How employers can attract and retain top digital talent in 2021

It’s a great time to be a digital marketer. At Freeman+Leonard, we’ve recently seen a sharp increase in demand for digital expertise, including roles such as digital strategist, digital analyst and more.  

The increasingly competitive hiring landscape means employers must work a little harder to attract top digital talent — and keep them onboard. 

So what are top digital candidates looking for in an employer in 2021, and how can you stay competitive? Here’s what we’re advising our clients:

Offer a more competitive salary, or be creative with compensation.

When presented with an opportunity, most candidates will first ask about the salary range for the role. Top candidates command higher pay, so offering a competitive salary, ideally above the national average, is often the most surefire way to attract top talent. Starting salaries vary widely for many reasons, including cost of living and scarcity of talent. As an employer, it’s important to be well-informed on the going rate for your city in order to compete for the best candidates. 

However, if you’re recruiting from other markets, don’t expect the cost-of-living increase or decrease to be simple math on base pay.

Similarly, higher-paid employees will not always be willing to take a pay reduction for another market.

The Dallas market, for example, offers starting salaries at 12% above the national average, according to our own database and placement history. Candidates in this market will expect pay that’s slightly higher than other major Texas cities such as Houston and Austin. 

In addition to market averages, you should also consult salary guides for specific job titles. Salaries can differ significantly based on years of experience, niche experience and industry. 

Statistics show that 55% of professionals require a higher salary in order to change jobs, but that’s certainly not all candidates look for when evaluating a career move — and that’s good news for smaller companies or agencies with tighter budgets.  

If you’re not able to offer a higher salary, you may have to be creative with compensation to attract top candidates.

First, be sure to detail the total compensation when making an offer, not just the base salary. Often, looking at total compensation reveals an offer that’s higher than a candidate originally thought. After compensation, paid time off is often the second-biggest draw for candidates. An extra few days or a week of paid vacation can often seal the deal, as can a signing bonus.

You might also want to consider adding performance-based incentives. Those in more senior roles might even be interested in earning ownership or equity. If this is on the table, use it!

And if it’s possible to offer additional insurance benefits or to cover a higher percentage so the employee pays less out of pocket, this could also be attractive.

Beyond that, we’ve seen our smaller clients successfully win candidates by offering perks that make up for lower base pay. Consider perks that make a healthier lifestyle possible, going beyond healthcare to offering gym memberships, massages and even lunch one day a week for onsite workers (some offer it every day). This even includes incentives for carpooling or riding a bike to work, or free train passes for commuters.

Free product or reduced pricing at retailers or manufacturers can also offset a less competitive salary, as can annual credits for conferences, training or professional development.

Be prepared to sell candidates on the opportunity — and your company.

The job description is the candidate’s first impression of your company, so make it count! Highlight your financial stability and reputation right there in the job description. Especially in this pandemic, candidates are interested in how the company is faring. Use this valuable real estate to demonstrate that you’re not only stable but thriving. 

Candidates will do their research on a company before applying, so pay attention to your online presence including your website and social media channels. These channels should highlight stories about your team members, your diverse culture and career growth opportunities at your company.  

It’s also never been more important to talent that their employers’ values reflect their own, and that they can see themselves at your company.

Beyond stability and reputation, candidates want to see a welcoming, diverse and inclusive corporate culture. Make sure you’re not just communicating, but demonstrating, a top-down commitment to diversity and inclusion. Organizations that commit to having their workforce reflect the diversity of the world around us aren’t just more likely to attract a broader range of top talent; they’re also stronger and more prepared for the post-pandemic economy.

Get back to candidates quickly. Top talent won’t wait around.

Statistics show that 69% of applicants lose interest if they don’t hear back within two weeks of applying for an interview, and this tends to be more likely the more senior the candidate.

Not being responsive enough is one of the biggest reasons we see companies lose out on top digital and creative talent. Fortunately, it’s easy to fix.

Clear communication throughout the interview process is key to sustaining a candidate’s interest. This includes responding to candidates in a timely manner, following up on next steps of the interview process, and streamlining the process as much as possible. Prove to the candidate that you respect their time and talents by keeping the interview process streamlined and being as responsive as possible.

Avoid a reputation for turnover by being transparent with talent in the hiring process.

Turnover is costly, and it negatively impacts your reputation and the quality of your future hires. 

To avoid hiring the wrong talent and risking turnover, ensure everyone involved in evaluating talent is on the same page about your expectations for the role.

If recruiters and interviewers are clear on the job’s expectations and required skills and the growth opportunities at the company, honest and transparent conversations can happen immediately. 

Start by being as specific as possible when outlining the responsibilities for the position. Rather than using the same broad language as any other marketing job description, identify clear, niche skills that will help candidates know whether they’re a good fit — and help eliminate unqualified candidates from consideration. “Marketing manager,” for example, is a very broad job title and can mean different things to different people. 

Be specific also about the experience required for the job and the exact marketing experience needed — i.e., digital, mobile, shopper or otherwise.

On the heels of an economically difficult year, candidates are concerned about the stability of a company .But it’s not just for reasons of job security; they also want long-term career growth. Use the interview process to understand candidates’ career goals and aspirations. If they can see themselves achieving these goals with your company, they’re more likely to stay with you long-term. 

Allow for flexibility and remote work, even when the pandemic is over.

Thanks to COVID-19, flexible and remote-work options are now the norm — and that means top digital talent will seek this when evaluating their next move. To be competitive, be flexible with how often your employees are expected to show up to the office.

Let them work from home at least some of the time, or implement flexible summer hours or early Friday release. After a year of mostly remote work, candidates are looking for the option to work from anywhere while maintaining flexible work hours and work-life balance. 

Use this trend to your advantage. Remote work means your next top candidate could come from almost anywhere, so tap a bigger talent pool to increase the odds of finding a great match.

As the impact of COVID-19 begins to lessen, hiring trends will shift again and companies will need to be nimble in how they respond. But by taking these actions now, you’ll be prepared to attract top digital talent for years to come, making your company even more enticing when the market becomes more favorable to employers. 

At Freeman+Leonard, we have the people you need, when you need them, and not when you don’t. And that includes some of the marketing industry’s most in-demand digital talent and creatives. 

Ready to find your match? Use the contact form below to reach out and start a conversation.

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