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Confident Job Seekers Prioritize Pay, Flexibility—While They Still Can

A businessman standing in front of a group of people.

​The millions of surplus jobs in the U.S. continue to drive a candidates' market, empowering job seekers to ask more of potential employers, notably in the areas of compensation and flexibility. But the age-old frustrations with the hiring process remain, even as the power relationship between employers and candidates shifts and the first cracks in employment security start to show.

Recruiting software and services company Employ's 2022 Job Seeker Nation Report examines the concerns, challenges and priorities 1,500 U.S. workers and job seekers have about their job search experience. The survey was conducted in February by Zogby Analytics for Employ.

Candidates' Market

Job seekers have been confident in their ability to find work in the current economy—a finding that represents a complete turnaround from last year's survey, conducted in early 2021 during a labor market decimated by the pandemic.

Almost half of respondents to the Employ survey (45 percent) said they are actively looking for a new opportunity or plan to do so this year. The top reasons for looking for a new job are not surprising: higher compensation, growth opportunities and flexibility to work remotely.    

"Job seeker confidence has started to lag a bit, but in most industries, it's still strong," said Corey Berkey, SHRM-SCP, senior vice president for people and talent at Employ. "We're seeing another shift in the labor market since the survey was conducted, and the dynamic between employers and candidates is slowly balancing itself back out."

The economy is sending out mixed signals right now, said Elaine Orler, managing director for consulting at Cielo Talent, a recruitment process outsourcing firm based in Brookfield, Wis. "There are still a large number of available jobs and a limited number of candidates, who are being aggressively sought after. But I do think the landscape is changing as we become more cautious in our economic decisions. Inflation, rising interest rates and reporting on tech industry layoffs have contributed to declining job seeker sentiment."

There are signs of the candidate market losing steam, Orler said. "The way that change manifests is in the longer time it takes for candidates to hear back from recruiters, the more time spent not knowing where they are in the process, getting ghosted by employers more often, and the decline of job postings."

Candidate Frustrations

Job seekers' frustrations with the job search and hiring process largely continue to be the same, according to Employ.

"The process takes too long, applicants and candidates don't know where they lie in the decision efforts, and there is a lot of waiting for answers," Orler said.

Berkey said continuing stories of hiring managers and recruiters ghosting candidates "has been shocking" in this candidates' market. He added that there has been some improvement in "closing the loop" with candidates not chosen for a role, due to the adoption of automation technology.

And conversational AI technology, mostly in the form of chatbots, is speeding up the hiring process, Orler said. According to the Employ report, 22 percent of respondents have interacted with a chatbot during the recruiting process and 80 percent of those who have done so reported the experience as being a positive one.  

"The tools provide the ability to engage a person from the very beginning, provide responses to common questions, redirect them to other opportunities that might be a better fit and auto-schedule them for screening or interviewing," Orler said. "It's been one of the biggest shifts in recruitment in years."

Compensation Is Everything

The importance of pay is one theme repeated throughout the report. Negotiating for salary is at an all-time high, according to respondents. Less pay offered than expected is a top candidate turnoff, and compensation is the top reason employees leave a job or switch industries. Compensation is also the No. 1 factor for accepting or declining a job offer.

"The lack of transparency in compensation—and also offers being too low—are universally relevant no matter what kind of job market we're in," Orler said. "Companies need to step forward on this and publish comp ranges in job ads. When more companies start publishing that range, the more the range will align to the market and expectations will get closer to reality. There will always be those candidates who think they deserve the top of the range, but if it is published beforehand, they can self-select out before recruiters spend all that time courting them just to find out the pay isn't enough."

Berkey said reported disappointment with lower salary offers has been exacerbated by the wild swings in the labor market since the pandemic began. "The market has moved so fast that 5-week-old comp surveys become next to useless. It's been tough for employers to maintain current information, and from a budget perspective, it's been tough to stay at market rates. As the market continues to slow down, it will become harder to get the kind of 'silly money' we've seen being offered."

Flexibility in Flux

As employers continue to ponder return-to-work plans for employees who have been performing their jobs remotely, 40 percent of respondents to the Employ survey said they would take a pay cut to work remotely and 30 percent said they would like to be fully remote. But nearly the same percentage (26 percent) said they want to work in person full time.  

"The flexibility trend is moving fast and continues to be challenging," Berkey said. "A flexible workplace is critical to recruiting and retention, but it's important that both employers and employees are reasonable in their expectations around work/life balance. Both parties need to understand the other's perspective."

Orler said companies are still wrestling with what a winning flexibility work model will look like for them and job seekers will gravitate to the flexibility models that align to their needs. She added that it's also important to remember that "flexibility is a privilege, and most workers do not have the opportunity to work from home."


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