by Keith Johnstone | January 07, 2019
Despite recent stock market bumps, the U.S. economy is thriving: The GDP growth rate hit 4.1 percent in Q2 of 2018, the highest in almost four years, making it a great time for companies to expand. But that takes people and there are currently more open jobs than candidates to fill them. Unemployment dropped to 3.7 percent in 2018 (the lowest rate since 2000) and is forecast to fall further to 3.5 percent.

The ability to recruit the necessary talent could be the difference between gaining and losing market share in 2019. Companies approaching recruitment with the same worn roadmap might be in for a rough ride; the old post-and-hope technique is a recipe for disappointment. In a tight market, you don't pick the candidates, they pick you, and that calls for a different approach.

Here are six ways companies can step up their games in 2019.

Build your employer brand. Think of employment candidates as customers. The employer brand -- the identity or character of a company that makes it the workplace of choice -- establishes the initial message of attraction to the target population.

Apple, at its most basic level, is a manufacturer of phones and computers; yet, Steve Jobs built a loyal workforce on a yearning to "think different" and create "insanely great" products. Today's applicants want to make a difference. The brand sells the dream: an aspiration told in an authentic and credible way. Microsoft's mission statement is to, "Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more." People generally want to believe in the mission of the company they are working for each and every day.

Present an easy application process with no black holes. Too many online application processes are tedious, time-consuming, and lacking in feedback. Create an account, enter resume information, answer questions about desired hours/pay/travel, take tests on aptitude and personality, and on and on. Halfway in, the applicant thinks, "I don't need this" and goes elsewhere.

A 2014 survey found that 30 percent of candidates would spend no more than 15 minutes on an online application, and that 25 percent of applicants received no acknowledgment from the company. A 2016 study showed that the application process across the Fortune 500 companies took a median time of 13 minutes (longest 52 minutes) and included an average of over 60 screening questions. And today -- led by Silicon Valley Unicorns like Netflix, SalesForce, Facebook and Google -- you simply upload your resume and you are done.  AT&T reduced screening questions by more than half and were rewarded with a significant increase in qualified candidates.

Provide a great interview experience. Candidates will be more at ease, providing the company a more genuine view of the person. Also, candidates often share their observations with friends or the public (via sites like Glassdoor). Positive comments can help generate interest in the company while negative feedback can damage the company's ability to attract people.

Before the interview, prepare the candidates. Provide details on where to go, who they will see, and how the process will run.

On the day of the interview, meet them on arrival and shepherd them between locations. Give them a view of the facilities and the culture. Advise what life for the new employee would include (onboarding, mentors, etc.). Be friendly, comfortable, open, and honest. Ask questions that are relevant to the job and that reveal insights about the person's values and behaviors. Avoid distractions (turn off phone; set aside other duties) and focus on the candidate.

Afterward, provide closure. Ensure they understand the next steps, both what and when. Respond with news, either good or bad, in a personal fashion as soon as reasonably possible.

These may seem like obvious points, yet candidate survey data shows otherwise: 41 percent received no preparatory communications, less than half felt that interview questions were highly relevant, and only 23 percent obtained closure of any kind.

Some companies do go the extra mile. Caterpillar meets the candidate the evening before the interview for dinner and a tour of the town. Southwest Airlines takes their fun image into the interview -- very relaxed, with selfies.

Network, network, network. Show the world what your company has to offer and why you are an employer to consider. The goal is to reach not only active job searchers, but also passive candidates -- employed, in-demand talent who watch for good opportunities and might be willing to talk. One survey found that 85 percent of jobs are filled via networking.

Communicate your employer brand, company culture and open jobs through every avenue available (an eye-catching recruitment video is an excellent means to tell the story). Support a major online presence at sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor. Let existing employees advocate to prospective applicants; offer referral bonuses.

Open up the checkbook. It's supply and demand. To get the best people in a tight market may require increased compensation. On top of strong standard benefits (healthcare, paid time off, 401K), also consider perks or incentives that will improve non-work life such as maternity/paternity leave, paid time to volunteer for good causes, event tickets, and a buy-down of student debt. Google offers free lunch at on-site cafes. S.C. Johnson provides a concierge service to handle employees' mundane-but-time-consuming tasks such as picking up dry cleaning.

Look beyond the "perfect candidate." Time and good candidates can be lost in a quest for perfection. Find people with 75 percent to 80 percent of the job description to cover mandatory skills. Expand the candidate search beyond the bounds of your industry. Look for cultural fit, soft skills, and business acumen; hire people with passion and a willingness to take on any task. Post-hire training can bridge gaps and bring new employees up to speed.

The talent market is tight and will likely remain so for another one to two years; however, an investment in the recruiting process can generate happy candidates who share their positive impressions with even more candidates, all leading to hiring success.

Keith Johnstone is the head of marketing at Peak Sales Recruiting, a leading B2B sales recruiting company launched in 2006. Keith leads all marketing activities and has successfully grown revenue and lead volume every quarter. He plays a key role in driving Peak Sales Recruiting which leads the industry with a success rate 50 percent higher than the industry average, working with a wide-range of clients including boutique, mid-size and world-class companies including P&G, Gartner, Deloitte, Merck, Taser and others. Follow @KJ_Peak