It’s a common recruitment challenge. You’re feeling the pressure to extend an offer or risk more attrition — or even lose that headcount in potential budget cuts. But you also don’t want to make the wrong hire. 

Now what?  

Open headcount can have a significant impact on team morale, productivity, and efficiency — not to mention your bottom line. A “bad hire” can cost your organization up to 30% of that employee’s first-year salary. The longer the role remains open, the greater impact it can have.

In other instances it’s not just about the losses — it’s about departmental leads ensuring headcounts and related expenses are secured, even if only temporarily. If budget cuts are looming, open headcounts are often cut before seated employees.

Given these challenges, hiring managers and HR leaders may be pressured into making quick hiring decisions based on the current candidate pool. While this may seem like an optimal approach in the moment, an abbreviated search and applicant vetting may lead to a “bad hire” — and that leads back to another open headcount. The solution? Be proactive and strategic. The right talent is out there. You just need to find it and keep funneling it back to your open headcounts.

Step 1: Create a constantly evolving talent “bench”

To overcome this challenge, focus on building out a constantly evolving network of talent — people who could be assets to your organization now or in the future. 

Even if you don’t have open roles or opportunities for these individuals, engaging them, sharing more about your company and understanding their desired next steps and career objectives can help you build a roster of go-to talent should the right roles present themselves. This is especially critical for niche industries or if you frequently find yourself hiring for highly specialized positions.

Colleges and universities can be an ideal first step in building out your potential-hire network. Many have department chairs who can point you toward high-potential graduates and undergraduates or student-led organizations that attract engaged, active leaders with an eye on career next steps. By building strong connections with these individuals and groups, you can easily create a mutually beneficial relationship — you become a direct access point for internships and recent-graduate hiring, while the schools can help flag premier talent.

Other potential network-boosting partners? Professional or industry-specific organizations. Working with them enables you not only to target and engage professionals in specific areas of work but also to create a better culture of diversity and inclusion. Working with women in technology groups or minorities-in-business associations, for example, can both boost recruiting and ensure you have a broad, representative talent pool.

Step 2: Implement an employee referral program

You can also tap in-house experts — employees with similar roles and responsibilities. Many professionals have connections from previous jobs, social contacts or access to industry groups and threads, and with that access, they can help promote open headcounts and share more about life within your company. 

These types of referral programs can simplify recruitment and hiring — and lead to better retention and employee success. Because your current teams best understand organizational culture and day-to-day demands, they can best articulate the employee experience. At the same time, from this vantage point, they’re also often best equipped to identify people who would be optimal fits within your workplace — plus, candidates trust employee feedback more than company messaging.

As a result, referral hires tend to be happier in their roles, with less attrition and a better understanding of company needs on day one. They also tend to be more engaged — they know someone within the organization and can tap them for questions, concerns and other early-stage learning.

To maximize the impact of your referral program, consider high-value incentives — additional paid time off (PTO), financial compensation, public recognition and other perks. 

Likewise, employees are often well positioned to identify candidates who would best align with the organization. Together, this can translate to quicker hiring processes, lower recruitment costs and decreased turnover. Referrals can also be an easy way to identify niche talent or individuals for hard-to-fill roles

Step 3: Never stop recruiting

It’s important to keep engaging high-potential talent for traditionally high-demand roles. Between new talent turnover in the double digits and organization-specific needs, this talent will likely be needed sooner rather than later.

To that end, be sure your teams are always focusing on building a strong network of talent, even if you don’t have roles for them (yet). This can happen through college and university connections, engaging industry organizations, starting or building out your employee recruitment program and continual recruiting for key roles once spots are filled. Again, you’ll no doubt need a new talent pool, and this approach ensures they’re standing by. 

Filling open headcounts efficiently is key — but it’s also essential to bring in the right talent for the role, especially now. The majority of senior managers agree that a bad hiring decision is particularly “severe” during the pandemic, and 76% say hiring the wrong person leads to decreased morale and productivity paired with increased stress on managers — so don’t allow yourself to feel rushed into a bad decision. Be strategic and proactive and, soon, you’ll have a robust talent pool at the ready.