Folks might remember the movie “Dead Man Walking.” For those who don’t, this is a term given to a condemned convict walking toward the execution chamber. It is oxymoronic: a person about to die, walking down a hallway. Kind of makes sense. “Dead man walking” is also a very appropriate metaphor for today’s recruiting business. Both internal and external recruiters are shuffling toward the edge of a cliff. Savvy folks suspect something is wrong, but what that is isn’t easy for them to articulate. The profession won’t totally disappear, mind you, but is on the verge of being decimated. You doubt? Read on. I few years ago, I wrote an ERE article about the death of Internet recruiting (Internet Recruiting Is Doomed). Aside from the voluminous slings and arrows hurled my way after it published, most people just thought I just craved attention. That was during the height of the dot-com trend when programmers set their own hours and job qualifications were secondary to having a heartbeat. Recruiting had more of a “find a body” philosophy than a “find a highly skilled employee.” Life has changed, yes? Well, that was only round one. Get ready for round two. Here are some trends to watch:
- ASPs. Web-enabled products and services that provide automation but not thought leadership will stagnate. It is not good enough for ASPs to respond to user requests; they must be one step ahead of their clients. Clients expect this, and even though they may not be able to articulate their needs, they will inevitably wake up one morning and wonder who that stranger is beside them with morning breath and bed head.
- Thought leadership. Thought leadership requires being on the cutting edge of technology. I don’t mean computer technology. I mean human performance technology: identifying job requirements, measuring human skills, and developing skills databases that can be used strategically for career planning, personal development, benchmarking, and succession planning. All this dreck and dross about “human capital management” is mindless HR rhetoric unless it can be identified, used, and managed. It’s like the historic claim of one Detroit automaker: what’s good for us is good for the world. (By the way, that same automaker was substantially trounced by overseas quality and pricing.)
- Globalization. Salaries in the U.S. are driving jobs to locations where there is an abundance of qualified people willing to work for less. CNBC estimated 102,674 jobs moved overseas in 2000, and that 587,592 will have moved by 2005, 1,591,101 by 2010, and 3,320,213 by 2015. Fewer U.S. jobs means fewer placements to make.
- External recruiting. Professional recruiters tend to deliver the same quality candidate as organizational recruiters (about 50/50). Imagine a person who called himself a physician, attorney, musician, athlete, or engineer whose performance was no better than an untrained layperson. What a deal! Professional occupations exist and prosper only when they provide either a superior service or the same service for less. How would you evaluate a service that is often more expensive and delivers the same quality as you could do yourself?
- Online testing. In addition to making it possible to receive hundreds of unsolicited ads for sexual enhancement and prescription drugs (and spawning an entire software industry dedicated to eliminating processed meat byproducts), the Internet has produced an unexpected side effect: almost anyone can find and evaluate job applicants using web-enabled tests. True, users often misunderstand and misuse the tests, but nevertheless, both quality and flaky vendors alike are sucking up business through the web. This is both a threat and opportunity. The overwhelming majority of web-based hiring tests were not designed to predict job performance (imagine that!). Users may be unsophisticated, but they aren’t stupid. They will eventually observe that bogus tests don’t work and that the few good tests in the marketplace are rapidly minimizing the need for recruiter intermediaries.
- Legitimate technology. Even the major HR professional association has abdicated its leadership by either ignoring or undervaluing legitimate hiring technology. This would be the equivalent of every professional sports team in the world deciding to turn its talent scouts into contract administrators. I may be wrong, but when I install hiring systems that reduce turnover by 25%, cut training expense by 25%, and double productivity, it tends to get significantly more management attention than the new dental plan. Is it any wonder why there may never be a seat at the strategic management table for HR?
- Quality technology. There are currently only a few very fast-growing ASPs that deliver a quality recruiting product. These few are heavily staffed by industrial psychologists who know how the ins and outs of identifying and measuring job skills. If you don’t have some of these folks on the line, you might want to know that only about 100 to 200 of them enter the market each year (compared to about 2000 shrinks). Half of these are inexperienced super-trainers, not test developers. Test developers need about five to ten years’ experience to be really good at the craft. The technology labor pool is very thin.
Can you hear me now? The recruiting world is shifting into a new paradigm where the old rules will no longer apply. What to do? Well, here are a few suggestions:
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Guide: Practical Tips for Remote Hiring
- Get in touch with what it means to be a professional. It does not mean doing the same thing a client can do…it means doing it better!
- Develop ways to measure effectiveness other than “X positions filled within Y weeks.” Organizations may say they just want seats to be filled, but regardless of what they say, we all know they really mean “fill my seats with high-performing employees.”
- There will always be niche markets where quality is less important than quantity. But niches are little teeny-tiny cracks that won’t hold many people. If you can find a niche, take it. If you are like the majority of recruiters though, develop a specialty and do it better than anyone else. This could be replacing a few current HR departments or providing high quality contract services (not body shops). Just remember: you may think your job is done when an employee shows up for work, but the client expects the employee to perform.
- Quality ASPs are going to clean the recruiter’s clock. Savvy organizations (especially the large ones) are already starting to send applicants to test sites. It is not the most tightly controlled, nor the most professional route, but it is minimizing the need for a professional intermediary.
- If you are already in the professional contract services market, I call on a lot of clients who use your services. Guess what? EVERYONE I talk to has plans to do their own staffing. Why? Because they think employee quality stinks and believe they can do a much better job for less!
- Overseas recruiters are temporarily reaping the rewards of round two. But I suggest they not spend all their money on big houses and fancy cars. I once worked with a small company that bought a surplus of kerosene heaters just before people became environmentally sensitive. They all thought they were brilliant. After the boom went bust, they are still a small company. Everyone is occasionally at the right place at the right time. Today’s overseas cheap-body boom will end as quickly as it started, and companies that make their money filling positions with this kind of labor should be prepared to meet the same employee quality test as every other professional recruiter.
- Stop reading all the quick-fix stuff. Finding people is hard work and qualifying them is even harder. Fortunately, scientists have been working in the field for over 50 years. If you don’t know much about how to do a better job, either hire someone who can help you or go back to school for a few years to learn how to do it yourself.
Here is a fact that no one can avoid: Organizations can “hire easy” and let job performance sort weak employees out, or they can “hire hard” and let the pre-hiring tools sort them out. One or the other!