Struggling to fill positions

By Pearl Freier

Layoffs and hiring freezes in many technology companies have helped build one of the strongest pools of available talent in history. And yet companies still seem to struggle in their search for talent. More positions than you would expect remain open for six months or more at some technology companies.

As companies start to budget for next year, positions that have been open for a long period of time are strong candidates for elimination. The theory often is that if the company survived this long with the position unfilled, it can be put on hold indefinitely or eliminated altogether. These days, however, most of those positions are still open from employees who left the company for one reason or another. Instead of filling them, companies found temporary solutions to get the work done, usually requiring other employees to be overextended with increased responsibilities, but with little financial incentive.

In the meantime, reports from consulting firms and trade organizations are regularly released heralding the “brain drain” facing Massachusetts and the looming labor shortage. The lack of job growth is compelling more Boston-area technology workers and scientists to look to other states for opportunities. Fewer graduates from area universities are sticking around. The search for talent will only get worse, and more costly.

There is no easy solution for this, but one cannot help wonder why executives don’t have a greater sense of urgency in building and maintaining a stronger workforce. Many no longer believe the economy can be used as a scapegoat, with recent government statistics listing U.S. gross domestic product growth of 7.2 percent over the summer and a 6.6 percent jump in consumer spending during the same period.

Some area hiring managers and executives are anxious about their unfilled positions and are concerned that they will be eliminated, causing various problems within their departments and perhaps the company as a whole. They are concerned about the length of time it often takes to find a new hire. Often the process of just getting the position requisition approved and advertising to attract the right candidates still takes months for many companies.

Here are some of the obstacles hiring managers face when a position becomes available as they start the search for candidates:

The requisition approval process
A good example of a long approval process exists with technology positions in health care organizations. Health care companies represent a high percentage of open and advertised positions. In many of these organizations the requisitions process still requires a paper trail of signatures, including but not limited to signatures from a vice president, a department head, the hiring manager and human resources representative.

Especially in large organizations, getting the paper to move from one desk to another has been known to take months. If the requisition hasn’t been approved, it can’t be advertised or posted on the company’s website.

Many of the companies are not advertising their openings in the appropriate media to attract the specific type of candidates that are needed. Therefore, the candidates that companies are trying to target often do not see the opportunities. Online postings are often placed under the wrong category, again missing the target candidates. Some companies don’t have a visible careers section on their websites.

Another area that causes problems is job descriptions in ads. These are often too brief — one or two sentences or just the title — making it difficult to attract candidates with the right qualifications. Or they direct candidates to the website, which then doesn’t have a better description. What’s worse, some descriptions are so poorly written that during the interview process even the employers themselves are not sure what they are looking for. Ultimately, those descriptions have to be revamped, and the process takes months.

Applicant tracking systems
Some companies still don’t know how to use their applicant tracking systems. They are often limited to doing résumé searches with a minimal number of keywords. If the job description is poorly written, the human resources representative doing the search won’t know the right keyword with which to search.

Many qualified applicants also may not know which keywords to include on their résumé so that it will be found. If a résumé isn’t found during a keyword search, no one at the company will see it.

For those hiring managers and corporate recruiters who choose to bypass the system and have résumés e-mailed directly to them, they are often overwhelmed with the volume of résumés and unable to handle them efficiently. Of course there is also then the risk of opening attachments with viruses.

While these are only some of the challenges employers face when searching for qualified candidates in any market, those who efficiently work to fill their positions will have a strategic advantage in developing a workforce that will help their companies to continue to grow in the future.

And they may save one more technology worker or scientist from leaving Massachusetts.