Hiring in today's extremely tight labor market requires creativity. Companies are offering new benefits, focusing on those who aren't looking for work, emphasizing diversity and rewarding their own employees for helping bring in new workers.

One lesson is clear: Recruiting the way companies have done in the past no longer works when businesses are competing for and seemingly swapping the same talent, according to Tracy Bruckschen, director of talent acquisition at Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America.

"How do you differentiate yourself as an employer of choice to recruit passive talent into your organization? The keys are going to be successful networking, creative sourcing and doing some creative things such as enhanced employee-referral bonuses for hard-to-fill or key roles," Bruckschen said.

Allianz Life has added a dedicated "sourcer" role that focuses on finding diverse hires, Bruckschen said. It has enhanced mental health and family-planning benefits. And it has instituted increased referral bonuses.

"Every employee in the organization should be constantly recruiting," Bruckschen said.

Stressful events of the last two years — from a global pandemic and a racial reckoning to remote working and disrupted schedules — have changed what employees want. While many seek a more flexible schedule with at least some time out of the office, few workers want a job with no "face time," said John Kammeyer-Mueller, an industrial relations professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.

"They want a mix of the two, and employers seem to be adapting to that," Kammeyer-Mueller said. "They're working to provide that kind of flexibility because that's the only way they're able to hold onto people."

Doherty, the Employment Experts, a three-time Top Workplace, has doubled referral bonuses in recent years, added an on-demand virtual-fitness application for employees, and begun helping workers pay down student loan principal, according to CEO Valerie Doherty.

"Benefits are just as important as paychecks in the employee attraction strategy today," Doherty said in an e-mail interview.

Companies the staffing and recruiting firm works with are raising pay to compete for employees, Doherty said. They're also speeding up the application and onboarding processes and reducing the number of interviews before offering jobs, and minimizing paperwork needed to start.

At Ovative Group, a digital-first marketing agency, investments in the company's "doing the right thing" culture, employee development, and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion typically help land new hires, said Erin Aberg, vice president of talent services.

The "Champions of Change" program at Ovative offers employees opportunities to increase their social impact through cultural-awareness education, skills-based volunteering and providing pro bono services to nonprofit organizations. The Champions program also raises funds to award a $10,000 scholarship to a student from the nonprofit BrandLab, which aims to diversify the marketing and advertising industries.

"We're committed to continuously focusing on our team and what our team needs and then trying things out," Aberg said. "If something's resonating and people like it and it's meaningful to them then we keep it going."

All things related to inclusion and belonging are getting some traction with job candidates, said Jim Link, chief human resources officer at the Society for Human Resource Management.

"Employees are looking for organizations where they can identify a piece of themselves in that organization," Link said. "If a company can talk about what it's doing for the good of society or how it's aiding in the development of people who are underprivileged or in need or who can get help from the company, that's extremely attractive to a newer generation of workers."