How to Attract Great Talent When You Can’t Compete on Pay

Attract great talent

It should go without saying that competition for top talent these days is fierce. In fact, as of May there were roughly two open jobs for every one job seeker. As a result, wages have increased 5.2% over the last year as major players like Amazon, Apple, and Google hike pay for both hourly and salaried employees in order to stand out and compete. 

For smaller businesses this can be a real challenge. You would love to be able to pay your employees more but you simply do not have the means to outbid the Amazons of the world. In turn, you worry that you’ll never be able to fill the roles you so desperately need — not to mention retain the team you do have.

The good news is that job seekers’ needs and preferences when it comes to work are nuanced. People aren’t making decisions where to work based entirely on pay and nothing else. Of course pay is and will always be a factor, but it’s not the only one. Nor is it always the most important one.

If you can offer pay that is within an acceptable range for the role, you can win over candidates who may be seeking higher paying offers by meeting their other needs. What exactly are those needs? According to a recent Hireology study it’s everything from flexibility to company culture and career growth. Here’s a closer look.

4 benefits candidates look for other than pay


Flexibility is one of today’s job seekers’ biggest priorities. During the pandemic many workers had time to reevaluate their lives, and they realized they no longer need to work rigid jobs with little flexibility to make a living. In fact, for many folks in the workforce today work/life balance is no longer the goal — people just want to live their lives and work jobs they love without one impacting the other.

Flexibility is so valuable to people that many are willing to prioritize it over higher pay. While most of our survey respondents say pay alignment is their top priority when actively looking for a new job, 44% said that greater flexibility would motivate them to take a lower paying offer. And 48% say they’d actively take a pay cut for the flexibility they want. 

In other words, you absolutely can compete with companies like Amazon that continue to hike wages, as long as you can provide the flexibility people seek along with pay that’s within an acceptable range.

It’s easy for many employers to brush off flexibility, claiming you can’t offer it since you can’t offer remote work due to the nature of your business. But it’s worth noting that for most workers today, flexibility doesn’t necessarily mean remote work. Flexibility can come in the form of more control over scheduling, more PTO for hourly or part-time workers, and mid-shift flexibility for things like appointments or childcare. 

Career growth

People also want to see a future for themselves at your company. Nearly 40% of respondents say more career growth opportunities would prevent them from taking a higher paying offer. 

But of course simply saying that you offer career growth opportunities isn’t enough — you need to show it. That means building clear career progression paths for every type of role in your organization and defining what success looks like each step of the way. This gives employees clear insight into exactly what opportunities are available to them and what it takes to get there.

On top of this, it’s important to also build a culture that’s centered around growth. You want your people to feel like your company is more than a paycheck for them, it’s their future. So this means things like having an open door policy where people can come to you and ask about opportunities to learn or shadow others, or even implementing job shadow programs where people can learn about different departments and expand their skills.

Fulfilling work

Fulfilling work is another priority for workers today. In fact, 32% of our survey respondents said they’d take a lower paying offer in exchange for more meaningful work. Of course, for many industries, it can be really tough to position certain roles as fulfilling. But like with career growth, you need to think bigger and bake it into your culture.

This starts with defining a mission for your organization that everyone knows, understands, and buys into. From there, you then need to make sure it’s clear how every role contributes to moving your broader mission forward. For example, rather than describing your valet roles as “parking cars” you could describe the roles instead as contributing to making a small difference in people’s lives by providing unmatched experiences. 

Company culture

A little more than a quarter of respondents said great company culture would also persuade them from taking a higher paying job. When asked more specifically what they think a good company culture entails, most respondents mentioned things like trust, psychological safety, and positivity.  Heer’s what two respondents had to say:

“I would define great company culture as a team who works well together, is able to settle conflict, encourages one another, all individuals are trustworthy, and have a drive toward the same common goal.”

“Positive, uplifting work environment. Focusing on what can be improved, not what is wrong. Nurturing environment where the senior staff helps develop the junior staff.”

So what does this mean for you? Creating a good culture is of course difficult given that culture can be subjective based on the perspective of the employee. One way to make sure everyone in your organization receives a consistently positive experience is by defining core company values that everyone you hire lives by.

Once you have your values defined, make sure you reemphasize them over and over to your staff. That might mean publicly recognizing employees who embody certain values, and ensuring that you take your values very seriously when considering who to promote or give management responsibility. Also, always take your values into consideration during interviews for potential new hires.

Marketing and promoting your benefits

Once you have these types of policies in place and you have a plan for implementing and executing them, it’s critical that you effectively build these into your recruitment marketing efforts. In fact, according to the study about a third of respondents won’t even apply to your open roles if you don’t list these benefits in your job descriptions.

But job descriptions are just the start. Make sure you’re consistently and clearly outlining exactly how you meet these needs across all of your owned channels — from your career site to your social media profiles to your Glassdoor page. Anywhere a potential job seeker could find information about you as an employer it needs to be clear that you can and do meet their needs.

Employers across all industries today are navigating uncharted territory when it comes to attracting talent. It’s easy to feel defeated if you can’t simply hike wages to attract talent. But it’s important to remember that human beings don’t make decisions based on one factor alone in any part of our lives — work included. People are choosing jobs that meet their needs more holistically. This means you can compete so long as you redefine some of your soft benefit policies and make sure these are known through your recruitment marketing efforts.
For more context around the data and takeaways around today’s job seekers, download our 2022 applicant research report, The Great Reassessment, today.



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