Last May, President Barack Obama faced a problem many business owners confront: filling a job no one seemed to want.
Despite the perks, prestige and pay, three top candidates turned down Mr. Obama's offer of becoming the director of national intelligence. While we often assume it's the tedious, disgusting and low-salary jobs that are difficult to fill, Mr. Obama's dilemma proves putting a butt in a seat in even a high-paying position can be difficult.
Robin O'Connor, owner of Calgary-based Staffing Strategies, knows this problem well. Her most recent challenge was finding accountants and administrators for the property management industry.
"When the positions become more technical, it becomes a lot more difficult," she said. These senior positions "are usually tougher roles and more demanding because of the whole knowledge base, the need to understand the industry and its complexities."
While it may seem counter-intuitive, even in a shaky economy, "it can be a bit of a fight to attract good people," she added.
For Graham Wilson, a Toronto-based recruitment partner at Cadre, a staffing agency that specializes in the engineering sector, "depending on the company, the project, the travel and things like that, positions become more difficult to fill. And with a shift situation, that becomes a lifestyle choice, where if you have a family or are not used to it, it can be a real challenge," he said.
Nonetheless, there are solutions out there for companies experiencing high turnover or difficulties in hiring. For Ms. O'Connor, whether they are with an agency or a human resources department, the recruiter's approach is important. "If they have a negative attitude towards it, that really impacts how the position is perceived by others," she said.
"The words a company chooses when it writes up a job posting are incredibly important," she added. "They're the first impression of an organization, of the job itself. So if all you're doing is using facts to describe the position, and there's no enthusiasm, no indication of 'we're a great company to work with, and here's why,' that can really hinder a recruit right off the get-go."
Using several recruitment agencies for one position can also be counter-productive. Potential hires will get several calls for the same job and wonder what's wrong.
Mr. Wilson agreed companies need to "accentuate the positive. Even the toughest jobs, if the company has something within its environment that is very positive or differentiates it, that goes a long way to attract individuals."
Educating a business on the potential hurdles is part of his firm's service, said Mr. Wilson. "If positions are harder to fill, we try to get to the root of those and present it to the client. In case of remote location, will the client be open to someone flying back for the weekends? Or, are there environments where you can bring your family?" Companies that are flexible, and recognize the need for a work-life balance do better at finding the best talent. "People have to think outside of the box," he advised. "Pay isn't everything."
Some experts have also suggested going beyond an Internet job post and tapping into social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. They even recommend looking for bloggers who are interested in the subject matter related to the job they are looking to fill.
Searching internally is another great tool, said Ms. O'Connor. "Getting your own staff, and providing them with bonuses to refer people for those roles, really does a lot of good, especially in the junior positions. If you have a great person who works for you, they probably know great people."
Yet sometimes it's not the job but the company that turns off potential employees. Recalling the phrase "people don't leave companies, they leave managers," Ms. O'Connor emphasized the importance of self-examination.
"It's not a short-term fix," she said. "(Companies) have to look at why people are leaving, and make sure they're doing the exit interviews. Do they have the right managers in place, and are they empowering their staff?"
A coach at Toronto's Pursuit Development Labs, Mike Farley also believes that a business should look internally if they are having trouble keeping staff or filling jobs.
"And that goes back to the leadership culture," he said. "Think of the primary basic needs of human beings, acceptance and survival - everything starts from there," he added. "So there's a survival energy where people may take the job because they just need the money. But the side you can really build on is the acceptance piece. If they're part of a group, of a community, that's making things better, and contributing towards the whole, it doesn't matter what the job is."
Using the example of a janitor who decides to wash the dishes and save the company money spent on disposables, "all of a sudden you have a massive contribution and they feel like they're part of the organization," he said. "So that notion of how do you engage people really comes down to, how do you create that community?"
In the end, said Mr. Wilson, there probably is no such thing as a job no one wants. Even that national intelligence director's post was eventually filled, by James Clapper. "In most cases," he said, "as long as the position is not a health-and-safety concern and the company is above board, there is always someone to fill any type of job."