#546: The Great Hesitation with Sue Keith, Landrum Talent Solutions

In this special episode, brought to you by Landrum Talent Solutions, , formerly Ceres Talent, a national recruiting firm specializing in marketing and HR positions, we’re going to talk about a few things.

Remember the Great Resignation. Well now, it’s more like the Great Hesitation, with many managers being reluctant to hire based on a number of factors. Also, in today’s labor market, we observe a striking contrast between different sectors, presenting unique challenges and strategies. Joining us to shed light on these dynamics is Sue Keith, Corporate Vice President at Landrum Talent Solutions.


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Greg Kihlstrom:
 In this special episode brought to you by Landrum Talent Solutions, formerly Ceres Talent, a national recruiting firm specializing in marketing and HR positions, we’re going to talk about a few things. Remember the great resignation? Well, now it’s more like the great hesitation, with many managers being reluctant to hire based on a number of factors. Also, in today’s labor market, we observe a striking contrast between different sectors presenting unique challenges and strategies. Joining us to shed light on these dynamics is Sue Keith, Corporate Vice President at Landrum Talent Solutions. Sue, welcome to the show.

Sue Keith: Thanks, Grant. It’s nice to be back.

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah, always, always enjoy talking with you. So for those that didn’t catch the last episode you were on, why don’t you give a little background on yourself as well as on Landrum Talent Solutions.

Sue Keith: Sure. I’m a Corporate Vice President with Landrum Talent Solutions. About 18 months ago, our firm Ceres Talent, which specializes in marketing positions, was acquired by Landrum HR, a 50-year-old HR services company in Florida. A few years prior to our joining Landrum HR, they had acquired HRQ, a search firm that specializes in HR positions. And just in January, we brought the two teams together. So Ceres Talent HR became a national specialized recruiting firm for marketing and HR roles. And at that point, we realized it didn’t make sense for us to have two brands in the market. So just this past July 1st, we announced that we had rebranded the new business unit to Lanham Talent Solutions. And I’ve had several people ask, well, isn’t it sad to give up your company name after all these years? And I’d say it’s a little bittersweet, but ultimately, we’re all marketers. So this was an easy decision for us because it made strategic sense for the business for a go-to-market strategy. And it was fun to work with an outside agency again and work on our naming strategy and messaging.

Greg Kihlstrom: That’s great. And congrats on that change as well. So let’s dive in here and talk about a couple of things that I mentioned at the top of the show. First, I want to talk about what you’ve referred to as the tale of two economies. And so as the U.S. job market exhibits starkly different conditions between hourly and white-collar jobs. Let’s talk about some of the reasons behind these differences. So can you elaborate on what you describe as this tale of two economies in the current US job market, particularly the contrasting situations for hourly versus corporate employees?

Sue Keith: Absolutely. So I think we all know whether it be from ongoing media coverage or the fact that every restaurant you go to is still really understaffed. Just last week, I went to I met a client for lunch and the bartender was the waiter for the entire restaurant. So we continue to have record low unemployment, although, you know, according to Jay Powell, it’s creeping up a little bit. And businesses continue to struggle to find hourly workers. And the key word in what I just said is hourly. So let’s call that economy number one. However, the story is really different for corporate employees, so what I’ll call economy number two. So it’s in the corporate world, as I think we’ve all heard, we continue to see hiring freezes, ongoing layoffs, which we actually first started seeing in late 2022 and got really bad last year. So we’re talking about about 18 months still happening and still this kind of contraction, if you will, in the market. So unfortunately, marketing has taken a lot of the brunt of it. As one CMO said to me recently, you know, when the CFO starts looking for ways to cut expenses, marketing is the first stop in her journey. And sadly, I can’t say the number of really talented marketers our team meets every day who can’t find a job. You know, it’s been months and they apply for jobs and they see there’s 500 other, their friends also applying for the same job. And so it’s been a really tough environment and a prolonged tough environment for job seekers.

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah, yeah. And so building on that, another term that I mentioned at the top of the show, the great hesitation, something that you had mentioned before. We’ve recently been through the great resignation, now we’re talking great hesitation with companies increasingly hesitant to commit to full-time hires, opting instead for flexible staffing. What are some of the key factors contributing to this cautious approach that companies are taking towards full-time employees?

