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Recruiting and Interviewing in a Tight Labor Market: How to Identify “High Probability” Hires

There’s no guarantee that every hire you make as an employer will work out. What’s critical, however, is that you focus your energy on making “high probability” hires, especially in a tight labor market like the one we’re experiencing in this post-COVID reintegration period. Yes, we are still working out the kinks from the global pandemic.


Labor scarcity is the driving force that makes a labor market “tight.” We can anticipate that labor scarcity will continue to rise due to changing demographics, a lower labor force participation rate, and declining birth rates in industrialized nations.


With labor scarcity here to stay, it’s time to reinvent your recruiting and selection methods to get the most out of your outreach and onboarding efforts. 


High probability hires come from targeted strategies to attract the most qualified candidates from sparse talent pools. In detail, this blog will cover the following strategies that can make a difference in your recruiting efforts and employee retention:


  • Where you target your recruitment outreach efforts

  • How well you interview and identify exceptional talent

  • How consistently you perform reference and background checks or administer pre-employment assessments.

  • Hiring people with both industry and functional experience which require less of an initial learning curve.


This doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t stretch beyond your comfort zone occasionally and hire for potential rather than for previous experience, but your core recruitment strategy should be well defined and focused on candidates with similar industry, role, and technical experiences to ensure a greater chance of successful hires and onboarding. Likewise, matching an individual’s personality to your organization’s or department’s culture makes for successful hires that will stick.

In theory, this all sounds great, but where have all the candidates gone? It’s extremely challenging to master successful hiring when few candidates are applying for roles or are otherwise inundated with multiple offers. How do you adjust your recruitment and talent selection strategies to meet the needs of today’s labor-scarce realities and stand out among your competitors?


C-suite executives and human resource professionals have come to appreciate talent as an organization’s primary profit lever but people aren’t responding to ads like they used to, are ghosting initial rounds of interviews, or are not showing up on their first days of work altogether. The following approaches will serve your organization well in this tight talent market that shows no signs of abating any time soon.


Customize Your Recruitment Advertising to Sell Your Company

We know the adage that people, “join companies and leave managers.” Focus on the first part of that wisdom: People join companies. Therefore, sell your company in your job ads, its unique successes and values, its achievements and accomplishments, and whatever else makes it special. People aren’t necessarily motivated by the position, yet that’s what most employers emphasize in their job posts. It’s certainly okay to do that, but build the appeal to your organization first so that candidates can see themselves as part of its success and longer-term trajectory.


Simply put, in most cases, companies sell; jobs don’t. Focus on where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck by developing a narrative or story around your company’s success, its values, and its unique culture. For example, headings like “What we believe in,” “What we’ve been able to accomplish,” “What we overmanage,” and “How we can help you in your career and professional development” will likely go far in terms of attracting new talent.


Channel Your Inner Headhunter

Executive and contingency search firms historically reach out to candidates who aren’t actively looking to change jobs. Managers in your organization might consider doing the same. For example, identify your top five or ten competitors and have your managers reach out to their peers in those organizations. A simple introductory call might sound like this: “Janet, I’m the director of digital marketing at XYZ Company, and I just wanted to introduce myself in case I could ever help with anything. Also, we’re looking for a digital marketing coordinator at our firm, and if you’re aware of anyone in the job market who’s really good but who you can’t hire right now for whatever reason, I’d appreciate your telling them about us. I’d be happy to return the favor.” 


It’s not really “headhunting”— it’s more about networking — but it’s an easy call for operational managers or HR recruiters to make that doesn’t feel uncomfortable in any way. A little good faith outreach never hurts and helps your managers likewise gain a better understanding of the competition.


Expand and Diversify Your Outreach Resources

Simply relying on, LinkedIn, or other common job boards may not drive the volume of qualified talent that you’re looking for. (Note that the “Apply with One Click” feature makes it easy for totally unqualified applicants to apply for job postings they don’t often read, leaving employers with a ton of resumes to sift through if they don’t have an applicant tracking system to take some of the initial workload off their plates.)  Instead, set aside part of your recruitment budget for advertising on boutique sites that attract diverse talent and that might also build on your organization’s DEI goals like these:

The Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network ( can also be an excellent resource for identifying job candidates with disabilities or special needs. You won’t necessarily know which sources will work for your organization, so experiment with them over a quarter or over a portion of the year to see what drives new hire results.  These boutique sites often drive smaller volumes of responses, but even a small number of hires could justify their cost as you fine-tune your recruitment outreach efforts.


