Faces of HR

Monster Career Expert Vicki Salemi Assesses the Recruiting Landscape

Note: Vicki was an HR Works Podcast 5-Minute Friday guest. Listen to that here.

As an HR professional, you undoubtedly know that the landscape of recruiting has undergone massive upheaval, not just since the beginning of the pandemic but also in the last few months. Getting your footing can be a challenge right now, but luckily, we have the insights of Monster Career Expert Vicki Salemi to help make sense of it all.

How did you get into your career to begin with?

I started my career path in HR in training and development. During college, I had temped every summer and worked for a company locally in New Jersey, and I just loved it. Back then, it was more personnel before it was called human capital management.

I was fascinated by the people aspect of HR and the fact that it’s in any company, so you can be portable and work in HR or recruiting or development in various industries—small, large, globally, start-ups, and all across the board—so I knew for job security, you need HR. I worked in training and development for 2 years, and I worked in international HR, which was really fascinating and had a lot of compensation and a lot of number crunching in that and then moved into recruiting, where I just loved it. I did campus recruiting and experience-side recruiting and did that for several years with a few different companies.

Then I realized at that point that I felt like I knew so much of where candidates were at. I felt like I was the advocate for the jobseekers, but I couldn’t tell them if there was money left on the table and they weren’t negotiating; or that the job was on hold, but clearly, I couldn’t tell them. I just felt like more of the advocate, and I was getting out there more in New York City in terms of pitching myself as a career expert. I’d written my second book at that point—that was a career book. I was really positioning myself on how I can be an advocate for jobseekers to get a better job because really, when you have a great job that you feel fulfilled in and that you’re excited by and you’re paid what you’re worth, it can really impact your life in so many positive ways. Even when you think about a work family, we often see, at least pre-pandemic, our colleagues more often than our families. Work is such an integral part of our lives, so being part of that solution is awesome.

Then partnering with Monster, of course, to be that be-all and end-all for the right fit, for the employers to find the candidates, and for the jobseekers to connect with employers for their next opportunity is really exciting. It’s invigorating.

So many people start in recruiting and end up in HR. You went the other way, and it seems like along the way, you really saw the employees for what they are.

Yeah, for instance, if I went to a party and someone said he or she was looking for a job, I would automatically give advice. Then I would hear what the person’s concerns were, and I really felt empathy in terms of what he or she was going through.

At one of my last jobs, I remember I had over 40 job recs to fill, and oftentimes, I was dealing with over 150 candidates on any given day, and it was really challenging keeping track of them all and different parts of the process, as well as educating my hiring managers on how to properly interview candidates. It was just a lot, and my background and training in international HR provided a lot of insight, let’s say if we were filling a job for an overseas candidate or something. It’s interesting how sometimes we don’t know, when we’re in a job, how the building blocks can set us up or help us down the road for another opportunity.

Absolutely.

Also, as a side note, recruiting in general provides you with awesome life skills because you know how to negotiate, you know what’s to be expected, and you can assess people, and, regardless of where you are in your career, interviewing skills and assessment and communication are integral to really anything you do in life.

I like to think of recruiting as customer service meets sales meets marketing. You really have to be good at all those things, and it’s funny because a lot of recruiting jobs are entry level, and I know that the turnover for recruiters is high. It’s pretty high pressure; you’ve got to find those people who just thrive under that circumstance.

Yes, exactly.

Let’s switch gears to talk about the recruiting landscape today. I know that maybe six months ago, we were certainly talking about the great rehiring. All these people got let go from the pandemic and moved around, industries fell, and other industries rose. The idea was that at some point, everything’s going to be “fixed,” and then we’re going to soak all that talent back up. That’s not exactly what’s happening, is it?

It’s not. I think it’s a slow path to positive recovery, but it’s definitely a path. It’s not turn on a light switch and voila, we have everything solved and everyone’s working at full capacity. Even when we look at transitioning from stay-at-home to the actual office, it’s taking a while, and I think that’s to be anticipated.

Yeah. What does the overall market look like today in your estimation?

