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Recruiters often say “you are who you hire,” but the real trick is turning jobs data into a useful source of competitive intelligence. Real-time jobs data can offer important insight into other companies—or for that matter, your own company.

The job openings a company posts are a leading indicator of its needs and its priorities. If a company starts staffing up around a certain role or skill set, that’s an early signal of what their larger strategy or initiative might be. A firm that starts hiring inside sales staffers may have had a rush of turnover, or it may be ramping up a new strategy.

In this article we’re going to consider the hiring patterns of two companies – let’s call them Company A and Company B – that are both in the HCM software space. Each of them have different hiring priorities that suggest a lot about how the firms operate and what their strategy might be.

According to the above chart, Company A shows a strong emphasis on sales and customer success in its hiring: The top occupations are account executives, sales representatives, and business development sales managers, with a significant number of customer service representatives. Nearly 50% of their roles are for Sales and Business Development, while software developers and engineers are only the fourth-largest hiring group. That is a large contingent, but overall this suggests the company is focused primarily on selling its existing products and tending to customers.

On the other side of the spectrum, Company B’s largest number of hires are for software developers and engineers, business/management analysts, network engineers and architects, and software QA engineers. The technical focus here is at least as dominant as sales was in Company A.

According to both hiring patterns, Company A has a sales-first strategy, meaning they plan to spend their time and resources focusing on their current customers and attaining new ones. Meanwhile, Company B’s focus is on advancing their products. Company A’s sales-first strategy can potentially impact their performance and ability to compete in the changing marketplace if they neglect to focus attention on improving their products as well.

The different strategies are also evident when you drill down into the skills the two companies demand for a particular job title: software developer/engineer.

If you look closer at Company A, based on the skills involved, software developers look a lot like IT project managers. There is a heavy emphasis on project management, backend skills, widely used programming languages like SQL and Java—and, perhaps in keeping with overall hiring patterns, an expectation of customer service skills.

At Company B, there is an emphasis on product development, software engineering, and Object Oriented Analysis and Design. There is a lot of focus on newer programming languages as well.

By using labor market data, organizations can analyze and adjust their workforce strategy based on their current hiring patterns, the skill demands of the market and the competitive landscape for talent. These insights can uncover whether or not they are building a competitive workforce and pipeline of talent for the future. If not, then they have the data they need to begin shifting their strategy to where they need to be.

So what can we tell about these companies? Company A is strongly focused on pleasing existing customers and bringing in new clients, which is rarely a mistake. But it’s less clear whether developing new products are a priority. Based on their hiring strategy, it looks like they are working to maintain their company standards. This could be considered “playing it safe,” but in order to stay ahead of competition, they’ll need to focus on their product development just as much as their business development.

Company B, by contrast, is clearly working to develop new products. The question is whether the company has the sales force it needs to exploit any technological edge it might have. Whether or not their products surpass their competition’s won’t matter if they don’t have the right amount of staff to explain this to potential customers.

Using real-time labor data to analyze your company’s workforce profile—its “talent shape”—is a useful exercise both in evaluating your own go to market strategies as well as monitoring your competitors. Accessing this real-time data allows you to ask questions such as: Does my hiring truly line up with my corporate strategy? How does it match up to my competitors? Or is it driven by “the way things have always been done?”

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