Sue Keith: I love this term, the great hesitation, because it’s such a nice play on the great resignation, as you mentioned. Unfortunately, I can’t give credit to the person I first heard it said because I can’t remember who it was, but it is brilliant and spot on. I was calling it kind of not as eloquently the great gun shyness. So I’ll go with great hesitation. So there’s a few things that are driving this. So first, I think there’s still an ongoing reckoning in response to the hiring craze that happened during 2021 and 22. So it was post COVID, the world decided that, everyone decided the world wasn’t gonna stop spinning. And there was just, it was a lot of hiring and I would almost argue it was almost reckless hiring. So people were getting hired with titles and salaries that their experience simply didn’t warrant. And for just one example, we were doing a kickoff call with a hiring manager and our HR contact for a longtime client. This is back in 21 or early 22. And I asked the standard question of, okay, what’s the salary for the role? And the HR person kind of ducked my question, which is really unusual. And I asked it again and ducked it again. And then we discovered after the call is because the salary for the new position was going to be higher than the hiring managers. current salary. So it was kind of crazy things like that. And so there’s a bit of a reckoning in that. I was just talking to somebody yesterday, a former CMO said, yeah, I overhired in 21. I’ll be the first to admit it. And then in response to that, getting a new headcount approved, I’m calling it, it’s like finding a Willy Wonka golden ticket. It’s really rare. And on top of that hiring manager, because they’ve got this rare golden ticket, they’re really worried they won’t make a good hire, especially if they were burned out and hiring someone that maybe didn’t work out a couple of years prior. So, and then related to number two, with so many candidates applying for jobs, you know, I mentioned there are 500 plus applications for jobs on LinkedIn or on the company’s website. Hiring managers are reluctant to make an offer in case they’ve overlooked someone better. You know, they’re worried they may have missed someone in that stack of 500 plus applications that’s, you know, virtually sitting next to them on their desk.

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah. Yeah. And so hiring obviously also is a two-sided marketplace. So, you know, not only the, the company’s hiring, but flipping to the candidate perspective, what, what is this great hesitation meant for the candidates that are on the job market?

Sue Keith: It’s made it tough. The competition for full-time, as I just mentioned, it’s just really high, you know, you’re competing with other really strong candidates. And so what we’ve seen in response to the hiring freezes and these companies’ hesitation to hire full-time employees, as you mentioned, and we’re seeing this for both marketing and HR roles, we’ve seen a marked increase in requests for contractors and contractor perm positions, including lower level roles, which is very atypical. So candidates should think about whether they’re open to contracting. It’s a great way to get your foot in the door, call it as an addition. And it’s a try before you buy for both sides. It also gives you an opportunity to put something on your resume as opposed to having just a big gap since your last full-time position. So it’s definitely something you should think about ahead of time because a recruiter like us may call you and ask you to be interested in that. We’ve also seen, I think everyone’s seen the rise in the popularity of the term fractional, whether it be fractional CMO, CFO, CRO. It seems like pretty much any marketer who’s in between business cards as we like to say has hung their fractional shingle. And one more thing that the candidates should be ready for the great hesitation as we’re calling it has caused the hiring process to be extended for both contractors and full time candidates with numerous rounds of interviews. that can take weeks, if not more. And, you know, we used to call contracting dating and full-time positions marriage, and it seems to have blurred now that even a company who’s looking to bring in a contractor for perhaps a short period of time, or they’re not sure if it’s going to become a full-time position, they’re treating the interview process as though they were hiring the person for a full-time position.

Greg Kihlstrom: I’m excited to announce an exclusive offer that will enhance your listening experience of the Agile Brand with Greg Kilsfrom Podcast. You can now listen to my show, The Agile Brand, completely ad-free on your favorite listening apps like Spotify and Apple for just $4.99 a month, giving you access to all the great conversations with top thought leaders in marketing technology, CX, and more without the ads. To learn more and sign up, follow the link in the show notes to listen to The Agile Brand completely ad-free. Check it out now. And so kind of what you’re mentioning is it’s not only beneficial to the hiring company, but it can also be beneficial to the candidate, right? I mean, it’s there’s because everyone’s is it is it great hesitation kind of on both sides? In other words, as far as like candidates, not necessarily candidates, almost preferring being contractors to start as well to kind of test the job.

Sue Keith: It’s. I don’t know if it’s that as much as it’s, hey, I’m out of a job and this is an opportunity. I will say if you want to apply the Great Hesitation to Canada is if it’s if you have a job, if you’re currently employed, you are very unlikely going to leave to take a what I’ll call a maybe job, which is a contract to prime position, because there’s just no guarantees. So you’re not going to leave something that’s safe or at least relatively safe these days for for a contract position. And there’s a lot of folks also not being willing to change from their current full-time job to another full-time job just because they’ve seen where they are as safe and known and moving to a new company is not as safe. And you know, I’ve talked to a lot of marketers who moved to a new company just to be laid off a couple months later. Yeah. So the great hesitation is definitely applying. If someone is currently employed, there’s just, they’re being very risk averse.

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah, yeah, makes sense. And so, you know, building on that, I mean, with the increase in, from the hiring side, increasing requests for contractors and fractional, you’ve mentioned some of the reasons here, but, you know, even for fairly extensive and very visible roles, you know, why are companies more comfortable with this than they have been in the past?

Sue Keith: I think, yeah, I think it goes back to everybody’s hesitation in, you know, either there’s just a lot of angst right now about hiring. And so, you know, many companies have frozen headcount or laid off portions of the marketing team, but the work still needs to get done. And I would say there’s a lot of marketing teams really running a skeletal cruise right now. People are getting burned out because there’s so few people, but it’s the same amount of work, maybe more. The expectations might be even higher. So CMOs are able to get approval to bring in a contractor because typically that budget is in a different place than your HR headcount budget. So you’re pulling… You’re just using some of your discretionary marketing dollars to hire a contractor as opposed to, let’s say, running a campaign. So what they’re saying is, okay, let’s bring in someone on a contract to perm basis. Let’s hope they excel in the job. And then the CMO can make the case for converting that person to a full-time employee. So if the CEO has been hesitant to commit to full-time, you can say, okay, this person has proved that they’re gonna excel in this job. And so that seems to be the approach a lot are taking is they’re being able to get approval to bring in a contract to perm, but not a direct full-time hire. I mentioned too, this is happening at lower level positions, which is, has been, I mean, it’s very unusual. We haven’t seen this in my 11 years of doing this. And partially because in a, you know, I’ll call it a normal market, entry level or early career employees are, they’re in full-time jobs. They’re looking for a W-2, they’re looking for benefits, et cetera. So they’ve not, and they’re not, as I mentioned, they’re not going to leave a safe place, go to a maybe job. But today, given the market, a lot of these folks with three to five, three to seven years of experience are interested and available to do contract to perm because they’ve been laid off. So on the flip side, we’ve also seen a request coming in for, you know, pretty, as you mentioned, visible roles where, you know, there’s a lot of interaction with external stakeholders or, you know, somebody who’s just visible within the company. And we just in previous years where you wouldn’t have seen a company bringing a temporary temporary resource to fill that type of position.

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, you’ve touched on this a bit already, but just wanted to also talk about this this hesitation. It’s not just being cautious and it’s not just dragging dragging out the process from the candidate perspective, either. It’s having impacts on companies, right, themselves. So, you know, can you talk a little bit more about the impact that these prolonged hiring processes and, you know, kind of the hesitation is having on both the companies as well as the candidates.

Sue Keith: I mentioned the burnout. They’re just marketing teams or individuals on marketing teams who just feel like they’re doing three jobs in one. And there’s been no additional compensation for those two additional jobs. And I also mentioned that the interview process seems to be taking even longer than normal, which already feels long for anybody going through an interview process. And so I’ll share a cautionary tale for hiring managers, you know, we’re in the midst of doing a search for a pretty senior communications person. And we found some of the hiring manager loved her team, you know, the panel interview loved her, the CEO loved her, but the interview process took really long. And by the time they extended our candidate the offer, things had evolved at her current company. She really started to rethink her client’s commitment to the job because it was taking so long. And so despite the offer from our client being more money and better benefits, she ultimately declined the offer. And so there’s another thing too for HR, hiring managers, excuse me, to consider, which may have played a role in the story I just told you. And it’s what goes back to what we just talked about, candidates who are employed or staying put. They’re reluctant to make the move to the unknown. So in this case, you know, our candidate, you know, wasn’t unhappy where she was. She was just, this was a really nice opportunity for her, but in the end, it was safer for her to stay, stay where she was despite a nice offer.

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah, well, I mean, doesn’t it stand to reason that from the candidate’s perspective, you know, if a company is taking so long and dragging things out, first of all, there’s just more time for other opportunities to arise, even if they’re at the same company, but also it doesn’t exactly make the the hiring company look particularly decisive, right? I know there’s sometimes there’s extenuating circumstances and all manner of things. So it’s not, it’s not a one size fits all description, but I can see how from a candidate perspective, it kind of, it, it might cause some alarm of, um, not only are they, does it take them, does it, the decision process drag out a lot, but you know, it might raise alarms that, that might not otherwise be there. Would you, would you say that?

Sue Keith: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think that’s what played a factor in the story I just told. Yeah. If you think, well, they can’t make a decision, then they must, how serious are they about the role? And if, and then you start thinking, well, maybe they’re talking to somebody else. Right. And so maybe I don’t have this locked in. And so now maybe I’m going to, you know, it’s just like, there’s so many things that can go through a candidate. I mean, we’re all human and a candidate, you know, if you don’t have information, you’re going to make, you know, you’re going to fill in the gaps with your own assumptions. And so we try to do our best to, you know, manage our candidates through the process. But yeah, it definitely can cause a question about, okay, is the company serious about the role? Does my future boss actually have decision-making authority here? And it starts, it just can raise a bunch of pink flags.

Greg Kihlstrom: Well, Sue, it’s always great to have you on the show and love to hear your perspective on where things are at. One last question for you before we wrap up. As you are seeing trends evolving and things in the job market, what advice would you give to, maybe two pieces of advice, one for employers and one for job seekers that are navigating this continually complex job market?

Sue Keith: So for job seekers, I would say we’re seeing glimmers of hope. So I’ve been, I’ve been the voice of doom through this whole conversation, but we’re seeing glimmers of hope. So if you go on LinkedIn, which you’re all job seekers are spending a lot of time on LinkedIn, you’re seeing a lot more people announce, you know, with that LinkedIn graphic that they have a new job. So that’s, you’re seeing movement there. We’ve also talked to several of our VC and PE contacts who think hiring will pick up in Q4. So I know that’s still a little bit of ways, but we know we’re in the summer lull right now for hiring anyway. But we’re feeling cautiously optimistic about this fall. And as a good leading indicator, our now no longer sister company, HRQ, now part of Landrum Talent Solutions, but they specialize in HR roles, and they’ve seen clients coming back to us to ask us to help rebuild their in-house talent acquisition teams. So yeah, it’s actually a little funny. We have clients who hire our recruiters to find their recruiters. But what this means though, if they’re building back their in-house recruiting teams, They’re planning, they’re gearing up to hire. So I think that’s a really positive sign. Our ultimate hope is we get back to some level of normal. Now that we’re post-COVID, nobody seems to, who knows what that means, but the way I simply describe it is a state where some companies are hiring and some companies are firing at any given time, where there’s just a better balance between the two. I think we’ll get there. certainly for 2025. And then the final thing I said, you said advice for hiring managers. Here’s what I’d like to say. Please treat your candidates with dignity and respect. There’s a human behind every resume, and that can sometimes get forgotten in the fray of interviewing and interviewing a lot of people. So just remember, just make sure everybody is treated with dignity and respect. And they get some sort of closure, whether it be just a simple, we’ve gone a different direction or something. just something that doesn’t leave them, leave them hanging because being on the job market is, is a really, really no one, let’s just put it this way. Nobody wants to be in between jobs.

Sue Keith on The Agile Brand Podcast