Power Dynamics Shift Between Recruiters and Candidates

It was merely months ago that we couldn’t find enough good people for our open jobs. Although there was unease about the economy even before the pandemic, we still had solid piles of open reqs, candidates ghosting us before their start dates, and hiring managers wondering when their next great hires were finally going to start.

The imbalance in available talent to open jobs had been going on for a long time. It was an era that brought us a lot of technology, like CRMs dedicated to nurturing talent and programmatic advertising to be more targeted with our ad dollars. We also got a whole slew of new catchphrases: “candidates are consumers” (yawn), “top talent” (blech), and “be human” (pfft). But most of all, and most encouraging to me personally, was the soul-searching we were doing as an industry. 

Talent Needs Go Both Ways

We knew that we needed to change. What we were doing wasn’t working. We were beginning to acknowledge that we need talent as much as they need us.

This acknowledgment had been a hard pill to swallow for many leaders, especially in the C-suite — you know, those who’ve always believed that people should be lucky to work for them. At the same time, these leaders would wonder why it took so long to fill a job.

Meanwhile in TA, we knew the power had shifted. We knew that we needed to invest in culture, experience, marketing, and brand. Because we knew that we had little choice. The candidates whom we needed to transform our companies (and increase shareholder value) weren’t visiting our career site; they weren’t applying; heck, they weren’t even calling us back.

Knowing all of this allowed us to make strides. We were changing the way we were approaching and treating our candidates and employees. And while these weren’t Usain Bolt strides, the effort was there. The conversations were happening. The changes were starting. We were beginning to see, understand, and believe that, like I mentioned earlier, we needed talent as much as talent needed us. 

We began to shed old practices, like making candidates go through a 45-minute application. We tried new things. We started giving people an easy way to raise their hand to learn more about our company. And then we followed through with information and insights — just like our marketing teams do to educate buyers on our products. We were even talking about having relationships (gasp!) with candidates. This was a huge deal!

Then 2020 Happened

And then came a pandemic, an economic collapse, record-high unemployment, and ongoing civil unrest. 

When things are hard, we have to make choices. And things are hard right now. Really hard. More-people-out-of-work-than-in-the-Great-Depression hard. And we are making choices right now. We are choosing whom to furlough, whom to lay off, which roles are essential, what safety precautions we should take, which contracts do we keep, what still merits our small investment. 

But the bigger choice is still to be made. 

Right now, we need to decide if we build or if we slide. I am not a big fan of binary, potentially false-flag choices, but this is a unique moment where we are going to have to decide: Do we slide back to the days when we thought talent needs us more than we need them? Should we still treat our candidates like they should feel lucky to hear from us? Or do we dig in and build systems, processes, and experiences that save time and money? Do we create much-needed simplicity to lighten the emotional load for candidates and employees? 

To Slide?

Sliding is so much easier. I get it. Things are scary and anxious. Sliding feels comfortable. Plus, people are lucky to have a job right now. (If you’re reading this at work, you are lucky.) I am seeing a lot of employers getting really cozy in their slide: They’re choosing to lay off their employer-brand leaders and their entire recruitment marketing function. They’re cancelling software contracts that they feel they don’t need anymore because they don’t believe that they need to court talent today. It’s like they are proudly announcing their slide. 

Sliding also feels good when things are out of control — because it makes you feel like you are in control. And who doesn’t want to feel in control right now? Ultimately, it feels like you have all the power. But if you’re choosing to slide right now, know three things:

  1. Your people are watching.
  2. This will not last forever.
  3. Memories are long. 

Sliding into an inglorious power position, while easy and comfy, could ensure that you will never have a true, beneficial relationship with talent. Great relationships do not have a power position. 

To Build?

While building sounds harder, it doesn’t have to be. It can serve to channel all of that anxious energy into a positive direction.

Building also doesn’t have to be expensive. Times like these call for craftiness. Your solutions often lie in the emotions of your audience. Spend time talking to your employees and your candidates. I don’t mean surveying them; I mean having actual conversations with them. Talk about their pain points, and their points of joy. Then look for the simplest (and cheapest) solutions that relieve the pain and amplify the joy. Building in this moment will help solidify relationships. 

For example, look at the language you use to attract people on your career site. Then look at the language you use in the application process. Very frequently those messages feel like they are coming from two different people. Your career site tells them all the wonderful things it will take to get them to apply. But once you get that application, you send a curt, thank you email that essentially tells them to go away, leave you alone while you figure this out, basically saying, “Do not call us.”

You treat people one way before the transaction and a completely different way after. Instead, you could do something simple like build a better acknowledgement message telling candidates that you appreciate them and their decision to apply.

Another easy thing to build is to take all your culture buzzwords and make them real to candidates by having employees share stories of what it means when you say “innovation” or “teamwork.” Illustrating your culture through the voice and words of your current employees to help paint a real picture of what it means to work with you.

Either way, you’ve got to make a choice. (Or not, but know that not choosing is still choosing to slide.) It’s time to build on the notion that there is no power position between companies and talent. It’s symbiotic. We all need each other. And we all need to recognize that the choices we are facing now will have lasting effects on our jobs, our people, and our businesses.

Choose wisely.

Tracey Parsons: At every intersection of the talent revolution, she seized opportunities to push innovation and be the change agent. She is the president at Parsons Strategic Consulting, a consultancy at the intersection of employer brand, recruitment marketing, and systems to create delight for talent and brands. She has extensive experience in talent strategy, social recruiting, and marketing, thought leadership, brand development, and consulting at companies like SmashFly, TMP Worldwide, and her own startup, CredHive. She’s also been a contributing writer at ERE, SmashFly, Work it Daily, and Social Media Explorer.

Topics