For many people in HR and the executive row, the current candidate friendly market comes as a shock. Recruitment strategies that worked before do not work now. Ads that drew a modest, but acceptable candidate pool draw nothing now. For many companies, the well has dried up. Those ads that you bought bring recycled resumes. Half the respondents that you contact don’t even call you back. Two recent statistics explain why:
1. For the first time since the Labor Department has been keeping statistics, there are more open jobs than unemployed people.
2. There have been fewer than expected new jobs added to the economy because there are not enough workers to hire.
Many employers are unable to grow because they can’t find people to hire. To those of us whose recruiting experience spans decades, this is not new. It’s a reprise of IT recruiting in the late 1990’s during the dot.com era. That was a time of intense pressure to identify and recruit a staff in a highly competitive market that did not have enough skilled workers. There are lessons from that era that can be applied today. Let’s start with the discussion.
Recruiting is important. Back then, there was software code that needed to be written so that products could be brought to market.
An understaffed department added months to the development cycle and could lead to a late product launch. Right now, an understaffed sales team could send clients to competitors. An understaffed supply chain function could lead to late deliveries. A marketing department that is weak could lead to an imperfect and rushed ad campaign. Recruiting is the key to preventing all of these catastrophes, as it was back in 1999. Here is how important it was then – a manager would be REQUIRED to respond to a resume within 24 hours with no excuses. Unless your team has received a similar message, recruiting is still a secondary function at your firm. When Google was caught recruiting Apple employees, Steve Jobs himself got involved. He didn’t delegate it to a Senior Associate Recruiter in HR. He picked up the phone. Don’t pretend that an unfilled job is a minor annoyance. It’s a symptom of a larger problem within a key function, recruitment, which also happens to be a requirement for growth.
There is no one magic recruiting tool. When resumes are scarce and good candidates need to be sourced, each good resume has great value. Companies that limit their resume pipeline to one source also limit their candidate pool. If you limit your candidate pool, you have fewer candidates to choose from, which means it takes longer to fill jobs and also means you are filling them with lesser quality talent. A weak pipeline also creates a paucity of backup candidates, which sometimes leads to overpaying the one person who appears from your one resume source. There is no magic bullet. Back in the late 1990’s, companies used every tool available to them to increase the candidate flow. You should too.
The job offer is important, but how you extend the offer is also important. If each good resume is of great value, then each hireable candidate is priceless. Open ended timelines for answers are suicide in a market in which candidates can expect a new potential interview every week. If you extend an offer and include an indefinite or extended deadline for a yes/no, you are setting a salary floor for other employers to beat or match your offer. In a candidate friendly market, each offer should be crafted, not just as to content, but in manner of presentation. Who will present the offer? How will it be presented? How long will the person have to decide? These are all questions that need to be discussed to increase the probability of a yes answer and the decrease the probability of a no, or worse, a yes that turns into a no when another suitor appears.
Back in the late 1990’s, many employers tried using their existing employees as a recruitment source. Generous referral bonuses were paid to internal employees when they referred someone who got hired. Those same employers quickly found out this was a bad idea. Why? For many employees, it became more lucrative to chase candidates than it was to actually do their job. I remember one VP saying that he ended the program when one person got more in referral money in a month than his regular pay check and then found out that he was working 7 hours a day on recruiting and one hour on his job. If you want your employees to recruit, make them recruiters. Recruiting is not a part-time side gig like driving an Uber. It is a prime function and should be treated as such.
Software and automation are a tool and not a solution.
There are always vendors trying to sell a tech solution to a people problem. Sometimes it’s a super-duper website for your ads that will drive the one perfect candidate to your door and make them work for you. Sometimes it’s some social media gizmo that will make people from here to Timbuctoo aware of your company brand. Sometimes it’s an automated email system that will send magic messages to pre-screened people to entice them to apply for a job. The reality is that they are clumsy and often do more harm than good. Poorly executed, they can actually make you look bad. I have been the recipient of automated job emails asking me to apply for VP of Engineering jobs at a local company, for example. The only problem is, of course, I am not an engineer and could not do that job. How dumb does that make that company look? Very.
A lot of these programs come with the premise that they contain AI that will allow the software to mine databases to identify and approach only those who are the best fit. That is an alluring concept except for one thing.
It does not work.
The only potential recruitment market that AI driven programs may help is IT/Software. IT is unique in that each skill is a specific skill- a Java programmer is a Java programmer. You either have the skill or don’t.
For the rest of us, assume the AI is looking for a Project Engineer with machinery background. It may miss the Process Engineer with equipment background. It may miss the Area Engineer with plant background. It will miss any of the 100’s of ways that those particular jobs are described, and those skills are explained. Using software to decide who to contact eliminates a large part of your potential candidates. That is a bad thing.
Good news. Help is on the way. The strategy that we developed when I ran one of the nation’s largest IT recruiting firms in 1998 and beyond is also the answer for today. It is elegant and simple. To effectively recruit back then and today here is what you need:
1) People who understand your job requirements and who can develop a narrative that explains those requirements in an attractive way
2) People who can sift through 1,000’s of profiles to identify as many potential candidates as possible.
3) People who can reach out to as many as possible personally, well over 100 contacts, either through email and phone, and accurately and positively with the job narrative.
4) People who can accurately describe to you those candidates from that group who seem appropriate and interested in your job.
What is the common denominator? To paraphrase that old Barbra Streisand song- “people recruited by people are the best candidates in the world.”
I’ve never believed recruiting should be a sales job, but it is definitely a people job. Hire the best recruiting people, either internally or externally, to immediately improve your recruitment process.
Thanks for getting this far and, if your firm is interested in working with a dedicated team of people who are interested in finding the best talent for your firm, please contact me to discuss a working relationship.
As Ever – Jeff