Sector News

What job seekers wish employers knew

February 4, 2023
Borderless Leadership

This article is part of the Decoding Global Talent series of BCG and The Network, which investigates long-term workforce trends around the world.

“Realize that applicants are not ROBOTS and treat us as individuals.” That’s what a respondent to our survey said when asked about the one thing companies should change in the way they recruit people. Many others echoed the sentiment. “Be less concerned about ticking the boxes and more about the person.” “Look at people.”

For candidates, choosing a job is a very personal decision. It’s the start of an extremely impactful relationship, one that may define several—or many—years of their lives. No wonder candidates are sensitive to “moments of truth,” when employers reveal who they really are.

For employers, it’s a critical business decision. But underlying that business decision is the crucial need for people, which makes the personal preferences of job seekers highly relevant to the business. Despite a possible economic slowdown, global unemployment remains low and employers still feel the impact of the Great Resignation. It’s not easy to win over top talent, especially in high-demand fields. Increasingly, a lack of suitable people creates a bottleneck that impedes business growth—thus elevating the talent issue to the C-suite level.

Part of the problem lies in the recruitment process—how employers and candidates connect, communicate, set expectations, and make decisions. Or how they don’t. Often, employers don’t know what policies and actions will attract potential employees—or deter them. Sometimes, they may even be uncertain about how to find and recruit them.

Who better to clarify those uncertainties and help companies improve their recruiting ROI than job candidates themselves? From August through October 2022, BCG and The Network, a global alliance of recruitment websites, undertook the world’s largest survey dedicated to exploring job seekers’ recruitment preferences—more than 90,000 people participated. (See “Methodology.”)

This article reports and interprets additional survey findings and offers recruitment recommendations for employers.

The Talent Market Is Still Hot—And Candidates Know It
At the time of our survey, 74% of respondents said that they are approached multiple times per year about job opportunities—in fact, 39% said that they are approached every month. Even if a future recession lowers the temperature of the talent market, employers probably won’t see an abundance of talent in the short term, especially in high-demand fields. (See “Market Insights.”)

The most coveted people are those working in IT, digital, and sales jobs, followed closely by those in hospitality and transport and logistics. Scientists and teachers receive the fewest invitations to apply for jobs, likely because of the nondynamic nature of these fields, where tenure and long-term government contracts are common.

The outreach to potential candidates doesn’t vary significantly by location or by age group (which is good news for the many respondents who told us that they wish hiring companies would not put so much emphasis on age).

Job candidates, well aware of how many opportunities they have, tend to be confident of their value and bargaining power. Most people (68%) feel that they are in a strong negotiating position when looking for a job (that is, they believe they have more power than prospective employers). Only 14% feel that employers hold the reins in negotiations. Confidence is highest among those who work in finance, business, and sales and lowest among manual workers, nonprofit workers, and volunteers.

Being on the receiving end of multiple invitations to pursue jobs would logically seem to correlate with confidence in one’s negotiating power, and this is generally true. Candidates currently in IT, digital, and other tech fields are “sexy and they know it”: they get many invitations and consequently believe that they are in a strong negotiating position.

The correlation does not always hold, however. Many candidates in finance, sales, and law are “playing hard to get.” They believe that they have the upper hand, but the frequency with which they are contacted about job opportunities does not back up that confidence. On the other hand, service, media, science, and manual workers are “more attractive than they think.” They receive a relatively large number of invitations but are less confident about their negotiating power.

Employers need to be aware of where job candidates are coming from and should adjust their negotiation technique accordingly. With digital superstars, they may not get a second chance, so it’s best to start with a strong first offer. With other segments, employers may have more space for discussion. But one thing seems sure: candidates are less and less likely to simply accept an offer without asking for more.

What Candidates Want

People’s desires regarding jobs vary depending on where they are on their career journey. In some instances, they may take a long-term view that includes planning their career trajectory. In others, they may have a job offer on the table and a decision to make. And in still others, they may be at a beginning or inflection point, considering a job or career change.

Planning a Career for the Long Term
Most people don’t want to live to work anymore. They want to work to live.

Most respondents (69%) in our survey said that they desire, above all, a stable job with a good work-life balance. This preference is dominant across job roles, regions, and age groups. Career progress at a good company comes second, and working on exciting products, topics, and technologies is third.

Fewer people dream of reskilling to new careers or building their businesses.

Responding to a Job Offer
People may dream of a steady job with a good work-life balance for the long term, but when an opportunity is placed in front of them, they still look at financials first. Across regions, people who are weighing a concrete job offer usually make the financial package—salary and bonus included—their highest priority.

But work-life balance (in accordance with people’s long-term vision) ranks second behind financial compensation. And, in most regions of the world, people consider shortcomings related to paid time off and job security to be leading deal breakers.

We also looked at respondents by age group. Compensation and work-life balance are generally the two top priorities regardless of cohort, but deal breakers change significantly with age:

  • For the youngest generation, learning and development opportunities are very important, but this attribute gradually decreases in importance as respondents age, and respondents older than 40 don’t cite it among their top ten deal-breaking concerns overall. Although this doesn’t mean that older workers will resist learning new things if they have to, the decreasing motivation to learn may pose a challenge, given the masses of people who will need to continuously reskill and upskill to keep pace with new workplace demands for AI, sustainability, and other skills.
  • Workers who are 30 to 50 years old prioritize job security and flexible work arrangements. Many of these workers have family commitments (to young children, aging parents, or both) and value flexibility in work hours and locations to ensure that they have more time to spend with their loved ones.
  • Among respondents older than 60, impactful work and appreciation for their work rank relatively high—an interesting trend to consider in light of the aging workforce and the rising retirement age in multiple countries. Other factors that tend to become more important with age include relationship with a manager, company values, and interesting job content.

We also asked candidates about their preferred working models and employment types. Many respondents had rather traditional choices—sometimes surprisingly so. They favored traditional employers: large corporations, small to midsize enterprises, and governments. Working at startups and as part of the gig economy were less popular choices.

The majority also said that they prefer a traditional five-day workweek. Perhaps they are satisfying the appetite for flexibility that we saw in earlier surveys by taking advantage of opportunities for hybrid work, which blends time in the office with time working remotely. Hybrid work is still popular—54% of respondents favored this model—but that result represents an unexpected decline in preference from our autumn 2020 survey, in which 65% of respondents said they wanted a hybrid model that included two to four days of remote work. Further, 35% of current respondents, and an even higher share of those in Latin America and the Middle East, are comfortable with working all of their hours onsite.

Deciding on a Change
Many (42%) of our survey respondents reported that they were actively looking for a job. Many others (41%) described themselves as not actively looking but said that they’d be open to a job change if presented with a good offer.

The motivations of these actively looking and passively looking job candidates differ:

  • Active job seekers care mostly about higher seniority, greater responsibility, or the chance to explore a new profession. They are motivated by the content and scope of the prospective job itself.
  • Passive candidates are not necessarily uninterested in these job attributes, but to capture their attention, employers must dangle the promise of a significantly improved compensation package in front of them. A better work-life balance is also among the top five features that they say could capture their interest.

Employers need to fish in both ponds because hooking active talent alone is insufficient. Companies that can capture passive talent will have a major advantage. READ MORE

By Jens Baier, Orsolya Kovács-Ondrejkovic, Pierre Antebi, Kate Kavanagh, Bojan Divcic, Carmen Márquez Castro, Katerina Mala, Vinciane Beauchene, Henrike Barth, and Niharika Jajoria


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