Start the new year hiring new talent

The first few months of the year are the perfect time to gain an edge in the competition for good staff members.

As a business owner, my mind is constantly focused on seeking competitive advantage, especially in our current environment. We are operating in unpredictable times, and strategies and ideas that assist future success and growth are worth considering – even just to gain a small edge.

Accepting that many of the past trends and processes will not guarantee the same outcome today is essential to success. Even our traditional time off over the new year period will not be the same, with remote work and lockdowns changing the perception of holidays. There is one key area where you and your business can use this to your advantage.

The tough new labour market

Whilst the economic bounceback at the beginning of 2021 was a welcome relief, one unexpected constraint for many businesses was the difficulty in hiring staff. As we enter 2022, access to talent will remain constricted, and I anticipate an even tougher challenge ahead.

“Don’t run a recruitment process with multiple interviews spaced over weeks just to justify your selection.”

There are dual factors at play. Firstly, Australia has been suffering from a talent shortage for some time. Our ageing population is exiting the workforce and our current birth rates are not at replacement level, with 1.66 per cent reported in 2019 vs 3.54 per cent in 1961. If you have hired infrequently over the last few years, you may not have fully felt how acute the situation has become. 

The other factor is COVID-19, which has exacerbated the situation, bringing our talent crisis to the forefront at an alarming speed. Immigration has decreased sharply and we have seen a change in workforce attitude, with preferences for part-time and remote working, and even people opting out. Job security has also become a priority, resulting in a reluctance to leave jobs. ‘Better the devil you know’ is the mantra of many.

The result is a significantly reduced talent pool. Businesses relying on talent acquisition as part of their growth strategy have a significant problem. And the longer companies wait for things to normalise before starting on their talent discovery, the harder it will be. Candidates already know what they want; they might be a step ahead of you.

Making the hurdles just that little bit higher for SMEs, we compete with larger businesses that may be perceived as having more to offer, especially in job security. One way to fight back? Hire during the new year holiday period.

A window of opportunity

Since the GFC, we have seen many businesses use the period in January until after the Australia Day long weekend to take time off and enjoy the festive season. And why not, it’s your down time. But try turning it into your ‘up time’.  It’s a simple math equation: fewer companies hiring increases your chances of securing talent for your business.

Waiting until after the holiday period to start your recruitment process could cost you significantly. Consider the prolonged costs of an empty seat, or even worse, the burnout and retention issues on your team from carrying that additional workload, let alone the costs of dissatisfied customers not being looked after. These are all real and possible outcomes and as you hold off, the risk increases exponentially. Instead, use this period to get ahead of the curve.

If this is an especially quiet time in your business, even more reason to consider hiring. Use this opportunity for great training, upskilling, onboarding, and securing engagement, all of which are critical for retention.

To fully benefit from hiring in the new year holiday period, consider the following:

  • Know your value proposition: What people are seeking in a work environment now has all changed. Align with collective thinking and trends. That means offering flexible working hours, reskilling workers, and delivering greater meaning through a socially conscious business.
  • Write a job advert: It is all about the person applying, so make it attractive. Include the benefits and appealing aspects of the job and company. Avoid listing duties and tasks like a shopping list.
  • Pay market salary and not below: Remember, it’s highly competitive, and you can bet the candidate interviewing with you is also interviewing elsewhere. If you decide to pay below the market, you may find yourself competing with everyone else in February, and because your job has been open for so long, it may be perceived as having something wrong with it.
  • Be efficient: Don’t run a recruitment process with multiple interviews spaced over weeks just to justify your selection. You may lose that first fabulous candidate. Know what good looks like, and don’t wait to benchmark.
  • Compromise and be flexible: A cookie-cutter approach of matching CVs to job specifications doesn’t work anymore. Consider wildcard candidates and look for great attributes such as dependability, resilience, flexibility, and optimism, matched with a wonderful attitude.

Having a competitive advantage is a must in business. And it’s usually found through windows of opportunity combined with great timing. This new year holiday period could provide you with an excellent opportunity to reshape your process and shift old habits, bringing more predictable results in this unpredictable world.

We have all felt the pain of a poor hire or the overwork and stress of being short on staff. Hiring over the holidays is a recruiter’s best-kept secret; we are the early birds catching the job seekers. Do yourself and your business a favour this year and try a new strategy.

This article first appeared in issue 35 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine