Finding qualified candidates is consistently ranked as one of the most pressing challenges facing recruiters. In 2021 and beyond, it is only going to be more challenging. But with the right recruitment strategy, you can find the best candidates and hire them before someone else does.

Recruiting top talent is a hard job. And it is not any easier in the wake of a pandemic and an increasing list of hiring managers’ demands. In a crisis, recruiting needs tend to be more urgent, requiring a nimble workforce that can stand up to new hybrid or remote work setups. And even as parts of the economy have yet to recover, many businesses are actively searching for talent to meet the onslaught of demand.

These recruiting strategies can help you meet that challenge and plan for long-term success at your company.

The Problems Hiring Managers Will Face in 2021

With few opportunities for networking, conferences, and casual in-person interactions, how you build a talent pipeline will be markedly different from the past.

Despite higher unemployment numbers, many roles are going unfilled, according to Atta Tarki, executive recruiter and author of Evidence-based Recruiting: How to Build a Company of Star Performers Through Systematic and Repeatable Hiring Practices.

Many people are also relocating, making it more difficult to fill roles, including more senior roles in some cities, he adds.

Another reason? Today’s best candidates are seeking radical flexibility, fair pay, and alignment with the company’s ethics. Many have had time to reevaluate their lives and pursue organizations that satisfy those needs.

Despite higher unemployment, top candidates are still in demand. And many companies have had to rethink how to maintain their workforce size in turbulent times, using a combination of full-time, freelance, and contingent workers.

Hiring strategies need to adapt to this new reality. Companies that continue with their old recruitment process will find that they routinely miss out on the best candidates unless they get lucky—which is not a viable strategy.

So what can companies do to ensure that they get the best talent possible for their open positions?

How to meet hiring demands for recruitment

How to Meet 2021’s Hiring Demands

First, hire for aptitude.

This might seem counterintuitive. It would be easier to hire someone who matches the job requirements exactly. But how often can you find someone who exactly matches the description?

Modern job descriptions include huge numbers of competencies and skills that few candidates can meet without exceptions. That leaves recruiters stuck finding as many candidates as possible who only come close to meeting the requirements and deciding among them.

Hiring for aptitude solves this problem. When a recruiter sees a high-quality candidate who has the core skills for the job and a strong learning mindset, they can confidently make an offer.

The second way companies can more competitively hire in 2021 and beyond: prioritizing generalists and those willing to be flexible to meet changing demands. These are people who have a drive to learn and experience in multiple fields—though they sometimes lack the exact skills and experience you seek.

Generalists are the people you want at your company (though there’s a place for specialists, too). When Google conducted a study on the qualities that made their employees successful, they found that science, technology, engineering, and math skills were dead last.

Which qualities were more important? Understanding different points of view, being a critical thinker, having problem-solving abilities, and being able to make connections across complex ideas, time zones, and even via Zoom.

These are characteristics generalists tend to have—and they put them at an advantage in the workplace.

Focusing on aptitude and hiring generalists lets companies more quickly onboard top-quality candidates. But what about specialists?

Building and Borrowing Skills

Many companies, when faced with a problem, default to hiring a new full-time employee to solve it (the so-called “buy” strategy). In some cases, this is the best decision. But it can also be very expensive—especially if the company spends months making that hire.

There are two other ways that companies can source great talent for solving specific problems: upskilling existing employees (“build”) and hiring freelance specialists (“borrow”).

Both options have their benefits.

Building existing employees’ skills means developing the competencies you need to continually solve problems without spending more on the hiring process or freelancers. Plus, employees are always looking to learn, and supporting their development increases engagement and retention.

Development of current employees doesn’t always figure into recruitment strategies. But that’s a big mistake.

Of course, building your workforce’s skills takes time. If you desperately need complex technical skills as soon as possible, waiting for employees to develop those skills doesn’t make sense.

That’s where “borrowing” comes in.

The freelance and contract world is as strong as it has ever been. You can find freelancers with any skill in a matter of minutes and have them onboarded and working in a few days. Try hiring an experienced full-time technical employee in that amount of time.

Like training and hiring, good freelancers don’t come cheap. But they can be an effective stopgap when you’re building expertise in your current employees.

The Flexible Workforce

Working with freelancers and contract employees comes with another advantage: You can hire the best talent from around the globe. Many companies are more comfortable hiring remote freelancers than full-time remote employees, and if you fall into this camp, you have an entire world of talent at your fingertips.

To really succeed, you will also need to expand your flexible working arrangements beyond freelancers and short-term contract workers. While many are already working in such arrangements, making these flexible arrangements permanent can go a long way in attracting top talent. In other words, if your employees thrived while working from home, many will expect to be rewarded with a formal opportunity to keep working in their slippers past 2021.

Jobs that offer flexibility are key for applicants right now. According to a 2020 report on the future of work from ManpowerGroup, 8 out of 10 workers say they want to better balance work and family and are worried about losing the flexibility gained from working from home. Evidence shows that remote employees are often more productive, take fewer sick days, cost employers less money, and increase employee diversity. With a pandemic, we have an even bigger sample size to prove this. Roughly 95% of employees surveyed by FlexJobs report their productivity has been the same or higher since leaving the office during COVID-19. If your workplace isn’t flexible in 2021, you will struggle in explaining your rationale to—and recruiting of—top talent. Make emphasizing workplace flexibility part of your recruitment strategies to get the best potential candidates.
Pursuing the right talent and skills in recruiting

Pursue People Who Will Help Your Company Grow

It’s not enough to let candidates come to you. You need to go looking for people who aren’t looking for jobs.

That might sound like a waste of time. But approximately 70% of the world’s workforce is made up of passive candidates who aren’t looking for a job, according to 2019 data from recruiting firm Workonic. Just because someone is not actively looking for a new job doesn’t mean they would not take one. Why would you limit your recruiting to a fraction of the world’s talent who is open to a new job? Not every person you get in touch with will want a new job. But you might be surprised at how many are at least amenable to hearing about a new opportunity.

Keep in mind that wooing someone away from their current job takes specific preparation. If they have never heard of your company and do not know what you stand for, you are going to have a much more difficult time convincing them that taking a job at your organization is a good idea.

That is where employer branding comes in. You will not develop an employer brand overnight. For a quick overview of how you can build your own employer brand to attract the highest-quality long-term employees, look to these tips.

Create a System for Growth and Succession

In the next few years, bringing in outside talent is likely to solve many recruiting challenges. But forgetting about your internal talent pool would be a big mistake.

“Even if you’re sourcing and selecting the best candidates right now, at some point, you may need to consider a build strategy,” says Sharlyn Lauby, President of ITM Group Inc., a Florida-based training and human resources consulting firm. “It’s better to think about succession planning now because it takes time to develop people and see the results.”

You can go headhunting to recruit new leaders and executives. But relying on that type of recruitment strategy for the top levels of your company means you will spend more money and wait longer for those people to start having an impact on your business.

With more competition for top candidates, recruiters will need to look to the employees they already have. If those employees have been chosen for their aptitude and ability to adapt to new requirements, they have the characteristics to make great leaders.

Recruitment Strategies for the Future

With increased reliance on freelancers, contract workers, and hire-now-to-solve-a-problem employees, it can be easy to lose track of the ultimate goal: your company’s long-term success.

All of these recruiting strategies can result in great hires. But your recruiters and talent sourcers must take a long view on your hires, contractors, and promoters. It will benefit your company in 2021 and beyond.