WASHINGTON – Paul McDonald, senior executive director at the staffing firm Robert Half International, has seen job markets of both extremes in his 35 years in recruiting: The ultra-low unemployment of the late 1990s, sky-high unemployment during the Great Recession and now back to a jobless rate of just 4 percent.
McDonald's firm focuses on placing professional staffers in such fields as accounting, finance, technology and high-end administrative work. Unemployment has remained low in those fields for years, giving McDonald, based in Menlo Park, California, experience in how companies — and jobseekers — should proceed in a tight labor market.
The Associated Press spoke with McDonald about today's job market.
The 4 percent unemployment rate is near multi-decade lows. How would you compare this period to others you've experienced?
This one seems to be longer-lasting and more robust. The job gains have been very consistent over a number of months and years. It's a very good time to look for a job. Companies need to be on top of their game in order to attract talent and retain the talent.
And how are companies doing that? How have they changed their hiring practices in this tight job market?
It's always about recruiting. It's not just a "post-and-hope environment." That's a strategy for losing in today's market. What's winning is that you're offering employee referral bonuses. You're tapping all your networks. You're looking for people who maybe could boomerang back into your company after leaving two years ago, if they left on good terms. Another strategy we're seeing is part-time employment for someone who may have had a life event. Maybe they decided to start a family, they left you a couple of years ago and now they would work part time. Offering remote opportunities has also been a really popular strategy.
Are companies loosening their skill demands to find the workers they need?
Maybe they're hiring someone with 75 to 80 percent of the job description. The mandatory skills are there, and then they're looking at the cultural fit, the soft skills ability, the business acumen. And then they train up for the weaknesses that person might have in their skill sets. That strategy has been really effective.
Given low unemployment, should job-seekers demand higher pay than they received in their previous job?
The further you stray from your experience, the lower the expectation should be on compensation. But today, if you're in accounting, finance, technology, creative, the legal profession — for attorneys, the unemployment rate is 1.2 percent — if you're making a move within your core competency area, employers are expecting to pay up for that experience. You should expect a good offer.
Interviewed by Christopher Rugaber
Answers edited for clarity and length.