José Benítez Cong offers fellow talent acquisition leaders a hard-earned piece of advice for hiring in uncertain times: Don’t stop.

In the face of slow global growth, persistent inflation and big-tech layoffs that hit tens of thousands of workers at a time, talent leaders could be tempted to hold back on hiring until the skies clear. But Benítez Cong and other veteran human resources leaders caution that if they do, they’ll miss crucial opportunities — and potentially put their companies at a disadvantage for years to come.

That’s what happened at Benítez Cong’s previous company, where a hiring freeze during a recession set the firm back several months when it came to scaling a new product. The company learned its lesson, and when the next downturn came, his team hired big. Benítez Cong, who is now head of talent engagement at the tech startup Humane, says those hires helped position the company “to speed ahead of the rest of the competition in the market.”

Holding back on hiring is a mistake, regardless of the economic climate, because the fight for talent is not going to end any time soon: The 2023 Hiring and Workplace Trends Report from Indeed and Glassdoor, which draws on data covering the U.S., the U.K., Canada, France, Germany and Japan, found that labor supply will remain tight for the long term thanks to a wave of baby boomer retirements, low immigration, low birth rates and aging populations. 

“We’re very firmly entrenched in a job seeker’s market,” says Daniel Culbertson, senior economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab. “The issue is we just don’t have as many workers as we had before. For a while, it looked like a lot of that was tied to the pandemic. But it’s starting to seem like a lot of those pandemic impacts have faded away, and what we’re left with are some structural issues within our labor market that are constraining supply.”

The lesson for employers, he says, is that “whatever strategies you’ve been using for recruiting in a tight labor market over the past two years, those still remain valid today.” That means responding to employee preferences that developed during the pandemic, including remote-work flexibility, holistic benefits, a company culture that supports wellbeing and an employer commitment to diversity and inclusion.

To bring in top talent in a persistently tight labor market, you may need to rethink some core practices. Here’s what Benítez Cong, Culbertson and other experts recommend.

Raise Pay — Or at Least Benefits

Culbertson says offering competitive compensation requires setting salaries high, not only for the roles you’re recruiting for, but — as employers look farther and wider for talent — also when compared to the industries from which you’re looking to draw workers. Benefits count for a lot too, especially when raising pay isn’t possible. The Indeed and Glassdoor report found that workers value a broad set of benefits, including health insurance, mental healthcare, retirement and PTO. 

Transparency is also key, especially around remote versus in-office work requirements and pay. In an Indeed survey of emerging Gen Z workers (those currently between the ages of 16 and 26), 54% said they wouldn’t accept a job without a flexible work schedule, and 85% wanted job postings to list a pay range. So it’s important to clearly communicate salaries, benefits and remote-work policies in job postings and throughout the recruiting process. “Self selection is super powerful,” explains Adam Ward, who was one of the early recruiting leaders at Facebook as it grew from 1,000 to 10,000 employees. “If someone knows the rules of the game, they can self-select, in or out, at the beginning.”

Double Down on Your Job Descriptions

Ward, who is now a founding partner at Growth By Design Talent, says clearly defining the role is a key (and often neglected) step. “So many companies copy and paste someone else’s job description, change a few words and then post it,” he says. That’s a recipe for a poor fit. A clearly scoped role and a precise job description create a “radar” for candidates to decide what does — or doesn’t — fit them, he says. In addition to telegraphing the specifics of a position, shedding unnecessary requirements for degrees and experience can help to invite more good candidates in.

Then, Ward adds, use a structured interview process with clear rubrics to assess specific skills and experiences to avoid the trap of making hiring decisions on mere instinct. These practices are especially important in a down market when employers might face a larger volume of candidates.

Keep Your Commitment to Diversity…

In the Indeed and Glassdoor survey, at least 65% of workers between the ages of 18 and 34 said they would consider turning down an offer or quitting a company that lacks racial or gender diversity in leadership or provides inadequate support for diversity initiatives, so don’t abandon commitments to diversity, even as economic pressures mount. A comprehensive set of practices, from hiring reform to stay interviews to Employee Resource Groups, can help build diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging into everyday business.

…And Other Aspects of Company Culture

In the Indeed and Glassdoor report, 46% of workers said their expectations of happiness at work had risen in the past year. So, if you must lay off workers, treat them with empathy. Explain to remaining employees what you’re doing and how you’re working to minimize the impact. “What you do today is the muscle memory that you’ll carry on when this thing bounces back up,” Benítez Cong explains. Even now, he says, he’s still seeing candidates judging companies by their reactions to shelter-in-place orders at the start of the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd. 

Seek Out Untapped Talent 

“Unfortunately, we see diversity in both the narrow and broader sense take a back seat in down hiring environments,” Ward says. But overlooking non-traditional candidates — such as caregivers, those with resume or degree gaps and formerly incarcerated job seekers — is a mistake. In fact, a 2021 report found companies that purposefully hire such “untapped talent” are less likely to face talent shortages. These companies also report that those workers outperform their peers on key criteria like work ethic, productivity, quality of work, engagement and innovation. 

“We know that having diverse teams and points of view leads to better outcomes,” Ward says. “One could argue this is a time to double down, since there’s less pressure on hiring quickly.” 

And as labor markets continue to tighten, Benítez Cong says, “Looking beyond a traditional candidate is not just smart, it is going to be required.”

Stay Human

Uncertain times for companies are often uncertain times for job seekers, too. Some have suffered a traumatic layoff. Some are anxious about competing in a larger candidate pool. So even recruiters who are feeling some fresh leverage now should take care to sense each candidate’s state of mind and adapt the hiring process to suit them. 

If a candidate seems anxious or overeager, Benítez Cong recommends building in some extra coaching conversations before interviews begin. If their confidence has been shaken, he suggests sharing your own stories of surviving previous recessions. Because, he says, only by helping a candidate feel comfortable can you really get a sense of who they are.

For employers, Ward says, the best lesson is to stick to smart practices regardless of changing conditions. Economic dips and market changes will come and go, but you will always need great talent to help your organization weather what may come, he says. “So you want to be able to control what you can, which is hiring the right person for your company at the right time.”