What Does a People-First Hiring and HR Strategy Really Mean?

Hireology Guide

What Does a People-First Hiring and HR Strategy Really Mean?


Job seekers today are not the same as they were before the pandemic. With more open roles than applicants to fill them, folks have the ability to be more empowered and selective than ever before. And they expect more from their employers, choosing the companies or organizations that truly meet their needs. So given the current labor supply and demand imbalance, top talent today can and will hold out for a job that offers what they’re looking for and more.

That’s why hiring and people management have become top issues for organizations looking to build a modern workforce. If you can’t fill your open roles and retain your best talent, you can’t run your business at the level you’d like to. Because after all, it’s your people who support your customers, sell your products, and care for your patients. It’s your people who ultimately keep your business running.

While prioritizing people and HR processes is the right move, it’s not something that can yield results overnight. Historically, hiring and people management has been deprioritized and relegated to HR teams. And the tools employers have long used to attract, retain, and engage talent have grown inadequate, impersonal, and restrictive. Combined, these issues make it difficult to build a true people-first organization that attracts quality talent and curbs turnover.

Getting it right requires a hiring and HR overhaul. It requires you to mold processes, culture, and tools around your candidates and employees. You must prioritize the people at your organization above all else. In this eBook we’ll define what a people-first HR strategy really looks like and offer some actionable steps you can take today to truly put people at the center of your business. 

The problem with traditional hiring and HR

The problem with traditional hiring and HR is that it’s decentralized and doesn’t accommodate candidate or employee needs. It forces modern job seekers and employees to conform to impersonal and restrictive processes, systems, and tools. And the more frustrating the experience is on their end, the greater the likelihood that they’ll choose to accept roles at other companies — likely your competitors. 

Let’s say, for example, a job seeker is looking for a front desk job at a hotel. They come across your open role on Indeed. They then go to your website to learn more about your hotel as an employer, but you don’t offer them any employment information — such as culture, benefits, or growth opportunities. That is enough to turn people away. But let’s say they decide to apply anyway. They open the application and it isn’t designed to work on a mobile device so they have to zoom in to read the required fields. They start to complete the form, but it requires a resume in addition to all of the complete fields. At this point the candidate gives up because it’s too difficult to attach their resume file from their phone.

And even if this job seeker does get past all of these obstacles, let’s say they have to wait two or more weeks to hear back from you after submitting their application. And what they get is an automated email response requesting availability for an interview. They’re forced to navigate back and forth between their calendar and their email app on their phone to send you times that they’re free. Once it’s scheduled and they arrive, your hiring manager knows nothing about them and they have to repeat all of the information they’ve already shared with the recruiter. The person is frustrated and moves onto other opportunities. 

But let’s just say for the sake of this example that they manage to navigate all of these frustrations. After the interview, they wait to hear back from you for another week. When you finally respond, you ask them to come in for another in-person interview. So now they have to take off work or find childcare for another in-person interview. You extend an offer and ask the candidate to print out the offer letter, sign it, and send it back to you. This person doesn’t have a printer so they don’t sign it and move on to other opportunities. 

Of course this is a simplified example. But there are countless ways candidates today are asked to conform for you and your processes or tools. It’s impersonal, clunky, time consuming, and the candidate is required to go out of their way at every point in the process. 

Given that 45% of job seekers today apply to more than 10 jobs and most hear back from at least five of those jobs, why would this candidate keep going with you when they have so many other opportunities available to them? And chances are, one of those opportunities is at a big organization like Amazon that can afford to meet their needs in terms of pay.

Putting people first

Let’s take the above example and show what this process might look like with a people-first approach. 

The candidate searches hotel desk jobs and your opening shows up in the Google search results. They go to your company’s website and learn all about your culture and benefits on your career site. They notice that what you’re offering meets their needs and they decide to apply directly from your career site. The application is mobile-friendly and short — requiring only five fields of information. They submit their application and before they even have time to get further into the process with other companies, a recruiter from your company responds with a personalized text message asking them to choose from four available time slots for a video interview. 

During the video interview, the hiring manager asks thoughtful questions that dig deeper beyond what they’ve already provided in their application. Immediately after the call the candidate receives another text with some time slots for an in-person interview. While on site, this candidate speaks with several managers (that way they don’t have to come back for a follow up) who each ask a different set of questions. After the interview, the candidates might receive another text asking for references. Or they might receive an offer letter with the option to accept via an e-signature. 

This second example illustrates a company that truly understands the needs, constraints, and expectations of the modern job seeker. Rather than asking job seekers to conform to outdated tools and processes, the organization instead adapts its processes and tools to fit the needs of the people they are looking to recruit and hire.

What’s more, the above examples are only limited to the pre-hire process. Once a candidate is hired, it’s important that they receive a similar seamless experience with onboarding as well as during their first few days on the job. And even after onboarding, any employee engagement activities designed for retention need to be thoughtful, personalized, and tailored to the employees’ needs. 

People-first concepts in practice

It’s clear that going people-first is necessary for organizations looking to attract the best talent and win in today’s competitive hiring landscape. So what exactly can you do to put people first in your hiring and employee management processes? Below are changes you can implement into your hiring and HR processes today.