Number one is that we’re on a positive path. We’re optimistic. Monster’s annual Future of Work survey in January said 82% of employers were planning to hire this year, and we’re seeing that in terms of numbers of opportunities and the variety of opportunities. It’s not just full-time work. Now it’s working from home, part-time or gig roles, etc. Also, we’re seeing a lot of data from Monster, like four in 10 employers have a sense of urgency in hiring, and since last year, the job opportunities have doubled, with one in four employers telling us at Monster that they’re having challenges filling roles. Now, if we’d been talking a year or even six months ago, it would have been challenging to anticipate that we’d be having this conversation at all.

“It’s challenging. Where are they? How can we hire people? We can’t hire them quickly enough. We want to reopen quickly, but where are the quality, not only the quantity but just where are the workers who would be the right fit for these roles?”

Yeah. It was a really interesting scenario that played out because, in addition to the upset in some industries and the rapid expansion of other industries, there was also a lot of physical moving of people that happened. I mean, I live near Manhattan, and I used to go there regularly. It is bizarre to see that place now. I know it’s trickling back, but just a few months ago, the streets were empty. You’d go down to 42nd Street in Times Square, and it used to be just a constant bustle. You’d get run over just crossing the street by people coming the other way. Now it’s like a ghost town. They left. They came here, actually, to Connecticut, and they went to upstate New York and Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. That changes things big time for employers, even in a remote world, right?

It does, and just as a side note, I was actually in Times Square over the weekend. I was like, “Where am I?” And I was there last year. The change is mind-boggling. Even Theatre Row, like Hell’s Kitchen, is out and dry.

What impact have things like that had on recruiting?

The impact of workers not necessarily being in the same geographic region as their job has several implications for recruiting. A good thing is recruiters can cast a wider net. If they’re looking for a very specific candidate and they’re not within, say, the geographic region or commuting distance, they can expand their search to find candidates with the required skills and experience and not worry about the other logistical pieces. Maybe that candidate can work from home and realize this is an opportunity to have someone work remotely and connect with the team. Number one among other challenges is teamwork, collaboration, brainstorming, your work family, watercooler buzz, and excitement. If you’re doing launches—let’s say if you’re in PR or some type of teambuilding thing or work event that centers on an actual event—it can be challenging.

Then also, compensation comes into play because if you’re paying a salary that’s based on experience, skill set, region, and cost of living and people are moving to less expensive areas, such as Pennsylvania versus Manhattan, there are a lot of different factors involved, including taxes and how they’re handled. I think logistically, these are things a lot of people just haven’t thought about before and have to address.

Then, as offices are opening up, we know safety is top of mind for workers, so it’s important for employers to not only talk the talk but also walk the walk and be transparent in terms of saying, “These are the safety protocols, and this is how we’re going to safely reopen.” Also, talk to workers about flexibility because maybe you have top performers and they just don’t feel safe returning to the office. Or maybe they’re more productive without a commute involved if, let’s say, they have a 2-hour commute daily or something that was very intensive. I think it’s an opportunity for employers to think, “OK, how can we work productively and build that connection? Because people are Zoomed out at this point, and they are looking for that face-to-face interaction, but how can we build that while offering flexibility and also connectivity for people who have job satisfaction?” I think this all just opens up new conversations.

It’s a balancing act in a way that it’s never been before. I find that employers can struggle when it comes to balance because they want a concrete answer, and that is understandable. But that’s just not the reality of the situation. We certainly have had to roll with the punches here at the HR Daily Advisor. Changes coming every week, new legislations coming out, new protocols—I mean, it was chaos, but you adapt over time, and you realize that’s actually really good for us. It forces us to iterate. It forces us to accept failures when they happen and then learn from them quickly and move on. This has been an opportunity for employers, but I think sometimes, they struggle when it comes to implementing balance.

Yeah, and I think that’s reflective in the company’s culture. I think it’s important for jobseekers to ask specific questions now, like “How did you handle the pandemic? Did you lay off employees? Did you furlough them?” And see what they say in terms of how they communicated to employees. How were they adaptable and flexible and resilient? It’s a way for jobseekers to assess that because companies are handling it differently. When you look at how we’ve been tested in ways we’ve never had to deal with before, in terms of adaptability, flexibility, and resiliency, we’re still adapting and realizing every day that we’re all in the same boat. We’re in the same situation. Employees have adjusted tremendously to working from home and to a lot of stressors there, the mental health issues that come up, and the challenges for working parents; there are so many pieces to it, as well as employers figuring things out and navigating together. I think open and honest communication is key.

