Last week I met with more than 450 recruiters and talent leaders in Milwaukee, Portland and Chicago. Two weeks earlier I met with 400 recruiters and talent leaders in San Francisco. And last month, in Amsterdam, I met with a group of recruiters from Europe, Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, India and Bangladesh. With each group I asked them to describe their current hiring challenges. While the accents were different they all pretty much said the same thing.

Here were their top two challenges:

Not seeing enough quality candidates. While the reasons varied a bit they covered the range of the best people wanting too much money, the best people not being interested in taking lateral transfers, their companies weren’t attractive enough, their job postings were boring, they have too many unqualified people applying and the best people aren’t responding to their emails.

Hiring managers are the problem, not the solution. Here’s the summarized list of hiring manager caused challenges: they over-specify job requirements, they’re not great at interviewing for anything other than technical skills but they all think they're perfect interviewers, they want to see too many candidates, they’re afraid to make a yes decision, too many overvalue first impressions, many senior managers overvalue their intuition, the interviewing team rarely agrees and they often hire the best presenter, not the best performer.

The simplest solution for the hiring manager related problems is to not let them hire anyone until they’ve proven they can do it properly.

Recruiters and talent leaders are also at fault here since they are reluctant to fight back with a better solution.

But the underlying fault is that most companies are using the wrong talent acquisition strategy that relies too much on people applying and not enough on proactively identifying the best people and recruiting them.

Following is the short summary of the advice I offered to address all of the challenges. (I’m hosting a webcast next week on this same topic if you’d like to attend.)

The Root Cause of Most Hiring Problems is the Wrong Strategy

When figuring out the best solution to any hiring challenge, I always start by asking if there’s a surplus of great talent or a scarcity. Surplus means there are plenty of good people available. Scarcity means the demand for the best people is greater than the supply. For the challenges mentioned, everyone agreed there was a scarcity.

I then went robotic and repeated my oft-repeated mantra:

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

This idea is covered in depth in this YouTube “Staffing Spiral of Doom Catch-22” video I prepared with LinkedIn a few years ago. As I see it, most companies use a surplus of talent strategy by default that’s built into their ATS that emphasizes posting jobs and being more efficient weeding out the weaker candidates with the hope that a person magically appears.

In a talent scarcity situation you need to proactively attract the best people and then convince them your opening represents a true career move. This collectively requires a great job, a strong recruiter and a fully-engaged hiring manager who knows how to attract, recruit and hire great people.

To Hire a Great Person You Need a Great Job

Few recruiters, and far fewer hiring managers, appreciate the recruiting effort required to attract and hire top tier people who are not looking to change jobs. Over the past 40 years I’ve been asking top performers, all fully-employed at the time, why they switched jobs.

Here’s what I discovered:

The career opportunity offered was clearly superior to their current situation. I suggest a 30% non-monetary increase as a starting point for determining this. As shown in the graph this 30% is the sum of a bigger job, more satisfying work, more important work and faster growth.

The best people want to work for someone who is a great manager, a strong judge of talent and a mentor. As pointed out by Gallup long ago the first step in being a great manager is clarifying expectations upfront. Judging talent properly starts by digging into the candidate’s most comparable accomplishment to determine competency, fit and motivation with these expectations.

A recruiter needs to orchestrate the entire process. One way recruiters can intervene and help the hiring manager understand real job needs (and more accurately assess candidates) is to convert the critical skills and competencies into measurable performance objectives. For example, for strong communication skills the outcome might be, “Make monthly presentations to the board of advisors on project status.” This adds objectivity to an important but hard-to-measure requirement.

The offer must combine a fair compensation package in the short term with significantly more upside growth potential in the long term. Few companies can afford budget busting compensation packages. Proving the 30% Solution is a great way to make this case.

In my opinion, if hiring managers haven’t demonstrated the ability to hire top tier talent they shouldn’t be allowed to make the decision without help. Every Performance-based Hiring trained recruiter I’ve met can provide this help, but this is a one search at-a-time solution. It becomes scalable when companies shift to a scarcity of talent strategy and mindset that emphasizes attracting the best talent based on how these people make career decisions.