How to Attract, Engage and Retain Talent in 2019

In today’s candidate-driven market, employers must be willing to give their employees more than just a paycheck. From the very first contact, companies must make every job seeker’s experience a top priority. A just-released report by Execu|Search Group provides a new guide to winning the talent wars.

February 13, 2019 – Hiring and retaining talent in a candidate-driven market has always been tough, but it is even more competitive today. With eight consecutive years of job gains, the U.S. unemployment rate fell to a five-decade low last year — signifying a powerful shift in the job market. While a candidate-driven market is definitely worth celebrating, employers too often hear the term without fully understanding what it means for them.

These days, professionals are commanding more than just higher salaries. In addition to getting paid what they know they are worth, they expect their job to provide personal fulfillment and meaning. If your employees do not feel supported, aren’t learning new skills for the future, or are disengaged with their work, they will move on. Execu|Search Group’s newly released “2019 Hiring Outlook” examines what it will take to win the war for talent this year and offers suggestions for employers looking to stand out with job seekers.

“While low unemployment rates may appear to be good news for job seekers, it is more challenging for employers who are focused on hiring and retaining the best talent,” said Tomilee Tilley Gill, founder and president of search firm Executives Unlimited.

“With professionals in the driver’s seat, they’re commanding more than just higher salaries,” said Edward Fleischman, CEO of Execu|Search Group. “Professionals consider their careers an integral part of their lives and they expect their job to provide meaning. Top performers who do not feel engaged or supported at work will be first to leave, so our 2019 hiring outlook is meant to provide employers with tools for creating a culture focused on building a strong employee experience.”

Candidate Experience

From the moment that a candidate first interacts with a company’s brand online to the time that they receive a job offer is a critical period. And as hiring becomes more competitive and the process moves even faster, a poor candidate experience can lead the right candidate to reject the job. “Alternatively, a good one creates a sense of excitement and urgency about working for the company,” the Execu|Search Group report said. “It can also lead to higher quality applicants, more hires and new referrals.” Seventy-five percent of job seekers said that the hiring process for their current job, from scheduling an interview to receiving an offer, took under four weeks.

With companies speeding up their hiring, those who delay during the process will miss out on top talent. “However, providing a strong candidate experience during this short time period requires knowing and understanding your candidates—something that many employers struggle with,” said Execu|Search Group. “While it’s certainly important to highlight your mission and values during the hiring process, employers also need to emphasize the factors that are most important to today’s professionals.”

Prolonging the hiring process with excessive contemplation over standout applicants can give the impression that a business is disorganized, unsure about its goals, and how it wants to achieve them, Ms. Tilley Gill said. “Additionally, it allows the applicant to stop and consider other potential opportunities,” she said. “In our current market, giving a candidate the option to look around is a sure-fire way to lose them.”

Promote Culture

Company culture has quickly become a top priority for many professionals. Today’s candidates are looking for an employer that offers them purpose, supports their employees both personally and professionally, and aligns with their values. “Since a company’s culture can make or break a job seeker’s decision to apply for a job and ultimately accept an offer, these are factors that everyone, from the CEO to prospective team members, needs to be emphasizing throughout the hiring process,” the Execu|Search Group report said.

Although competitive pay is a significant issue, money isn’t everything. “These factors all speak to an employee’s basic desire to feel like an asset to the company,” the search firm noted. “This sense of belonging is a key element of culture, which affects every aspect of a company from attracting talent to improving employee engagement.”

Gone are the days when more money meant more than staff motivation. “Today’s candidates also value intangible job benefits that make their work rewarding,” said Karen Fifer, global managing partner of Heidrick & Struggle’s consumer markets practice. “Culture, purpose and the satisfaction that comes from working with inspirational leaders are all increasingly important to candidates when choosing their next employer. To win the talent war, companies need to rethink and enhance their employment strategies and ensure that what is appealing about their brand and employment practices is externally visible.”


Five Things to Consider When Creating a Company Culture
HR executives and recruiters have been using the term “cultural fit” – generally defined as the ability of an employee to fit with the core beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that make up an organization – for a decade or two. 


In short, culture is the backbone of an organization. Said Mr. Fleischman: “Without an engaging company culture, employees will struggle to find meaning in their work — something that will not only impact your employees’ productivity and overall happiness, but can also affect how clients, customers, and prospective new hires perceive your company.”

Developing Talent 

What is abundantly clear about today’s competition for top talent is that many employers are losing the battle. Whether they’re struggling to find candidates in the hiring process or having difficulty retaining their best employees, the growing skills gap often plays a role. The Execu|Search Group report said that as the skills requirements of employers drift farther from the actual skill-sets candidates possess, employers must take action by investing in professional development—both for new hires and top employees.

