A Buyer’s Market: Building a Robust and Regenerative Talent Ecosystem in 2021

To stand out from the crowded field of employers, companies must take significant steps forward, toward potential employees as well as current ones, wherever they may be.


I can certainly understand if you’ve taught yourself to ignore upbeat predictions in the past year.

However, things feel like they are finally beginning to improve as COVID-19 loosens its chokehold on the economy and our lives. Spring has sprung, vaccines are rolling out at a steady pace, and many people are venturing out of their homes and into their communities like bears slowly emerging from a long winter hibernation.

These early indicators of improvement are a signal that businesses must be prepared to meet the long-pent-up demand of consumers. The travel industry is a clear example of this. In just the past few weeks, search engine data and airport traffic has indicated that consumers are returning en masse — and if airlines, hotels, and car rental companies can’t service the demand, they will lose revenue to their competitors. As demand continues to accelerate in the coming weeks and months across most industries, businesses will need to quickly ramp up their hiring in order to keep up.

Just look at the numbers: Monster’s 2021 report on the future of work — which surveyed more than 3,100 companies — revealed that 8 in 10 employers are planning to hire in 2021. Nearly half (49%) of tech industry respondents said they are planning to create new jobs within the year.

Companies must immediately build a plan and focus on attracting, retaining, and growing talent.  For many companies, this may be a pivot from last year’s priorities when some businesses were scaling down. And given the frenetic pace of hiring and the number of employers who will be in the market, companies must also figure out how to stand out from the crowd and attract the best talent. Is your company prepared for this reality?

Let’s discuss some key hiring trends in the “post-COVID” world, as well as some key steps you can follow to take advantage of them.

1. Higher Volume, Higher Touch

More hiring means more applications and for some organizations, the volume could be overwhelming. In parallel, much of the interview process has now shifted from in-person to online. And the more digital the world gets, the more focused we need to be, on both sides of the interview “table”, to be authentic, build a brand and make the interview experience as personal as possible. As companies race to discover and assess talent in 2021, creating a high-touch application experience will be essential. Companies must remember they’re not just dealing with names on a CV — they’re dealing with real people. Communicate clear response and decision timelines and establish consistent processes that allow you to manage candidates quickly and professionally. And optimize technology along the way. Obviously, platforms like MS Teams and Zoom can help you complete a greater number of interviews digitally than ever, but solutions like SAP SuccessFactors can also help, using artificial intelligence to eliminate bias in the recruiting process and pursue diversity goals.

2. With Great Choice Comes Great Flexibility

A recent global survey from JLL found that 72 percent of employees want to be able to work from home more after the pandemic, with 66 percent desiring a blended model that shifts between home, the office, and “third places,” like libraries and coffee shops. With hiring set to skyrocket, companies must be prepared to sell themselves on flexible approaches to stand out in this environment, whether through prioritizing work-life balance, encouraging creative job shares or simply offering location-based flexibility. Location, though, doesn’t matter nearly as much as it did in the past. Consider how your company could capitalize. At SAP, where far-reaching teams have been a long-standing practice, I’ve seen our flexibility function as a fantastic selling point. Rather than worrying about whether someone lives in Silicon Valley, we can just focus on whether they’re the best person for the job. How can your company attract the newly adjusted workforce? Can you still make a unique, location-based appeal? Whatever your approach, it comes down to defining your company’s value proposition — and showing how it empowers your employees. 

3. Not Just Hiring, Inspiring

In a competitive hiring environment, showing what makes you you can go a long way. Highlight the unique elements of your company’s culture that make it a great place to work. Look at how companies like Pixar encourage and spotlight innovation and creativity in every single action they take, making their people feel more like family members than employees. Because it’s one thing to tell recruits why they should want to work there, and it’s another to show them. Remember: Your people are your best advertisement. Create employee testimonials about working at your company that make applicants want to be a part of your mission. Show them that diversity goes beyond your recruiting process and that inclusion is core to your culture — and to creating a work environment where everyone can be their authentic self.

4. Keeping the Talent Pool Flowing

To be successful today, you must continue to nurture the talent pool, inside your company and out. You have to build a strong external pipeline and recognize that the best employees often aren’t looking for jobs at the same time that you have an opening. Create an “evergreen” always-on recruiting philosophy. Internally, encourage managers to focus on career development and growing new skills for their employees so that your talent potential is able to stretch and grow into new areas. Simply put, hiring and development must be viewed as equally important, as supporting people in their jobs enables them to pursue several different careers within one company. On my team, for instance, I have some very seasoned 20-year veterans of SAP who’ve rotated into many different roles and a good share of early talent joining us from outside of SAP. This blend of early and seasoned talent with an average SAP tenure of 8 years of experience makes for a high-performing organization that is always growing and learning. And even if they do depart, we always make sure to leave the door open for them to come back, as we welcome the new and valuable experiences they gather along the way. As an organization they choose to return to, these “boomerangs” let you know that you are building something special.

Many people still view the talent ecosystem as one that follows a linear path. You recruit, you interview, you hire, and you onboard. In reality, though, it’s a complete circle. The cycle of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, onboarding and developing (and maybe even rehiring later!) must be continuous and repeatable. It must be an integral piece of your company’s operations, now and into the future.

Think of it this way: In 2021, if it’s not a circle, you’re a square.


Stephanie is an innovative thought leader with a breadth of experience across a multitude of industries and expertise in both back and front office solutions. As the SAP North America Chief Customer Innovation Officer, Stephanie’s team is responsible for delivering a seamless, integrated experience focused on industry expertise, solution engineering, and advisory services dedicated to business value realization, with the customer at the epicenter of everything they do. Stephanie is passionate about what’s new and what’s next in tech and serves as an advisor to the Board for a Boston-based AI start-up in the customer experience space, Cogito Corporation. She also serves as the SAP representative on the Board of Directors for Americas’ SAP Users’ Group (ASUG).