11 Tools for Recruiting Hard-to-Fill Jobs

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11 Tools for Recruiting Hard-to-Fill Jobs

Recruiting for new, specialized, or highly technical positions requires a different approach than past years. Some of these jobs didn't exist 10 years ago, while others require such specialized experience or specific technical skills that older recruiting methods don't suffice. In any case, the need to find talent for these hard-to-fill jobs is forcing many employers to consider using other recruiting strategies beyond job boards and advertising.

Employers that excel at recruiting hard-to-fill positions have moved beyond traditional recruiting techniques like job boards and advertising by tapping into their existing employees' networks, building online strategies, and uniquely targeting their marketing to prospective candidates. Their recruiting methods are more strategic, sales and marketing-based, and make greater use of existing employees as talent scouts as opposed to just recruiters and HR staff.

Based on research we've conducted on how employers successfully land talent for hard-to-fill jobs, here are 11 effective tools to recruit hard-to-fill jobs.
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Job Descriptions: An Essential How-To Guide

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Employers often face challenges in creating new job descriptions for positions that they do not currently employ, identifying essential job functions, and keeping job descriptions updated. For these reasons, members often request sample job descriptions from ERC and consult with us to develop or update their job descriptions.

Based on our experience and knowledge in helping organizations with job descriptions coupled with our research on job description development practices, we've developed an essential how-to guide to creating new job descriptions to equip you with tips and guidance on managing this important, but often arduous, HR responsibility.

What Sources to Use

When creating a job description for a new job, using secondary sources of job information can help you better understand a position and the typical duties a person would perform in that role. Use these cautiously, however, and validate the job description with the new position's manager before finalizing it to be sure that the job description accurately captures the true job duties. Good sources to use to develop new job descriptions include:

  • BNA Job Description Tool / Other online job description tools
  • O*Net / Job Description Writer
  • Dictionary of Occupational Job Titles
  • ERI’s position analysis tool
  • Compensation or salary survey job descriptions
  • Sample job descriptions from other organizations
  • Job postings

Who to Consult for Job Information

Job analysis should always be used to create a new job description. Interviews, questionnaires, and/or observation techniques can be used to gather information about job tasks and duties, determine the most essential functions of the job, evaluate the abilities needed to perform the work, and uncover the qualifications or background necessary to complete the job duties. Common techniques include (in order of most used):

  • Interview/meeting with supervisor of job incumbent
  • Interview with job incumbent or past incumbents (typically high or average performers)
  • Observe job incumbents working on tasks
  • Ask supervisor and/or job incumbents to complete a questionnaire (i.e. PAQ)
  • Interview with subject matter expert(s)

The job incumbent or manager should not write the job description. Rather, a trained HR professional should. You can, however, gather important information from these individuals about the job, such as:

  • Purpose of the job
  • Basic functions and duties
  • Responsibilities related to supervision (number of employees supervised)
  • Level of discretion/authority
  • People with whom the position interacts and level of interaction
  • Amount and type of physical exertion
  • Abilities (mathematical, verbal, etc.)
  • Minimum educational or technical qualifications (diplomas, degrees, certifications, etc.)
  • Minimum experience required to perform duties
  • Exposure to certain work conditions

What Information to Include in a Job Description

At a minimum, job descriptions should include the job title, key duties and responsibilities, a job purpose summary, required job knowledge or skills, requisite physical and cognitive abilities, required educational level or certification(s), minimum qualifications/ competencies, preferred qualifications/competencies, reporting relationship, indication of essential duties, "other duties as assigned," and creation/revision dates.

Information about work conditions/environment, FLSA exemption status, and location of work are also somewhat commonly included in job descriptions.

Job descriptions should not include instructions or recommendations about how to do the job, performance expectations or standards, occasional or temporary job duties that are non-essential, future job duties, and generalized statements. Job descriptions also should not contain a laundry list of job duties, but rather should reflect the position's priorities.

How to Identify Essential Functions

One of the most important things employers must do when developing job descriptions is to identify and delineate the essential functions of the job.  

An essential function must be an important task that only the person in the job can do. In other words, the duty would be a hardship for another person to handle. An essential job function is not necessarily a duty that takes up the largest percentage of an employee's time, nor can it be automatically considered an essential function across similar jobs. 

There are a number of strategies organizations use to determine essential functions, including asking the job incumbent's manager, observing employees doing tasks, conducting a thorough job analysis, and reviewing core duties and most critical job tasks.

How to Write Job Descriptions

Job descriptions should be written using clear and very specific language. Each duty or task should begin with an action verb in the present tense (i.e. supervise, create, analyze, administer, etc.) and imprecise words should be limited (i.e. assists, handles, etc.). In addition, no references to race, gender, disability, or other protected classes should be included in the document. Similarly, avoid jargon and spell out acronyms.

How Often to Update Job Descriptions

Ideally, job descriptions should be "living documents" which are evaluated annually because it's not uncommon for job descriptions to grow outdated or need minor adjustments each year. Nonetheless, the majority of employers re-look at job descriptions only when a position becomes available, when there is a change in the duties of a position, and when there is a significant change in the organization.

Be aware that if job descriptions are not updated on a regular basis, you risk running into trouble with regulatory requirements like complying with ADA, as the courts frequently revisit employers' job descriptions to determine if employees are capable of performing certain job duties and whether those duties are essential.

Job descriptions are generally regarded as legal documents, necessary for maintaining compliance with ADA, FLSA, FMLA and other employment laws in addition to aiding the recruiting and hiring process, helping managers evaluate performance and set performance criteria or goals, determining compensation or grade level, and helping to identify training needs. For these reasons and more, be sure that your job descriptions are created and written accurately and updated on a regular basis.

Additional Resources

Job Description Resources

ERC offers numerous resources to help employers create and update job descriptions through Membership including salary surveys, a job description tool, and sample job descriptions. ERC members can contact hrhelp@yourerc.com to access these resources.

Job Description Services

ERC can help create job descriptions as well as facilitate job description updates. For more information about our services, please contact hrhelp@yourerc.com.

ERC Forms Partnership with Corporate Screening Services

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ERC has partnered with Corporate Screening Services, a leading provider of pre-employment screening products and solutions, to offer its members a free Screening Program Assessment (SPA) and discounted pricing on background screening. ERC members will receive at least 5% off all background screening products.

Corporate Screening combines state-of-the-art data gathering technology with in-depth examination and analysis to verify information and mitigate the risks associated with hiring employees. With offices in Cleveland and Tampa, Corporate Screening utilizes an expanding professional staff of 80 analysts and consultants to service the needs of hiring professionals representing a full spectrum of industries, with special emphasis on the healthcare, financial, manufacturing and higher education sectors.

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with Corporate Screening as we believe their products and processes are tops in the industry,” said Pat Perry, President of ERC. “Background screening is a popular outsourced solution for our members and we think they will be very happy with the service and quality at Corporate Screening.”

“Corporate Screening is honored to have been selected as ERC’s background screening partner especially in such a competitive market. We share many of the same values and virtues as ERC so this an incredibly natural fit. Our team is excited to continue ERC’s tradition of providing exceptional benefit to its members,” said Greg Dubecky, President of Corporate Screening.

For more information on the discounts available to ERC members, click here.

Hiring Rates Improving In Transportation, Warehousing and Utilities Industry

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The July 2012 BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey reports that hire rates for the month of May saw little change when compared to the same statistic from 2011. However, one notable exception can be found in the area of Transportation, Warehousing and Utilities. This group of sub-industries experienced a 1.1% hiring rate increase over May 2011 with a 3.7% of all hires made in May 2012 falling into this industry breakout- approximately 180,000 individuals hired throughout the month.

While this industry is traditionally paid lower than many other hourly positions, a jump in hiring could reflect an increased demand for some of these more physically demanding jobs in the private sector. Reporting hourly wage data from the second half of January 2012, the 2012 ERC Wage Survey did in fact see a modest increase in pay for a number of these positions. For example, a Warehouse Worker earned a median salary $13.68, which is up about 12% from the 2011 survey results. Other positions, such as Drivers (Heavy: $16.25 and Local: $16.80) and Fork Lift Operators ($15.00) saw slightly lower improvements in wages, but do appear to be trending consistently upwards over the past several years.

View ERC's Wage & Salary Adjustment Survey Results

The survey reports data from Northeast Ohio organizations regarding their actual and projected wage and salary adjustments.

View the Results

Employers Retention Challenges

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As the U.S. economy continues to improve and employers begin to add employees to their payrolls, another employment metric is also increasing, i.e. voluntary turnover. For employees, a stronger economy often means they feel more confident leaving a job of their own accord. However, from an employer’s perspective an increased separation rate means they are going to need to work harder to retain existing employees as the job market improves.

As a national trend, increased voluntary turnover is moving steadily upward with a 2012 report from PriceWaterhouse Coopers documenting a 1.2% increase from 2010 to 2011, up to 8.2% (2011/2012 US Human Capital Effectiveness Report). In Northeast Ohio, the voluntary turnover rate hit double digits in 2011, with the 2012 ERC Turnover and HR Department Practices reporting an average of 12% across all industries and organizational sizes.

However, notable discrepancies in these rates are apparent when comparing manufacturers to non-manufacturers. At 9.6% manufacturers seem to have more success at retaining existing employees than their non-manufacturing counterparts who are seeing a much higher 16.7% voluntary turnover rate for 2011.

In terms of the role of HR, bringing this rate back down, may mean considering a redirection of HR funds away from Recruiting/Hiring and into areas like Training & Development or Benefits. By allocating an average of 23.1% of their total HR budget to Recruiting/Hiring, by far the highest percent allocation reported in the survey, non-manufacturers may actually be contributing to the trend towards higher turnover.

With such a strong focus on recruiting, these organizations may be missing out on opportunities to develop and incent their own existing employees.

Drug Testing Policies in the Workplace

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Drug testing has become a hot button political issue with the 2012 report by the  National Conference of State Legislatures that 28 states across the country have either considered or passed legislation establishing drug testing requirements for individuals enrolled in various types of public assistance programs, including unemployment benefits. The constitutionality of many of these laws is currently in question, but what do drug testing policies look like outside of the realm of the State?

While some limited data on drug testing policies and practices in the workplace does exist, ERC’s 2012 Drug Testing Policies and Practices Survey provides data about drug testing policies for 163 organizations right here in Ohio. In addition, the report offers a detailed look into the frequency with which organizations have encountered failed drug tests, many of which result in rescinded job offers to otherwise qualified job applicants or even termination for existing employees.

Drug testing policies were common, with 78% of employers reporting that they would not hire an otherwise qualified applicant based on a failed drug test. This policy was applied to hourly positions (78.6%) slightly more often than to salaried positions (77.5%), a trend that continued across all breakouts regardless of industry or organizational size.

Although these hiring polices around drug testing were slightly more common for hourly than salaried positions, the survey found much larger differences in the reported testing failure rates among the hourly (33.5%) than the salaried group (13.2%). By and large, employers reported that their failure rates have remained the same from 2011, both for pre-employment testing as well as for drug tests performed on existing employees.

To download the full survey report of 163 participating Ohio organizations, please click here.

Additional Resources

ERC members save on drug testing with Preferred Partners.

Employers Eager to Hire Interns and Recent Graduates

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The results of the 2012 Intern & Recent Grad Pay Rates & Practices Survey, conducted by ERC and NOCHE, showed that an overwhelming majority (83%) of 117 participating Northeast Ohio employers were either maintaining or increasing their internship programs, while almost two-thirds (64%) were in the process of hiring or planning to hire new graduates for positions in their organizations. These organizations look for candidates with relevant majors in their field, high levels of professionalism, strong interpersonal and communication skills, and past work or internship/co-op experience.

Recruitment Trends

Despite a strong online recruiting presence, organizations are primarily using job boards/websites focused on interns or recent graduates to pursue candidates, social media remains low on the list of recruitment methods at for both interns and recent graduates. Interestingly, 2012's survey does mark a small increase in social media recruitment for recent graduates from the preceding years, up 9% from 20% in 2011. However, when compared to more traditional recruitment methods such as job postings on college career center websites or relationships with professors, social media recruitment methods appear to remain a largely untapped recruitment resource. This trend suggests that for tech savvy Millenials searching for an internship or first job, LinkedIn or Facebook may not be the most effective platform through which to reach potential employers.

Benefits of Interns & Recent Graduates

While the overall lack of interest in social media recruiting is consistent with trends in the world of Human Resources, it sits in stark contrast to one of the top emerging benefits of hiring interns and recent graduates, i.e. familiarity with the latest technological advances. Both groups continue to be seen as a key element for injecting organizations with fresh, innovative ideas, particularly in the realm of technology.

Employers commonly express a high level of confidence in the expertise of interns and recent graduates as employees. By coupling this high skill level with a strong financial incentive to hire from within these groups, pursuing interns and recent graduates as future employees is largely viewed as a positive investment in an organization’s future. 

The 2012 survey also reports average starting salaries for recent graduates, which vary significantly depending on the type of degree. Similar to the 2011 data, an engineering degree showed the highest average starting salary for a Bachelors degree.

Average starting salaries for college degrees

Degree Obtained

Average Starting Salary

Masters, Business Administration

$62,500

Bachelors, Engineering

$51,455

Bachelors, Computer Science

$50,000

Bachelors, Finance

$45,750

Bachelors, Information Technology

$44,000

Bachelors, Chemistry

$39,833

Associates, Information Technologies

$37,000

Bachelors, Accounting

$36,912

Bachelors, Business Administration

$35,880

Bachelors, Marketing

$34,687

Associates, Business/Marketing

$31,093

View the Intern & Recent Graduate Pay Rates & Practices Survey

This survey reports data from Northeast Ohio employers about their internship and recent graduate employment and pay practices.

View the Results

How Employers Can Fill the Skill Gap

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Organizations across the region continue to face challenges in finding the right employees and talent. What's the solution to this dilemma? We weigh in on the skill-gap problem facing many employers and several practical things you can do to obtain the skills you need.

Is your offer competitive?

You've likely changed and tweaked your sourcing strategies several times to find the right talent, but have you changed your offer - the pay, benefits, and perks of working at your organization? People with the most in-demand skills know what they are worth and are drawn to the most lucrative opportunities, with higher salaries, better benefits, more advancement opportunities, and unique perks.

You must have the right package to draw the talent you need. If you haven't taken a look at what starting salaries and benefits packages are in the market currently, and how employers are communicating this information to applicants to draw them into their organizations, it may be best to start there. Your pay rates may not be competitive anymore.

Do you need to redefine what talent means?

The perception of a skill gap sometimes is created by our unrealistic expectations of everything talent should be. Talent is more or less a set of characteristics and abilities which predict success on the job. Talent is not necessarily an exact match of all the skills and experiences you need, however hiring processes often seek this precise match.

Consider how employers define top talent - usually in terms of attitude, integrity, work ethic, passion for the work, and motivation to succeed. These are talents worth seeking, but more often than not, interviews, assessments, and other hiring methods focus heavily on concrete skills and experiences - the easiest of which to teach prospective employees. That being said, keep these things in mind when hiring talent:

  • Be careful what you are screening out in the hiring process. Don't needlessly turn down candidates because they don't meet an unnecessary skill requirement.
  • Focus interview questions on relevant behaviors and experiences needed to be successful on the job, not necessarily exact experiences that the job will entail. Target abilities and transferable skills.
  • Consider hiring inexperienced employees to build and grow talent from the ground, up. They are a blank slate with fresh perspectives. This strategy has been highly successful for many organizations, particularly entrepreneurial firms.

Who's already on your bench?

