In 2020, EntryPoint had great conversations with 40+ thought leaders across the country on The Cackle and we all want more!  So in 2021, we are continuing the conversation with those guests to dig a little deeper into topics that matter. Like recruiting top talent in a post-COVID world. 

Keep Cackling with Ryan Landau from Purpose Jobs

There’s no doubt that 2020 changed the way we do a lot of things. How we shop, see our friends, and of course, how we work. Not only did the Covid-19 pandemic cause an abrupt shift in where we work, as millions of people were forced to work from home. But it’s also creating some lasting changes in the way we work, look for jobs, hire, and treat employees. The recruiting industry is changing.

Some of the biggest shifts are seen in how we think about and live out company culture and values. There’s a great move toward empathy and human-centered benefits as people realize that ping-pong tables and free snacks in an office they can’t go to just isn’t cutting it.

But Covid-19 isn’t the only reason for that change. As the tech industry shifts its focus on diversity and inclusion, companies should be looking for ways to help their employees bring their authentic selves to the office.

I chatted about some of these changes with Emily on an episode of The Cackle, but let’s dig deeper into some of these shifts in recruiting and culture.

An Accelerated Move to the Midwest

We’re Midwest born and raised so we know it’s a great place to be. And as housing prices and cost of living in cities like San Francisco and Seattle grow to unsustainable levels, people are starting to look inland for new opportunities. This was happening before the pandemic, but Covid-19 has certainly accelerated this trend.

Now, as where you work becomes less and less important, the focus has shifted to where you live. Why live in a crowded city that consumes nearly your entire paycheck when you can own a beautiful house with a yard? The Midwest is full of great cities and vibrant cultures, lots to do and tight-knit communities, so people—and companies—are turning to the Heartland.

Most Expensive Cities in the U.S.

That means a couple things for the people and companies already here:

  1. More access to tech jobs. For example, you can live in Ohio and work at Google.
  2. More talent competition for tech companies. If Facebook can tap into the Midwest talent pool, that means Midwest companies are now competing with major tech giants for the best talent.

Let’s dive into this a little more.

Brain drain is still a thing. Midwest tech companies were already competing with coastal tech giants as Midwest tech engineers (which, by the way, 25% of computer science grads get their degree in the Midwest) move out to California or New York after graduation.

But there’s a shift in these people coming back to the region (a.k.a, “boomerangs”) because they see a lot of a lot of advantages to working for a Midwest startup. As Brian Hough, the CTO of Beam Dental in Columbus (and a “boomerang” himself) notes, people get a long more bang for their buck in the Midwest. Plus, there’s the opportunity to really stand out in the crowd here and make a real impact in a company.

There’s a real trend in hiring boomerang talent, but there also is a lot of excellent Midwest talent that’s already here. What’s really beneficial is Midwest startups and tech companies shifting the focus to talent retention.

This is something Midwest startups have been working on harder than tech giants like Facebook or Google. Those companies can rely on their name for attracting talent, and if retention is low, they can easily just hire new people. Smaller startups don’t always have the luxury of a large talent pipeline, so instead we focus on building cultures that keep employees engaged and happy to be working there. And a lot of that has to do with authenticity.

The Purpose Jobs team!
The Purpose Jobs team!

Retention is everything

So if the focus is on retention, how do we make sure we do that?

It starts with offering the right kind of benefits, and building an inclusive culture. (And by the way, this will help you attract talent, too).

Here are some critical benefits or culture aspects that candidates are looking for:

1.     Diversity & Inclusion

Diversity, equity, and inclusion should be a pillar of your recruiting strategy—and your company.

Ever since the murder of Geroge Floyd, diversity and inclusion has been in the workplace spotlight. Many companies have come out in support of the Black community, but there’s a lot of work still to be done. It’s one thing to post on Instagram that Black Lives Matter. It’s another to have a plan to make sure that statement rings true.

For companies, having solid D & I plans can start with recruiting. Before we get into how, let’s talk about why. Study after study show that diversity is good for business. For example, having diverse management boosts revenue by 19%. Not only that, but inclusive companies also have higher revenue, employee engagement, and employee retention. Why? Because when people feel like they can be authentically themselves at work, they will be more creative, engaged, and happy. It’s good for business, but it’s also just the right thing to do.

