Today’s Biggest Threat to Business Recovery

The pandemic is slithering slowly away and economic factors seem favorable in the U.S., so it looks like we’re going to be OK. So, what could go wrong? If you are like many companies, a return to normal means staffing up to pre-pandemic levels as we bounce back; however, in many business verticals, something’s different. People aren’t clamoring to take that job you have advertised on Indeed or LinkedIn. Recruiters are having challenges finding just the right candidate for you, and when they do find the right person, the candidate may have different expectations than what you are offering. If you are having trouble filling critical roles, from production and service jobs to executive roles, it might be time to ask if your company’s approach to recruiting is part of the problem. In today’s Plain Talk newsletter, we’ll talk about recruitment and employer branding practices that are slowly starving businesses across the country and how to avoid them.

HR Is Business

Before we dig in, let’s take a moment to acknowledge something that companies do not do enough. That is, we must acknowledge that Human Resources is a business-critical department in your organization. We all love the folks in HR, but it’s important that all of us (including HR) think about the department as a source of revenue, efficiency, growth and innovation. Basically, everything awesome that your company does or ever will do is rooted first in your ability to attract the talent who will do those awesome things.

Quote Block - It’s important that all of us (including HR) think about the department as a source of revenue, efficiency, growth and innovation.

If that pep talk isn’t enough, and you are consistently shoAccording tort-staffed in one or more roles, your company should be working with HR to lay out the business case and corresponding appropriate budgets for staff recruitment initiatives. Start by calculating your Cost of Vacancy  (COV) for positions that spend any significant amount of time vacant. The COV exercise can vary in complexity depending on the types of positions you are filling, but it is a game-changer in repositioning your conversation from the cost of hiring people to the cost of failing to fill positions. When you consider the cost of open positions, it is often a no-brainer to invest in more aggressive or effective recruiting strategies. One thing we believe is certain is that failing to regularly assess the needs of HR in “feeding the beast” will always result in your company leaving potential revenue on the table.

Once you’ve figured out the financial cost of vacancies, take a moment to also consider the substantial “soft” impact that vacancies can cause to your business, such as additional burden on the remaining workers. Just because you are short-handed doesn’t mean managers won’t try to keep up with demand. This additional burden on remaining staff can cause bad attitudes, or even contribute to valuable staff quitting. On top of these risks, those disgruntled staffers may choose to leave a review on a job board or two. According to Glassdoor, 86% of job seekers research employer reviews as part of their applicant journey, and like most things on the internet, once a bad review is posted, there’s really no getting rid of it.

Branding is a Verb

Your ability to actively manage soft impacts like those above and your online reputation is a critical component of your brand value as an employer. We see that consistently one of the greatest risks to clients today is the quality of their employer brand and how that impacts their ability to attract the right new employees. A healthy employer brand takes some effort, and when done right, dovetails perfectly with how your brand is perceived by customers. So, what else are companies doing today that may be unintentionally contributing to their employer brand woes?

Screening vs Selling

In the pantheon of mistakes companies make in recruitment marketing, the single most expensive one, and the one we see most often, is screening versus selling. Two factors aggravated what was already the bad practice of treating applicants like lower beings. First, in the 90’s, as people started to realize the potential of the web, several online job boards (Monster, CareerBuilder, etc.) were launched and exploded in popularity. Only a few years before, an HR person could expect faxed or mailed resumes in the dozens after a posting in the local newspaper, or a few dozen if they spent exorbitant amounts of money and posted their job in a national publication. Suddenly, a single job posting was generating hundreds, maybe thousands of applications. The reduction of friction in the application process made it too easy for unqualified applicants to send their resume. This was understandably overwhelming to HR.

Then came applicant tracking systems (ATSs) to the rescue – software designed to help overwhelmed HR teams manage the flood of applicants and weed out the best from the worst using things like resume scanners, online application tools, tests, etc. According to Zipjob, today over 90% of employers are using an ATS to manage applications. Intended or not, the consequence of using an ATS is that it often makes the application process harder to go through. In fact, according to Forbes, 75% of resumes submitted online are never even seen by an HR team or hiring manager because an ATS has screened them out for a number of reasons, including the absence of keywords or issues with document formatting. There are a couple obvious problems with this type of system today.

  • First, we expect to see unemployment numbers back down near historic lows once Federal unemployment stimulus payments run out. That means there will likely be many more jobs available than there are interested, qualified applicants. Basic rules of supply and demand tell us that we are in an employee buyer’s market and that prospective employers are going to have to work harder to sell prospects on their job opening.
  • The second is a bit more complicated. With ATSs screening out an average 75% of applicants based on scanners and keywords, there’s a real possibility that those scanners and other criteria could be screening out qualified applicants simply because they aren’t perfect, or even worse, because the search terms programmed into the ATS are not well conceived. Either way, the result is fewer potentially qualified applicants in a competitive market.

