Hiring and Getting Hired: How Employees and Employers Can Better Connect as Human Beings

A human-centric company culture is the key to construction recruitment and retention—for everyone involved.
By Kathleen Quinn Vatow
September 14, 2023

When everyone shows up as a human being in the hiring process, both the company and the candidate win. Today, human-centric workplaces are where people choose to be.

The construction industry, steeped in masculine tradition, must adapt to find and keep the diverse talent needed to create success. “Dire” is a frequent description of the labor shortage outlook for the industry, with no end in sight. It is past time to rethink and update recruitment and retention practices.

There are proven ways to ensure a strong, competitive position in the jobs market.

Historically, the construction industry has not offered a welcoming environment for women or minorities. This is certainly a major cause of today’s worker shortage, along with baby boomers retiring faster than younger workers are trained to replace them. There are also the physical demands of construction work to consider and the rising wages in industries like hospitality that make them newly competitive in the construction labor pool.

As Sean Ray, vice president at Arizona-based Sundt Construction, puts it: “We’ve got to find a way to make construction sexy.”

The holy grail Is a better life

Employers sometimes forget that they aren’t simply running a business. They need to recognize that people are their most important asset and understand what employees want and why they come to work every day. People are looking for relationships and purpose at work, not just a job or a dollar. Employers who put people first naturally create cultures where people are kind, respectful, authentic, fair and nonjudgmental; cultures where employees know they are seen and treated as human beings. These are the traits that define irresistible employers who win the top talent across industries. These qualities also characterize the best employees every company is fighting for.

White male-dominated industries, like construction, have been slow to transform their practices and cultures to meet today’s workplace expectations. People want a better work experience. They want more flexibility and work-life balance. They want to be seen holistically as people with families, friends, issues and interests outside work. Employees want leaders who are competent and caring and who aren’t afraid to use their soft skills. Showing vulnerability or humanity was typically perceived as weak in the past; now it’s seen as strong.

Across the board, empathy has become one of the most valued leadership traits. Katie Coulson, VP at Skanska USA, explains, “I think that, as society changes, some challenges that were typically more female-centric issues are becoming male and female issues.” Highly sought-after for her advice in the industry, Coulson believes that having empathy for both men and women trying to find balance between a demanding career and family has made her a better manager.

It’s a circle, not a box

Today’s employees want to feel they belong to a community and that what they do matters. Everyone, from candidate to CEO, should take a minute to ensure they show up as a human, not as a peg to fill the hole of a role, and see and treat each other as fellow human beings.

Every individual has a unique combination of talents, needs and goals that they bring to work with them. Every company has a unique business to run from the combination of those individuals. This creates a circle, not a box.

When in the recruiting process, employers should understand they are not simply building a company, they’re building a community. They need to realize that their people are looking for a safe environment, fair compensation and a fulfilling work life. Employers can show their humanity by:

1. Engaging consistently and thoughtfully with candidates to begin creating a relationship. On average, it takes at least eight touches before a meaningful conversation is had.

2. Communicating in a variety of ways, via email, phone and social media, surprising applicants with a card mailed to their home or enacting a similar personal touch.

3. Making sure what is said to people accurately aligns with what the company does.

4. Ensuring the onboarding process is speedy and highly responsive and that there are no roadblocks for hiring managers, who should be trained and aligned.

5. Exemplifying a nature of nurture throughout the entire recruitment process.

Candidates should remember that companies are running a business to serve a purpose and generate revenue. Although good companies value their people and treat them well, their reason for existing is the business. Candidates can show their humanity by:

1. Being curious and interested in the prospective employer. Research thoroughly and be ready to ask genuine and thought-provoking questions.

2. Asking at least as much about the company’s culture and leadership as about the job itself. Culture fit is as important as the skills needed to perform the job.

3. Respecting people’s time. Be prepared, authentic and positive. Show up on time and be dressed appropriately for interviews, whether in person or online.

4. Responding promptly to communications throughout the process.

5. Being honest and forthright. No one benefits unless the process reflects the reality of both candidate and company.

6. Giving candid feedback about the hiring process if asked.

Recruitment strategies that work

Consider recruitment an integrated process that begins with building a positive and authentic employer brand and extends through onboarding new hires. Following are strategies that will help win top talent in today’s job market:

1. An employer brand cannot be created, it can only be revealed. It must be based on authenticity, a solid business model and a mission that employees can support. Internal culture and external brand are not separate entities. In this age of hyper-transparency, the world will know whether brand matches reality. Begin recruitment by evaluating, enhancing and leveraging it.

2. Adopt a sales and marketing mindset. This means building a strong, diverse candidate pipeline to draw from.

a. Proactively source passive candidates before there’s a vacancy to fill.

b.Develop internal mobility and career paths and make open positions known to employees.

c. Implement an effective employee referral program as a top recruitment strategy and reward generously.

d. Focus on soft skills as much as technical skills.

3. Invest in the latest technologies to leverage all aspects of recruiting, from building and maintaining a pipeline to communicating with candidates.

4. Track and analyze successful and unsuccessful hiring efforts and get feedback on the experience candidates have with the company.

5. Think about the labor pool as a diversified portfolio. Strategically select part-time, gig, project-based, outsourced or contract workers to fill some roles. Use current openings while testing these workers for possible full-time employment. Consider hiring people previously rejected, like:

a. Mothers and other caretakers who may need additional accommodation but are talented and valuable workers.

b. Older workers who have knowledge, experience and different perspectives to contribute.

c. Current employees who are already a cultural fit and may need upskilling to fit a specific role.

6. Put a chief human resources officer on the leadership team.

Companies with human-centered cultures easily convince people to take up construction as a career and become an employer of choice. These are the companies that will survive and thrive in this tumultuous market.

by Kathleen Quinn Vatow
Kathleen Quinn Vatow - CEO, TalenTrust

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