We’re all feeling the pandemic’s impact and it’s created tremendous challenges for hiring managers in particular. But with these challenges come opportunities, too. In this Recruiter Intel Spotlight, Executive Senior Partner Donita Ayotte explains the upsides of our new workplace normal, especially when it comes to recruiting top talent.
Mandy Wittschen: Hello, I’m Mandy Wittschen and I’d like to welcome you to Lucas Group’s Recruiter Intel Spotlight. Today I’m joined by Donita Ayotte, Executive Senior Partner with Lucas Group. Hi, Donita.
Donita Ayotte: Hi, how are you doing today?
Mandy: Great. Thank you very much for joining us. Today’s discussion is about silver linings and how employers can capitalize on today’s talent market. I love the idea of this topic because so much of the news that we’ve been reading and seeing and hearing has been grim and tough to deal with. So it’s nice to focus on some good news, which is what you’re going to be sharing with us today.
But before we go into our discussion, I was wondering if you would just give us a little bit of background on how you became an executive recruiter, your role with Lucas Group and your area of specialization.
Donita: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, first and foremost. I’ve been with Lucas Group for five and a half years. I am an Executive Senior Partner within our technology division. Primarily I focus on mid- to senior-level staff positions all the way up to directors and C-suite executives, in the southern region mostly. Prior to Lucas Group, I was with two national firms, but really cut my teeth in the technology space working for Microsoft. I started there in 2011, and then just fell into recruiting and fell in love with it.
Mandy: Thanks for that introduction. Now that we know a little bit more about you, we’ll go ahead and switch to our main focus of today’s conversation. We’re all feeling the pandemic’s impact and it’s created tremendous challenges for hiring managers in particular.
What are some of the issues that you’re seeing your clients dealing with right now, particularly when it comes to recruiting during the pandemic?
Donita: It’s a great question and something that I’ve been getting a lot from clients; they’re asking me how things are going in the market. To be honest, I think we’re experiencing the same issues as before COVID. I think COVID has definitely exacerbated some problems, but prior to COVID, the unemployment rate in the technology space was 1.4%, making it really demanding to find talent in the market. And now it is about 4.4% in the tech space, which may sound like a big jump, but it’s really not if you look at the big picture.
Regardless of the national unemployment rate, the tech unemployment rate has been low for many years. And in this economy, that still means that talent is hard to find and you’re still having to go in and recruit talent out of organizations because they’re not actively looking. There are more people on the market I would say, but the best talent is still employed.
Mandy: Well, with that temporary bump in unemployment, you are dealing with a larger pool of candidates. So instead of finding a needle in a single haystack, you may have 1,000 haystacks to comb through to find that A-level talent.
Donita: Correct, correct. That’s a great point. I think the main issue is that everybody’s busy now. So yes, you do have more talent on the market, but sifting through hundreds of resumes to find maybe the two to three people that you would find is still really demanding for hiring professionals and HR organizations.
Mandy: Employers are facing a wide range of recruiting and hiring challenges right now, as you mentioned, but there are also silver lining to our current talent market.
What are a few of the upsides of our new workplace normal?
Donita: It’s interesting because tech teams historically for the last several years have been moving along this trend of working remotely already. Whether or not the organization had adopted that as a policy, tech teams were already doing it. Hiring managers just worked out deals with their employees and they could work from home.
Now, what was interesting about that is in order to not raise red flags, your employee would probably most likely have to be in the city that your company was located in, to “get away with it” essentially. Now, a lot of organizational policy changes because of COVID allow people to work remotely, so it really opens up the door for hiring managers to be able to hire outside of their respective cities.
For example, let’s say, most of my clients are here in the Houston area. Prior to COVID, they might be able to hire somebody from Austin who would drive the hour and a half here and back. Well, now you have access to Dallas, you have access to San Antonio, you might have access to east Texas and west Texas. And you can have those people drive in every once in a while, but they’re really not required to. And if your company has a business license in another state, you might even be able to hire outside of your state and just have those candidates work remotely.
Mandy: That makes perfect sense. And having access to that wider talent pool can help you overcome some of those hiring and recruiting challenges.
Donita: Absolutely. One of the points that I made recently with a client of mine was, let’s say you’re hindered by budget and you’re in a very high-paying city like Austin, but your company is open to you hiring somebody from Oklahoma, where there is a cheaper cost of living area. You might be able to find somebody that meets what you’re looking for at a lower cost.
Mandy: So there’s potentially the financial advantages there too, still having access to that top-tier talent, but making it a little bit easier to go ahead and bring a person on full time without impacting your overhead quite as much.
