(Illustration by Govindanmarudhai/iStock by Getty Images)

Judy Wong, the VP of executive search and corporate talent acquisition at the telecom brand Spectrum, was struggling to fill recruiter jobs when she seized on a novel idea. Wong approached managers at one of Spectrum’s call centers and asked: Does anyone want to consider a role as a recruiter? It worked, and Wong ended up hiring a number of new recruiters out of the company’s own ranks.

Now Spectrum has call-center positions to fill, but Wong said, “it’s much easier to backfill a supervisor than it is to find a recruiter in today’s marketplace.” Indeed, last year the Wall Street Journal reported that the average number of U.S. job postings for recruiters doubled between February 2020 and September 2021. The demand for recruiters reflects an intensely competitive labor market in which talent-acquisition leaders like Wong are getting very creative about the ways they find and attract prospective new hires.

“Our candidates are absolutely in the driver's seat right now, and companies have to respond differently,” said Kerry Royer, VP and head of global talent acquisition at Verizon. “We know that the demand for talent is greater than the supply in a lot of cases, and that gap is continuing to get bigger. I think that companies have no choice but to start thinking differently and considering a non-traditional approach, and non-traditional talent, to fill their roles.”

From Day One hosted a panel of five talent-acquisition experts, Wong and Royer among them, during its January virtual conference on recruiting skilled talent in 2022. Their conversation, titled “Stepping Up Their Game,” moderated by Fast Company staff editor Lydia Dishman, explored how TA leaders are adapting to a changing market.

Speaking on talent acquisition, top row from left: Judy Wong of Spectrum, Kendall Messner of UST, and Tariq Meyers of Canvas. Bottom row, from left: Chad Lafferty of Attuned, Kerry Royer of Verizon, and moderator Lydia Dishman of Fast Company (Image by From Day One)

Tariq Meyers, chief people officer and co-CEO at diversity recruiting platform Canvas, said throwing out outdated notions of career pedigree is a good place to start. “It’s no longer about that degree,” he said. “It’s no longer about that previous company. It's not about lowering the talent bar. It's about expanding it. Now we're seeing that folks who may not have gone to post-secondary education, or folks who are self-taught, or folks who didn't go to school at all, are still being able to showcase their skills in some of the different platforms.”

Meyers said many of those workers don’t show up on LinkedIn, and that recruiters should go looking elsewhere. Kendall Messner, who leads talent acquisition at UST, a digital platforms and products company, agreed. “There's a lot of LinkedIn burnout out there too, or I think a lot of folks have just turned it off. Like, ‘OK, I've already changed jobs every three months for the last two years. I think I'll take a break,’ or whatever the case may be.”

The issue in many cases may not be the technology, but the search criteria, said Royer. “If you're using the technology to look for the same things, it's not going to expand your pipeline.”

Chad Lafferty, VP of global sales at Attuned, which builds software that measures intrinsic motivation, said the most effective tools for his team are word of mouth and referrals, since his company is based in Japan and only a small slice of the population uses LinkedIn. For UST’s Messner, partnering with his marketing colleagues to promote open roles has made the biggest difference. As for Verizon’s Royer, her team is targeting people at risk for job displacement and offering opportunities to learn new skills through an apprenticeship program that can lead to a permanent role.

Wong said her strategy for finding new pools of talent includes partnering with Meyers’ company, Canvas, and making it easier for Spectrum’s recruiters to work with hiring agencies. “It is just all-hands-on-deck,” Wong said. “Use whatever means you possibly can to get these candidates attracted and in the door.”

Ultimately, adapting to a changing market requires satisfying what workers want–and quickly. Not only are recruiters competing with each other, they’re also competing with the desire of many in the labor force to strike out on their own, which Dishman called “entrepreneurial spark.”

To sell themselves to candidates, employers are investing in recruitment branding and employer branding. Royer said Verizon has emphasized promoting its employer brand and “bringing to life” its employer value proposition. “And not just us saying it, but really through the voice of our employees, having our own employees tell the stories of how they're delivering on those things, and for candidates to be able to get a glimpse into the culture directly from the employees.”

As employers get better at responding to candidate demands, standing out will be the challenge, Lafferty said. “It really becomes how you differentiate your organization, either through your interview process, through your product, or through your values. Those are the things that are resonating with people now.”

Meyers is seeing increased emphasis on healthy company culture, a shift especially resonant with those in marginalized groups. “It's no longer these communities busting down the big company doors or knocking at the door looking for opportunity,” he said. “In many ways folks are sitting back and saying, ‘You know, for the last decade, many of our organizations have made these brand promises of inclusion.’ And now in a competitive job market, folks are sitting back and saying, ‘No, no. I want to make sure that the brand promise matches the brand experience.’”

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in Richmond, Va.