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Sending Out an SOS: Hiring in a Tight Labor Market

July 18, 2019

Hiring Top Talent in a Tight Labor MarketAs part of the Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology’s 2019 annual conference, PSI organized an alternative form session on hiring in today’s tight labor market. As an assessment solution provider, this wasn’t a typical SIOP session to host. However, with so many organizations struggling to attract and retain top talent, we knew we had to take action. To make sure we had well-rounded representation, we wanted to bring together a panel of experts who could share their war stories including learnings, pitfalls, and successes with anyone who was feeling the pain of hiring in today’s tight labor market.

We turned to internal Industrial/Organizational experts working in large, well-known companies including DaVita, Macy’s, US Foods, and Verizon.  One representative from each of these companies served as Roundtable Hosts for our session. Each Roundtable Host spearheaded a discussion related to one specialized tight labor market topic with session participants. The topic areas included attraction, engagement and retention, selection, and the skills gap. We realized we weren’t the only ones relating to the pain of the tight labor market and seeking answers – this session was well attended by HR Representatives, Talent Acquisition Specialists, and other assessment providers.

Below I'll discuss some takeaways pertaining to each of the four tight labor market topic areas brought forward by our Roundtable Hosts and session participants. In-depth notes from this session can be found in the SIOP Document Library. 


Many companies have started thinking out of the box in terms of attracting candidates and retaining employees. For example, some companies are advertising and providing transportation to employees who may require long commutes. Other companies are providing extended PTO and enhancing benefits where possible. Any little edge can be a deciding factor as to whether a candidate picks you or them.   

In order to be attractive to the best talent out there, consider surveying new hires on what attracted them to your organization, what they like so far, and what your company could be doing better. It’s important for organizations to take the necessary steps to ensure expectations and needs are being met once on the job. You may be surprised at what you find (e.g., it may not be all about the money!). Many younger generations are looking for jobs and organizations that will allow them to grow. If you can’t provide those opportunities to employees, this could be playing into your low candidate yield.

Engagement & Retention

Keeping new hires longer than three months on the job can be tough nowadays, especially if you aren’t focused on what is motivating to candidates. We can no longer hire based on knowledge and experience alone – we must focus on what candidates value and thrive off of if we want to retain, motivate, and satisfy them long term. You can hire the best performer in the world, but they could be the best performer next door if you don’t make them happy with what your company provides.

Company culture is another important area for engagement and retention. As a decision maker, it is important to evaluate the relationship between the values of your organization and a candidate’s values and wants. You should examine what the culture of your company can provide to candidates and make that known throughout the hiring, onboarding, and training processes. On top of ensuring a good fit, you should strive to make candidates to feel a part of your company’s culture and ultimately buy in and commit to it. Welcoming parties for new employees and recognition awards are two small ways your company can make positive impacts through culture.


It’s a candidate’s market right now. There is an abundance of good options for candidates out there, and now more than ever it is important to provide a good candidate experience during the selection process. It’s important to stay close to your candidates as early as possible in the application process. Make sure you are providing candidates with enough information and instruction on how to complete the application and if the application includes a screening assessment, make sure candidates are aware of this. A more hands-on approach is also recommended after an application is completed. It’s in your best interest to reach out to your qualified candidates and schedule the next step in the process as soon as possible. Consider a brief phone screen before your candidates take an in-depth assessment and/or participate in an onsite interview so you can add some “touch” to your process. Provide as much information as possible to candidates so that they know what to expect and can feel prepared.

It’s also important to communicate your selection processes internally. The more everyone is on board with current practices and purpose (including the benefits of your process) the better. Make sure your hiring managers understand the ROI of using an evidence-based selection process, such as one that utilizes objective and validated tools (e.g., behaviorally based assessments). Often, hiring managers can view steps in a hiring process as bottlenecks that get in their way of hiring candidates, but through education, we can help hiring managers understand that utilizing a consistent, structured, streamlined process allows us to gather as much of a candidate’s information as we can to make a truly informed decision in the most efficient way possible.

Skills Gap

If you haven’t yet, consider doing a market and/or labor analysis of your current hiring situation. Understanding the supply/demand ratio in your area is critical for what you need to do next. For example, given your findings, it may make sense to start investing in “borrowing” or “building” your talent versus hiring. Investigating whether the pain you are feeling is really an issue of head count or simply a need to redistribute resources could save you a lot of time and money in the grander scheme of things.

It is also a good idea to investigate what similar companies are looking for when hiring for similar roles. If you are looking for more than what they are – you might want to ask yourself, “Are these things that can be built or trained over time?” In the current market, it is very important to have realistic expectations and to know which skills are truly important at time of hire. Consider holding focus groups with subject matter experts and leadership regarding hard-to-fill, specialized roles. Getting your learning and development department involved in these conversations should also be part of your strategy.

We had some great discussions at our roundtable session and it was clear to everyone that in this labor market, these are all important considerations for hiring managers and HR professionals to keep at the top of their minds to stay ahead of the game in the war for talent.

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Lindsey Burke Lindsey Burke is a Senior Consultant based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI. She is largely responsible for client support and managing clients in industries including manufacturing, sales, and healthcare. Lindsey completed her M.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Xavier University and earned a B.A. and B.S. in Psychology from Kent State University.