The first week of October came and went, recently, and with it Austin Startup Week 2018. In years past, I was so hyper-focused on the responsibilities as an employee in the Austin startup scene that I rarely took advantage of the hundreds of panels, speakers and events that were available.

This year, being self-employed afforded the opportunity to grant myself permission to fully participate. In addition to (hopefully) providing value in my own talk — Engineering Excellence: Best Practices of High-Performing Teams — I got to spend at least a little time attending a handful of sessions.

One of the sessions in the HR and Culture track was especially attractive, given a focus & obsession I have to help growing companies attract, acquire & retain the type of talent they need to grow and succeed. It was a panel discussion titled Your Employer Brand: Strategies that Attract Top Tech Talent, hosted at Walmart Tech and sponsored by HIRED.

The supplemental materials provided by the sponsor included their 2018 Global Brand Health Report, a 51-page booklet where “Tech workers reveal the companies they want to work for and what they value in a job offer.”

The Report, while brief, provided a ton of useful data and insights. What follows are just a few takeaways that could be valuable for any employer, regardless of size or industry.

Prologue: We’re [ALL] Hiring

It’s safe to say that nearly every organization has one or more open positions at the moment. If your company is growing, you’re hiring. If your growth has leveled-off, you’ve probably lost a couple team members to new opportunities, so you’re trying to backfill those positions. If you’re in the uncomfortable position of being a business on the decline, you could very well have the most urgent hiring needs out of anyone.

At last measurement in September, unemployment in the U.S. was reported at around 3.7%. Rather than get into how unemployment rates, inflation, wage hikes and other factors all impact one another, it’s best to understand that 3.7% unemployment is the lowest rate in nearly 50 years.

Point is: The Job Market is TIGHT, which means you as an employer need to at least consider anything that can provide a competitive advantage. While I knew some of these things at the time, I wish I’d had all of this information when I was fighting the good fight as a hiring manager.

Insights for Successful Outreach (AKA “Outbound Sales for HR”)

Due to these “Full Employment” conditions, any company who is aggressively staffing-up must be reaching out to job-seekers in a variety of ways if they hope to be successful. So what contributes to successful outreach? Some of the things that make candidates most likely to engage with your company include when:

  1. You disclose Salary information up-front
    More and more employers provide some level of transparent compensation data to their employees, so why not extend that information to job-seekers? There are dozens of websites reporting industry averages and even reported salaries from your company’s current and former employees across a variety of positions. A lot of times, that data is outdated or even simply inaccurate. You might as well set the record straight with potential candidates. At best, they find the transparency refreshing and the salary range attractive enough to engage. At worst, you lose the interest of someone who would eventually turn down your opportunity on the basis of salary, and you’ve just saved a bunch of people hours of their time.

     Reach out prepared with the full package of compensation and benefits, so the talent you’re so interested in has a fullunderstanding of what you offer.

  2. You clearly communicate work experience expectations
    There’s a reason the term “Passive job-seekers” exists: They’re not engaged in the time- and focus-commitment that’s required of actively considering new opportunities. So when they are attracted to a new opportunity, they want to be as confident as possible that they’re a fit on paper. Does “5–7 years Java experience” really mean 5–7 years, or is it negotiable if they have some other valuable and hard-to-find expertise?

     Before contacting talent, get crystal clear with hiring managers on what skills (and skill-levels) are completely non-negotiable, and where there might be some wiggle room. Also, work with hiring managers to better describe the degree of expertise they want for each skill. If you’ve ever met someone with 10 years experience who reallyhad the same 1 year of experience for 10 straight years, you’ll know what I mean.
  3. They receive a personalized message
    I’ll keep saying this to anyone who’ll listen: Recruiting and Dating are basically the same thing (Seriously, the parallels are astounding and a little bit depressing). And, as it is in Dating, nobody wants to feel like another faceless name — or is it nameless face? — in some soulless numbers game. They want to feel special, like they’re the prettiest girl at this dance. The least you can do is communicate with them like they’re a human being.

     Do your research. At minimum, find out one or two remotely interesting things, even if it’s just about their alma mater, the length of tenure, or the series of promotions they received at their current gig. Ask them a question outside of whether they’re “currently considering new opportunities.”
  4. They recognize the company name
    In another post, I’ll outline a few turn-offs that revolve around company product & mission. For now, though, it’s a pretty low bar for a candidate to say, “I’ll talk to you if I’ve heard OF the company.”

    RECOMMENDATION: Increase company visibility in the local community and on social media. Sponsor industry and community events. For a few hundred dollars you could overcome the most basic of hurdles that could keep a job-seeker from engaging with you.

  5. They know a friend or former colleague who works at your company
    That we live in the most connected time in history should surprise no one. And in a tight job economy, the best talent is only going to leave the comfort and security of their current job if they greatly minimize their own risk. Part of the research they do on a new suitor (that’s you) is going to include tapping their network for the inside scoop on your organization.
    RECOMMENDATION: Focus the bulk of your efforts on talent who has some kind of connection to your company, even if they’re 2 or 3 degrees from Kevin Bacon himself.

In summary, there are a lot of wrong ways to operate as an employer, staffing firm or recruiting agency when it comes to candidate outreach. Perhaps, if you can focus first on doing the things that talent likes, you won’t have to rely so much on the cringe-inducing tactics that make candidates want to avoid “playing the field” for the rest of time.

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