“However, professionals do not feel their employers are handling this responsibility well,” said the report. While the Execu|Search Group report found that 78 percent of employers said that they are providing training or development opportunities, the majority of professionals (58 percent) said they have seen scant evidence of that.

Related: Failure to Develop, Engage and Retain Talent Is Growing

Additionally, the report said that the investment goes beyond simply building employees’ skills to perform their current job responsibilities; employers must also train employees who show potential to grow within the company and become future leaders in the organization. Yet the professionals surveyed said this is not happening. Some 54 percent said that their leadership skills are not being developed.

“This disconnect between employers and their staff shows that companies are struggling to deal with the skills shortage,” the Execu|Search Group report said. “Without a considerable investment in professional development, organizations can continue to expect lower-quality candidates, higher turnover of dissatisfied employees, and still no solution to the skills lacking in their business operations.”

To provide their staff with skills development that is valuable to the company, organizations must offer training opportunities that motivate employees to learn more and work harder. “So, what kind of professional development opportunities do employees want?” asked Mr. Fleischman. “Professionals say they want the following professional development opportunities from their employer: hands-on training encouragement; coaching or mentoring; management training; and encouragement to collaborate.”

Temporary Employees

Allowing a position to go unfilled because of a lack of candidates can lead to lost profits and overworked employees. This is where a temporary employee, contractor or consultant can step in. Armed with the industry skills and experience needed to hit the ground running, they can be especially valuable during periods of high demand, project implementations or to cover positions that will eventually be filled by full-time employees. The Execu|Search Group found that 68 percent of professionals are open to freelance or contract work, an increase from 62 percent in 2018.

Related: The Impact of the Gig Economy on Recruiting

“Companies are increasingly embracing gig workers, and even robots, in their overall workforce to address the increasingly tight labor market in the U.S. and around the world,” said Rebecca Henderson, CEO of Randstad Sourceright. “While in the last decade contingent workers have been viewed very differently as compared to full-time positions, today’s companies are welcoming the opportunity to employ a more agile workforce, particularly as a greater number of gig workers embrace flexible work practices as well.”

Engaging & Empowering

When employers consider how to create the best working environment for their employees, it’s easy to look to larger initiatives such as company events, overall company performance, the behavior of executive leadership, among others. “While these elements do matter, it’s important to keep in mind that each employee’s individual experience varies, and their daily life at the company has little to do with those larger initiatives,” the Execu|Search Group report said. When asked what elements of a company’s culture are most important, professionals rated the following: support from leadership and management, professional development opportunities, strong team rapport and flexible scheduling.

Related: Why Talent Engagement Is More Important Than Ever

“It’s critical to note that what employees value most is their daily work and the people with whom they interact the most,” Mr. Fleischman said. “Not only do they rate support from their manager as No. 1, but strong team rapport was rated highly as well. Additionally, professional development and flexible scheduling are both heavily influenced by an employee’s direct supervisor. As a result, when you’re looking at how you can make the most impact on employees, look no further than their manager. This relationship, along with an employee’s relationship with the rest of their team is what actually keeps them engaged.”


Yahoo! HR Leader Examines the ‘Gravitational Pull’ of Employee Engagement
Employee engagement forms the foundation of many talent acquisition leaders’ approach to human capital. Engagement binds employees to an organization’s core values and its purpose. 


First impressions often become lasting ones, the report said, and it is up to the new hire’s team and supervisor to facilitate a smooth onboarding process. Professionals, however, reported that companies don’t do a good job of onboarding employees, with 50 percent of professionals saying that they themselves lacked sufficient training and resources.

Moving Forward

“In search of purpose, personalization, and professional development, today’s professionals are changing the way they look at their careers,” said Mr. Fleischman. “Employers who do not adapt to this new relationship risk missing out on top talent and losing their best employees.”

There is no question that we are experiencing a significant shift in the executive search process, said Ms. Tilley Gill. “Companies seeking to recruit qualified executives must put their best foot forward,” she said. “This translates to all constituents who are involved in the recruitment process to be committed to performing their best in the interviews and presenting their organization as organized, tech-savvy and competitive with their peer companies.”

With unemployment for executive talent under four percent nationally, she added, the challenge to recruit the most qualified individuals is a race for the company that offers the most interesting positions with the most competitive compensation and benefit structure. “Further, executive candidates require full transparency, specifically in what they are expected to achieve in performance and whether it is realistic based on the company’s historical performance,” said Ms. Tilley Gill.

Related: Recruiters Leveraging More Tools to Engage Candidates

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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