I’m just finishing up a week in Australia conducting a series of hiring strategy sessions with 100+ staffing firms and the HR and talent leaders at 20 companies. At the beginning of each meeting I asked attendees to describe their biggest hiring challenges. Here’s the top of the list:

  • Can’t find enough strong talent to fill critical positions
  • Hiring managers are disengaged
  • HR is a bottleneck, not an asset
  • Hiring managers have unreasonable expectations
  • The best people want more money
  • Recruiters can't find passive candidates

Not surprising, this is the exact same list of complaints I heard in New York this past June, Los Angeles in January, last year in London, and two years ago in Amsterdam. Even worse, it’s the same list I heard 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and 35 years ago when I first became a recruiter.

What gives?

Coincidently, I received a call from a reporter for an HR magazine this morning who asked for my opinion about a survey she had just conducted with 600 talent leaders in the U.S. It described the same challenges and complaints listed above. She was dumbfounded and wondered why there has been no progress on the hiring front despite all of the new hiring tools now available. My opinion boiled down to one simple concept: HR leaders are using a flawed talent acquisition strategy. They have designed their hiring processes assuming there’s a surplus of talent and it will not work since a surplus of top talent has never existed and never will.

You can’t use a surplus of talent strategy when a surplus of talent doesn’t exist.

I went on to explain the diagram shown, suggesting that every hiring decision can be categorized into one of the four boxes shown.

  • The HAVE box consists of the skills and experiences supposedly required for job success. This list is used to filter out unqualified candidates based on their resumes. In a surplus of talent situation this might work, but some of the top people would still be excluded since many of the best people have a different mix of skills than those listed. Even if a top person possessed these skills, few are likely to apply given the impersonal nature of the process.
  • The GET box is what the candidate gets on the start date – Day 1: a title, compensation package, company name and location. Candidates and recruiters alike filter each other in or out based on these criteria for the sake of efficiency. This is an example of how companies and candidates make critical hiring and career decisions using superficial information. Few people recognize that all of the factors in the GET box are negotiable once the opportunity is clarified and the person’s true ability is determined.
  • The DO box is the actual job itself, what the person will be doing in Year 1 including the actual work, the people involved, the leadership qualities of the hiring manager and the company culture. This is the primary criteria the best people use to decide to accept or reject an offer. Yet the people the company actually wants to hire never learn about this since they were either filtered out too soon or have never applied.
  • The BECOME box represents the future growth opportunity inherent in the job. This is the second biggest criteria the best people use when comparing opportunities. If this is significant the best people will be more flexible on what they GET on Day 1.

As represented by the graphic, most hiring processes are designed with a left to right perspective. This is a surplus of talent strategy designed to weed out the weak with the expectation that a few strong contenders will remain. This is how applicant tracking systems are designed, job descriptions are written, filtering technology is used, how candidates must apply and how they’re ranked. It won’t work if a surplus of talent doesn’t exist. Despite the obvious, companies insist upon using it.

Think Backwards – Think Talent Scarcity

The solution to minimizing all of the classic hiring problems is to rethink the hiring process backwards – from a talent scarcity perspective. The idea is rather than build processes designed to weed out the weak, it’s far better to design processes to attract the best. This starts by emphasizing what the person will be doing, why it’s important, and what the upside growth opportunity is if the work is done well. Here’s an example of a job posting that demonstrates this type of thinking. While the process takes a little bit longer for each candidate, less time is wasted looking for people who are not there. Before the naysayers begin their naysaying, I urge them to read this white paper from a preeminent U.S. labor attorney and this video describing the two models in more detail.

My view is that HR leaders should be responsible for developing a talent acquisition strategy based on a scarcity of talent model. At the process level, hiring managers should be measured and rewarded based on the long term potential of the people they hire. This simple idea seems a lot better than blaming each other for the lack of results.


Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He's also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. You can continue the conversation on LinkedIn's Essential Guide for Hiring Discussion Group.

Photo: Dreamstime