4 Ways to Compete for Talent in the Digital Age

How AT&T, CH2M and other companies build a digital talent pipeline.

Few people would debate that companies need to pick up the pace of digitalization to remain competitive. But although they make financial investments in digital transformation, they may underestimate the importance of technology talent in successfully executing such a shift.

As digital advances transform business operations and go-to-market models, organizations will feel the pressure to hire employees that have the right “digital skills.” Digital skills are defined as the ability to develop, implement and use digital technologies in the workplace.

However, these skills are not confined to IT and technical roles.

Organizations need people who can use digital technology to capitalize on emerging opportunities and investments. As a result, digital skills are in demand across sectors and within roles that traditionally did not require them; for example, the farm-equipment manufacturer that now requires software developers to build tractors with artificial intelligence features that adjust to weather conditions.

Steering a candidate to a better company ultimately increases the chances of hiring the right candidates for the right role

Thomas Handcock, HR practice leader with CEB, now Gartner, observes that the convergence of demand across industries places a huge amount of pressure on an already stressed talent pool.

Heads of recruiting can no longer rely on the traditional service-delivery model to support the digital transformation of the company. Instead, they must take a more labor-market-centric view of the recruitment process by understanding what skill gaps will appear over the next three to five years, and how they can fill them now.

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Understand and confront brand misperception

At most organizations, employment brands typically comprise a handful of blandly aspirational messages on career development and social responsibility. Candidates easily tune out this kind of “white noise” and instead turn to other sources for an unvarnished look at what the company offers. This could be through social media for crowdsourced information on the business, reviews on Glassdoor or profiles of potential team members on networking sites.

The challenge of fully controlling your brand story puts greater pressure on brand weaknesses that often cannot easily be changed, like location or industry. In a market where talent has lots of choice and easy access to information, trying to paper over those attributes by amplifying more positive ones will ultimately be unsuccessful.

Digital skills are in demand across sectors and within roles that traditionally did not require them

For example, AT&T, the U.S. telecommunications conglomerate, understood from market research that there were two reasons college graduates were not accepting their job offers — the company’s location in Dallas and a perception that the industry was not exciting enough.

So the company sought to change people’s minds. It brought college graduates to Dallas; introduced them to the entrepreneurial community; took them to see its social media command center; and hung out with them at AT&T Stadium (home of the Dallas Cowboys), where they got to see AT&T technology in action (and play some football, of course).

Coach prospects’ career decisions

Top talent are increasingly unplugging from networking platforms to escape the onslaught of recruitment initiatives. One way recruiters can reach these in-demand employees is to reposition themselves as “career coaches.” Career coaches do not focus on just selling the job role, but rather prompt candidates to think about their career goals and where their strengths lie, and then helps them consider their options.

Candidates are recognized as an important stakeholder in the hiring process

This approach opens the door to an authentic discussion with candidates about job opportunities. Even deflecting a mismatch by steering a candidate to a better company ultimately increases the chances of hiring the right candidates for the right role.

For example, a large investment services company created candidate personas to understand what motivated critical marketing talent. Developing candidate personas helps organizations take a candidate-centric approach that outlines the most suitable personality and employee attributes for different jobs.

Cultivate critical talent supply

The scarcity of critical talent and changing employee expectations mean that candidates are recognized as an important stakeholder in the hiring process today. As a result, companies want a transparent and open two-way hiring process that encourages feedback and dialogue.

But when talent is in short supply, firms must find ways to access larger and more diverse talent pools.

One way to do this is separating the skills, intelligence and temperament required to do a job from its description. For example, a financial tech firm hiring for positions with a mix of technical and financial skills might look for two members of a team, one to provide the technical skill and the other to provide financial industry experience.

Adopt a flexible planning strategy

Recruiting is typically dependent on an annual, top-down hiring plan, which cannot predict the kind of talent that will be required as needs change. An effective alternative is a bottom-up approach, as managers are far better positioned to provide hiring insights such as how jobs are changing and the skills required for it.

For example, the global engineering company CH2M realized that top-down hiring forecasts from its finance team were not timely or accurate enough to help recruiters allocate resources as the market changed. They decided to put in place a “sense and respond” mechanism, which meant regular briefings by on-the-ground talent managers to front-line managers on their hiring needs to create a bottom-up view. This was then used to recalibrate overall hiring projections and establish an evolving view of when new hires are needed and in what kinds of roles. CH2M’s approach enabled the company to far more efficiently allocate recruiting resources and ensure the business gets new hires in seat when they are needed.

Gartner for HR clients can read more in Competing for Talent in the Digital Age by Thomas Handcock.