Companies often don't realize their bench strength in that many of the technical skills and capabilities they need either already exist in their organizations or have the potential to be learned. Frequently, they don't take the time to understand what each of their employees has to offer, and consequently overlook talent that already exists in their organizations as well as opportunities to engage and develop their current staff who desire growth.

Don't assume that employees don't want to learn a new skill, take on a challenge, go to a training, or that you know an employee's full potential. Regularly inventory employees' skills, document their education and training, and ask employees what skills they would like to attain. Skills can be learned, and our guess is that you have plenty of employees eager for a new challenge.

Can they be grown?

More employers are realizing that in order to gain the skills and talent they need to grow and advance their businesses, they will have to start growing those skills internally with training, coaching, and development. Hiring talent externally may seem easier as well as less costly and time-consuming, but the cost of operating with vacancies, wasting time unsuccessfully sourcing talent, and paying a premium for external hires can outweigh the cost of investing in your current employees.

An added bonus of growing talent internally is that doing so engages and retains current employees, who often will leave for greener pastures and new opportunities that aren't afforded to them. In our experience, too much external hiring can cause a great deal of disengagement, eliminating possible opportunities for your current employees. Here are some tips to grow your own:

  • Conduct a training needs assessment to understand what skill gaps exist.
  • Determine what skill gaps can be filled internally and which employees have the ability to learn.
  • Identify opportunities for cross-training - can employees be trained by current employees?
  • Where skills can't be cross-trained and outside expertise is needed, seek external training.
  • Prioritize training and development opportunities based on the most critical skill gaps to manage costs and time away from work.

ERC's Director of Technical Training weighs in on the importance of development to retaining employees and closing the skill gap. He says, "To help maintain their competitive edge, organizations will need to continually invest in workforce development. Contrary to a popular myth, companies who invest in developing the technical skills of their people are more likely to retain those people--- not lose them to a competitor for an extra 25 cents an hour. Studies have shown that when employees develop new technical skills, they are more loyal, productive and motivated to do an even better job…for the company who invested in them."

The skill gap is here to stay and employers will be tasked with coming up with creative solutions to fill the gap in the months and years to come. Employers that are able to fill their skill gaps more creatively and thoughtfully, while retaining their best people in the process, will end up gaining a competitive advantage.

Additional Resources

Training at ERC
Hundreds of companies turn to ERC every year to develop and enhance the skills of their managers, supervisors, leaders and professionals at all levels. We offer a variety of technical skills, workplace/soft skills, supervisory/management/leadership skills, computer skills, and legal/compliance training on-site as well as at our Workplace Center.

2012 ERC Local Salary Data Published
For more information or to purchase our most recent ERC Salary Survey and ERC Wage Survey which provide local salary and hourly wage data from Northeast Ohio employers on over 300 jobs, please click here. Not an ERC member? Join today and receive free access to our newly published survey results!

Do’s and Don’ts of Employment Background Checks

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The "Do's"

DO: Obtain Applicant Consent. The first step in pre employment screening is to obtain applicant consent. This isn’t just good advice—it’s also the law, as outlined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). You must make applicants aware that they will be subject to a background check, and the candidate/employee must sign a written consent form before you conduct the screen.

DO: Make Sure the Background Check Relates to the Job. Establish a clear link between the items you’re screening for in the background check and the job duties. Understand what you “need to know” and what could potentially violate an individual’s privacy rights or cause unfair discrimination.

DO: Apply Your Criteria Consistently. Another way to help keep your company within legal grounds and promote fair hiring is to make sure you apply your policy in a consistent manner. For example, for a particular job category such as “Help Desk Support”  make sure you use the same type of background check on everyone in that job category and that you use the same criteria for assessing the results. You can vary your background checks to make sure they are relevant for the job – but do not vary them within the same job.

DO: Notify Your Applicant of Any Records Found. Before you take any action on the results of a background screen in hiring, promoting, or suspending an employee, make sure you’re aware of the Adverse Action requirements. These requirements are mandated by the FCRA and are very specific about how to notify an applicant of an adverse decision you’ve made concerning the results of their background check.

