Hiring Better Talent Begins with a Better Strategy

I recently wrote a post describing why good people underperform. These were the top reasons.

  • The job was poorly defined.
  • The new person didn't mesh with the hiring manager's style.
  • The candidate took the job for short-term convenience reasons.
  • The interview focused on assessing competencies, behaviors and depth of skills that only weakly map to the actualwork required to be done.
  • Being motivated to get a job is not the same as being motivated to do the job.
  • The interviewer was seduced by the candidate's affability and first impression.

At a recent training course for recruiters I asked why they're having trouble finding enough good candidates to present to their hiring managers. Here were their top reasons:

  • We're handling too many requisitions to spend time recruiting passive candidates.
  • The best candidates are passive candidates and they want too much money.
  • Hiring managers are not engaged.
  • Hiring managers eliminate top people who don't want to take lateral transfers.
  • The best people don't want to work for weaker hiring managers.
  • We're not an employer of choice.

Last summer I spoke with 150 high-tech hiring managers who wanted to hire more top software developers. They couldn't because of the following reasons:

  • Our recruiters aren't capable of attracting passive candidates.
  • Our recruiters don't understand our jobs or requirements.
  • We don't pay enough.
  • Our legal, HR and compliance departments restrict what we can do to hire stronger people.

While all of the reasons are valid, collectively they're symptoms of a bigger problem: The companies these people work for have the wrong talent acquisition strategy. As a result they have erected an impenetrable wall precluding them from seeing and hiring the best people. And this incorrect strategy problem can be traced to one single cause: An incorrect assumption about the size of the talent market.

In a talent scarcity situation, when the demand for talent exceeds the supply, you can't design processes assuming there's a surplus. In a surplus of talent situation companies develop processes to weed out the weak. In a talent scarcity strategy the company needs to use processes designed to attract and nurture the best.

A surplus of talent process is fundamentally different than a scarcity of talent one. That's why I advocate a Zero-based Hiring approach for situations involving the need to recruit and hire people who are in high demand. The differences between both strategies is summarized in the graphic. For example, a top technical leader might be open to discuss a possible stretch career move but won't apply or even discuss the same position if it appears to be a lateral transfer. When a company starts off with the wrong strategy, being more efficient or faster doing the wrong things won't help them hire stronger people.

Processes designed based on an assumption that there is a surplus of talent can do no better than maintain the company's current talent level. This is what happens when cost and efficiency combined with poorly defined jobs dominate who's seen and who's hired. This is a very transactional process emphasizing the hiring of active candidates based on their level of skills and compensation needs and who are also willing to take lateral transfers.

In a scarcity of talent situation processes need to be designed to reach out and attract the best people, offering career moves. If the career move is big enough it will often offset the need to pay salary premiums. However, this type of raising the talent bar strategy requires better jobs, more sophisticated recruiters and highly engaged hiring managers. This is a consultative process with the recruiter, hiring manager and candidate involved in a series of "discovery" meetings to clarify the actual job requirements and to determine if the job represents a true career move.

While companies all profess a desire to raise the talent bar they make excuses why it can't be done. These come in the form of legal, compliance and compensation restraints that tie their collective hands. This is hogwash and here's the legal justification from the top labor attorney in the U.S. to prove it. I refer to this excuse-making as HR's Hiring Catch-22.

A few years ago I wrote an article suggesting that leadership can be simply defined as having the right strategy combined with the right execution. Getting this backwards or having the wrong strategy as a starting point winds up as a costly and futile experiment. Unfortunately too many companies are still making the same excuses about talent and getting the same results.

Hiring the better talent begins with a better strategy.

Why "Hack-a-Job" Will Become a New Job Hunting Strategy

…. recognize this fundamental truth: careers are found in the hidden job market, jobs are filled in the public market.

Last year I wrote a post suggesting that there are two job markets - one hidden and one public. I also suggested that the best jobs are in the hidden market and these are the ones usually filled by passive candidates. However, active job seekers can find jobs in the hidden market if they ignore the apply button and enter through the back door. Hacking a job this way will result in a better job. This 2X2 job market and active/passive candidate concept is summarized in the following table.

To obtain better clarity around this dual job market, I’ve been working with a number of talent leaders around the world identifying the trends that represent how they’ll be finding people in the future. The big one: even if you’re perfectly qualified, the best an active job-seeker is likely to get is a lateral transfer. The more important one: there are ways to play the hiring game to win but the savvy job-seeker needs to know the evolving rules. Here’s what you need to know to hack-a-job:

  1. The accelerating use of predictive analytics. Companies are now starting to crunch everything they know about a person to better predict on-the-job-performance. Aside from skills, experiences and assessment tests, companies are looking at your rate of progression, your turnover rate, how you perform on their online games and the recommendations of people in their company you don’t even know you knew. On top of this, imagine your future profile consists of everything online about you, even including the stuff you forgot or didn’t even know existed. This all suggests that becoming a perfect fit will become even harder in the future, but it also suggests what you need to do today to become a perfect fit tomorrow.
  2. More high-tech and less high-touch. As companies hire tens of thousands of new employees each year, personal contact is becoming more transactional and less personal. (It reminds me of when I went to my draft physical as the Vietnam War was heating up.) One problem companies are trying to solve is weeding out the unqualified. This is a big time-waster for everyone, caused largely by job-seekers applying to jobs they’re not qualified to handle. Despite jobs being filled more efficiently, the best a good candidate can expect is a lateral transfer.
  3. Building pipelines of future draft choices for just-in-time hiring. Since 80-85% of the people companies actually do want to hire are not applying to jobs via a job board, companies are accelerating their passive candidate outreach programs. Some activities here include more pervasive employer branding, having their current employees staying more strongly connected to their (best) former co-workers, offering some of their former employees an opportunity to rejoin the company, and targeting “best in class” people and implementing a college-like long-term recruiting effort headed up by hiring managers to build and maintain the relationship. This is networking on steroids and must be at the core of every job-seeker’s efforts.
  4. The replacement of single job postings with job clusters. Think of a hub and spoke as a means to advertise jobs en masse with the hub being the job type and the spokes being the actual job. For example, rather than advertising individual software engineer jobs, it’s better to advertise a group of all related software positions. Then when candidates apply, have the “system” figure out which job is most suited to the applicant. Not only will these “hubs” be easier to find and more descriptive, candidates will more likely “queue-up” to learn about opportunities as they become available. This is actually a great trend and good for both companies and job-seekers alike. Job boards that charge per posting might resist the trend though.
  5. Integration of hiring with performance management and employee engagement. According to the Gallup Group, employee engagement in the U.S. is at a dismal 32%. Part of the reason is that candidates are being force-fitted into jobs with little insight into the actual job content. Using a performance-based job description describing actual job needs, it’s possible to link the hiring and performance management process into one seamless system. This will instantly improve assessment accuracy, quality of hire and employee engagement.

Hiring at scale requires companies to automate their processes to the degree possible, but there comes a point when this becomes counter-productive. This is at the intersection of the hidden and public job markets. It also represents the dividing line between how companies find and recruit active candidates and passive candidates. In the public job market candidates are automatically filtered out or in and put into predefined jobs. In the hidden market passive candidates are identified, wooed and recruited with jobs being adjusted to best fit their needs.

Since you’ll likely find a better job in the hidden job market, I’d suggest all job-seekers spend 80% of their time trying a few of these 15 hack-a-job ideas for getting an interview. Whether you are looking for a job or trying to fill one, recognize this fundamental truth: careers are found in the hidden job market, jobs are filled in the public market.


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.