The Secret to Attracting and Retaining Top Talent

Today's candidates are looking for dynamic career paths.
By: | September 4, 2018 • 4 min read

In previous decades, a clear, linear career path was what many workers across all generations expected from their employers. But today’s workforce is turning that expectation on its head. This shift is especially pronounced among talent newer to the workforce who often seek a level of career independence and a desire to blaze their own unique and personally rewarding career paths.

Employers that fail to support these desires and embrace new approaches to getting work done may pay for their inflexibility. In fact, according to a recent Allegis Group survey of more than 1,000 HR decision-makers:

  • 71 percent believe outdated work practices, unclear career paths, or limited advancements, skills development or mentoring would result in NextGen (millennials and Generation Z) employees leaving their employers.
  • 69 percent find their organizations struggle to provide incentives that most interest NextGens, such as innovation autonomy, executive facetime, mentorships, fast access to promotions, flex scheduling and workplace wellness programs.
  • 62 percent believe issues with attracting and retaining NextGen workers may lead to negative business impact, including slow company growth, limitations on productivity, obstacles to achieving business goals, curbs on innovation and costly hiring cycles.

So while traditional organizations may think they’re providing the ultimate career guidance by laying out “logical and linear” career paths, today’s workforce wants to exert more control over their careers. If organizations aren’t willing to adapt to this new reality, then millennials and Gen Zs in particular—and workers of all ages—are likely to drop out of their organizations.


HR needs to find a way to give NextGens and all workers what they’re seeking in an employer, including non-traditional career paths, insight to invisible opportunities, digital technology that works fast and mentorships to aid retention. Here’s how to do it.

Enable and Support Lateral Moves

Traditional career paths are clear, but they can be limiting. For example, an employee might start as an intern, advance through several positions at multi-year intervals and eventually arrive into management. Should employees desire to move into a different field, such as from engineering to marketing, they would likely have to seek education and job opportunities outside the organization. However, when employers are open to non-traditional career pathing and enable lateral moves, they increase their ability to retain talent while expanding employees’ skill sets, making them even more valuable to the organization.

Tips for a successful process include focusing on employee relationships and company culture. For example, managers must become willing to allow employees to move to new divisions, as well as provide resources that make such moves possible. After all, they may benefit when an employee from a different department has transferrable skills to offer them. Likewise, top executives must demonstrate strong, visible support for lateral moves.

Make Internal Job Opportunities More Visible

Another critical step in meeting the unique needs of today’s top talent is ensuring they are aware of available job opportunities and roles within a company. Often, external candidates have more visibility into job openings than current employees do. To rectify this situation, internal communications systems should be integrated with external job posting systems, an undertaking that requires significant training and technology alignment but is well worth the investment. Also note that while technology will advance visibility, HR professionals can’t depend on technology alone; they must assist their employees in evaluating opportunities to help them make informed decisions about their next career moves.

Use Advanced Data Science to Break the Linear Career Pattern

Next, with so many advances in the talent tech ecosystem, data science can augment how HR professionals help employees progress to the next level. For example, using artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities in conjunction with large data sets can identify multiple career tracks based on employees’ experience. AI can even look at other employees’ career paths to determine options that present each employee with the best possibility for success.

A word of caution: don’t rely on technology exclusively. While AI can be an excellent tool, the information it provides should be used as the basis for a conversation rather than a report that’s merely handed off to an employee. In other words, humanize the results and use them to help talent of every generation visualize a future that meets their personal and professional goals.

Foster Employee Retention with Mentorships

Finally, continue that two-way dialog by implementing a mentorship program, which can enhance employee retention significantly. Research finds that 61 percent of workers in organizations with mentorship programs in place say they benefit from the advice and leadership development they receive.


There are several paths to improve your organization’s mentorship game. First, traditional mentorship pairs a senior-level employee with a junior employee to provide career coaching. On the flip side, a reverse mentorship is where a junior-level employee teaches a senior-level employee new skills, such as how to use certain technologies or social media platforms. Lastly, micro-mentoring connects employees with an expert to help them master a specific skill, enter a new role or solve a particular challenge. Investing in mentorship programs yields dividends for all stakeholders, forging relationships that can lead to career advancement in ways that break free of the linear career path and result in more engaged employees who are likely to remain longer with the organization.

Employers Must Step Up to Remain Relevant

The days of remaining with a single company for one’s entire career are long gone. For today’s workers, and NextGens in particular, so are the days of having a single career. To retain top talent, companies need to embrace and support alternative career paths and commit to a cultural shift. Technology can play a key role, but human interaction in the form of mentoring programs is essential. Although the change will require effort, the outcome is worth it. Feed workers’ hunger for learning new skills and experiences, and you’ll begin to retain the talent you need to stay ahead and gain employees with even more diverse skill sets than ever before, leaving everyone with a solid win.

Tanya Axenson is the global head of human resources at Allegis Group. She began her career as a labor and employment law attorney before holding executive HR positions with Aerotek, an Allegis Group company; Exelon Power; and Constellation Energy Group. Axenson earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School.