In the past 20 months, the phrase new normal has moved from a novel description to a cliché, and on to actual reality. As we move towards 2022, the job market has changed drastically, both in the macro and micro sense.

Every indication is that, even as we eventually move past the COVID-19 pandemic, those trends are here to stay. When it comes to the labor market, we truly are in a new normal. How do employers need to adjust?

That question is difficult to answer. While details vary across industries, one overarching trend remains true: over the past two years, the power has moved from employers to employees. With that shift comes a drastic adjustment by recruiters, who need to approach talent with the expectation that they are now just one of multiple options.

That is becoming especially true as the job market begins to rebound, with unemployment in the United States sinking to a pandemic-low 4.6%. How did that shift to the job market come about, and what does it mean for recruitment strategies in 2022 and beyond? Let’s dig in.

How the First COVID-19 Lockdowns Introduced a Re-Prioritization of Work

Paradoxically, the early days of March 2020 seem to be both mere months and decades ago. Out of nowhere, the daily routine of almost every member of the global workforce was disrupted. Entire industries shifted to remote work, while others moved to increase safety measures around jobs that had to be done in-person.

As it turns out now, that shift had repercussions for the labor market that we might feel for decades to come. As millions of workers in every country had to adjust their work practices, they were thrust into new situations that caused them to re-examine not just their career, but their relationship with work and its place in their lives on a fundamental level.

What followed was a fundamental shift in power. More than one labor expert predicted what has since come true. Anthony Klotz, associate professor of management at Texas A&M University described what he termed “The Great Resignation” like this:

Employees have more power, because they have seen… what they are willing to risk for their job. And having already gone through that, they’re consciously making that decision every day. Before, it wasn’t necessarily front-of-mind for everybody. But now, it is something that people think about.

In other words, people around the world have become more actively conscious of what they would do to sacrifice in order to earn money. As their priorities shift, work is simply becoming a less important part of their lives.

The Occupational Shift

What better time to think about a career change than being locked up in your home? As it turns out, that’s exactly what a majority of the workforce thought. As the economy forced countless layoffs at the beginning of COVID-19, unemployed people began to re-think their career choices.

A Pew Research poll this past January found that of the unemployed population, two-thirds (66%) have seriously considered a career change. And of course, that doesn’t include women who, rather than changing their careers, simply didn’t return to the workforce; between February and April 2020, 4.2 million U.S. women dropped out of the workforce, and two million of them still haven’t returned.

Those that do remain, naturally, are migrating to remote work and professions that allow them to avoid the commute or other in-person environments. The number of U.S. workers who would prefer to work remotely has increased drastically over the past year and continues to do so. Whether that’s because people want to be closer to their family or because they don’t want to risk being around others in the midst of a global pandemic (as one study by the Rockefeller Foundation found), work has simply become a less important part of people’s lives.

The New Employee-Controlled Labor Market

Put all of it together, and you get an environment where, for the first time in decades, the average employee often holds more power than the employer trying to recruit them. What used to be confined to industries like tech and medicine has taken hold across professions: if you want to fill your open positions, you better accommodate prospective applicants.

That trend is not actually new, although COVID-19 has certainly accelerated it. NBC News cites retiring baby boomers along with longer-term shift towards remote work as trends that were in place regardless of the pandemic, which just supercharged it. Add enhanced unemployment benefits through the U.S. government’s stimulus bills since the beginning of the pandemic, and you have an environment where, to truly be successful in attracting new talent, traditional recruitment strategies need a comprehensive overhaul.

How to Adjust Your Recruitment Strategy For the 2022 Job Market

New employee trends naturally require a significant adjustment to recruitment strategy. With the “new normal” here to stay for good, the time to build that strategy is now.

To start, the number of open positions in almost every industry will result in significantly fewer applications per job opening. Prospective applicants can simply be more selective, choosing to spend time on applying to positions only when the match is just right, and it fits their personal and professional situation.

That trend might mean the end of the job-description-as-dictionary. Rather than listing every potential marketing skill in a big bullet list for any open marketing position, it pays to keep your descriptions short, streamlined, and on-point. The more specific, and honest, employers are about these open positions, the more likely those open positions will become to receive relevant applicants.

A Focus on Culture and Mental Health

When applicants with more power and the increased need for their own personal well-being collide, a focus on mental health becomes a key part of building a recruitment strategy that attracts top-end talent across industries. The Rockefeller Foundation survey mentioned above agrees, pointing out that 73% of employers prioritize their employees’ well-being more as a result of COVID-19.

Just how that support can occur varies by industry, but some basic truths remain in place regardless:

  • Increased flexibility has become vital, with employers needing to make room for employees’ personal and family needs.
  • An emphasis on a corporate culture that supports employees for more than just their productivity can go a long way towards building a workplace that applicants want to join.
  • As Gartner points out, employers are increasingly asked to serve as their employees’ social safety nets through financial assistance, enhanced sick leave, and more.

In short, successful recruiting in 2022 and beyond has to focus on more than just the technicalities of the job. Employers who are able to show and prove that they care about their employees’ well-being and have established culture to support it will gain the attention of applicants who, otherwise, have no problems looking for other alternatives.

Remote Applicant Journeys Become a Must

For decades, most positions were impossible to fill without at least some in-person component. From group interviews to facility visits, both employers and employees benefited from that physical contact and proximity to find the best possible fit and get the best possible candidates.

That is no longer the case. The modern applicant journey is largely remote, shifting to channels like Zoom, email, and interactive video. Conveying your organizational culture while properly evaluating candidates can be a challenge in that environment, but switching to it is an absolute priority nonetheless.

Fortunately, it also comes with some positives that actually make the switch to a fully remote applicant journey beneficial for employers as well:

  • The process becomes faster and presents fewer logistical hurdles usually associated with in-person appointment and site visit schedules.
  • An expanded talent pool that is not nearly as limited to your geographic region as it might have been otherwise.
  • An increased ability to account for diversity by removing artificial barriers that might have prevented diverse groups, like mothers with child care responsibilities, from applying otherwise.

More Active Recruitment Marketing

Finally, a more limited and conscientious talent pool simply requires more active outreach from employers looking to find and attract the right candidates. Recruitment began to look a lot like marketing years ago; thanks to COVID-19, that process has been supercharged.

With the power in the hand of employees in the 2022 job market, employers have to do their part to stand out. Building an employer brand and advertising open positions has become absolutely crucial to ensure that the right candidates get interested enough in your business to apply.

Taking this route requires proactive planning. Simply posting a job description on popular job boards is far from enough. Instead, modern recruitment marketing requires a strategic, multi-channel approach designed to create a recruitment marketing effort that is bigger than the sum of its parts.

Building an Engaging Applicant Journey for 2022

In an age of uncertainty, one thing is sure: the talent pool of 2022, and likely the years beyond that, will look much different than that of previous years. With employees gaining more power than they’ve had in decades, creating an engaging applicant journey will be absolutely crucial to long-term, sustainable recruitment success.

Getting to that point requires time, expertise, and knowledge. But it doesn’t hurt to get the basics right. Our job previews, for instance, provide a great opportunity to create engaging, virtual experiences that communicate both function and intangible aspects of your career opportunities for potential candidates to engage with.

Ready to learn more? Contact us today to start the conversation and begin to prepare for the challenges of the 2022 job market and opportunities for talent recruitment.