Why Is It So Hard To Fill Jobs Right Now?


May 23, 2021


180 Engineering

As we begin to move past the COVID-19 restrictions, some companies have become complacent about hiring new talent. After all, unemployment remains high, some businesses have restructured and trimmed their workforce, and other businesses have instituted a hiring freeze as a way to weather the pandemic. All signs seem to point to a large pool of qualified candidates who are eager to accept a job offer.

This complacency is a mistake.

It’s true that overall unemployment rates remain high. Reaching a historic high of 14.8% in March 2020, the national unemployment rate stabilized at 6.1% in April 2021. This is still considerably higher than immediately pre-pandemic. In February 2020, the rate was only 3.5%.

It’s also true that some businesses have pivoted or evolved in order to stay viable. In some cases, the shift in direction may have necessitated laying off highly-skilled employees. And finally, yes, some companies have instituted hiring freezes, although the number is remarkably low. HR Daily Advisor reported in August 2020 that “only 14% of companies are on a total hiring freeze as a result of COVID-19.”

While these trends are well documented, they are general employment trends. The situation in the engineering and IT fields is quite different.

As we reported in a blog piece in October 2020, both the engineering and IT fields have historically struggled to fill available roles with qualified staff. Prior to the pandemic, growth was already projected in both sectors, until at least 2027. But, our world has changed dramatically in the past year and many of those changes are here to stay. As we shifted to staying at home, working remotely, and finding new ways to stay connected, our reliance on technology increased dramatically. This shift means that the Tech Dilemma – too many tech jobs and not enough workers – will persist and most likely even worsen.

If your company hasn’t already done so, it’s time to evaluate your processes and implement some changes that will help you fill roles post-pandemic in a quick and effective manner.

Sell The Role With An Attractive Job Posting

Traditionally, a job posting provides bare-bones information regarding:

  • the role that needs to be filled;
  • the incumbent’s job responsibilities;
  • required skills and education, and
  • your company, including your organizational values and culture.

While this type of job posting is informative, it doesn’t create excitement or buzz for candidates.

Instead of focussing on what your company needs from a candidate, focus on what your company can offer the candidate. Think of job postings as advertisements for your employer brand. Some benefits of working for your company may already be in place (e.g., a competitive salary and possibilities for growth and advancement). However, the Betterteam blog points out that you should consider including “perks” that would help attract top talent, such as:

  • Flexible working hours with the ability to work remotely, if desired;
  • A casual dress code;
  • Creative freedom; and
  • Any other workplace perks, ranging from professional development opportunities to paid volunteer time to pizza Fridays.

The Tech Dilemma means that candidates have a lot of choice when it comes to job opportunities. Show them how working for your company can be exciting and beneficial to them.

Work Within Realistic Expectations

Of course, everyone wants only the best candidates to apply for their roles. Not only does this ensure that an exemplary candidate is hired, but it makes the selection process easier, since there aren’t as many less-desirable applicants to weed through. As well, the person creating the job posting might have some bias about what the ideal candidate for the role looks like. For both of these reasons, the job posting may end up asking for unrealistic qualifications.

As a blog post at Bishop & Company points out, many job postings indicate a requirement of “X years of experience, X level of college education, and X years with X skills. And in any other industry, that would make sense. But not in tech and IT.”

The blog post goes on to say that: “Many businesses today are looking for the nearly-mythical 45-50-year-old manager-level, college-educated IT professional because that’s what would make them the most comfortable.”

The reality is that many candidates in the IT field, in particular, never went to college at all, or didn’t finish their post-secondary studies. Instead, they are self taught through online courses and they gained their work experience through freelance or startup projects. As well, technology is constantly evolving and they might not be certified for older hardware and software; but, given their independent learning path, they could likely easily pick up any needed knowledge quickly.

To truly attract top talent that brings creativity and initiative to the role, make sure that the requirements that you list on your job posting are realistic, reflecting current job market trends.

Make It Easy To Apply

Candidates will simply walk away from a cumbersome or broken online job application form. A blog piece at CareerBuilder points out that, “Most job seekers prefer a one-click apply and aren’t interested in spending more than 10 minutes on one job application.”

Make sure that your online application process is simple, non-repetitive, and working. Keep questions short. If you’re accepting resumes, don’t ask candidates to fill out fields that replicate the information on their resumes. And, make sure that your form allows candidates to return to a saved but incomplete application, so that they don’t have to start from scratch if they get interrupted.

Establish A Streamlined Interview Process

There are many things that can slow down the interview process. The longer the process is, the less excited the candidate will become and the more apt they will be to explore other opportunities while they wait.

If candidates are losing interest before the end of your interview process, it’s time to make some changes. Some things to look at are:

  1. How much time is there between each defined stage of the process? Can you shorten the amount of time between the phone screen and the first interview? If there are multiple interviews, can the time between each be shorter?
  2. Is your interview process structured or unstructured? A structured interview process – where you ask all candidates the same questions and use a standardized scoring system to rate their responses – is almost twice as effective as a traditional interview. A structured interview process will not only save time but it will make the decision-making process easier as well.
  3. Who is present at the actual interviews? In general, the more people who are present at an interview, the more difficult it becomes to schedule a time that works for everyone. As well, reaching consensus on who to hire might be more difficult if there are more opinions to consider.
  4. Are the interviews held remotely or in person? Remote interviews are often easier to schedule since the candidate doesn’t have to take travel time into consideration or book time off work.
  5. How efficient is your decision-making process? Decide on an appropriate and efficient system for making decisions at each stage of the interview process, from determining who to interview through to who to hire.

In addition to not letting the attention of candidates wan, a quick interview process can present your company in a favorable light. A sluggish interview process may signal a sluggish overall culture to the candidate, which many will find unattractive.

Pull The Trigger

Sometimes the perfect candidate is the first one you interview. If a candidate checks all the boxes and feels like a good fit with your company culture, go ahead and extend an offer.

It can be tempting to wait and see. After all, an even better candidate might be out there, right? Sure, that’s always a possibility. But then again, there’s that Tech Dilemma. There are more jobs than candidates. If you find someone who seems like the perfect fit, don’t let them get away while you wait for someone better (who may never come along).

Extend A Competitive Offer ASAP

One old-school tactic that actually works is presenting an offer to the candidate at the end of the final interview; or, if that isn’t possible, telling that person that an offer is coming.

Knowing that the job is theirs if the offer is acceptable to them will create excitement. It will also minimize the chance that the candidate will look for other opportunities while they wait to hear your decision.

It’s also important, of course, to extend a competitive offer. Check current market trends and, if necessary, reassess your pay bands.

It’s always a good idea to routinely examine your internal processes to see if there are areas where improvements can be made. This is especially important for your interview process. Although several factors seem to indicate otherwise, the pool of qualified candidates for IT and engineering roles remains quite limited. By reviewing your interviewing process and making some tweaks, you will have a better chance of attracting top candidates and keeping them interested until you extend the offer.