The “war for talent” was first identified by McKinsey & Company more than 20 years ago but in the intervening years it’s become one of the most acute pain points for enterprises in this modern technological era.
Where once organizations dictated the terms of recruiting and managing talent, prospective employees are now exerting an unprecedented degree of authority and autonomy within this process. The supply of talent, as it were, is drying up, empowering desirable candidates to become more discerning about where they choose to work.
Talent acquisition in the talent economy
Talent is getting harder to find as a result of a culmination of factors, but we’re going to briefly highlight some of the primary systemic forces at play. For starters, people looking for jobs have, for the most part, been fortunate enough to find them. Since the economy began recovering from the Great Recession, unemployment has been trending downward. As recently as January 2018, the monthly unemployment rate was 4.1%—the lowest it’s been in ten years.
However, employers are not having the same luck in filling their openings. The labor pool (candidates entering the labor force and looking for jobs) and job creation are both growing, but not at the same rate. Job creation is outpacing labor pool growth at a rate of 2:1. Summed up in the words of Andrew Graft, “for every new worker now entering the labor force, two new jobs are waiting to be filled.”
Not only do organizations have more openings than they’d prefer to, some of these positions are hard to fill for other reasons. It’s estimated that 10,000 Baby Boomers retire from the labor force every day. The Boomers have stuck around longer than anyone initially anticipated, and the positions they’re leaving demand highly-specialized skill sets from prospective replacements—skill sets that are needed now, but will need to be developed over time in younger talent.
The result of all this is a nuanced predicament where factors that sound good on the surface (really, who is against low unemployment, retirement, and job creation?) are producing outcomes that selectively favor talent and not those who seek to acquire it. Now, enterprises are competing in a talent economy to attract the same diminishing pool of qualified candidates.
Claire Hinton, in her role as a Senior Analyst in Talent Acquisition, combats these factors by leveraging data and market research to make Esurance attractive to prospective talent. In this installment of Around the Bonfyre, we sat down with Hinton to discuss talent acquisition’s evolving strategic capabilities, the process of developing an employer value proposition, and why “culture add” is often one of the most attractive qualities a candidate can have.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and readability.
What do you feel are some of the most pressing issues in the talent arena?
For recruiters, some of the difficulties are due to the current state of the labor market. Some of the regions we recruit in have unemployment rates as low as 2.5%. It can be very difficult to recruit for back to back hiring classes in markets with such low unemployment. Here in San Francisco, there’s also a lot of competition, especially in IT and data. When we look at talent market data for some open requisitions, these positions require skills sets that very few people in the nation have. To solve for this, you develop talent internally or recruit external talent and develop their skills for the types of roles you want to fill.
You identified several factors here: stiff competition, a shortage of talent, and a need for highly-specialized skills. What role do you play in combating those issues?
I look at marketing activities we can do from a talent attraction perspective to capture people. Are there sourcing tools we can use to help our recruiters find people with the right skills? Which sites are candidates actively searching on? How can we increase our brand awareness to attract passive candidates? We also review historical data to determine which platforms have brought in quality hires.
Do you work with data in your role?
When we have data, hiring managers are more flexible and expectations can be set. There’s a tool we use that measures the supply of talent and the demand from employers. If there’s a specific job we’re looking for, we can identify supply, demand, and average salary in particular locations. If the demand far exceeds the supply, we evaluate what levers to pull to fill the position.
Are there any trends that you’ve noticed talent looking for in employers today?
It depends on the market you’re in. In San Francisco, there are tons of tech companies that offer benefits that are uncommon in other places in the country—unlimited PTO, equity, catered lunches. In the upcoming year, we are further developing our employee value proposition. We’ll be reviewing what candidates are looking for in an employer, what we’re currently providing, and how we can fill any gaps between the two.
Is there any one component of that value proposition you feel is the most important to define?
The most important thing is that the value proposition resonates with internal employees. If we roll out this thing that says, “Here’s what we offer to attract people,” and it doesn’t align with our employees’ perception, we could lose a lot of credibility. That could lead to turnover and poor brand reputation. It’s very important to us that we develop something truthful and meaningful to what our employees want and have.
That’s interesting because you’re examining the relationship that talent acquisition has with the company’s broader cultural identity. What are your thoughts on how working in talent shapes culture?
Employers are moving away from hiring for “culture fit” and are now looking for “culture add.” In other words, new hires don’t have to be the same as who we already have, but would bring a diverse perspective and mesh well so the team works together successfully.
What’s more attractive in a candidate, someone with “culture add” qualities or someone with most of the technical skills you’re looking for?
Of course both are ideal. You want someone who adds to the culture and who also has the skills required for the role. But I will say that skills can be taught.
“If someone has high learning agility, they can develop these skills on the job. Teaching someone to change behaviors is much more difficult.”
I would say cultural add is more important than skills.
What sort of qualities does Esurance value culturally?
Welcoming and driving change is important. Communicating openly and respectfully is also important. We really value people who take initiative and think about how our decisions affect our customers, and strive to do what’s best for them. Esurance employees are collaborative and put the interests of the broader team above their own.
What are some skills or resources that someone in your role needs to be successful?
They need the ability to communicate clearly to different audiences, whether that’s leadership, peers, or other internal teams. Also the ability to interpret and explain data to people who may not understand it, connecting the dots and making it clear how it affects them. Being flexible is also important—change is inevitable and happens in every organization. We live in a fast-paced world, and anyone in any position needs to be adaptable.
What’s the most challenging part about working in talent? What’s the most exciting?
The most challenging piece is that hiring isn’t getting any easier. That puts a lot of pressure on our recruiters. Hiring managers are looking for “unicorns” of the talent world, and it’s not getting any easier to find them. What’s exciting is the opportunity to innovate. Recruiting continues to evolve to meet the demands of the market, and we’re always thinking of new ways to improve our processes. There are also lots of exciting new tools to support recruiting, and we get to evaluate which ones will help us meet our end goal.