Executives and managers might want to take a moment to look around the office and make sure employees are engaged, challenged and appropriately rewarded. Right now, the internal talent pool might just be a lot stronger than the one on the outside. Those entering the workforce are about to find it harder to get in to many of the companies on whose doors they knock\u2014at least if they're trying to get hired at large companies.MORE ABOUT HIRING\nFinding Talent In-House\n\nRecruiting IT Workers to Out-of-the-Way Places\n \nThe talent pool just isn't what it used to be, at least in the eyes of those doing the hiring. In a global survey of 200 senior executives and managers, NFI Research found that 64 percent see today's available talent pool today as weak. Nearly a quarter say it is significantly so. The majority also say that they will seek fewer entry-level hires overall during the next year. \n\nConsider this survey respondent's plight: "We have trouble finding qualified individuals for positions at all levels. I recently posted an intermediate accounting position. Of the 11 applicants, the one candidate who met the minimum requirements wanted to work from home four days a week." This manager rewrote the job description. "After removing 25 percent of the responsibilities, I reposted the vacancy at an entry level and received two applicants," the manager recounts. "The individual we hired has a six-month probationary period. It's been less than three months, but for the first time in 25 years, I am considering not certifying the person." \n\nReports another survey respondent: "Due to the highly competitive nature of the business environment, hiring fully trained and skilled talent is critical; the days of developing and training new hires is not a luxury we can afford." Yet another finds a lack of qualified midlevel talent. Help Wanted at Small Companies\nThere is some hidden good news, however. Although large companies are paring down, hiring at small firms is on the increase. According to another NFI Research survey, more small companies expect to be hiring. This second survey found that 60 percent of small companies plan to increase their headcount next year, but only 32 percent of large organizations (those with 10,000 or more employees) plan to staff up. In a third of large companies, overall headcount will decrease, with significant cuts at almost 10 percent of those surveyed. \n\nThis means that if you're looking for a job next year, you may find opportunity in small companies. In addition, slightly more executives and managers at small companies than at large ones say the talent pool is strong, offering job seekers even more hope for employment in small organizations. \n\nGrowth is the main reason small companies are hiring. "Over the last eight years our company has doubled in size every two years," says one executive. "I expect it to continue for at least the next three years." Likewise, for those businesses that expect overall headcount to decrease, the top reason cited is downsizing. \n\n"With our focus on the bottom line, there are many initiatives under way to reduce our operating costs," says a survey respondent from a large company. "Inevitably, this includes reductions in staffing complement, which leads to a reduction in our hiring numbers." Dealing With Hiring Headaches\n\nTo deal with the quality of the current talent pool and coming headcount situations, business leaders should be focused on taking care of the current staff. \n\n"Here in Vancouver, B.C., the talent pool is in such high demand that the biggest challenge is keeping people engaged to keep them on board," says one manager. \n\nAnd since our past research indicates that four-fifths of executives and managers already find it more difficult to hire rather than retain employees, it seems obvious the focus should be on retention. \n \n \nChuck Martin is a best-selling business author whose latest book is SMARTS (Are We Hardwired for Success?) (AMACOM\/American Management Association). He lectures around the world and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.