Heather K Adams
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With the rise of the freelancer, not to mention the social media influencer, the employment landscape for more traditional companies is becoming increasingly competitive. The hunt for good employees is, of course, timeless. But today, employers have to fight harder than ever to find and keep top talent.

What is the war for talent?

The war for talent is a term coined in the late 1990s, and it refers to the struggle of employers to find and keep quality employees (and do it better than their competition). This isn't just about finding the people who show up on time, every time and do good work. That's more or less drone work and not so difficult to find. The talent part of the term refers to people who are creative, innovative and can help a company grow and level up inside increasingly competitive fields and industries. Think less along the lines of job fairs, and more like headhunting.

Why is it happening?

Just dip your toe into thoughts on, and arguments about, the war for talent and you'll find a glut of theories and "causes." Why? Because while there has always been competition among businesses to attract the best and the brightest employees, today that field of competition is bigger and faster-paced than ever before. Yesterday, you competed with every other business like you in your local area. Today? You're competing with the world.

So much of our lives and our businesses is online today. Which means, first of all, that the need to keep up with the latest trends and technologies starts to feel like a never-ending sprint, and for another, that job hunters have a planet full of options. Finding a way to stand out when you're competing with the rest of the entire world is the first challenge employers face but certainly not the last.

Add to this the fact that the internet is also ushering in a glut of entrepreneurial upstarts working from the comfort of their own kitchen tables. In other words, the competition grows daily, and yet the pool of candidates only seems to shrink. So many businesses, so few employees: this is the essence of the war for talent today. Not to mention the fact that today's job seekers (if they aren't starting their own businesses) are very much concerned with the culture of the companies they're applying to. They value and even prioritize the experience of working somewhere, putting it on the same level as pay and benefits. All of this adds up to a fair amount of pressure for employers.

How can employers attract and retain top talent?

Winning the war for talent seems simple enough: just find, get and keep the best and the brightest. How, though? Well, to attract the best applicants, market yourself as an awesome place to work. Showing that you're competitive in terms of pay, benefits and perks is an excellent place to start. Even better, show that you care about employee happiness and overall job satisfaction and that you want to hire people you can grow with. And then? Back it up. Don't just say you care. Show it. Mean it. Be the business the most talented individuals want to work for.

The best way to do that is to find out what the want and give it to them. Stay on top of trends among job seekers. For example, nobody plans on starting in the mailroom and working their way up through the same company until they retire — not anymore. Today's job seekers plan careers more around opportunities related to their skillsets, and they look for work that can be both personally and professionally fulfilling. Having your finger on the pulse of what these job hunters want the most, especially the brightest among them, already puts you ahead of half of your competition. And if you can stay flexible enough to actually meet these desires? You might just win the war, after all.

The future of talent acquisition.

Social sourcing — using social media to announce openings and to find applicants — isn't just a growing trend in the war for talent. It's on its way to becoming the new cornerstone. People used to read the classifieds in the newspaper. Now they check LinkedIn, Facebook and even Twitter. Super easy for job seekers, but guess what? It's pretty easy for employers too. You're already brand-building and marketing your company, your service and products online anyway, right? What's happening along the way is that you're building a following, a network, which turns into a hiring pool as soon as you post that "Now Hiring" sign.

And so the future of talent acquisition is already here: a virtual network that lets job seekers connect with potential employers (and the other way around) from their cell phones. Jobs are easier to apply to, and candidates are easier to vet before you ever even schedule the first interview

The other side of this is that your business brand and reputation become of crucial importance. That top talent you want is on to you. They can figure out the difference between a company that just talks big and one that actually backs it, up with just a few clicks around the internet. Brand-savvy applicants will seek out the most authentic companies and organizations. Again, it isn't enough to just say something — you also have to back it up.

The last word.

The war for talent is as old as time. Today's job landscape has thrown in a few additional hurdles to clear on the way to attracting, and keeping, the best of the best. The most talented individuals can quite easily launch their own online businesses, cut out a niche in a freelance endeavor or create any number of combinations of income streams with which to support themselves. So, why on earth would they want to work for you?

That's the question you need to be able to answer if you want that top talent — not only answer but build that answer into your brand and market it as a part of your brand story. Because the new battlefield in the war for talent is online, and it's moving at the speed of social media.

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