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What Job Seekers Actually Want

By Peter Weddle, CEO TAtech

Last month, McKinsey published an article with this memorable statement about what employees want: “…they want to feel valued by their organization and managers. They want meaningful – though not necessarily in-person – interactions, not just transactions.” Truer words were never written … for employers seeking job seekers no less than those trying to hang onto their employees.

Entitled, ‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours, the McKinsey article begins with a telling point. According to its research, too many employers are trying to solve their retention problem while blindfolded. They have no idea if they’re heading in the right direction, so – no surprise – in many cases they aren’t. The numbers tell the story. More than 15 million workers gave their employers a pink slip in the last four months alone.

Whether you call it the Great Attrition or the Great Resignation, this loss of talent is clearly a huge problem for employers, and they’re increasingly desperate to solve it. That desperation, however, has caused them to skip a vital step in developing their response. They haven’t done their homework. They’re throwing pay increases at workers, without first checking to see if that’s actually what those workers want.

Now, of course, no worker is going to turn down a fatter pay check, but their experience in receiving it feels more like they’re being paid off than being appreciated. It adds a little stickiness to their relationship with the employer, but the glue has a very short shelf-life. It lasts about as long as it takes for a high performing employee (or even an average one) to receive a better offer from another organization.

Na now, unfortunately, many employers are using the same myopic strategy in their talent acquisition. They’re offering a whole basketful of financial incentives without knowing if that’s what today’s best talent, in general, and those qualified for their openings, in particular, actually want. They are framing their interaction with job seekers as a transaction, rather than as an effort to meet prospects’ needs.

Yes, a competitive salary is clearly important, but it’s table stakes in today’s competition for the best and brightest among job seekers. What differentiates employers in their view are the intangibles over and above that monetary baseline. The key to success, therefore, is figuring out what those intangibles are and then embedding them in a package of talent attraction incentives.

Moving from “Ready, Fire, Aim” to “Ready, Aim, Fire”

Only an opportunity that addresses what prospects value most creates a truly compelling offer from employers. The prospects that matter, of course, are those specific high performers with the skills and experience required to fill a specific organization’s openings. In order to compete successfully for that demographic, its recruiters must identify the intangibles that will make their organization irresistible to them.

Acquiring such information isn’t difficult, but it does require that it come from the right source. Hiring managers and first line supervisors would seem to be obvious choices. After all, they’re the ones who need those workers, so it stands to reason they would know what it will take to bring them in the door. It’s a logical assumption, but totally wrong. Most of those managers and supervisors are clueless about what motivates the people who work for them.

So, what’s the better choice?

Get the information from high performers who are already working for the organization in the same or a similar position to the one that’s being filled. They have the skills and knowledge and, no less important, the outlook required for success in both the role and the organization. And they, better than anyone else, know what will attract other workers just like them.

In today’s highly volatile talent market, however, it’s important to ask them two questions, not one.
• First, what was it about the employer’s offer that made them say “Yes” and agree to join the organization? That insight is obviously critical to identifying those differentiating intangibles that will bring talent in the door.
• And second, also ask them what made them stay with the organization? The factors that drive retention should also be a part of what an employer offers to prospects. It is what satisfies high performers over the long term and ensures the organization gets the return on investment it expects from hiring them.

To transform the Great Resignation into the Great Attraction & Retention requires first that employers do their homework with the experts who actually know what motivates the top talent they need and second that they embed that two-pronged message in their outreach to employment prospects.

Food for Thought,

Peter Weddle is the author or editor of over two dozen books and a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the founder and CEO of TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions. You can check out his latest book on