How employers having trouble filling positions can win the talent war

“We’re not getting any qualified applicants for our manager position,” the business owner told me. “We’ve posted it on all the standard job sites. Should we offer a signing bonus?”

“Is your pay competitive?”

“We’re paying as much as we can.”

“Do you have an employee you can promote into management?”

“Not one strong enough. If we can’t find a suitable candidate, we’ll have to reduce the hours we’re open.”

In the last three months, several dozen employers and HR managers have called me with similar stories about good jobs remaining vacant without enough solid candidates to fill them.

The problem

At the end of summer 2021, the number of employees in the labor force, 4.2 million, was less than before the pandemic started. At the time, 10.9 million job openings existed, the highest ever recorded (HRMorning, Winter 2021). According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately half of all employers can’t fill their open positions.

The problem is intense for employers attempting to fill entry-level positions, with 93 percent of them reporting struggles. Further, the number of employees quitting their jobs each month continues setting records. Some of these former employees have started their own businesses or transitioned into the gig economy, never to return as viable job candidates.

This supply gap for talent shifts the power balance between employers and employees. Job candidates have options and expect more from prospective employers. Many receive multiple offers. Empowered by their negotiating position, these candidates aren’t willing to make the trade-offs and sacrifices they formerly made to get and keep jobs. Businesses facing labor shortages compounded by increasing numbers of employees ill from COVID-19 have reduced hours or even shut down.

Here’s what I told the employers calling me.

Immediately review your compensation package. If it’s not competitive, you won’t be able to hire the talent you need nor keep the employees you have. Pay, however, is only a starting point.

Next, develop a compelling employee value proposition to attract new employees and retain current employees. What do you offer that makes you an employer of choice? Does your organization have an inspiring vision and purpose? Does your organization’s culture have real appeal?

Do you offer your employees meaningful benefits, whether remote work options; career development opportunities; allowances for home office or remote technology; an internal career path; autonomy; mental health and well-being perks; robust leave policies; or a debt-free education? Can you offer employees flexible work options so they can integrate their jobs with the rest of their lives? Do you proactively address employee safety concerns?

If you realize you don’t currently offer compelling benefits, select one or more new benefits to integrate into your organization — because other employers, competing for the talent you seek, are and will. If you already offer enticing benefits, make sure prospective employees learn of them.

According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workplace Learning report, “94% of employees state they would stay at a company longer if the organization invested in helping them learn.” By developing your employees, you also enable your organization to say “yes” the next time someone asks, “Do you have any employees you can promote into managerial positions?”

Amazon, Chipotle, Starbucks and Target offer employees a brighter future by providing training and tuition. Walmart pays 100% of tuition for employees earning college degrees. Chipotle covers all expenses for employees pursuing many degrees, allowing them to move into restaurant management positions in less than four years.

Expand your recruitment efforts beyond the job boards. Current employees offer you your best available recruiting network; can you incentivize them to advertise openings to their friends? Can you entice former employees or retirees to return, perhaps by offering part-time or work-from-home options, job sharing or increased flexibility. Consider recruiting through churches and other professional organizations or by partnering with community colleges and vocational training centers.

When you receive qualified applicants, move fast before other employers snap them up.

Signing bonuses entice job candidates. The downsides: many. Applicants who desire signing bonuses may have an appetite for cash rewards, and thus leave without continued bonus opportunities. Some employees stay only a short time after receiving their bonus and then seek other jobs to snap up multiple signing bonuses. It can be a legal nightmare to reclaim bonuses from employees who leave prematurely. Current employees wonder “where’s mine?”, requiring you to provide them monetary rewards for staying.

What does it take to win the talent war? A lot. Can you meet the challenge? Absolutely.


Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is president of Communication Works Inc. Send your questions to her here.

Lynne Curry | Alaska Workplace

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Managing for Accountability”; “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully” and Curry is President of Communication Works Inc. Send your questions to her at or follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10.