With the nation’s economy churning on all cylinders and the labor market stretched thin, many companies are having to work harder than ever to attract and retain the best talent. As CEO for a nationwide life sciences executive recruiting firm, I can attest to the challenges we and our client partners face in attracting the right people for the biggest and most mission-critical positions. There simply isn’t enough top talent to go around, so companies need to separate themselves from the pack to position themselves as “the” place where people want to be.

Experienced executives with stellar track records as well as those up-and-coming younger leaders with unique skill sets are often fielding multiple offers simultaneously as companies scramble to fill critical leadership positions. As such, some positions sit empty for months, and others may be filled by less experienced and less qualified candidates. Facing this reality, there are five key strategies that companies can deploy to get a leg up in attracting the best talent.

1) First and foremost, companies must make it a priority to cultivate a highly visible and genuinely positive workplace culture. It’s not enough to be above average. Reputations matter in a market with countless companies that have superior technology. Executives are seeking opportunities in environments that inspire greatness and instill a sense of camaraderie, innovation, shared values, and a sense of purpose. Leaders must be transparent and accountable, and every employee throughout the organization must be engaged and empowered. Many of the executives we have recruited won’t even take a call from a company that isn’t noted for its incredible workplace culture. They have too many options in this market to even think about taking a chance on an organization that may not offer them everything they need to succeed.

2) Companies need to tailor their mission and operations to appeal to millennials. The millennial generation is far different than its predecessors and is a fast-growing presence in the workforce. As documented in Harvard Business Review, these young people are extremely committed, socially conscious, and hard-working, but also prone to burn-out. They currently make up about half the nation’s workforce, but only a quarter of the leadership positions. Those proportions will only grow in coming decades, so companies need to design structures and systems, policies and cultures that will attract them and that allow for them to develop and succeed over time.

3) Companies that want to land the best leaders need to move very quickly. They must design their recruiting operations to identify and attract talent with a minimum of hurdles. The most talented executives out there won’t wait long since they are often being recruited by several companies at once. The company that moves swiftly and most effectively often wins out in this competitive marketplace. Fast tracking the interview and hiring processes aren’t easy to do, particularly within larger organizations, but leadership teams need to make this a priority if they want their companies to secure the best people.

4) Companies must be willing to consider offering alternative work options for their most valued recruits. The number of workers no longer permanently tethered to a desk in a corporate office is growing as approximately 43% of Americans work remotely at least some of the time. Obviously not every company can afford to offer such options to top executives, but in some sectors, like high tech, certain functions can and are being performed at high levels without regard to physical locale. Providing the flexibility for a top recruit to work remotely at least some of the time may be the deciding factor for landing that person at the company.

5) Finally, businesses need to work smarter to use social media to distinguish themselves in the market. Although almost every company utilizes social media, they don’t all do it right. The best companies are using their digital platforms every day to get their positive messages out there in a sustained and compelling way. They prioritize their communications operations to ensure a robust and high-quality cadre of master story tellers who consistently reinforce the inspiring mission-centric values and accomplishments that make their companies unique. Recruits pay attention to these stories, and companies can reach them directly through the right social media channels.

Companies small and large are battling harder than ever to attract and retain the most talented professionals they need to meet their organizational goals, but these five strategies — creating a highly visible positive work culture, appealing to millennials, moving quickly in finding and securing talent, offering flexible work options, and better leveraging social media — can help separate these companies from their competitors.

Leslie Loveless is CEO of Slone Partners, a life sciences executive search firm

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