Understanding How Candidates’ Work Goals Influence Staffing Decisions

May 30, 2007

Parts 1 and 2 of this article discussed how a tight labor market impacts the importance of hiring decisions and explored ways to adjust selection standards to account for smaller applicant pools. This last section discusses how to deal with the increasing importance of matching jobs to candidates’ work goals.

One of the biggest shifts that occurs in a tight labor market is the degree to which candidates can emphasize different personal goals when considering employment opportunities. In a loose labor market, most candidates are primarily concerned about meeting basic life goals that require having a paycheck. In such a market, companies may get away with an employment value proposition that basically says, “We have money and you don’t, and if you do what we ask then we will pay you.”

This changes in a tight labor market. Now candidates are able to say to companies, “A lot of jobs will pay me what I want. What else can you give me that I desire?”

What people want from work varies widely depending on the person and where they are in their career. Most candidates’ primary work goals can be linked to one or more of the following seven categories:

  • Compensation and benefits. Does the job allow me to meet my financial obligations and goals? For most jobs, this will depend on the candidate’s desired standard of living and/or their status as caregiver within their family. But for some candidates it may have more to do with status than actual financial needs.
  • Schedule. Does the job’s work or travel schedule align with my time commitments outside of work? Schedule is a particularly important issue when recruiting hourly workers.
  • Location. Does the job allow me to live where I want? This is becoming an increasingly important issue with applicants showing more reluctance toward relocation now than in the past.
  • Security/job stability. Does the job give me a reasonable sense of employment security? Despite popular press articles discussing increasing turnover levels and the end of “lifelong employment,” many candidates place a lot of value on job security. An analogy might be made to marriage. Despite the divorce rate, many people still aspire to having a happy, lifelong marriage.
  • Growth potential. Does the job give me opportunities to build new skills and capabilities? This goal is particularly important for high-performing individuals, regardless of whether the job is an entry-level hourly position or senior-level professional role.
  • Type of work. Does the work allow me to do the kinds of things I like to do? This has to do both with the actual job tasks and how they are carried out. For example, a computer programmer might perform the same task either working alone or working in a highly collaborative, team environment. Which environment they prefer is largely a matter of personal taste.
  • Type of company. Does the company have an image and vision that fits my personal self-identity? The importance of this goal is candidate-specific. Some candidates are very concerned with working for a company they view as socially responsible or whose public brand image fits their personal beliefs about themselves. Other candidates maintain a strong separation between their personal views and the values and public image espoused by their employer.

If you are having difficulty sourcing adequate numbers of applicants, then it may be worthwhile to systematically examine the value proposition you’re making to candidates in each of these areas.

Review what you provide to employees and how well you’re communicating these things to candidates. What are the “competitive differentiators” that you can offer to candidates in terms of type of work, compensation, or lifestyle? Do candidates have perceptions of the job that may cause them to self-select out of the hiring process for the wrong reasons?

For example, are candidates assuming that working in certain jobs will require them to work schedules that may not actually be required or do they incorrectly assume that certain benefits will not be made available to them? Investigate whether candidates’ beliefs about the job match the realities of the position.

When it comes to making specific job offers, encourage recruiters and hiring managers to actively engage candidates in discussions about what they want from a job. Try to get beyond “surface goals” to the underlying things people truly want from work.

For example, when staffing hourly jobs, candidates often express a desire for full-time work but companies can only offer part-time positions. Hiring managers often choose to simply ignore this mismatch and hire candidates anyway. This is a bad strategy, as hiring candidates who want full-time work into part-time jobs has been shown to greatly increase turnover levels. These candidates are probably just accepting the part-time job until they can find a full-time position that better matches their work goals.

Hiring managers probably do not place candidates who ask for full time jobs into part-time positions because they want to; they hire them because they have to. There simply aren’t enough qualified candidates available who expressed a desire for part-time work.

So given the reality of this situation, how might hiring managers better handle this problem?

One approach is to engage candidates in a more in-depth discussion around why they want full-time work. No one wants to work full time just to work full time. They want full-time work because they assume it is associated with other work goals such as pay, benefits, or growth opportunities.

Managers should uncover what these goals are so they can more accurately determine the true mismatch between what the candidate wants and what the job offers. Such discussions may lead to finding alternative ways to meet a candidate’s needs, such as discovering that they may not need to work full time to become eligible for benefits.

All candidates want to work for a company that will directly or indirectly support their personal goals and ambitions. Showing candidates that you take their work goals seriously is a great way to establish trust and credibility.

At the same time, be careful not to imply promises you cannot keep. Most candidates understand that no job can possibly meet all of their goals. Simply showing a sincere level of commitment and flexibility toward meeting as many of their goals as possible given the constraints placed on your business will greatly increase the strength of your employer brand among your applicant population.

Hold Your Ground

The labor shortage we are currently experiencing is unlikely to stop any time soon. Nor is it likely that companies will find ways to run their businesses without hiring people.

Given these two observations, it is a virtual certainty that companies will have to learn how to do more with less in terms of staffing. This means finding more efficient ways to source, select, and hire employees. But these efforts should not mean hiring lesser-quality candidates.

This three-part article discussed several ways companies can increase the number of qualified applicants through changing how they evaluate candidates. But readjusting hiring standards may actually be the easy part. The real challenge is likely to be maintaining these standards in the face of mounting pressure from organizational leaders and employees to “hire anyone who breathes.”

Be prepared to hold your ground in these discussions. Remind people that every hire is both an opportunity and a risk.

Regardless of whether the labor market is tight or loose, there’s never value in hiring someone just to see them fail or quit a few months later. Good hires create value, bad hires destroy it, and sometimes it’s better to do without then to try to make do by hiring the wrong candidate.

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