Steps To “Full Employment”

Jon Vena, Wholesale Market

Originally printed in the June 2018 issue of Produce Business.

A little more than 12 years ago, I found myself facing a recruiting question that was fairly common at the time: “Which one to choose?”

I was trying to fill an entry-level sales and customer service role. I had narrowed the field from 10 to two and then wrestled with the decision. Both candidates were capable of the work (as were those I had interviewed and passed over). Both seemed eager and ready to learn the produce business, and both seemed to fit in with our team. In a moment of recruiting inspiration, I decided to hire them both. I felt like a hiring maven! But as they say, that was then …

Clive Crook writes on bloomberg.com (May 4, 2018): “When economists talk about full employment, they don’t mean everybody has a job.” He explains that employment levels drop to a point that won’t cause inflation, and the article gets pretty technical after that.

The Society for Human Resource Management defines it similarly: “Full employment is an economic condition when all eligible people can find work at prevailing wages,” and they add, “a time when the number of job seekers nearly matches the number of job openings.”

Nope, not now. In our industry, in this economy, we all know that is just not true. Full employment as we now know it is more like — advertise as many open positions as you want, and job seekers may apply or may not. The popular website investopedia.com describes how most of us feel right now: “Full employment is the condition in which virtually all who are able and willing to work are employed.” Bad news for today’s hiring managers.

Recruiting in the current environment requires sophisticated marketing-like programs, and for good reason. Job hunting has become a “buyer’s market.” The tools and insights we use to develop customers are just as essential to finding good employees. And the marketplace for new employees has become digital. In five minutes, any candidate with a smartphone can learn an awful lot about your company. Hopefully, the search engines have been kind to your organization.

Today’s applicant wants to know what your company can do for them, not just what they can do for your company. … Don’t forget, during the interview process they will evaluate you and the opportunity you offer as much as you will be evaluating them.

Step One for all of us: Read about your company on the Internet. Learn what is being said and address what negatives you can.

Step Two: Know the target demographic for each open position you want to fill. You must know who you are looking for and where to find them (both virtually and digitally). Write a solid job profile for each open role, and be sure it describes your ideal candidate. Leave some wiggle room; not all good candidates are created equal. Headhunters are still popular for filling top-level jobs, but for entry- and mid-level workers, you must be creative. We have found equal but limited success using staff recommendations, word of mouth, campus and Internet job boards, and our own company website. Offering paid internships has worked well for us. The program at St. Joseph’s University has provided some very talented sales and marketing employees. We are preparing to add a new affiliation with Penn State in order to court potential new hires with an interest in the logistic side of our business.

Step Three: Update job ads and job descriptions to be more appealing to candidates. Today’s applicant wants to know what your company can do for them, not just what they can do for your company. They want to know where they will go, what new skills they will learn and with whom they will interact. They want to know your standing in the industry as well as your programs for advancement and compensation. Don’t forget, during the interview process they will evaluate you and the opportunity you offer as much as you will be evaluating them. If possible, arrange for team interviews and multiple visits. A team that has had a hand in candidate selection will work hard to ensure that the new hire finds success.

Until recently, we overlooked the importance of planning for employee engagement and retention before people are hired. An interviewer must consider whether the candidate will fit the culture of the organization.

Step Four: Think about how to portray your company culture. Good candidates often will ask questions related to team and individual interaction, daily work environment, and performance reviews and milestones. All candidates will have questions about pay and benefits.

And finally, Step Five: Be willing to pay the right price. The market for labor is very much a market. If you are feeling the pangs of Full Employment, pay rates and benefits packages may be the prime adjustments you must make. If you are unwilling or unable to pay market prices, the conversation with the candidate may not go very far.


John Vena is the owner of John Vena Inc., a family owned and operated produce business located in the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market. Founded in 1919, the company is a fourth generation family business bearing the name of John Vena’s grandfather.

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