November 19, 2019

Tougher Than Ever: Austin HR Leaders on Thriving in a Tight Hiring Market

By Monica Gill

Hiring conditions can be tough for any number of reasons—perhaps you’re in an emerging industry, for example, with a dearth of qualified professionals; or you’re facing a regional boom that outstrips the candidate pool. The Austin market is a prime example of the latter, with local unemployment hovering well below statewide and national rates

These challenges came up recently at the Austin Finance Leadership Summit; which Bridgepoint co-sponsored with KPMG, Shearman & Sterling and JPMorgan Chase. We hosted a panel discussion during the Summit with three of Austin’s finest human resources (HR) and recruitment professionals. They shared how they’re dealing with current hiring challenges and some key insights they’ve gleaned from their experience. Read on to find out what we learned. 

  1. AUSTIN’S HIRING CRUNCH IS UNPRECEDENTED

    According to The Austin American-Statesman, the tight local market is “fueling intense competition among businesses seemingly regardless of industry and providing qualified job seekers with their pick of opportunities.” Each of our three panelists noted that they’ve never seen a market so competitive. 

    One of our panel members is a veteran of Austin’s dizzying boom period in the ʼ90s. In those days, she said, job-seekers in technology fields had two choices: work for a startup or sign on with a large enterprise firm (i.e., Dell, AMD, Motorola, IBM or 3M). In recent years, however, growth in the middle enterprise has created more opportunities for qualified candidates. At the same time, our panelist said, Silicon Valley employers have moved into the Austin market and helped drive up salaries. It all adds up to more competition in a market where the labor force is only growing at an annualized 1.4%, down from 2.7% growth in 2018 and 3.6% in 2017. 

  2. EMPOWERED CANDIDATES ARE PUTTING THEIR  PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL NEEDS FIRST

    Two of our three panelists mentioned that negotiations have become more spirited. Strong candidates want to know, “Are you going to put dollars behind my growth?” This kind of self-advocacy can be a very good thing. Candidates who are clear-minded and confident enough to negotiate for themselves are likely to put those same strengths to work for their employer. 

    Whereas hiring in Central Texas used to be all about incentivizing prospects with cool offices and free breakfast tacos, these seasoned HR pros said these kinds of perks only go so far. Different amenities appeal to different life stages. For entry-level employees, free food might be the biggest incentive. But for more senior hires, new parent or eldercare assistance might make a huge difference. 

    Ultimately, retention depends on value creation — and that means opportunities for employees to learn and grow in their careers. (Keep in mind, that people do notice if the breakfast tacos stop coming. Austin is still Austin.)

  3. STARTING NEW HIRES TOGETHER CAN MAKE ONBOARDING MORE SUCCESSFUL

    When the company needs allow, bringing in groups of new hires at the same time provides a unified experience with a lot of camaraderie. New employees can rely on each other as they navigate their first few months, and nobody has to have that “awkward new person” experience all alone. One of our panelists even reminisced about her early career days, mentioning that she’s still friends with fellow new hires from her first job. 

    Taking this kind of cohort approach to onboarding also makes good practical sense — you only have to go through that employee manual once to get several people (even large groups) up to speed.

  4. THE FINANCE TEAM CAN BE A RECRUITER’S BEST FRIEND

    It’s a musty old cliché that HR only cares about people and finance/accounting only cares about numbers. The reality is, both teams are working towards the same goals of business growth and profitability. And both are personally invested in building the right teams to support those goals. 

    All of the HR and recruiting leaders on our panel cited the importance of having a strong relationship with their finance partners. Hiring priorities, numbers, location(s), timing and salary decisions are all directly affected by what’s going on with the business, financially speaking. Tearing down any perceived silos helps both finance and recruiting teams understand each other’s perspectives and work together for the good of the organization.

  5. SEISMIC CHANGE DOESN’T HAVE TO UPEND RETENTION OR HIRING

    Whether it comes from a shift in leadership, industry upheaval or going public, change comes to every company. However, a strong company culture can be a steady, sustaining heartbeat that helps employees feel more comfortable with change and keeps job-seekers interested in joining your organization. One of our panelists mentioned that “at the end of the day, culture is how work gets done and how decisions get made.” During times of transition, keeping employees focused on core values — rather than over-indexing on a big goal or turning point — aids in both retention and recruitment. It’s also wise to remember to have fun.

BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER

Challenging job markets are nothing new to Bridgepoint Consulting’s Professional Search team. We’ve been around since 1999 and we’ve seen multiple cycles of growth across the state of Texas. Working with companies of all sizes, Bridgepoint specializes in contingency-based professional and executive search for accounting, finance, and HR-related positions. We have a certified and highly experienced recruiting staff with deep relationships among industry leaders that aren’t actively pursuing opportunities — but might be just the right fit for your team. We’d be happy to help.

Learn more about our professional search services here.

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About Monica Gill

Monica Gill helps lead Bridgepoint Consulting’s Financial Consulting practice. She brings more than 20 years of financial and accounting experience to the firm.  Prior to joining Bridgepoint Consulting, Monica served as the Chief Financial Officer at Red River Service Corporation, Inc. in Dripping Springs, TX. Earlier in her career, she was the CFO at Schlotzsky’s shortly after it went public and has been in a variety of other consulting, accounting and auditing roles. Monica’s focus is managing relationships with consultants and BPC clients to ensure complete customer satisfaction. She received her Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Stephen F. Austin State University and is a Certified Public Accountant* in the State of Texas.

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