Mandy: Now with remote work becoming the norm, I know that you’ve just spoken about that a little bit. What qualities or soft skills should hiring managers be looking for in candidates? Because being in person in an office all together is one thing, but when you’re separated from your team and you’re working independently, and particularly if you’re a new hire, what should hiring managers be looking for in their candidates?
Donita: That’s a great question. Going off of what I said earlier with things being the same as pre-COVID, employers don’t want to have to babysit the person they’re hiring. And with COVID, I think that’s even more prevalent. You are really looking for candidates that have a strong background in working autonomously with references to back it up or testimonials from colleagues to back up that they’re able to work from home, or without a lot of supervision, successfully. That was, like I said, a really sought-after trait prior to this. And I think it’s even more necessary now for sure.
Mandy: And then, I know you focus on professional and executive level roles and higher level IT professionals. What skills are essential for managers in IT and senior leaders within IT?
Donita: Same kind of concept, but just a little bit of a difference. So, hiring managers need to make sure that they have previous experience working with or running remote teams. Let’s say you have experience running an offshore team that’s not necessarily in the US or you have people spread out throughout the US. That would be a strong character trait of a leader in our new normal.
Granted, I would say that it’s not just about managing and making sure that your people are doing their jobs. I think with this new normal, it’s also important to make sure that you have previous experience or at least the ability to develop and cultivate a very strong culture remotely, which is not easy. I think a lot of people are having challenges with that right now – keeping their teams motivated in this environment. So if you’re coming to the table with really good ideas on how to make that happen, I think you’re going to be a standout candidate.
Mandy: Is there anything different in terms of personal qualities or hard skills that managers of blended teams, where they have a portion of the workforce working remotely and a portion in house, would need?
Donita: I wouldn’t say that there’s a huge difference. Just making sure that you are really connecting. If you do have a blended team, making sure that you’re able to connect your remote staff with your staff that’s in house so they’re not feeling left out. You want to make sure, like I just mentioned, having that strong culture, making sure that you’re coming up with ways or ideas to keep everybody connected, so that the people that are working from home aren’t feeling left out.
Mandy: I know that that’s an advantage that an executive recruitment firm like Lucas Group can bring to the table: providing that culture match and bringing in people who, just by the nature of who they are, align with the values and the culture of the organization that’s hiring them.
Donita: Absolutely. That is one of the main things that I think a lot of hiring managers don’t necessarily think about going into making a hire. Everybody always says that they want a culture match. The one thing that I hear most people say is, “Oh, we’re laid back. We’re just a laid back culture.” But what does that really mean? What does that really mean to you? What does that mean to your organization? What does that mean to your team? Identifying those things and making sure that you’re asking the right questions of candidates to ensure that they align with those values that you’re looking for is really important.
Mandy: I have one more wrap up question for you. If you have an employer who needed to make a key IT hire in this talent market, what advice would you give them?
Donita: It’s a great question. Having a streamlined recruitment process in place and sticking to it is going to be really important. Whenever you do decide to go out looking for a candidate, as busy as you might be, (everybody is right now), I think everybody’s trying to figure out how to be more efficient in this environment.
You want to make that candidate a priority and move them through the process in a timely manner. Candidates do get interview fatigue. And like I mentioned before, our unemployment rate in the tech space isn’t necessarily low. So those candidates are going to be interviewing with multiple other employers and you want to make the process seamless with them.
Remember, at the end of the day you’re courting candidates. You’ve got to make sure that you’re keeping a pulse on the things that are going on with them and the other opportunities that they’re looking at, and you want to make sure that, regardless of the questions that you’re looking for in order to make sure that they’re a company fit, you’re also making them comfortable and like they want to work for you.
There’s a delicate balance to the recruitment process. And most hiring managers know how frustrating it is to get a candidate in process where you think they’re the perfect person and everything’s going right, and then at the end, things just fall apart. There are definitely things you can do to avoid having those things happen at the end of the process that some hiring managers and HR professionals honestly, just don’t necessarily know how to do. They don’t do it on a daily basis. So, calling in a professional like us can really help to make that process seamless.
Mandy: Absolutely. A streamlined process, having that insight on what the market bears in terms of pay rate, helping to create that cultural fit, that all goes into a successful hire, no matter what economic conditions you’re recruiting in. Those are tips that are going to work now and in the future, too.
Mandy: Thank you so much for this information and insight, Donita. If you’d like to learn more about Lucas Group or get in touch with Donita, you’ll find information at the end of this video. I’m Mandy Wittschen, and on behalf of Lucas Group, thank you for watching.
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