sales and marketing can get real-time insights on the customer acquisition funnel, the same is now available to TA leaders and their teams. I’ve found access to data to be a game-changer in enabling me to identify opportunities to improve across my TA organization.

TA Leaders should be working closely with the CHRO, CFO, and CIO to discuss and agree on the technology strategy for recruiting.

4. “Show don’t tell” to shape your employer brand

Certain employers, like Google, are well-known for their work environment because they’ve spent years building their talent brand. Enterprises now need to adopt similar tactics to successfully undergo digital transformation and compete in today’s job market where opportunities are plentiful and many in-demand skills are rare.

The more established your company is, the more existing baggage may come with your brand. Most of it may be untrue or misguided, but nonetheless, changing perception is needed.

For example, financial services companies are often thought of as slow-moving and behind the times. At Fidelity, we had many new business units where that was far from the case. So we focused a lot on thought leadership and showcasing various hiring teams’ expertise through tech talks, videos, and webinars.

One of our top success stories was with data science hiring. The team developed a whole campaign about their vision for using data to improve the customer experience through a modern tech stack built on AWS. Real examples of work put into action helped candidates quickly see that the team felt “small,” and their work would be highly-impactful with lots of exposure to leadership. This was a huge appeal considering much of the talent in the field came from big tech companies, with very large teams, where a high percentage of the work was shelved before making it to production. 

This type of talent branding work paid dividends across a number of key business units, leading to rises in both applications and hires. Often, the people you want to hire have no idea what it would be like to work at your company until you show them.

The unique opportunity for talent leaders in 2022 and beyond

I got into TA almost 30 years ago with the belief that it would be “a booming industry” someday. And we’re well beyond that destination at this point.

Finding great people is everything – especially for companies undergoing massive digital transformation. This puts TA leaders in position to become visionaries and changemakers.

But that doesn’t mean you should go it alone. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that recruiting is a team sport. The most rewarding moments of my career were when I was able to successfully collaborate with business leaders throughout the company.

With the right strategies, processes, and cross-functional partnerships in place, there’s nothing stopping you from success – even in this labor market.

I hope you found this useful, and if there’s anything I can do to be helpful, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me on LinkedIn! Like all challenges in business today, we are all in this together. I would love to hear your thoughts on best practices, trends and challenges.