Most companies are trying to hire talent based on flawed assumptions. Worse, they're making excuses that perpetuate their errors.


Over the past several years, I've been asking hiring managers, business and HR leaders and recruiters to describe their biggest hiring challenges. I hear a whole litany of woes: not enough good candidates, candidates accepting counter-offers, salaries that aren't competitive, hiring manager who aren't engaged, incompetent recruiters, and qualified hires who nevertheless don't fit the culture.

Then there's that word that should be four letters but isn't: "turnover." The list goes on and on.

While these are all valid and legitimate concerns, most solutions offered are just temporary fixes. The root cause of all of these types of problems is that that the company is using the wrong strategy. From what I've seen there are two fundamental hiring strategies. The default--and improper--strategy is based on the assumption that there is a surplus of very talented people just waiting at the company's doorstep. This assumption leads to a lot of tactical steps that cause the hiring problems noted above. Under this surplus assumption, processes are then designed to weed out the weak with the expectation that a few top people will remain to be hired.

This surplus talent strategy begins by defining and advertising jobs that emphasize a laundry of "must have" requirements. Recruiters are then assigned to select the best of these people who apply and who also fit a narrow compensation range. Worse, these people have to pass these filters before they even learn about the job. This dumb idea is comparable to agreeing to a price for a product before the product is revealed. Of course, if there isn't a surplus of talented people to fill these jobs and endure the demeaning process, the process won't work.

Few talented people are willing to consider jobs that aren't defined, appear at best to be lateral transfers and also have an economic need driving them. Even if a talented person does meet this criteria, it's problematic that once the economic need is met the actual job will offer some intrinsic motivation for the person to excel. This is the primary reason companies hire otherwise strong people who fail to meet expectations.

All of the these problems are avoided with a talent acquisition strategy based on the idea that there's a scarcity of top talent. Under this strategy, every step is designed to attract the best based on career growth, rather than weed out the weak based on their level of skills and experiences. As shown below, this process is far different than the one most companies use today.

The Key Elements of a Scarcity of Talent Strategy

  • An emphasis on career growth and the elimination of skills-based job descriptions for advertising purposes. Here's an example of the a job posting that demonstrates this approach.
  • A slower discovery-based recruiting process vs. the traditional transactional process. Point: It takes extra time for a person who is already fully-employed to fully appreciate what a career change entails.
  • The use of a performance-based interview to ensure job expectations are clearly understood and that the candidate is both competent and motivated to do the work required.
  • Fully-engaged hiring managers and expert recruiters who understand what it takes to attract, screen and hire top people using career growth not compensation max as the primary inducement to change jobs.

This short video describes the two strategies in detail and the specific tactical steps involved. The problem with making the shift is that HR leaders will make a bunch of excuses why these changes can't be made. (In the video I refer to this excuse making as the Staffing Spiral of Doom of Catch-22.) First they'll throw in the legal compliance argument, then the compensation internal equity problem, then the HRIS or ATS systems integration problem, and then the "it's not proven" problem, then "it's not our culture" problem, and if these don't work, they'll use some other myth as an excuse. Of course, everyone of these problems are charades. Thiswhitepaper dispels all the legal excuses and this book the rest of them.

I started this post with the premise that the root cause of most hiring problems is a flawed talent acquisition strategy based on flawed assumptions perpetuated by blinders, myths and excuse making. Bottom line: You can't use a talent acquisition strategy based on the assumption that there is excess supply of top talent when there isn't an excess of top talent.