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What Talent Are You Missing Out On?

Earlier in my career, I worked for a CEO who was obsessed with a simple question. If you were ever debating two points of view, he’d inevitably ask: “What’s the third way?” It was his way of challenging us to consider whether the choices we debated were the only options, or if there was another – often unseen alternative – that would lead to a better outcome.  

Recently, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the third way as I speak with companies struggling to find and keep good talent. On one side, I hear businesses lament that there isn’t enough good talent to do the work, while on the other, I hear an increasingly loud chorus that the jobs that exist aren’t worth pursuing. As I hear these debates, it makes me wonder if there’s another opportunity to address the seemingly endless talent shortage, while giving people who want to work the opportunity to. It makes me wonder if there is a third way.   

Right now, there are tens of millions of Americans who – due to different barriers – are overlooked for jobs. For example, 98% of companies run background checks on prospective candidates, and yet, 1 in 3 adults have a criminal record – a majority of whom are Black and Latinx.1 Similarly, when employers require a four-year degree, they exclude even a broader talent pool, including 68% of Black and 79% of Latinx candidates.2 While firms may use background policies or educational requirements as proxies for trust or ability, this isn’t borne out in the data.3 More importantly, it means that they are missing out on a pool of highly committed, often diverse, individuals that could contribute to their bottom line. 

Luckily, as firms think about how they can find and keep good employees, our insights from 8,000+ job seekers and 100+ employers have illuminated five levers that businesses can pull to find and keep this overlooked talent:  

  1. Recruitment  

In the war for talent, it can be common for firms to rely on traditional recruitment methods like their networks, local colleges and universities, trade schools, and online sources like LinkedIn. To broaden their recruitment efforts to include individuals that may not have access to traditional channels, employers can: 

  • Consider the educational requirements for each job role or skills that can be trained on the job (i.e., are there roles that may not require a four-year degree?) 
  • Assess their criminal background policies to ensure that they focus on relevant, discrete offenses rather than backgrounds as a whole; when they have less flexibility, they can consider shortening the lookback period to less than seven years 
  • Test job descriptions with local workforce development organizations to ensure that other language doesn’t inadvertently exclude certain populations, or use tools like Skillfull’s job posting generator 
  • Make job applications mobile-friendly for people who may have limited access to computers 
  • Hire from workforce development organizations that have a strong track record of helping talent find and keep employment 
  1. Hiring  

Once potential candidates have been identified, another common barrier is hiring practices that unintentionally exclude certain populations. To widen the net of who may advance in the candidate selection process and ultimately obtain a role, firms can: 

  • Use a competency (or skills) based approach to hiring to capture those who may have gained experience outside of the workplace 
  • Ensure hiring processes eliminate opportunities for implicit bias (e.g., managers use a consistent set of competencies to assess candidates) 
  • Understand the best way to reach candidates so that people with less internet access do not miss any important communications (e.g., phone, text, email, etc.) 
  1. Job Quality, Culture, and Support  

Once firms find good talent, retaining them is key to reducing turnover costs. Things that can prevent an employee from staying on the job may include feeling like they aren’t setup for success, a lack of team or organizational support, or pay and benefits that do not support their stability or quality of life. To help employees stick and stay, firms can: 

  • Create a structured onboarding process that goes beyond administration to include on-the-job training and 30-60-90 day check-ins to understand what employees need to be successful (as well as what they wish they had learned) 
  • Empower managers to support their teams beyond just production; showing care from the top down can set this example 
  • Partner with non-profits that can support individuals on areas that could impact their stability (e.g., transportation, childcare, housing, etc.), or add on stability-focused supports to your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) through services like WorkLife Partnership 
  • Provide basic living standards, such as livable wages, predictable scheduling, and benefits 
  1. Advancement 

Studies estimate that every time an employee leaves a job, it costs 33% of that employee’s wages to find, hire, and train up their replacement. As such, when employers hire, job retention can be a key success measure to minimize turnover costs. To help retain employees – and create advancement opportunities for those who want to grow – firms can: 

  • Develop career pathways and opportunities for advancement for every role in the company – and ensure that employees know how they can tap into those opportunities; ensuring that employees know about these opportunities within the first 30/60/90 days of employment is critical too 
  • Provide a coach or mentor who can encourage the employee and help them with their goals; this could be someone on their team or elsewhere in the firm  
  • Support employees interested in developing skills or obtaining degrees that will enable them to advance in the firm with time and resources; offering stipends or the ability to do this during work hours can reduce barriers for individuals with less discretionary time 
  • Provide professional development opportunities, so that if individuals cannot advance in their firm, they can advance elsewhere 
  • Transition employees to their next opportunity with guidance, dignity, and respect 
  1. Public Commitments 

If you’re doing the good work to shift these practices – shout it from the rooftops! Making public commitments or sharing what changes you are making will not only help your brand, but it will give other employers the confidence to do the same. To showcase your success and de-risk new hiring practices for other companies, firms can: 

  • Take a public position with a quantitative commitment to hiring from historically overlooked populations; publicizing specific changes made to achieve that goal can inspire others to follow suit 
  • Create case studies of what did and didn’t work to lift up effective practices for other companies 

When I first learned about the concept of a third way, it pointed to a discrete, alternative solution. But, when I think about the third way for tapping into overlooked talent, it’s not a single step, but a new perspective. That if we are willing to see talent for the potential that they bring vs. the background that they do or don’t have, then we can transform our talent strategies to include millions of individuals who are ready, willing, and eager to work. And if we can integrate these levers into our firms, then we will not just strengthen our places of work, but we will help individuals, families, and nearby communities thrive.  

Sara Wasserteil is Managing Director of Expansion and Integration at Cara Collective. Her team, Cara Plus, works with companies to shift how they hire, cultivate, and grow overlooked talent, to create more inclusive, thriving businesses.