Absolutely, it is. There are two last areas I wanted to touch on. The first is college recruiting. Last year, college was remote for most people. There are concerns about how well you can educate students remotely. There are concerns about the quality of the certifications and degrees for those people who got remote jobs, which is an interesting thing. What does college recruiting look like this year?

It’s interesting you ask that, Jim, because through our annual “State of the Graduate” survey, we know that 45% of 2020 grads are still looking for a job. So not only are companies recruiting college grads now, but they also have a candidate pool from last year. It’s a significant number. What’s important to know is at Monster, our numbers show that what employers look for are a résumé, an interview presence, and relevant work and internship experience. They’re not so much counting on the actual degree itself or college major.

Employers need to look more carefully at jobseekers who don’t have the internships that they would have had last summer or this school year. They need to ask “OK, what other experiences do they have? What skills were they able to develop? Maybe they worked remotely with a professor, or maybe they worked on a volunteering program that was a remote internship, and given the circumstances, what do they bring to the table? What’s their interview presence? What does their résumé look like? Are they the right fit based on that?” And employers need to not ask things like, “Well, is this degree as equitable as one, let’s say, a year or 2 years ago because it was online?”

Based on the circumstances, at least all of the candidates are in the same boat, so I hope they’re treated fairly and equally, but it’s just interesting in terms of the data. We know that Gen Z wants a career path. The majority of them aren’t necessarily looking for a job; they’re looking for opportunities and growth. That being said, it’s important for employers to highlight that in their marketing and during the interviews: “Well, here’s the job, here’s the growth, here’s the mentoring, and here are the training opportunities. Here are the opportunities to grow your skills. Here’s the promotion path and what this job path looks like in this company.” It’s important for employers to demonstrate that.

Finally, I want to discuss wages. I’ve been following the Bureau of Labor Statistics wage reports for a number of years now. Salary and wage increases have been modest to nonexistent for the last 5 to 6 years, yet there are many organizations that are struggling to get employees on board. Is it time to revisit higher wages?

I’m glad you asked that, Jim, because we at Monster have the data saying that salary is the number one driving factor when people are considering a job opportunity or a job change. When we look at the unemployment rate, even if people aren’t working right now and they’re looking for a job, salary has historically been a known driving factor. I think for companies to be competitive with their salaries or looking to hire and they can’t hire them quickly enough, they should offer competitive salaries so they can get candidates up and running and feel like they are getting paid what they’re worth. As a side note from salaries, employers can also think about cross-training their employees because we know the skills gap is real, and it’s a challenge, even when we look at other areas like skilled trades, and that workforce is diminishing.

We have to ask, “How do we get people employed but also train them properly so they have the necessary skills?” So it would be nice if the skills gap can be narrowed, diminished, or hopefully deleted, but a big challenge we’re hearing at Monster is employers are saying the skills gap is an issue.

Yeah. I mean, it was a challenge before the pandemic, and the pace of change and the rate at which skills become obsolete have been rapid. I guess how long it takes before your skills become obsolete has been decreasing, and that ties into how employees feel about staying at a job, too. If they don’t feel like they’re being upskilled and a couple of years have gone by, they know they’re less marketable and that they’re not moving on because they’re all willy-nilly or just flip-flopping jobs, as millennials, like myself, sometimes get accused of. They’re fighting for their lives. They’ve got to go where the jobs keep them relevant.

Absolutely, and we know at Monster that job-hopping doesn’t really have a stigma associated with it. Also, to that point, employers really don’t care if there’s a gap on your résumé because it’s impacted so many of us.

Yeah.

How can candidates effectively articulate their transferable skills? Because we also know that employers say that’s a challenge, as well; there might be awesome candidates, but they’re not properly marketing their skills. Talent may be passed over just because a candidate hasn’t articulated on his or her résumé or cover letter, or even during a phone interview, “Well, this is what I was doing.”

In the fall, I was interviewed a lot about how people can pivot from the hospitality industry, and my number one go-to answer is to promote your customer service skills. Highlight in-demand, transferable skills. Maybe you’re looking for a change in industry from a previous industry or job, or maybe you’re looking for a side hustle and you could work weekends or something. Look at those transferable skills, such as customer service. Look at those soft skills, like teambuilding, dependability, and flexibility, and provide illustrations to employers. Employers also can include or ask behavioral-based questions about how they can pivot.