5 Tips to Recruit and Retain Top Talent in a Tight Labor Market

September 19, 2019

Recruit talent

A regular topic in the news, the U.S. unemployment rate is currently at 3.7%, creating the tightest labor market in decades. Companies are being challenged more than ever when it comes to finding, recruiting, and retaining top talent. The qualified people recruiters want to hire have more options than they did even a year ago.

Your competitors—and now even noncompetitors—are trying to poach your top talent due to the limited number of qualified candidates in the market.

Winning the competition for employees

How is it possible to compete and attract top talent when the labor market is so tight? Here’s what we are doing at Lawson Products to win and retain employees:

Validate your employer brand. To compete effectively for talent, companies must treat their employer brand with the same strategic focus and consistency that they apply to their corporate or consumer brands.

When creating the Lawson Products Employee Value Proposition (EVP), our goal was straightforward: to stand out as different from the competition and accurately reflect reality. This was an important step for our company, as many young people entering the workforce today don’t necessarily think of the distribution industry as a career path. Therefore, clearly communicating the benefits and opportunities that exist within our industry is key.

Talk to your current talent. In an effort to grow sales by developing underserved territories, we have been adding sales reps every year since 2013. By talking with our new and long-term sales reps, we gained a wealth of information that helped us improve our recruiting and retention efforts.

We learned what their perception of our company was prior to applying for a job and during the candidate experience. We learned whether any gaps existed given their current sales rep experience. We learned what Lawson’s strengths and areas for improvement were in relation to demonstrating why we are an employer of choice. This process of talking to existing employees served as a very powerful engagement tool in itself.

Prepare leaders and managers. Be sure your leaders and managers understand recruiting challenges and are fully engaged in the process. We started by ensuring all leaders updated their LinkedIn profiles to include our employee value proposition, so they were ready to actively share posts.

Leaders and managers need to recognize that in a tight labor market, you’re not always going to find the 100% perfect match. They must be open to looking outside typical requirements and helping new hires build certain skills. If not, they might miss out on a highly motivated and talented person.

It’s also key for leaders to understand the interview process is not just about quizzing the candidate. It’s as much about the potential hire interviewing them and the company. They should be prepared to share your company’s story and what they like about your company.

Act quickly. Now, more than ever, it’s key to respond quickly to employment needs. This means starting the recruiting process the day you learn you will have an open position and understanding it will take a team effort—HR, managers, and employee ambassadors—to fill it. Once the recruiting process has begun, how long does it take? In today’s competitive market, top talent will not wait for weeks after an interview to learn your decision.

Invest in training and development programs. In today’s tight labor market, learning is important to top talent who are looking for offerings that will help them on their professional journey. Ambitious employees are those who want learning in all forms, including training, mentoring, community groups, special projects, and manager coaching.

When done right, onboarding is more than time dedicated to ensuring HR forms are processed and company policies are shared. It’s an opportunity to make an impression that stays with new employees for the duration of their careers.

For example, learning for Lawson’s sales reps begins during the interview process, when candidates ride along with one of our reps for a day-in-the-life-of experience. Newly hired sales reps then participate in four days of learning and networking at headquarters. Ongoing learning opportunities for our sales reps include a combination of online learning, district workshops to learn new products and sales tools, and custom in-field training with their sales manager.

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About The Author

Trista Jones joined Lawson Products in 2000 as a recruiter. As the senior talent acquisition manager for a leader in the maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) industry, Jones is focused on finding sales representatives with the leadership skills and motivation to help Lawson Products achieve its growth goals. Contact her at

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