Conduct Thorough Telephone Screens

Before inviting candidates into your office, conduct thorough telephone or videoconference “screening” interviews. Cover the basics thoroughly upfront, including availability to begin work, minimum salary expectations, commute/travel requirements, technical skills match, their reason for leaving their current organization, and the like. Don’t invite anyone in who may simply be “shopping” to test the job market or otherwise not appropriately qualified for the position. 


Break the Ice During the Initial In-Person Interview Thoughtfully

Don’t jump too quickly into the question-and-answer paradigm that candidates have come to suspect. The relationship isn’t ready for that just yet. Instead, dedicate the first ten minutes of your interview to getting to know the real person by asking questions like these:


  1. What’s important to you at this point in your career?

  2. What are the two or three criteria you’re using in selecting your next company, position, or even industry?  What’s critical to your professional development at this point in your career?

  3. If you were to accept this position with us, how would you explain it to a prospective employer three to five years from now?  In other words, how would this role serve as a healthy link in your career progression? 


Establishing rapport and an open relationship is critical to building trust. These questions also move the candidate’s career and professional development interests to the pre-employment stage of hire, which will drive candidate loyalty more than just about anything else. Occasionally, you may hear a candidate respond by saying, “Well, I don’t normally share this in an interview, but. . .”  When that’s the case, congratulate yourself: the individual feels comfortable enough with you to make themself vulnerable in a healthy sense. This speaks volumes to your ability to bond with semi-strangers in a thoughtful and trusting way. 


Match Personality to Corporate Culture

Ask questions about the individual’s natural pace, ability to accept constructive criticism, average weekly hours committed to working (for exempt candidates only), flexibility to work overtime or weekends (for nonexempt applicants), and the like. Then run those responses by prior employers during the reference checking process to ensure you’re getting real answers to your questions.


Likewise, ask prior managers during the reference checking process, “On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being highest, how would you rank Sally Smith as a [TITLE]. What makes her an [8], and more importantly, what would make her a 10?”  End your reference check with a simple but telling question: “If you had an opportunity to rehire Sally if a position on your current team became available, would she be eligible for rehire right now?” Reference feedback often helps cement a company’s decision to extend an offer or look to other candidates for a better ultimate fit. Note that reference checks should occur prior to the employment offer being extended: consider references “round two” of the candidate interviewing process.


Maximize Onboarding Opportunities

Don’t simply throw new hires into the mix and let them figure everything out for themselves. In today’s competitive environment, other organizations may be pursuing them that couldn’t make the offer in the same timeframe as you. As a result, those delayed offers may come in a few weeks or a few months after the new hire has already started with your company.


Onboarding buddies create sheltered transitions for new hires to ensure their success in the first 90 days or six months. The onboarding assignment is often a first step in any organization’s “high potential” or “emerging leader” program, so the buddies have plenty to benefit from in terms of leadership development. Likewise, new hires gain a relationship with someone other than their immediate boss whom they can bond with and rely on as they get to learn the organization and its “hidden” org charts, power players, shortcomings, and more. 


Further, as the hiring manager or department head, meet with your new hires one-on-one at days thirty, sixty, and ninety to ensure that they are gaining traction in their roles, are properly trained, have the tools they need for success, and are gelling well with the rest of the team and building personal relationships. This should help stave off any late stage offers that come in from competitors after the new hire has begun with you.


Hiring from limited sources, failing to run your initial impressions by prior managers during the reference checking process, or allowing new hires to figure it all out on their own to sink or swim isn’t a hiring and onboarding “strategy” that will help your organization compete effectively for scarce talent or otherwise stand out from the competition. Instead, tightening your approach to hiring effectively by refining your recruitment outreach strategy, involving your hiring managers in networking opportunities, and appointing new hire buddies or ambassadors will likely result in high probability hires that provide the greatest return on investment for your recruitment and onboarding dollar. These strategies will help you master talent acquisition and retention in the tight labor markets that we’re experiencing today and that are to come.


Paul Falcone ( is a bestselling HarperCollins Leadership author of 17 books, a long-time columnist for SHRM, the former CHRO of Nickelodeon, and the principal of Paul Falcone Workplace Leadership Consulting, LLC in Los Angeles.



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