Making It About You

Running parallel to issues caused by our overdependence on ATSs is the general practice of making recruiting efforts about the company instead of about the applicant you seek. How many job descriptions start with some version of “Company X is a vibrant and growing X company based in City X. We believe our products do X and blah, blah, blah…” If you didn’t fall asleep while reading, you can see what the issue is. If you’re going to successfully sell the right candidate, consider these factors:

  • Post to sell – It starts with your job posting. Are you talking at me or trying to seduce me? Is your sell emotional or rational? (hint: rational is going to be a lot more expensive for you).
  • Manage touchpoints – Then you need to consider the things your prospect can check out on their own like employer and customer reviews, your website, company social media channels, and annual reports. Oh, and yes, those applicants will stalk your executive’s social media pages just like you stalk theirs. As we mentioned above, online reputation management is a critical choking point in the applicant journey. If you are not actively managing your reputation, you are missing opportunities. Likewise, if you have a Glassdoor score under 3.5, you should treat reputation management and issue mitigation with urgency.
  • Simplify the process – In a job seeker’s world, simple wins. Remember, if you are selling and not screening, it makes sense for you to also make it simple for prospects to engage with your company. For example, many low-skill jobs shouldn’t require a resume at all. Mini-applications and phone calls can speed the process and lead to a better applicant experience.
  • Minimize the wish list – The final way you can make the application experience more successful is to avoid working a wish list into your qualifications/requirements. In today’s environment, never suggest a requirement that is superfluous to the job for which they are applying. Oddly, we see this often with entry-level degreed positions. For example, many employers will list the desire to have 2-3 years of relevant work experience for an entry-level job; however, a prospect with three years of experience is no longer “entry-level.” In today’s environment, you will quickly lose the talented and TRUE entry-level prospects by making them think they will be competing against applicants with more experience. At the same time, good prospects with three years of experience will be applying for jobs that are appropriate to their experience.


So, you succeeded in getting your search down to three great candidates. You offered your first pick the job and they accepted. Great! But what about the other two? We understand that everyone is busy, but if you don’t personally contact candidates who made it that far to let them know that they were not selected, you are “ghosting” them and they will remember. Let’s be honest. Why would you do that? Two weeks ago, your company liked this candidate enough to short list them, so they were at least pretty good candidates. Here’s two reasons you might rethink ghosting:

  • First, those other candidates who were almost good enough this time may be your first choice for a new position that opens in six months. Unfortunately, there is NO WAY they would take you seriously if you ghosted them in a previous interview process. This is the kind of practice that can and will cause significant harm to your employer brand.
  • Second, and we’ve seen this happen, your second-choice applicant applies for and receives an offer at one of your client or partner companies (uh-oh). Now the applicant that you’ve disrespected has some influence over business decisions that can negatively impact your business. Yikes.

The gist is, if you can make time to interview a qualified candidate, you can make time to tell them respectfully that you went another direction and why. It’s hard to cross a burned bridge, and the long-term effect of disrespecting candidates can be really harmful to your business.

Failing to Be Transparent

Another consideration that can harm employer brands is in regards to transparency. Whether you are trolling for applications for a future opening or seeking that perfect candidate right now, there is a natural tendency for some companies to, well, not be as transparent as they probably should be. There are a lot of great euphemisms like “spinning a yarn,” “softening” or “horse trading.” If you’re tempted to tell those little white lies to land that applicant, stop. Increasingly, especially with younger millennials and older Gen Z candidates, a company’s level of honestly and transparency is an influential factor.

  • Start by recognizing what information is already out there about your company (reviews, social media, news, etc.) and then make sure that your pitch to prospects reflects both your pride in your successes, and your determination to do better where your company has stumbled.
  • Make sure job descriptions, benefits, growth opportunities and pay are clear – especially for lower-paid hourly or unskilled positions.
  • Be clear about challenges the prospect can help you overcome.

Ready to Fill Those Jobs?

Hopefully we’ve provided some useful nuggets to get you on the right track to maximizing your recruiting efforts. If you have any questions or just need help figuring out your COV, feel free to drop us a note here or call us at (502) 499-4209 and we’d be happy to help.

Mike Nickerson, Chief Marketing Officer PriceWeber Marketing, Louisville KY
Mike Nickerson Chief Marketing Officer