Getting to Niche Talent: Strategies from Talent Leaders for Hiring Hard-to-Fill Roles

Getting to Niche Talent: Strategies from Talent Leaders for Hiring Hard-to-Fill Roles

In the dynamic landscape of 2024, organizations grapple with the challenge of acquiring niche talent for hard-to-fill roles amidst a global talent shortage. This blog explores innovative strategies and insights on the issue shared by talent leaders of the semiconductor industry during our recent roundtable sessions.

From building talent internally to collaborating with educational institutions and embracing diversity initiatives, the blog uncovers effective approaches to ensure a robust workforce. Let's delve into the key strategies that forward-thinking organizations are adopting to navigate the niche talent maze successfully.

1. What Should Organization Do to Handle the Talent Shortage for Hard-to-Fill Roles 

To address the issue, the talent leaders shared the following methods they use to hand the talent shortage problem: 

Build Talent 

Considering the competitive market, the talent leaders first of all emphasized that building talent is now the best option as opposed to solely relying on buying or borrowing. In the current conditions, simply recruiting from competitors can be costly and unsustainable, especially for global recruitment efforts. With the talent shortage intensifying, even the borrow strategy, involving consultants and temporary staff, faces challenges. Instead, the focus has mainly shifted towards the build strategy, which can take the forms described below.  

Build Up Skills In-house

Referring to the talent shortage, some talent leaders noted that they still see a strong influx of applicants in certain niche roles, but many don't meet the set qualifications. As a result, they have pivoted to the build strategy, being more open to hiring candidates not fitting the experience perfectly and growing them in-house to build up their skills. 

Partner with a Technical University

Still other talent leaders approach the talent shortage and aging workforce problem by collaborating with technical universities. The aim is to create an internship for niche roles like equipment technicians. Within the framework of the internship, the company is involved as part of the training team, the rest of the training being on-the-job, at the company. The next step is to hire from the local universities and then mentor and train the relevant hires.  

This innovative approach helps anticipate the retirement of senior employees and put together transition plans to incentivize them to share their knowledge with new entry-level employees. This way companies can ensure the smooth flow of talent for their niche roles. 

Launch a Scholarship Program 

One of the talent leaders noted they launched a scholarship initiative to provide opportunities to individuals pursuing STEM degrees, with an emphasis on engaging high school students. Recognizing the need for a long-term investment in talent, the program aims to shift the pipeline to earlier stages, inspiring enthusiasm for STEM especially among women and minorities. To do this, they actively cooperate with local partnership schools and two-year technical schools.  

They first started by targeting high school rising seniors entering college.The initiative  supported their first year in college if they chose a STEM degree. Complementing this effort, they also organize career days at high schools to provide hands-on experiments to the students and ignite their interest in science and technology. 

Do Veteran Hiring  

Some talent leaders also highlighted the impactful strategy of veteran hiring by collaborating with local military forces. This approach aims to tap into the rich pool of individuals with valuable and transferable skills gained during their military careers. Some of these professionals may not even have degrees but have the right technical skills, having worked in areas like navy nuclear field or flight systems. 

Look for Talent Abroad

As a solution to tackling the talent shortage, some other recruiters choose to look beyond borders, notably to emerging economies like India. However, the challenge with this is evaluating the skills and educational fit of that talent to the company needs. If the country has a high level of education, opting for candidates educated at local universities can provide insight into their capabilities. Yet, fierce national and regional competition for the same talent adds another layer of complexity. 

Reduce the Job Requirements

Another way to boost recruitment pipeline for niche roles is reducing job requirements. Some of the talent leaders cited various studies showing that reducing job requirements increases applicant engagement, as extensive lists can discourage potential candidates. 

Better Structure your Recruitment Process

Internally, it's important to focus on refining your recruitment process. One of the talent leaders noted that in the case of very niche technical positions where recruiters need to go to very specific platforms, it's really important to partner with the hiring manager: a customized outreach by a hiring manager can appear much more interesting to candidates than the one done by a recruiter, thus enhancing the responsiveness. 

Focus on Skills, not Education

Some talent leaders find it totally unacceptable and discriminatory to base the hiring decision on the candidate’s education. Instead they highlight the importance of recognizing that not everyone has equal opportunities and instead prioritizing in-house training to bridge skill gaps, emphasizing practical skills over pedigree. 

Offer Remote Work Option

To attract niche talent it’s also important to give them the remote work option as it provides them flexibility to better balance their personal and professional life. According to one of the talent leaders, this remote setup not only gives them a chance to hire globally but also satisfies 80% of the employees, 

Provide Enriching Career Paths

Some talent leaders also highlighted the importance of proactive talent retention, stating that the ideal recruitment scenario is one where retention efforts eliminate the need for extensive recruitment. According to them, it’s necessary to challenge the old-school mentality in the capital equipment sector, urging a shift from expecting employees to stay in one niche role for an extended period.

In the dynamic landscape of today, they advocate for enriched career paths, offering employees the chance to explore new opportunities and acquire diverse skills. The emphasis is on showing a more aggressive attitude in creating faster paths for people to advance and contribute.

2. How to Empower your Recruiting Team in Finding Niche Roles

Empowering your team when hiring niche talent is crucial. At the same time it's important to be able to cooperate with the hiring manager when trying to fill in those roles. Below are a few strategies suggested by the participants.  

