What makes you different in attracting and retaining employees?

By Chad Kopitzke, NeXtGen Advantage

As a talent scout, I often ask employers what makes them better or different from everyone else. Why should people want to work for them? What do they offer that sets them apart?

What I’ve found is the companies that can’t answer these questions default to competing on price, which in my world means compensation or salary. And companies that compete on price can easily lose their top talent to another employer who offers an extra 25 cents per hour—a nominal deal breaker. Then because the original company can’t afford to lose that talent, they counteroffer another 25 cents per hour on top of the competitor’s offer, and just like that the employer has removed 50 cents per hour from its bottom line because it does not know what it is promising to its employees.

Your differentiators matter. As an employer, you’ve got to know what makes you better and how to convey that message — or else you’ll be at the mercy of an endless wage war, especially in the construction industry today.

Why do you do what you do? What makes your company great? Telling your story means letting talent know about your culture, values, and the type of environment you provide. This needs to happen every step of the way — through what I call the five phases of the talent lifecycle.

1. Attract
2. Recruit
3. Onboard
4. Retain
5. Exit

I believe differentiation — your story — is the red thread that holds the five phases of the talent lifecycle together. If this thread is not present within a company, these five phases will gap and drift away from each other. This creates an opportunity for higher turnover, lower productivity, disengagement, and people who are not loyal to us as leaders.

Want to avoid those pitfalls? Here’s how to weave the thread tightly through all five phases.

The Attract Phase
The attract phase is the first impression of your company. It’s where the message you share with the workplace community creates your employer brand — for better or for worse. What are your communication tools and methods actually saying to potential employees?

One of the ways you present your organization is through your job descriptions. Do your job descriptions attract talent or screen them out? Are you using them as an opportunity to tell your story, describing who you are, what you stand for, and what type of person you’re looking for?

Most job descriptions I see are all about checking the boxes of skills and experience. What this actually tells an applicant is, “If you don’t check the box, you’re not welcome here.” If your job descriptions are built this way, you might be missing some really good talent. I view this phase as the “window shoppers.” Talent is watching you and tracking you without ever having to step foot inside your organization. Do you know what opinions they’re forming of your company based on your job postings and descriptions?

The Recruit Phase
The recruit phase is where you now get the first official interaction. Recruitment engages a candidate who has either applied to your job posting or been referred to your company by a current employee. The key question here is—how long is your response time? Does that candidate hear back from you? How soon? And does your response come in a canned email that gets kicked out of your applicant tracking system, or is it a personalized message?

Sadly, many applicants never hear anything back at all. Ignoring applicants has become so commonplace in today’s market, there’s a term for it now—ghosting. Please believe me when I tell you ghosting is one of the fastest ways to erode public opinion of your organization. I know it, because I talk to job seekers every day. And nothing discourages them more than silence.

People are looking to be treated like assets, not numbers. In this phase as well as all other phases of the process, I aim to treat candidates with a high level of respect, and I encourage you to do the same. It goes a long way toward building respect and trust in the business community. And, quite frankly, it’s just common courtesy.

Think of it this way. What if the tables were turned? Many employers expect a thank you note or email from the candidate they interviewed. My approach as a recruiter is to beat them to the punch and send them a thank you first. What kind of message does that send? The company that just interviewed me sent ME a thank you?! That is a powerful differentiator indeed.


The Onboard Phase
Onboarding starts as soon as a candidate accepts your offer. How welcoming is your organization to new talent walking in? Are you helping new employees feel like they’re part of a community, or are they essentially strangers trying to figure it out on their own? Those that are welcomed into the “community” are likely to have a harder time leaving versus someone that never connects with others in the workplace. Getting the onboard phase right can significantly reduce turnover rates down the road.

Also, during this phase, I recommend filling any communication gaps that might exist. Usually there’s a period of days or weeks between accepted offer and start day. Stay in touch during this time and consider scheduling an informal meeting to help the new employee feel special and welcomed. During this “expectation” meeting, divulge all the information necessary to be successful within your organization or department. I’m talking about those things that aren’t written on the job description. Share the “unwritten” rules about your company or culture, tell them what you expect of them and what it will be like the first week, first month, first year. You will also need to ask the new employee what they expect of you. Make this conversation an open two-way street. There is often a disconnect between our expectations and the talent sitting across the table. We need to fill that gap and make sure we are all on the same page before the employee starts the daily job.

The Retain Phase
Retention is a massive phase within the talent lifecycle. We could spend days on the subject of helping companies retain their talent, but for now let’s boil it down. Over the years, I have noticed a handful of persistent and common requests from talent. When I ask them, “What are your top three to five factors in deciding to look at an organization or leader,” I often hear these four replies:
• First, people want a two-way open, honest, transparent communication channel within the organization. That includes upward, sideways and downward communication.
• Second, they want a chance to make an impact. This means they want their voice to be heard and encouraged, and they want to be considered for projects or ideas.
• Third, people want to grow. They welcome challenges and problems they can help solve.
• Finally, they’re looking for an employer that is going to invest in them. They want their leaders to take a risk on them by helping them pick up new skill sets, move into new functional areas, or be considered for promotions and growth opportunities.

If you can incorporate these four factors into your retention strategies, I believe you will be far more successful in keeping the talent you need to move your organization forward.

The Exit Phase
The exit phase is often not a pleasant one. However, employers that embrace it as an opportunity to align their message are the ones that earn a good perception in the marketplace. How are you treating your talent when they give notice? Do you tell them to get out? Do you slam the door on them as they’re leaving? If they’ve been good employees, I would challenge you to keep that door open and welcome them back anytime. As long as there is not a character or performance issue, even exiting employees can remain your allies. Sometimes employees move on in order to pick up some new experience you can’t offer, or they simply think the grass is greener elsewhere. Encourage them in their transition, offer help, and let them know they are always welcome back. Benevolence might not be the natural reaction, especially if you’re feeling slighted by a person’s leaving. But it is definitely the type of response that will differentiate you from other employers and perhaps give the exiting employee greater reason to return one day. People remember how they were treated. And goodwill comes back around.

Throughout your talent lifecycle, I encourage you to look for opportunities to create a different and memorable experience for applicants, candidates, and employees. Ultimately the story you share is the one your employees will share, too; if you treat them in a way that walks the talk. And “talk” is the key word here. Even in an age of increasing automated systems and technology solutions, people still matter. So, treating everyone who comes in contact with your organization—customers and talent alike—as an asset, complete with open communication, feedback, and respect, will ultimately boost your productivity, engagement, and status as an employer of choice.

Chad Kopitzke is the founder of NeXtGen Advantage, an innovative talent management firm based in Neenah, Wisconsin. As a human capital expert with specialized knowledge of generational issues in the workplace, Chad brings a unique vantage point to modern business culture. Connect with Chad at chad@nextgen-advantage.com.

Recommended Articles
Articles & Papers


Managing Heat Safely
Safety (articles and papers)


Stop Falls Stand-Down week is May 6 to 10
Articles & Papers


Trenching and excavation safety is a year-round responsibility