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Your road map for hiring highly skilled workers


Do you have an open position with super-specific criteria that you’ve had a difficult time filling? Or, maybe the criteria aren’t as specific, but a talent shortage is making it harder to find the right person. If you’ve been trying to pinpoint the right candidate awhile without any luck, one reason could be because you’re looking to hire a highly skilled worker.

So, who is this, exactly?

A highly skilled worker is anyone with qualifications that are rare to find and difficult to obtain – and, at this moment, very much in demand.

Examples of highly skilled employees

Although technical and scientific fields – engineering, computer programming or health care – may come to mind first, highly skilled workers can be found in any industry or profession.

They also encompass a diverse range of ages, experience levels and educational achievement.

This type of worker could be late in their career with a strong network of contacts or a body of knowledge that’s near impossible to replicate in shorter order. Or it could be someone much younger – possibly even without a higher education degree – who is gifted at a certain task.

Some examples:

  • A national-security journalist with well-embedded sources in every branch of government
  • A petroleum engineer who specializes in a certain type of drilling and has worked in diverse climates and geological formations across the globe
  • A CFO with experience bringing multiple billion-dollar companies of a specific industry out of bankruptcy
  • A computer whiz with a knack for programming software used by law enforcement

Successful recruitment strategies

“Highly skilled” can take many forms. Whatever the specific criteria for your open position, hiring such a specialized role is inherently more challenging than the norm. It requires a more inventive recruiting strategy.

Follow these steps that will increase the odds of landing the top talent your team deserves.

Step 1: Define exactly whom you are looking for – and can realistically find

To begin, make a list of everything you want in your ideal candidate:

  • Specific skills
  • Education level
  • Certifications obtained
  • Years of experience
  • Location

Now ask yourself:

1. Is this list realistic?

How likely is it that someone who embodies each of these desired traits exists?

It’s critical at this step to weigh job requirements versus preferences. It’s common for companies to compromise on certain requirements (years of experience, education level and certifications obtained).

For example, it can surprise some employers to learn that many of the most skilled workers in their industry may not have a master’s degree, or they don’t have the free time or the funds to earn certifications. You don’t want to eliminate otherwise qualified candidates based on arbitrary or uninformed demands.

Similarly, some fields may overlap in ways that it’s worth looking at how skills may transfer from one occupation to another. Do your industry research to gauge what types of excellent candidates you may be missing out on by being too wedded to a narrow checklist of experiences.

Think through, too, what is necessary for someone to complete their job responsibilities successfully, what aligns with your company culture and what you’re comfortable with.

2. Will you draw from a local, regional or national talent pool?

Early in the process, you should decide whether you want to exclusively seek local candidates.

Doing so may sharply limit your search, making recruiting more challenging. If you plan to draw from a local or regional talent pool, are these prospects available?

Conversely, if you’re willing to broaden your search to regional or national candidates, do you have the money to help the new hire relocate to your area?

And, most importantly, can you pay the market rate (or higher) in order to lure talent away from current jobs or competitors?

Step 2: Make your company and job opening stand out

Before you broadcast your vacancy, put yourself in a prospective applicant’s shoes.

If you were an in-demand professional under consideration for a new job:

Think about how to sweeten the deal for highly skilled workers – because their decision to accept a job with your company is never solely about the job itself.

Some points to consider:

1. Is the salary you plan to offer competitive?

Or is it, at least, aligned with market rates?

When hiring highly skilled workers, you may find that you must be flexible on salary to get the right candidate.

How flexible are you willing to be? How can you woo job candidates if you’re limited to a certain salary range?

2. Other than an attractive salary, what perks can your company offer?

Common options include:

  • Opportunities to work remotely
  • Flexible schedules
  • Generous paid time off (PTO)
  • Education or certification reimbursement
  • Bonuses
  • 401(k)
  • Stock options
  • Profit-sharing opportunities
  • High-quality insurance coverage
  • Relocation assistance
  • Unique on-site amenities at your office, such as fitness facilities or catered lunch

3. What is your company culture?

Is it the type of environment that fosters trust, autonomy and creativity? This is what highly skilled workers tend to seek.

With this information in mind, write a job ad that pops. Ideally, it will speak directly to the type of candidate you’re targeting and grab their attention immediately.

General tips:

  • Limit your job ad to half a page. Most people will read the text on a mobile device. Overly long text takes longer to load, requires multiple scrolls and can become unwieldy.
  • Make the first few paragraphs catchy and engaging.
  • Use bullet points liberally. Again, you want people to be able to skim your text easily.
  • Focus on the most critical skills you want. Be very specific to eliminate unqualified applicants.
  • Play up your company culture and unique benefits. Remember, however, that candidates do tend to talk with colleagues and peers about employers, so you don’t want to over-hype your company culture in a way that is misrepresentative.
  • Insert the job title in the headline. When creating it, be strategic and ponder how job candidates will most likely search for a position online. You want to make sure that your position announcement is easily found and considered by the most desirable prospective employees.

Step 3: Perform outreach and identify a narrow pool of candidates

Of course, hiring highly skilled workers isn’t a passive process.

It’s never as simple as writing a job description, posting it on the generic online job boards and immediately receiving a slew of qualified applications.

You must do your part to actively search for the right candidates. It also doesn’t hurt to be creative in your approach:

  • Advertise on niche job boards dedicated to specific industries or professions. Typically, big name job search engines aren’t where highly skilled workers gather. They tend to look for positions in more niche spaces.
    • For example, is popular with web developers. Technical candidates like Oilfield workers use
  • Recognize when a job board isn’t the best option. Recruiting at the executive level? These candidates often aren’t active on job boards.
  • Social media can be helpful. Use LinkedIn to share your position announcement with the broadest range of candidates. You might also share via Facebook and Twitter.
  • Request candidate referrals from people in your professional and educational network, including industry peers and fellow alumni.
  • Contact industry associations to look for talent and post to online professional forums.
  • Consider hiring an outside recruiting firm to assist with recruiting.

Targeting passive candidates

Don’t be deterred from reaching out to passive job candidates.

These are people who aren’t actively looking for a new job – but who might consider one if the right opportunity came along. In fact, in a tight labor market where available talent is hard to find, you should absolutely contact passive candidates.

These candidates are more of a challenge to engage with, however, because they hold the upper hand and can afford to be choosy. When targeting this audience, you’ll want to be especially polished and persuasive when discussing:

  • Salary
  • Company culture
  • Perks

This is critical.

You’ll also want to find out what they’re not getting at their current company, and be prepared to address how your company can deliver it. (Just make sure that you’ve got buy-in from your hiring manager.)

Crafting messages that garner a response

Before you reach out to a candidate, read that person’s LinkedIn profile, resume or professional website first.

Note something of interest in their background. Identify what they most seem to value in their work.

When you write your initial email or LinkedIn message, use that tidbit in the subject line to grab their attention. You want your message to seem personal and sincere, signaling that it was written especially for that person.

Generic messages get deleted.

Screening effectively

With each candidate interaction – be it online or in person, work to verify that the person is a good fit both in terms of qualifications and company culture. It’s smart to have a list of screening questions ready – and to use them consistently.

Examples of what you may choose to ask about include:

  • Experience
  • Why they want to change jobs
  • What might motivate them to switch jobs (if they’re a passive candidate)
  • What they enjoy most about their work
  • What type of company environment or working arrangement they seek
  • What salary range they will accept
  • Whether they’re willing to relocate

To help screen candidates, many employers ask applicants to complete an assessment test. This could be a cognitive or personality assessment to inform how a candidate handles stressful situations or interacts with colleagues. Alternatively, it could be a more technical assessment to vet whether skills are up to par.

As you communicate with prospects, be sure to inform them about what to expect during the recruitment process. Keep them in the loop about what will happen next and in what timeframe they should expect to hear from you or another company representative. Provide prompt, professional feedback as is appropriate.

Delivering a great experience for the candidate will go a long way toward keeping them engaged and, at the end of the process, excited to join your company.

Step 4: Interview the top few candidates

From the start of this process, you should know that you won’t identify a large quantity of candidates.

Realistically, and depending on the specificity of your job requirements, you should identify three or four core candidates to interview formally.

How you conduct these interviews is largely your preference. You could start with a phone interview followed by one or two in-person interviews, or you could jump right to an in-person interview.

Your goal is to conduct a more in-depth probe into the information discussed during the screening process and explore insights gained from administering any assessment tests.

Hopefully, by the end of the interview phase, you can select the optimal candidate.

Step 5: Make an offer to your skilled worker!

When you’re ready to move forward with a candidate, work to ensure the offer is as competitive as possible. It needs to convince the skilled worker to come aboard while remaining beneficial for your company.

The offer needs to be a win-win.

Even if your offer is excellent, don’t be surprised if the candidate still submits a counteroffer – especially if you’re dealing with a passive candidate. After all, this is a negotiation.

Highly skilled workers:

  • Know you need them
  • Understand their worth in the job market
  • Will act to get the best deal possible

You should also expect that the candidate’s current company will try to retain their employee with their own counteroffer. Therefore, when making an offer, try to be flexible on what you can ultimately pay out.

In this scenario, salary, company culture and additional job perks are key to winning the battle over talent.

Summing it all up

Hiring highly skilled workers takes a bit more ingenuity and tenacity than the average recruiting process.

  • Be specific and realistic in your expectations.
  • Take the time to consider what makes you stand out from other companies.
  • Write a job ad reflecting these differentiators.
  • Execute an excellent recruitment strategy.

If you can do these steps well, then you just might win over the most qualified, knowledgeable candidates.

For more information about hiring highly skilled workers, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to attract, retain and develop your employees.