Cultivate Leadership in Hiring Managers

One of the difficulties in finding niche roles is due to the hiring managers' resistance towards the aforementioned alternative hiring methods: they rather want to hire somebody that they don't have to spend any time with. In this context, some talent leaders find it appropriate to remind their hiring managers about their leadership role, which comes with a responsibility not just to hire, but also to develop talent. 

In fact, according to them, true leadership involves nurturing talent, even if it means they might eventually move on. In this respect, employee growth and departure should be viewed as a success. Facing challenges like education bias, the talent leaders emphasized the importance of recognizing the individual aspirations and potential within each candidate, working through obstacles on a one-on-one basis. In essence, the message is clear ‚ÄĒ leadership in talent development is not just about hiring, but about inspiring and guiding individuals towards their aspirations and success.

Ensure High Engagement on Part of the Hiring Manager

Another thing some talent leaders underscored is the pivotal role of an engaged hiring manager in the recruitment process. One of the participants mentioned their company’s practice of establishing a service level agreement at the outset of every search, emphasizing a partnership between the business partner and the hiring manager. 

This agreement sets clear expectations for both recruiters and the hiring manager. To ensure ongoing engagement, they implement a weekly evaluation system where recruiters assess the level of engagement exhibited by hiring managers. This not only prevents potential miscommunications, such as managers claiming a lack of candidates, but also serves as a crucial metric for prioritizing requisitions. 

If a requisition faces prolonged low engagement, the Talent Acquisition team has the flexibility to temporarily hold or cancel it, ensuring that the recruitment process remains efficient and fruitful. This proactive approach not only enhances the overall recruitment experience but also safeguards against losing potential candidates due to disengaged hiring managers.

Support with Assessments

The talent leaders also delved into the realm of assessments in the hiring process. Below are some of the assessment types they discussed. 

Blind Case Presentations

The participants specifically noted the effectiveness and objectiveness of a blind case presentation, where a candidate makes a case based on the provided information to convince the hiring manager. This method, divorced from candidates' educational background, allows for a more impartial evaluation based on results alone. Nevertheless, it should be kept in mind that these presentations are only relevant for people whose job requires presentation skills. 

Modeling Tests

Some of the talent leaders also touched on modeling tests, which work well especially for analysts and show how well the candidates do within a timeframe. As to the Big Five personal or Emotional Intelligence (EI) assessments, almost everyone agreed that they are more applicable for professional development or executive level rather than standard hiring practices. 

Coding Tests and Hackathons

Still some other talent leaders who hire software engineers find it more effective to use coding tests and hackathons to assess the candidates’ skills. This is in response to the push by candidates thinking that one is not serious about software engineers, unless they are doing testing. 

Physical Assessments

The participants also noted that in some cases companies which put employee care in their core values, use physical assessments. However, there might be many legal restrictions and privacy issues with regard to this. 

To conclude, the type of the assessment will depend on the role and skills required. But the important thing to keep in mind is to make sure it’s validated: in case of choosing a certain type of  assessment, it’s important to make sure that there is a correlation between the actual outcome of the assessment and the ability to do the job. 

Key Talent Exercise 

One of the participants also mentioned an innovative approach to talent management, which they call "key talent exercise." The idea is to identify crucial roles akin to a lifeboat scenario. By identifying the key talents and understanding what motivates them, they ensure a proactive strategy for retaining them. From a recruitment perspective, openings around these positions are tracked meticulously. This not only grabs the attention of senior leadership but also allows the recruitment team to present progress and engagement levels when filling these critical roles. 

This approach is particularly effective for niche roles with high impact, showcasing a successful partnership between business partners, HR, and the recruiting team. 

3. Challenges & Projections for 2024 in terms of Hiring Plans

To assess the situation on the market, we also asked the participants about their hiring plans, as well as challenges and projections for 2024. Below are some of the points they mentioned. 

Maximize Resources

Referring to their plans for 2024, some talent leaders noted that although they have been growing exponentially since the start of their companies, their focus in 2024 will mostly be on maximizing their current resources. In particular, instead of hiring more people they are going to  enhance operational efficiency by reassessing and optimizing the systems in use. Also, some talent leaders think 2024 is a good time for stabilizing the team, processes, and getting everything to work. 

Boost Diversity 

As mentioned by some other talent leaders, their primary focus for the upcoming year will revolve around delving deeper into diversity initiatives. In particular, they try to involve different nationalities and tap into new talent pools to represent the diversity in all their branches.  

Increase Productivity

Some of the key challenges mentioned by talent leaders include refining processes, pipelines, and inclusion strategies, particularly in onboarding to ensure a smooth transition for new members. Some of the participants also emphasized the critical importance of retaining knowledge within the organization, making productivity and employee engagement top priorities for 2024. This strategic outlook reflects a commitment to both global growth and fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace culture.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the strategies shared by forward-thinking talent leaders offer a clear path for organizations tackling the challenges of hiring in 2024. From building internal talent and collaborating with educational institutions to fostering diversity and refining recruitment processes, these insights provide a roadmap for success. As organizations gear up for the year ahead, the focus on maximizing resources, enhancing processes, and promoting diversity highlights a commitment to a skilled, inclusive, and resilient workforce. By embracing these innovative approaches, organizations can not only address talent shortages but also thrive in the evolving landscape of the future.


Workfully's mission is to create the most trusted recruitment experience in the world, aiming to give everyone their chance to build a better world. We are building a decentralized hiring ecosystem for the talent acquisition industry, where recruiters can independently grow, engage and monetize curated talent pools for the benefit of all.


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