How to Recruit the Immobile Candidate

Recruiters looking to poach fresh talent for jobs far away from where targeted candidates live might have to put a little extra hot sauce in their pitch.

In the latter half of 2011, an average of just 7.5 percent of job seekers relocated for a new position, according to recent data from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. In the first two quarters of 2011, an average of 9.4 percent of job seekers relocated for new positions.

What’s more, the annual average percentage of job seekers relocating for new positions has steadily declined since the mid- to late 1980s, when companies were expanding and more workers were willing to relocate. The latest lull brings into focus the ongoing challenge recruiters face in finding and attracting the best talent, regardless of location, in an economy still weighed down by a major decline in the housing market and with unemployment still above desired levels.

“It appeared that relocation was beginning to bounce back after plunging in the wake of the housing market collapse and the deep recession that followed,” John A. Challenger, the firm’s CEO, was quoted as saying in a press release announcing the latest figure. “However, the latest numbers indicate that picking up stakes remains a last resort for the majority of job seekers, many of whom are unwilling to take a loss in the sale of a home for a position that may or may not last.”

Even as the housing market continues to slow the pace of some job seekers’ relocation, Gerry Crispin, a principal and co-founder at recruitment research and consulting firm CareerXroads, said the rise in the number of teleworkers, digital working environments and the contingent workforce is also at play. Many people aren’t moving because more positions are enabling them to do the job from wherever they are.

“It’s [becoming] an advantage of both the job seeker and the employers to put together teams of people and have them work from wherever they are,” Crispin said.

In some instances, the immobility of potential candidates allows the recruiter to become more flexible, he said. Because of technology and emerging values on where work gets done, recruiters, organizations and candidates are able to arrange and negotiate the working situation to allow for candidates to be flexible on their permanent location.

Such a trend has only increased an already steady decline in job seeker relocation in the last 25 years. In 1986, the earliest year tracked in Challenger, Gray & Christmas’ latest job seeker relocation data release, the annual average of job seekers relocating for new positions was 41.8 percent; in 2011, that number dropped to 8.5 percent. In 2009, when the recession arguably hit its crest, the annual average of job seekers relocating for a new job was 13.3 percent, according to the Challenger data.

Bob Damon, a regional president of executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International, said recruiting for flexible or virtual work arrangements still has its limits. Depending on the level of the position, candidates might not have the choice to stay where they are, which is more often the case for executive or leadership positions.

“Relocation is becoming a bigger issue than it was five years ago,” he said. The major reason is still the economy, but not necessarily the housing market. People are reluctant to move when organizations don’t necessarily have the “wind in their sails,” Damon said.

Potential executive recruits are much more cautious these days, which means they are less likely to leave an executive role at one company for another — let alone move to a job that would force them to relocate, too.

Another factor for the downward-trending relocation numbers is generational, Damon said. Baby boomers in their heyday were more willing to move for a job, even if it meant relocating or leaving the family behind for certain periods of time. Younger generations are not necessarily willing to disrupt the family structure to accommodate their job.

“[Younger generations] are kind of looking for the better mouse trap in terms of the life that their parents lived,” Damon said. “That means more work-life balance.”

Recruiters are tasked — now more than ever — with learning as much as possible about candidates before ever picking up the phone. Particularly in the case of executive or leadership positions, that means going above and beyond the norm.

“You need to woo the entire family,” Crispin said. “That means the spouse and the children, too.”

Frank Kalman is an associate editor of Talent Management magazine. He can be reached at fkalman@talentmgt.com.