How Competitive Is Your Employee Value Proposition

Our clients often ask us how they fare when it comes to competing for the talent they need. They wonder what other companies do, and what is working now. We do much work to understand how to compete and succeed in acquiring the employees our clients need, even though we don’t believe that there is one strategy that is right for every company. There is also no one right approach for different times in a company’s lifecycle. Here is what we do know:

For the last five years, we have surveyed candidates that apply for work before interviewing them. We routinely collect data from 1,000 candidates, a statistically relevant number for discovering what candidates want from a new assignment or a new full-time job. This research provides us insight into why some assignments and some positions fare better than others. At the time of this post, we are in the highest labor market in fifty years, making this subject critically important.

The Dominate Factors

Over the last five years, we have found that five factors tend to dominate a candidates decision to accept or reject an assignment:

1. Pay Rate

2. Shift Hours

3. Long Term potential

4. Location

5. Culture (or, How I am treated)

Pay Rate

In every year that we have conducted our survey, the pay rate is the dominant factor. If an employee suggests that the pay rate is not the number one factor, it is almost certainly their second most important factor. The fact that pay rate is the first filter a candidate uses to accept or refuse an assignment makes this a critical factor when competing for candidates—especially in a tight labor market, where there is little slack.

We are all competing for a relatively small number of people. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics JOLTS report indicated that there are presently 7.2M jobs available and 6M people on unemployment, leaving a deficit of 1.2M people. Even though not all of the people on unemployment have the skills for the open positions, the math suggests there is less than one person on unemployment for every open job.

If you are going to attract passive candidates, you aren’t likely to do so if you offer them a lateral move as it pertains to pay. We have seen the wage pressure increase over the last two years, and as we go into the fourth quarter, we expect to see more.

Shift Hours

Even though the candidates insist that pay is most important, when we offer the right pay rate, the single, most substantial reason for refusals is that the shift hours are not right for them. We have been tracking this trend for many years.

As we have raced out of the Industrial Age and into the Information Age (something we call the Digital Age), there has been a little-recognized trend around shifts. Because of our 24/7/365 economy and increasing consumer expectations, the traditional shifts are no longer tenable. Businesses need work hours that allow them to meet their service level agreements and consumer demands.

The most substantial portion of the candidates we surveyed prefer traditional shifts and their lives still revolve around those shifts. If it is difficult to compete on pay rate, it is equally challenging to compete for candidates when your hours don’t match their needs. That said, we do see some movement towards the digital age shifts.

Long Term Potential

Whether it is a temporary candidate looking for an assignment or a full-time employee looking for a home, they are concerned about their long term prospects. Positions with long term potential are more attractive than shorter-term opportunities—or full-time opportunities with little possibility of advancement.

While this factor lags pay and shifts, it is still dominant in a candidates decision to choose one opportunity over another. The shorter the term of the assignment or lack of potential growth, the less competitive the offer.


The median distance an employee is willing to drive for a position is just over 15 miles. Location is a factor in a candidate’s decision. Our experience is that an employee will accept jobs with a greater distance if some combination of the three preceding factors makes it worth their while. We have people who live in more rural areas who drive further for the higher pay rates and long term potential unavailable in their area.

Of the first four factors, this one is not within your control. Because this is true, it means you have to find ways to improve your competitiveness score by adjusting the other factors.


In two of the last five years, culture (or “how I am treated”) has shown up as the third factor. Of all the elements, culture is the one responsible for employees leaving after they accept an assignment or a new role.

As we have conducted different research on turnover, we have found that companies who don’t score as high on pay rate and shift can still win on retention by being warm and inviting, inclusive, and treating people as if they matter—even when they are assigned temporarily or in an entry-level position. We also have the experience of clients with a poor culture developing a reputation that causes employees to refuse the assignment before we even offer it. Because there are websites that allow employees to share their experience, being nice is a competitive advantage.

Our Recommendations

There are constraints to what your company can do as it pertains to these five factors of your competitiveness score. If you can’t do something to improve one of these, you may have to look at others. For example, we have seen clients succeed by changing shift hours and culture because they couldn’t easily adjust their pay rate. We’ve also had client raise their pay rate to ensure they acquired a higher caliber employee than their competitors and passive candidates.

Every company is different, and what you do to improve the competitiveness of your employee value proposition need only be right for you and your company.