A power dynamic has always existed between employees and employers. And for years, employers had the upper hand. Employees who asserted their importance, influence and authority were certain recipes for unemployment. The model employee was someone who could find the balance between subservience and speaking truth to power.
About 20 years ago, that began to change in some geographies and professions. Talent, as employers began to call employees, rapidly developed a lot of additional “leverage” in the relationship with the companies for which they worked. The oft repeated tagline for this change is, “The War for Talent is Over. Talent Won.”
While that is an extreme overstatement of the current situation, change is afoot. The power balance between employers and employees is shifting. Here is a look at five primary trends that are the cause of this shift:
- The aging of the workforce. Decreasing family size, which is directly correlated with the educational attainment of women, means that the number of new workers is in decline. That’s why the workforce is getting older.
- The shift from manufacturing to information services. Because little is required in the way of capital to run a 21st century business, work is not as tied to a specific place as it was in the days of farms and factories. Companies are increasingly technical. Some even say that “all companies are software companies.”
- The acceleration of turnover due to technology. As business capital requirements began to decline, companies saddled their employees with the expense of purchasing and maintaining their own tools. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs enabled workers to adjust to paying for their own tools, further reducing their dependence on the employer.
- The increasingly short supply of technical skills. Employees with technical skills are in short supply. As recruiting candidates has modernized, they increasingly are on the receiving end of multiple competing offers between and during employment engagements.
- Low worker engagement and employee loyalty. Endless surveys detail the degree to which the workforce is disinterested and disloyal. The trend began in the 1990’s with ruthless job cuts in pursuit of quarterly profits. Western employee populations are accustomed to being treated as disposable.
What the trends show us is the competition for some classes of workers in some geographies is heavy and intensifying. As a result, smart enterprises are turning their attention to the way they treat the people who may become employees. The Candidate Experience movement is an early reflection of this new reality.
Treating Candidates Like Consumers
Potential employees are a new, emerging class of stakeholders (joining employees, management, shareholders, suppliers, partners and the community). We are at the early stages of learning how to incorporate their needs and desires into the nexus of organizational decision making. It’s a big transition.
In the past, it was normal for employers to treat the flow of applicants for jobs as an annoying pile of work that never got finished. Career counselors warned their clients of the “black hole.” That is, it was easy to predict that an application would generate no response.
They focused on teaching people how to fool the applicant tracking system (ATS) by jamming resumes full of keywords and mimicking the job description. A sort of cold war broke out between applicants and companies as the game became beating the ATS. Of course, the additional volume of unqualified applicants made recruiters even less interested in responding.
Ultimately, consumer-oriented companies began to realize that these same people applying for the job were also consumers who might buy the product. It became conventional wisdom that treating applicants with a modicum of respect was good for the brand and the applicant. While this movement is still in its early stages, it has enormous momentum.
Improving Candidate Experience
Today, there are awards and nonprofits focused on improving the quality of the candidate experience. The hallmarks of these initiatives are:
- Acknowledgement. Candidates are notified once their application is received.
- Increased Transparency. Employers are keeping candidates informed about their status over the course of consideration.
- Long-Term Relationship. Employers are spending more time getting to know and understand potential employees in advance of an opportunity.
In short, candidate experience refers to the feelings and impressions that are created when a person applies for and/or is considered for employment in a specific company. As the competition for workers intensifies, delivering a positive experience is not simple a way to differentiate your company. It is becoming table stakes.
Looking for more HR Basics? Check out the other installments in our HR Basics Series.
John Sumser is the founder, principal author and editor-in-chief of the HRExaminer Online Magazine. John explores the people, technology, ideas and careers of senior leaders in human resources and human capital. John is also principal of Two Color Hat where he routinely advises human resources, recruiting departments and talent management teams with product analysis, market segmentation, positioning, strategy and branding guidance.