With the news that the global and U.S. economies were showing signs of slowing down, A&D firms as a precaution dialed back their hiring plans in the latter part of 2019.

In recent weeks, with reports of sustained solid job growth, resiliency in the stock market, and high levels of consumer spending, firms are feeling more optimistic about their prospects for 2020. Once again, hiring plans are back on the table.

Recently, in my firm, we’ve experienced a surge in calls from firms wanting to initiate recruitment searches. Heartened by the positive economic news, they are looking to staff up now to get out in front of what they anticipate will be increased business down the line.

But while the economic outlook is somewhat rosier, the industry’s employment situation has not fundamentally changed. Finding candidates with suitable skills and levels of experience continues to be a challenge. We are advising our clients to begin recruiting as soon as possible and to expect searches to take longer than usual.

In order to attract and compete for top talent, firms will need to be more aggressive in their recruiting and willing to adapt to employees’ expectations. Compensation is a critical area for negotiation. Low unemployment and years of wage stagnation are putting pressure on firms to substantially increase compensation.

The American Institute of Architects reports that in a recent survey of A&D firms regarding their biggest business concerns for the coming year, offering competitive compensation for qualified applicants and current staff increased significantly from the previous year, with 13% identifying it as a top concern for 2020, versus 5% for 2019.

Along with competitive salaries, signing bonuses and other financial incentives, firms should offer as many benefits as possible. As employees have different needs depending on their individual circumstances, ideally this should take the form of a menu of benefits employees can choose from.

In addition to basics like medical, dental and vision insurance, sick leave and vacation and/or paid personal leave time, the menu might include retirement plans and planning, assistance with student debt and financial planning, reimbursement for professional development and certification or licensing expenses, and subsidies for fitness and wellness programs as well as for use of public transportation where available.

More and more employees are gravitating toward companies that demonstrate a commitment to supporting their workers. That includes helping them cope with highly demanding jobs and acknowledging the responsibilities they have outside the workplace. Being flexible with work schedules, allowing time off when needed to attend to personal matters, and/or offering options for telecommuting or occasional working offsite will make your firm more attractive to candidates and help you retain the employees you have.

Of course, hiring is not a one-way street. The more you have invested in bringing a new hire on board, the more you have to lose if that employee does not work out. When it comes to recruiting, my motto is “hire slowly, fire quickly.”

Don’t rush into a hire in the hope of quickly filling a void. The financial and employee morale repercussions of a bad hire far outweigh getting someone behind a desk a week or two earlier. If at all possible, I suggest considering a trial run to give both the candidate and your firm a chance to see if the fit is right before entering into a full-time hire.

One final note. Ghosting has become a huge problem, with candidates not showing up for interviews or new hires not showing up for work. Having put so much effort and expense into recruiting and hiring, put an equal amount into onboarding the new hire properly to make them feel welcome and give them the confidence that you want them to succeed at their job. Value them and they will value you.