The secret weapon in the agency war for talent

Three tips for finding unicorns in a candidate-driven job market

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"At a time when the need for superior talent is increasing, U.S. companies are finding it difficult to attract and retain good people. Everyone knows organizations where key jobs go begging, business objectives languish, and compensation packages skyrocket."

Sound familiar? This was published 20 years ago in The McKinsey Quarterly in a piece titled, "The War for Talent".

In case you haven't noticed, we're currently in a candidate-driven job market where there are more job openings than candidates looking for work.

This is especially true in certain sectors of the ad industry where there's a shortage of qualified applicants for tech, digital marketing and strategic planning. Top talent is being lured to tech companies, consultancies and in-house agencies at clients.

Qualified candidates now have more power and they're using it. We're seeing an increase in multiple offers and counteroffers after a candidate goes through an entire interview process with a different employer.

"The most powerful person in a hiring decision is the person who possesses the final 'yes,'" says Pasquale Scopelliti, a professional recruiting coach who conducted what he calls the Power Analysis of the Deal. "And that's not the hiring manager, ultimately it's the candidate."

Your firm needs qualified applicants more than they need you, which is a challenging hurdle to overcome when you have an urgent hiring need. So your key secret weapon in the hiring process is nothing short of your agency's entire value proposition.

Financial brokerages describe the supply/demand equation for transactions as the "bid-ask spread." This is the amount by which the ask price exceeds the bid price for an asset in the market. I'm not talking only about compensation. Hiring managers in advertising have got to think more like their marketing counterparts who know price is only part of the value proposition of their brand.

The secret weapon that savvy hiring managers are using is this: Build an irresistible desire to be hired at your firm. You need to communicate a genuine value proposition: the agency's answer to why a smart, energetic, ambitious candidate would want to work with you rather than with the agency, tech firm or consultancy down the street.

This secret weapon in hiring is a simple marketing concept, but not easy to execute. It involves the following components:

Create demand through the entire value proposition

This includes the agency's culture, its purpose and mission, in addition to the full package of compensation and benefits. Today's workers want a stronger sense of purpose in the work they do .

Keep everyone in the interviewing process on script

Everyone a candidate talks to needs to be clear on this value proposition. They should be reading from the same missal to convey a consistent message person to person. This value proposition should be real and genuinely permeate the entire agency in case the candidate talks to someone else in the firm.

Put yourself in the candidate's shoes

Focus on their experience throughout the hiring process. And don't put them through a gauntlet of interviews only to leaving them hanging for days afterwards waiting for feedback. Set communication follow up expectations clearly with candidates and recruiters.

The ultimate goal is to have both parties thrilled with the outcome. Accept that the negotiation process is stressful to both sides. That's one reason Scopelliti recommends that external recruiters on the job be authorized to extend and receive acceptance of a job offer with the candidate. They act as a third party arbitrator. Internal recruiters have a perceived bias in favor of the hiring company.

You can't revamp your entire agency value proposition overnight. But you can start. The McKinsey report comes to this conclusion: "You can win the war for talent, but first you must elevate talent management to a burning corporate priority. The coming war for talent may seem like a crisis, but like any crisis, it's also an opportunity to seize—or squander."

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