Competition for mid-level recruits gains steam

Recruiting the right people at any level is difficult, but at the middle level, the challenge is greater, especially when the competition for talent is as fierce as it has been lately.

Recruiting the right people at any level is difficult, but at the middle level, the challenge is greater, especially when the competition for talent is as fierce as it has been lately.

"When financial times get tighter, people look to higher-level [recruits] who have enough experience to get the job done, but who aren't as expensive," explains Jennifer Prosek, managing partner of CJP Communications.

Firms now use its culture as a selling point to mid-level candidates. These recruits, whose experience falls in the range of three to seven years, are usually looking for a place that will help to catapult their careers to the next level.

"Number one, you have to be an attractive place to work," Prosek says. "We want them to know that [our] environment... is fun."

Responding to that desire for growth, CJP launched programs like Orange University, which provides management training, and Network Orange, which offers mid-level employees the chance to network with executives.

"These are people who are on the cusp of being leaders," Prosek says. "You need to give them a taste of that and empower them."

Being a "flat" organization - where employees are not delegated to specific practice areas - can also help in mid-level recruitment, says Cindy Leggett-Flynn, a partner at Brunswick Group

"There are no limits to the types of projects you can work on here," she says. "No one is assigned to a specific practice area, so people can work across sectors."

To help with recruiting, Brunswick works with a recruiter who has a knowledge of the firm.

"He's really taken the time to get to know our business," she says. "We're not looking for a specific experience, but something broader: [Someone] motivated, interested, and curious about business, and wants to fit in with a 'work hard, play hard' culture."

Without a recruiter's help, outreach starts by casting a wide net.

"We are on campus at the graduate level, reaching into alumni groups... and organizations to help us find people," says Celia Berk, MD of HR worldwide at Burson-Marsteller. "We're taking Web-based approaches. [And] there's no better way to find a candidate than through your own people."

Once a mid-level candidate is on staff, Burson uses a newly-re-designed learning and development program to place candidates on the path to the manager level. The program addresses such topics as client and team leadership skills, as well as drives the strategic direction of the firm.

"We're [offering] an array of learning experiences," Berk says. "They set off with a menu and see what's right for them."

While mid-level recruitment re-quires a lot of time and effort, the rewards for finding the right person are reaped from the outset.

"They're trained on the basics, so... they can come in on day one and work on business straight away," Leggett-Flynn says. "Hopefully, they're bringing their own network of relationships and skills that could improve our practices."

"It's the middle managers who are looked to for delivering on the promise of the firm," Berk adds. "You're recruiting for a critical level and [are] trying to recruit people who are at a critical level in their lives and careers."

Key points:

Firms should emphasize the ways they can help mid-level candidates grow in their careers

Talking candidly about the agency's culture and environment can help keep mid-level hires on staff

Training should begin the moment that employees start at the firm

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