Hiring at 2.5% Unemployment

Increasing your odds for success in a tight candidate market

I’m certain that if you are a small and growing company in Colorado you have experienced a wild and crazy ride with the candidates you’re trying to hire.  Just to ground us in reality, the U.S. Department of Labor considers 5% unemployment to be full employment for their purposes.  This means that everyone who “wants” to work has access to appropriate employment.  In Colorado we hold the #2 spot for lowest state unemployment in the NATION.  The Front Range is at around 2.5% – with Boulder, CO taking the #1 city spot in the entire country at 2.3%.  This translates to a VERY DIFFICULT hiring climate if you are a small company trying to attract great talent.

Since we specialize in helping startups and emerging growth companies build their teams, we have a few ideas about how you can improve your chances of landing the talented professionals you need.  Here are some that you can implement in the short term:

  1. Collapse your interview cycle. Although I believe that the more time you spend with candidates the better you get to know them, this really can’t be part of your process in this market.  If you’ve tried to buy a house lately, the real estate agent told you that there are already five competing offers on the property—so if you want to play you need to act immediately.  The same phenomenon is happening with candidates.  If you want access to them you’ll need to act quickly.  I am not condoning shortcutting or letting non-qualified candidates into your tribe – I’m just recommending that you do as much as you can in the shortest number of days possible.
  2. Stay connected. As soon as your candidate leaves your interview or hangs up the phone another company or recruiter is calling them with an amazing opportunity.  Since you can’t lock them in a room without access to the internet while you collect feedback and get approval to make an offer, you MUST stay in touch and ask them to keep you posted on their progress.  Oh, and you aren’t just competing with every other open position posted – you are also competing with their current employer who – if they are savvy – will make them a counteroffer to try and keep them.
  3. Consider outliers. I think it would be great to hire only those who perfectly match the skillset and competency requirements you have in your job description.  But that’s not realistic in this market.  A linear career path may reveal a lack of creativity.  Look for candidates with what may seem confusing career directions and get them on the phone to hear their story.  These seemingly “unfocused” professionals may be the jewels you are after – they just do a poor job of telling their story on their resume.
  4. Open up your geography. I’m a huge fan of Colorado – I’m a native and 100% committed to building our economic engine here.  BUT – face it – we simply don’t have the depth of talent that larger markets have.  So if you can make remote working an option, I would highly recommend looking nationally for the hard to find skills you need on your team.  There are a bunch of folks who choose to live in rural markets, or major urban centers, but are highly productive working from home.
  5. Consider relocating. I’m not talking about buying their house, hiring a relocation company and paying for mortgage points.  Colorado is a highly desirable location for singles and families who are looking for a better quality of life.  My suggestion to small companies is that you offer a signing bonus equivalent to 10% of their salary to help defray the cost of moving.  I would also tie a 12 month promissory note to it – so that if the person leaves your company in the first year they repay the bonus.  This gets you at least a year of retention from them so that they don’t start looking for more money as soon as they land at your doorstep.

This market is reminiscent of the late 90’s when companies were buying cars and condos for their new hires.  I sincerely hope we don’t go there again. Regardless, you need to compete effectively as a small company for the same talent as the big guys.  For more ideas on finding and attracting top notch talent, visit us here!

About the Author: