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Job Seekers Ask: Who’s the Boss?
Business Journal

Job Seekers Ask: Who’s the Boss?

by Bryant Ott, Nikki Blacksmith, and Ken Royal

The competition for quality employees among leading companies is fierce, regardless of industry or sector. According to new Gallup research, job seekers aren't looking exclusively at salary offers; nor are they putting much stock into added perks such as company fitness center programs or on-site daycare services.

QUOTE: Nearly half of job seekers say the opportunity to learn and grow...

Recruiters and hiring managers who are looking to attract the best workforces for their companies would be well-served to laud their organization's quality managers; prospective employees are just as likely to deem great management important as they are pay when looking for a new job.

A recent Gallup Panel survey asked a targeted sample of job seekers a series of questions about what is important to them in their job search. The sample consisted of those who are currently unemployed and seeking a job as well as those who are currently employed full time or part time and who have searched for employment in the past six months. These prospective candidates shared their opinions about which aspects and characteristics of potential jobs and employers are most important.

Profession and pay

Ask children what they want to be when they grow up, and they will likely tell you something they like. And even if becoming an astronaut, professional baseball player, or the president of the United States isn't exactly their next calling, their high school guidance counselor or college job placement advisor will probably steer them toward a career in something that interests them. In fact, the results show that 58% of respondents consider "interest in the type of work" extremely important when applying for a job, which is the highest percentage given by job seekers to the more than 60 characteristics studied in the survey.

Don't kid yourself, though; an employee's compensation still pays the bills. More than half of job seekers (53%) say compensation is extremely important when applying for jobs, while more than one-third of respondents say the same thing about health (45%) and retirement (33%) benefits.

At least one respondent says he is looking for a perfect combination of fit and pay: "I like my job, but think I am worth more money. I would not leave my job unless I found a job that I really liked that paid more."

Management matters

But money isn't everything. Job seekers are slightly more likely to say that a quality manager (56%) or quality management (55%) is extremely important when looking for a job than they are to say the same about compensation. Respondents gave examples of the importance of quality managers to their job searches when asked why they were looking for other employment. "I like the job I have, and I would like to do it as long as I can," one respondent said. "However, I have a problem performing the work for two fellow managers who continue to get away with not getting their jobs done."

These general references to quality managers and management do not include the more specific workplace characteristics that managers can control -- aspects that are measured by the 12 items in Gallup's employee engagement survey, the Q12. Gallup finds that respondents are more likely to rate these types of characteristics extremely important than they are other perks such as new on-site cafeterias or daycare centers.

For example, nearly half of job seekers say the opportunity to learn and grow, the opportunity for advancement, and earning promotions based on merit are extremely important when looking for a job. Responses to Gallup's Q12 survey items reveal that employees are more likely to be engaged in their jobs if someone at work encourages their development, if someone talks with them about their progress, and if they have had opportunities in the past year at work to learn and grow. Similarly, more than 4 in 10 job seekers say the quality of their coworkers and a great work team are extremely important when applying for a job.

Those statements don't directly implicate managers, but employee engagement research shows that the right managers can have a direct impact on bringing in people who are committed to doing quality work and facilitating a fun and caring atmosphere, which can nurture friendships among employees.

Revising the recruiting pitch

If a prospective employee applied for jobs at two different organizations that offered nearly identical job responsibilities and compensation packages, which company would the candidate join? Based on this research, the job seeker would probably want to know as much about his or her potential manager as possible. Recruiters and hiring managers would be better off arranging an interview or an introduction between the candidate and a great manager than they would be touting the fact that the company is publicly traded (just 3% of job seekers say the latter is extremely important when applying for jobs). Potential employees would be more interested in meeting engaged members of a quality workgroup or hearing testimonials from best friends at work than they would be enduring a vague description of the company's culture (20% say culture is extremely important when searching for work).

When asked to explain why they declined a job offer, many respondents referred to manager or management issues. Some job seekers described managers they met during the interview process as "unpleasant," "insufferable," and "creepy." One respondent also declined an offer due to the "very apparent conflict" between two managers. Having quality managers or lack thereof has often been cited in research for why people stay at or leave organizations, but it's also clearly a factor for why it can be easy or difficult to hire quality employees. Organizations with weak managers need to ask themselves why talented people would want to join them after interviewing with these managers.

To consistently beat competitors for the best talent, it is increasingly important for companies to have the best possible understanding of who their prospective employees are and what is most important to them in a workplace. Companies know they must offer competitive compensation packages when fighting for talented employees, and they must offer the right types of work for those seeking jobs. If they don't revise their recruiting pitch to include concrete examples of great management, and if they don't have great managers in the first place, then job seekers will listen to companies that do.

Results are based on an online survey conducted with a targeted U.S. sample of 1,376 adults aged 18 and over who were seeking a job. The data were collected between August 28 and September 16, 2007. To participate in this survey, participants had to be looking for a full-time or part-time job within the past six months. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2.7 percentage points.


Bryant Ott is a writer and editor at Gallup.
Nikki Blacksmith is a former Lead Researcher, Workplace Practice, for Gallup.
Ken Royal is a Client Service Director at Gallup.

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