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Age-old problem: For recruiters, the quest for talent has become more difficult as baby boomers retire and unemployment rates fall

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Richard Singer, senior vice president and director of permanent replacement services, Robert Half Intenational.
Richard Singer, senior vice president and director of permanent replacement services, Robert Half Intenational. - ()

As if offering his own résumé before his NJBIZ interview, Rich Singer was quick to cite his quarter-century of experience in job recruiting.

And in that time — which he cites despite trepidation about dating himself — he has never seen a tougher market for job recruiting.

Singer, director of permanent placement services at Robert Half International, said he’s been involved in helping more people find jobs in the accounting and finance profession than anyone else in the industry — continuing to sound qualified, as a canny recruiter knows how to. But it’s a job that’s becoming increasingly difficult.

“The New Jersey unemployment rate is about 4.1 percent, which is very low, but accounting specifically is at 3 percent,” he said. “And that’s actually still better than certain other disciplines, some of which are looking at a figure around 1 percent.”

Whether it’s an accountant, a lawyer, a marketer, a construction professional or a biotech worker, Singer said, you just can’t find enough of them on the job market today as a recruiter.

Julie Kampf, CEO of JBK Associates International, will back that up. She speaks of a candidate’s market that has pushed competition among recruiters to the utmost. Candidates can be expected to have several opportunities at the ready, which, needless to say, makes a recruiter’s job hard.

This is a trend Kampf has seen develop over many years, starting at a time when no one portrayed the job market as overly active.

“I’ve been talking about the war for talent since 2009, even right after the financial crisis,” Kampf said. “But if you look at the unemployment rate today for college-educated workers, it’s just below 4 percent, which in effect is nearly full employment. I was just in a Europe meeting with my global search partners, and they are experiencing similar trends in many cases.”

Kampf, as the head of an Englewood-based recruiting firm that caters specifically to positions at a company’s highest levels, said current conditions are such that it’s particularly hard to find candidates at a certain senior level of experience.

“The positions we fill today are increasingly more complex, with small talent pools of qualified candidates,” she said. “Part of it may be that qualified senior folks with many years of experience are retiring and the numbers of those that can take their place are just not there. I think it’s partly a function of having 77 million baby boomers and only 44 million Gen-Xers. You’ve got something like 10,000 people a day — a significant amount — turning 65.”

Top recruits

Recruiters have a mettle — and an ability to be at peace with the sound of a phone call being cut short — that Julie Kampf of JBK Associates International says shouldn’t be overlooked.

“People underestimate the knowledge base you have to have to be a good recruiter,” she said. “There’s (also) a tenacity it requires. It’s a hard job. It’s not easy to call someone and get the phone slammed down in your face.”

Rich Singer of Robert Half International would largely agree. But his belief is that a good recruiter often also carries some firsthand experience in the industry that the job candidate is in.

“If you’ve lived it, you can empathize better with the people who are actually doing the position,” he said. “It’s not necessary for work in the field. But when I talk to (candidates) about daily job functions, I know because I’ve done it. You can speak from experience, and that’s important.”

Sometimes a good recruiter can be built from the ground up, which is what Vicki Crothall from Adecco Staffing spoke to.

“We had someone come into our offices the other day that had just come out of college who sat down with us for a chat,” she said. “After talking about it, he seemed to have a lot of interest in recruiting. … I love people like that — someone who can come in and be energized and have the right work ethic. We can train them on all the mechanics and develop them here.”

And the impact of that, like the unemployment rate, is a different story for every industry.

John Tiene, CEO of Agency Network Exchange, an agency that assists insurance companies, said it’s definitely becoming a front-burner issue today in the insurance sector.

“We have a higher percentage of people over 55 than some industries,” he said. “How we’re going to attract new talent is a significant concern, especially given that many of the (executives of these firms) are also above 55 and need to have a way to transition it to the next generation.”

Desperate to find young talent that has all the requisite experience, recruiters have had to work on their pitch to the next-generation employee.

Vicki Crothall, regional vice president at Adecco Staffing’s Paramus office, said one of the quirks of recruiting workers around the millennial age range is that it’s more than the current position they’re likely to inquire about.

“In general, we’re seeing that younger people want to understand the bigger picture right away — what the potential for progression is,” she said. “Basically, it’s, ‘I understand that’s the job role, but where will I be in a year?’ ”

That’s sometimes proves challenging for both employers and their recruiters to immediately answer. But, in a time when qualified candidates are there one day and employed the next, they’re likely to try.

“We act fast,” she said. “We’re needing to move really quickly with people, because they’re moving around and getting hired so fast in today’s market.”

Also, even as unemployment is at record lows, Crothall said her clients still have a tremendous need for temporary labor. She foresees that remaining a trend for as long as distribution, construction and other seasonal work industries continue to be some of the businesses with the most labor needs.

It all adds up to recruiters like Crothall being busier than ever. But they don’t seem too stressed over it.

“I actually see this as a positive time for the recruiting space,” she said. “I’m glad to be doing something that everyone from our partners and clients to the people we’re recruiting are really seeing the value in today.”

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