Pre-hire strategies

Putting people first starts from the moment someone begins a job search. Everything from that point needs to be easy and seamless for the job seeker. This is your first and sometimes only opportunity to make an impact on top applicants and truly show that you value their time and understand their needs. Changes you can make to build a people-first pre-hire process include:  

Meet candidates where they are

It’s no longer effective to just set up an integration with Indeed and hope for the best. Candidates can see past this. They know it’s easy to just set it and forget it on these types of sites. And it sends a message that you’re likely automating your entire process and that there won’t be an actual person receiving their resume.

While it’s useful to have a presence on sites like Indeed, they can’t be your only source of talent. It’s important to make more of an effort to meet people where they are. Use Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social media networks. Lean on your existing employees to connect with talent in a more personalized way. And make an effort to work with local organizations or community colleges to engage with a more diverse talent pool and form more personal relationships with folks in your local area. 

Be transparent

Make it really clear what you can offer in terms of pay, benefits, culture, flexibility, and more. Do you have core values that you adhere to in your daily operations? Do you have really happy employees willing to vouch for you as an employer? Showcase all of this on your career site and lead with it in your job descriptions. Don’t withhold any of this information. People want to know what you can offer and if they don’t see it, they won’t apply.

Humanize your relationships with candidates

Automated application replies can be useful to confirm that the application has been received. But once you’ve screened and vetted an applicant, it’s important that you send personal responses rather than canned replies. Applicants want to know that there’s a person on the other end of their applications. And friendly, thoughtful responses from an actual human can be the difference between a candidate choosing you or a competitor. This even applies to applicants you’re choosing not to move forward with — be sure to send responses so people know one way or another.

Create a better applicant and candidate experience

Anyone who has ever looked for work knows that searching for a new role can be a full-time job itself. Make it easier on applicants by creating a more user-friendly and seamless experience. That means mobile-friendly applications that only require four or five fields to complete. 

And the process after they’ve submitted their application should be transparent and smooth. Use text messaging to make communication easier on the candidate’s end and be clear about expected next steps.

Post-hire strategies

In a true people-first organization, people need to come first all of the time — not just when you’re trying to convince them to come work for you. They need to feel valued and prioritized both as a new employee and a veteran within your company. Here are some actionable steps you can take to make your company a people-first organization post-hire:

Start with your culture

It’s difficult to market your organization as a people-first company if you don’t actually act on it. So what does a people-first culture look like? It can mean a lot of things including: you value everyone and provide equal opportunities across the board. You effectively balance feedback with recognition. You honor true work life balance by providing paid time off, flexibility for needs like childcare or mental health, and you respect your employees’ time outside of the office. There are plenty of ways you can build a people-first culture — but whatever you do, it’s important that you stick to it.

Another key aspect of a people-first culture is great management. The adage that people quit managers, not jobs has some merit to it — often, an employee’s perception of your company depends on the quality of their manager. Your managers need to be trained on how to lead and motivate a team, coach people with different skills and personalities, provide effective feedback, and more.

Set the right tone with great onboarding

An employee’s first few weeks on the job will set the tone for what it’s like working for you. If they feel disconnected from the team, ill-prepared to do their jobs, or just not welcomed, they’re not going to stick around very long. Formulate a structured onboarding process that includes the training folks need to do their jobs well, introductions to the rest of the team, and in general, a warm welcome from across the organization. 

Be inclusive

In true people-first organizations, everyone is valued equally, receives the same opportunities, and feels safe to put forth their ideas — regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and more. But to create this type of inclusive workplace, you can’t just pledge to do so. You have to make a real effort. That starts with a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee that develops and executes your strategy for creating more inclusivity. And of course leadership needs to prioritize the DEI committee and its efforts by providing both attention and resources.

Offer growth opportunities

You can’t expect people to stick around for the long haul if there are no opportunities for them to grow, take on new responsibilities, and ultimately earn more money. Build out career paths for every type of role in your organization and clearly communicate those opportunities to your team — along with what’s required to continue moving up. Thoughtful career paths show that you value your employees as people and you care about their futures.

Along with building out career paths, it’s important to also offer opportunities for folks to grow and expand their skills. For folks to grow in their careers they need to learn different skills — so help them do that. Offer to pay for conferences, classes, or online training courses. Or create mentorship and job shadow programs that give them exposure to other types of roles or departments.

Ask for feedback

And finally, know that what people want and expect from you will change over time. And if you’re making some of these changes for the first time, it might take some adjustments to get it right. That’s where constant feedback with your people comes into play. Send anonymous surveys or regularly check in with folks face-to-face to get a sense of how your efforts are perceived across the company and what people might be interested in down the road.

Use the below chart to get organized around your people-first efforts. Identify whether or not you’re currently doing any of the below people-oriented efforts. And in the notes section leave some thoughts on next steps, areas for improvement, or new ideas.

Get a printable people-first hiring and HR checklist here.

People-first organizations require people-first tools

Again, true people-first organizations aren’t built overnight. It takes real strategy, dedication, and effort. And on top of that, it takes modern technology. Many of the impersonal and restrictive processes that frustrate and turn people away are the result of outdated tools. If you’re relying on disparate systems that aren’t designed with a user-friendly approach, you’re going to inevitably ask people to conform to your processes and technology needs. And that’s what frustrates your candidates and employees and drives them to other opportunities. 

Hireology can help. Our all-in-one recruiting, hiring, and people management platform provides everything you need to build and maintain your best team. From one intuitive platform you can connect with applicant sources, track candidates throughout the process, complete critical steps like skills tests, onboard new hires, pay your team, and much more. 

Let us help you put people first. Schedule a free demo to learn more today.

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