DO: Consider the Use of Employee Monitoring After Hire: Just because an applicant has cleared a background check, don’t assume that you will know if and when that person might get into trouble once they are in your employ. Monitoring your current employees to make sure you know if an arrest occurs is a growing best practice.

DO: Establish and Publish Your Background Screening Policy. Make clear—in writing—your background screening policy. Detail what types of screens you conduct, and the information for which you’re screening. Make sure you include federal, state and local laws in your guidelines. Additionally, make it clear how you’ll apply your background screening results.

The "Don'ts"

DON’T: Create a Blanket Policy. Fair employment laws require that you only make hiring decisions based on job-related capabilities. Therefore, avoid bright line “no criminal record” policies. Often, old and non-serious convictions have little or no bearing on a person’s ability to fulfill the job obligations.

DON’T: Rely Solely on National Criminal Database Searches. With today’s mobile workforce, it’s wise to conduct criminal searches on a national level to see if there are any criminal activities beyond where your applicant works or worked. But, always back up your national search with a local-level search to verify the results. Otherwise, you’ll risk making decisions on old or potentially inaccurate information.

DON’T: Forget to Screen Your Subcontractors & Temporary Workers. Everyone who works for your company should undergo a background screen. This includes contractors and vendors who are working for you. There is a large body of legal precedent that suggests you can be held liable for anyone who is paid by you; whether they are an employee or a subcontractor.

Percentage of Companies that do Background Checks

Eighty percent of U.S. companies ran criminal checks on job applicants in 2011, compared to about 50 percent of companies in 1996, according to a 2012 report from the Society for Human Resource Management.

What the New EEOC Guidance Means for You

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) 2012 guidance on background checks suggests that employers need to exercise more due diligence in their hiring practices. Its guidance on background check practices underscores the importance of five key practices in the hiring process.

1. Hiring policies should not exclude people from employment based on status.

Policies that automatically exclude people from employment based on only certain criteria (such as criminal status, age, disability, etc.) could pose liability. Employers should refrain from developing narrow policies of this nature to avoid potential legal issues.

2. Employers need to monitor adverse impact.

Hiring practices that result in adverse impact for a protected group are unlawful. If a hiring practice or selection method is adversely impacting a protected group, employers should not use it. This is true of any method used to base a hiring decision such as ability/personality assessments, drug tests, background checks, credit checks, etc.

3. Employers must hire based on the essential functions of the job.

The EEOC’s guidance suggests that employers must make hiring decisions based on whether candidates can do the essential job functions. Employers must identify those essential requirements in the hiring process and determine if a criminal record (for example) prevents a candidate from performing those functions.

4. Hiring criteria has to be job-related.

One of the most consistent trends in guidance provided by the government (and EEOC) on hiring practices is to keep all hiring decisions based on job-related criteria. If the criteria that employers are using to evaluate job candidates are not job-related, it will likely not hold up in court. For example, if an applicant's criminal offense is unrelated to the job, then you may not be able to exclude an applicant.

5. Employers must train decision-makers about employment discrimination.

The EEOC’s guidance emphasizes the importance of employers training both HR practitioners and managers on employment discrimination. Any individual who makes hiring decisions should understand employment law as it relates to recruitment and hiring.

While the EEOC only specifically addressed criminal background checks in its guidance, employers should be cautious with using any hiring practices, criteria and/or policies that are questionable against the guidelines provided.

Please note that by providing you with research information that may be contained in this article, ERC is not providing a qualified legal opinion. As such, research information that ERC provides to its members should not be relied upon or considered a substitute for legal advice. The information that we provide is for general employer use and not necessarily for individual application.

Additional Resources

Save on Background Check Services!ERC’s Preferred Partner Corporate Screening Services, Inc. offers ERC members discounts averaging over 20% off standard background screening products. 

Behavioral Interviewing
This workshop gives participants the skills they need to effectively plan for and conduct an effective behavioral-based interview. It also guides participants through effectively evaluating candidates so they can hire the best candidate. Emphasis will be placed on the selection process, including legal issues facing interviewers.