No one knows this better than Eva Scofield, Director of Sales for the Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverage Division of the CPG recruiting firm Forcebrands, which partners with CPG brands every day to help them fill critical roles. We asked her for the insider tips on what growing food & beverage and food tech companies can do to attract talent in a “buyer’s market”—especially when competing against their more established counterparts.

What trends are you seeing in the current startup hiring market?
The good news is that the period of “ghosting” that occurred before the 2021 holidays—candidates leaving managers and recruiters hanging mid-hiring process—seems to have come to an end. Responsiveness is back to normal levels, Scofield says. The not-so-good news is that great employees are harder than ever to keep. The “Great Resignation” is now being termed the “Great Reshuffling”: “We’ve seen an all-time high of people quitting their existing jobs and finding new ones for higher salaries or more comprehensive compensation packages,” says Scofield.

“People are assessing what’s important to them after experiencing something as life-changing as this pandemic,” she explains. “One’s needs—financial, emotional, or physical—may look very different than they did prior to 2020.” 

During a period of great instability, jobseekers are looking for companies they can lean on. That means that larger, incumbent companies are once again showing their appeal to candidates who, in the so-called “before times,” may have been drawn to the glamour of startup life. 

Which roles are seeing particularly high demand?
Companies are seeking greater specialty in hiring, particularly in the areas of digital marketing, supply chain, and logistics. “Companies are realizing they must pay a premium for employees with these specific skill sets,” says Scofield. Expect to see competition for roles like Digital Marketing Directors and Ecommerce Managers, as well as Trade and Shopper Marketing Managers as retail bounces back. And of course, all things supply chain and logistics, from Operations Generalists to Supply Chain specialists.

How do I go about looking for candidates?
As companies search for candidates with more diverse backgrounds, they’re expanding their hiring horizons to suit. That means reaching out directly to smaller universities and job fairs and even specific undergraduate or graduate programs training the next generation of scientists and engineers, particularly as the food tech and alt-meat markets flourish. In other words, it’s time to get creative. 
Another word of advice from Scofield: “Don’t be afraid to go outside your specific industry.” A candidate’s skills, workflow, and thought process can be as important as precise industry experience. 

What about the job description—what tips do you have for writing a great JD? 
When it comes to the job description, less is more. “A verbose job description can seem overwhelming to prospective candidates,” Scofield advises. “Distill your description down to a succinct overview of your company and mission, your top six to eight role responsibilities, top five nice-to-haves, and five to seven requirements such as years’ experience or preferred channel, product, or skill set. Give enough information to properly educate candidates on the role, then use your interviews to dig deep and establish the exact parameters of the position.”

That last point is especially important for startups. Many are susceptible to the pitfall of writing uber-specific job descriptions—when really they need the candidate to be a jack-of-all-trades. “Inherent to startup life is the need to pivot frequently. That can directly affect employees’ expectations, and ultimately void the original job description,” Scofield observes. While it can be hard to avoid this during phases of rapid growth, a frank talk with your core team can help clarify what’s really needed for the role. If that means the new hire will need to wear multiple hats and jump from task to task, that’s fine—just be clear about it! 

How do I make sure I’m hiring the right person? 
Many CVs look quite different now than they did two years ago, as the pandemic forced many to uproot their work and lives. For that reason, “jumpiness” on a resume doesn’t necessarily raise the same red flags as before. What’s more important, Scofield says, is getting a window into how a candidate approaches challenges and manages her workflow.  

“Someone can be an excellent interviewer and make a meaningful connection with you, but it can be helpful to get a project on file, especially if you’re a smaller team or hiring for a very specific role, like a Supply Chain Manager or Logistics Coordinator,” she advises. Companies can ask candidates to address a real-life scenario with fake numbers (“how would you go about expanding distribution of these two SKUs in the next year, given X,Y,Z data?”), or a small freelance assignment before a full-time job (“suggest five improvements to our current digital marketing funnel, and how you would execute them.”). 

The most important thing is to come prepared with clear expectations and a game plan, and document progress against that plan as you go. 

Then how do I make them want to work for me? 
How a company treats its employees is important now more than ever. That means “robust healthcare plans, long-term incentives, a 401k—things that show investment in the candidate and their place at the company,” says Scofield. That extends to supplementary benefits that address our increasingly WFH lifestyles, like a home office setup or cell phone reimbursement. Employers also need to think about how they can keep remote employees engaged, especially those of different generations—the Zoom cocktail class might not be everyone’s favorite way to spend their 5 o’clock hour.

Ok, so it’s rough out there! How can small food & beverage/CPG brands compete with more established or better-funded counterparts when it comes to hiring?
Scofield advises smaller companies that may not have the same “buying power” as their larger counterparts to focus on painting a picture that’s exciting and inspiring, and making sure the roadmap to success is clear. “As the company grows, recognize the team’s efforts and try to incentivize and reward accordingly; that can come in the form of a bonus or even an equity program.”

Personal gestures, like sending a gift card to a favorite restaurant, recognizing personal accomplishments or milestones, and even random acts of (virtual) kindness can go a long way to boosting loyalty, particularly when matched by more concrete incentives. “A smaller company can be more agile and personal with their employees,” Scofield points out. “They can be more malleable emotionally, if not financially.”