So how do we create D & I plans for success? One place to start is to look at your hiring practices and make sure you’re recruiting talent from all kinds of avenues. Part of this means getting involved in communities you might not be engaged with right now. Another part might be looking at the required qualifications. Kendra Mitchell, Chief of Staff at Duo Security at Cisco, encourages recruiters to focus more on competency-based hiring, not just for candidates from diverse backgrounds but for all candidates. This helps dismantle some of the inequities candidates many face—like access to education or opportunities.

“Be committed to a growth perspective or framework, allowing all employees to develop and grow in their roles, and I think we’ll all be the better for it,” Kendra said at the Purpose Jobs Diversity & Inclusion Panel.

Her advice—which I think is great—also shows a shift in tech culture as companies focus on growth and learning. It’s great for retention, and for business.

2.     Growth Opportunities

Speaking of growth, one of the top things candidates are looking for are growth opportunities. While this benefit is not as tangible as catered lunches, it’s a lot more valuable to job seekers to know that this is a place where they can grow professionally and personally.

Let’s look at Beam Dental again. Brian said that they’re always focused on growth and learning. On the product team, everyone has a learning budget to advance their skills. Because the Midwest is an emerging market, some candidates may not have had the opportunity to work with cutting edge technologies. So creating a culture where growth is encouraged and opportunities to learn are available is a key benefit for prospective employees—and for the growth of your own company.

This can be seen in recruiting practices, too. Technology is always changing and advancing, so even if your tech stack is cutting-edge, your team will probably have to learn new skills in a few years anyway. And you can teach that. But you can’t teach the ability to learn fast, curiosity, self-motivation, and emotional intelligence. So create an environment that encourages learning and empowers growth. Because candidates find that essential to their careers—and in their lives.

3.     Relationships

Studies show that having strong relationships in the office are great for retention (as well as business). According to Gallup, women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work (a work bestie) are less likely to be actively looking for new job opportunities.

They’re also more likely to have a positive experience during the day. This includes enjoying what they do, making more progress and getting recognized for their success. Which means they are less likely to report having a negative experience during the day—things like worry, stress and fatigue.

Of course, employers can’t guarantee that someone will find a work bff at their office. But they can create a culture of communication, collaboration, friendliness, and opportunities for coworkers to get to know one another.

Clearcover Team
Clearcover is Midwest insurtech startup that works hard to foster genuine friendships. Photo courtesy of Clearcover.

This also goes back to creating an inclusive workplace. When people feel like they can bring their authentic selves to work, more genuine friendships will form.

4.     Care

If Covid-19 has taught us anything in the workplace, it’s that everyone goes through hard times. Our personal lives can be seen front and center during Zoom meetings—we’ve all been there, when the baby starts crying, or the cat starts eating your plants because it’s not sure why you’re still in the house. Life comes up, meetings get shifted, people need mental health days. We’ve all witnessed this and experienced it ourselves.

So what does that mean for employers? It means that candidates are looking for empathy. They’re looking for mental health days (which should be separate from PTO). They’re looking for wellness resources, and flexibility. When companies offer benefits like these, not only will they attract more candidates, but they’ll also retain the amazing talent they hire. And everyone will be happier.

A lot has changed in the last year. But a lot of these shifts in recruiting and tech culture were already beginning to take shape. Major events of 2020 like a pandemic and a national reckoning with racism have accelerated these movements. As difficult as the last year has been, and still is for many reasons, it’s presented an opportunity for real, human-centered change to take shape across the nation and in recruiting. Which is something we’ve definitely needed.

About Ryan Landau & Purpose Jobs

Ryan Landau is the founder of Purpose Jobs, the Midwest’s largest startup and tech community. Purpose Jobs connects talent with purpose-driven startups based on skills, experience and culture contribution. The platform is centered around community, education, culture and purpose. Ryan is passionate about helping people connect, do good things, and come together in this growing Midwest startup community.

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