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Talent search: As need for expertise grows, so do staffing challenges

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Elaine Balady, CEO, The Assurance Group.
Elaine Balady, CEO, The Assurance Group. - ()

Unemployment numbers continue to drop — to 4.1 percent nationally in November and 4.9 percent in New Jersey in October, the most recent periods available — and more businesses report having a tough time finding qualified job candidates. This means staffing companies are on a roll: Temporary staffing and “permanent” place and search firms in the U.S. raked in an estimated $140 billion in 2017, and are projected to rise to $145.1 billion 2018, according to the global advisory firm Staffing Industry Analysts.

For recruiters like Elaine Balady, principal/managing partner of The Assurance Group — a full-service staffing and consulting firm in Maywood — the search process can begin even before a potential candidate gets antsy in his or her current job.

“There’s an enormous need for talent, and recruiting is more challenging,” said Balady, who’s on the executive board of the New Jersey Staffing Alliance, an industry trade association. “We recruit a lot of people through referrals, and we continuously reach out to qualified potential candidates who may be thinking about a new opportunity but haven’t started to actively look yet.”

Balady stressed the need for a “partnership” between personnel firms and corporate clients, noting that “in order to be confident of a fit, we have to gain a thorough understanding of our client company’s culture before we recommend someone to them. So, we may speak with 20 to 25 prospective candidates before we are satisfied that a candidate is the right one.”

Her firm connects with potential candidates in many ways.

“In addition to people who reach out to us, we have built a strong reputation in the industry and receive referrals from candidates seeking a change,” noted Balady. “We also find ‘passive’ candidates, who haven’t started formally looking for a job, through LinkedIn and other social networking sites.”

High-tech job searches

iCIMS is a Holmdel-based software provider that works closely with businesses to boost their recruiting processes.

“Software like iCIMS parse information from your resume into the job application and allow you to apply with your social media profile so that information is prepopulated and there is no need to enter duplicate data,” explained iCIMS Chief Marketing Officer Susan Vitale. “With iCIMS, candidates can even apply from their mobile device, so they can apply on the go. Job seekers receive a confirmation email letting them know that their application was received. They’ll continue to receive personalized emails and updates on their application, so they know exactly where they are in the process and aren’t left in the dark.”

iCIMS software also lets recruiters “tag” candidates’ attributes during the interview process.

“For example, recruiters can add ‘HTML,’ ‘Canadian French’ speaker’ or ‘problem-solving’ to a candidate’s profile after meeting them in an interview or at a career fair or event,” according to Vitale. “These tags are then searchable for users within the system so others can look for candidates with that specific skill or type of experience.”

Primepoint in Mount Holly offers end-to-end payroll processing and HR that help clients create and post job application forms online. It then collects, organizes and manages the applications, letters, resumes and other documents that stream in. The company also lets clients automate many aspects of the review process, filtering applicants based on customized criteria.

“Our system does not use keywords, so there’s less chance of rejecting a qualified applicant,” said Ellie Panhuise, Primepoint’s director of HR solutions. “We use ‘yes-no’ questions that can eliminate candidates who are clearly not qualified for the job. Then we also use other specific questions about qualifications that are used to assign numerical ranks to candidates, highlighting the ones that are a best fit.”

All the documents a candidate submits are stored digitally, so “if they’re hired, their information moves with them,” added Vic Scire, the company’s vice president of marketing. “This way, all authorized personnel have access to the employee’s work history, education, and certifications, licenses and expiration dates.

“But even our software doesn’t eliminate the need for human interaction. HR professionals want to see a candidate face-to-face to ensure there’s a good fit with the business’ culture, and a job applicant wants to see the employer in-person so they can judge what the company and its leadership represent.”

The Facebook effect

Job candidates should be cautious about what they’re posting, Balady suggested.

“We have not lost any potential placements because a candidate was indiscrete about their social media post, but I know people who have,” she said. “Too much personal information is generally not a good idea. I tell candidates that their posts can be fun but not over the top. You can be sure that our prospective employers will examine a candidate’s Facebook, Instagram and other accounts before they extend an offer.”

Also counseling caution on social media is Cindy Miceli, executive search director at Flemington-based Alta Associates.

“I need to occasionally make a candidate aware of how their current pictures and language choices depict them,” she reported. “Luckily, I find my audience — more at the senior-staff-to-executive-level — humbly open to the suggestion.”

But job-seekers shouldn’t shy away from social media, either, she cautioned.

“With recruiters themselves becoming more social media savvy, active job seekers are wise to keep their profiles updated and rich in the kinds of keywords that we recruiters would be likely searching on in order to find them,” Miceli said. “We find LinkedIn to be the best and most frequently visited site by our team and our corporate clients.”

Ryan Gatto, the Paramus-based senior regional manager for Robert Half, said that while digital channels like Skype and FaceTime are playing a larger role in the interviewing process, “technology will never replace a face-to-face interview. It will simply change the way we think of in-person interviews. The biggest challenge we see is the increasing demand for skilled talent and competition for job opportunities in the market.”

The gig economy

More individuals are ditching the traditional single-employer model and joining the so-called gig economy, where they take on multiple projects for more than one employer. Some do it by choice, others necessity, but either way, a report from the international consulting firm McKinsey & Co. says their ranks have grown to about 68 million independent workers in the U.S. alone.

“Most economists expect freelancing and other forms of ‘contingent work’ to grow as a portion of the U.S. job market,” noted Josh Wright, chief economist at iCIMS, a Holmdel-based software provider that works closely with businesses to boost their recruiting processes. “This is because of both the new technological platforms that facilitate this kind of work, the fact that our workforce is aging and many older people now want to continue working later in life but with greater flexibility. In fact, according to a survey conducted by iCIMS, more than half of full-time employees are interested in leaving their current job to join the gig economy.

“More potential workers are not interested in long-term commitments,” said Elaine Balady, managing partner at The Assurance Group, a full-service staffing and consulting firm in Maywood. “More millennials like project-based employment, unlike baby boomers who wanted long-term employment. Today, everything is portable, and I believe the trend will continue to increase.”

To that end, The Assurance Group handles contingent assignments, she added.

“These ‘gig workers’ become our employees, and they’ll work on assignments and projects for our clients for anywhere from three months to one year. But even as our contingent side continues to grow, our traditional executive search is also growing, so we see the developments as a win-win.”

The gig economy has also been a boon for Robert Half, said Ryan Gatton, the national staffing firm’s Paramus-based senior regional manager.

“A majority of our business is placing individuals on a temporary consulting basis. Our temporary workers and consultants fall into one of the four buckets: free agents, casual earners, reluctants and financially strapped. We provide a service to all of these individuals.”

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