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Fine-tune recruiting in tight job market


As the job market begins to warm up and unemployment subsides to near 5 percent, many businesses get concerned about employee recruitment and retention. Spot shortages in certain occupations typically begin to occur as the unemployment rate falls below 5 percent.

As recently as June 2000, employers in Greater Des Moines were experiencing serious labor shortages, particularly among highly skilled workers, as the local unemployment rate dropped to 1.9 percent. (Employers might be able to find workers when the unemployment rate is extremely low, but those workers are often of lesser quality, which hurts productivity.)

Beginning with recruitment, companies should view potential job applicants as customers. You are trying to get job applicants to “buy” a job or an organization. From this perspective, recruitment is the same as marketing. The same principles that apply to marketing a product to consumers apply to marketing the organization to job applicants. To increase job applications, businesses in Central Iowa first need to get the information out to prospective employees that jobs are available. This requires much more than putting a want ad in the newspaper. Many firms use more aggressive recruitment methods and hire full-time recruiting specialists. Others rely on headhunters.

Still other firms rely on offering uncommon benefits that attract an unusual group of employees. For example, Principal Financial Group Inc. and other firms listed in Fortune magazine’s list of “100 Best Places to Work” offer an array of unusual, often family-friendly benefits. Research conducted at the Iowa State University College of Business by finance professor Mark Power and me suggests that it is important to fully convey the financial implications of those benefits to attract job applicants. Regardless, effective recruitment is costly.

Once someone applies, you must provide the applicant with red-carpet treatment. All applicants should receive a recruiting packet describing desirable attributes of the business and of Central Iowa. The application needs to be processed quickly, or you might lose the prospect to the competition. When interviewing, treat the applicant courteously, convey the realistic positive attributes of the business and be certain he or she leaves the interview feeling wanted. It is good to have an applicant leave with a positive view of the firm and hoping that they will get the job. Even rejected job applicants might provide positive word-of-mouth advertising if they were treated well, which can help other recruiting efforts.

Retention is a very different matter. Some firms have few problems retaining employees even in tight labor markets. How do they do it? First, retention is directly linked to job satisfaction. If the morale of your workforce is high, retention is relatively easy. Fortunately for businesses, there are many ways to improve employee job satisfaction. Pay and benefits are important for most employees. Others view the way they are treated at work as an important aspect of job satisfaction; successful diversity programs are often associated with this type of job satisfaction. Still others may simply like the type of work they do.

This does not mean you need to do well in every category. If you can do one thing better than the competition, you will have fewer retention problems. It helps to decide which of these is easiest for your firm to do with the resources available.

Effective recruitment and retention are all about the way you treat people. This should hardly be surprising to anyone. However, the stories I’ve heard over the years suggest that this common sense is not common among managers.

James Werbel is a professor of management at the Iowa State University College of Business.

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