It Is Not Hard to Find Qualified Candidates

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 5.11.44 PMCollectively, our recruiting model is broken. It is broken, for the sole reason that that it was built on the foundation of a single lie. The lie: It is difficult to find people.

Think about that for second. Let it sink in.

CEOs and their leadership teams have been funding recruiting efforts based on that lie. Countless companies have risen up to create an industry of services and products to serve recruiters in their mission to find what recruiters claim is hard to find. So much effort, capital, and opportunity wasted because of a lie.

Now there are some of you out there shaking your fist at me, calling me a fool, because you have X number of open positions you cannot fill, and you are a good recruiter, so the only plausible reason that they remain open is because you cannot find someone to fill it.

That is a lie. It could not be further from the truth.

Finding people is easy. That is not your issue. That is not anyone’s issue. However, it is the riddle our industry have been trying to solve for years, when all along the issue has never been finding someone, but has actually always been our ability to actually recruit someone.

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That is exactly what recruiters really mean when they say to their leadership: “We just cannot find anyone for the role.” What they should be saying is “There are great folks out there who could do the job, add value and execute with excellence, but I cannot convince them to come work for us.” There are several reasons why the true statement may be the case, but lack of skilled people is just not one of them. As long as you have a job and at least one person is the right person for it, then it is our job, as recruiters, to recruit that person.

Clearly, almost everything we’ve been doing since “The War For Talent” was declared 17 years ago has been for naught, or we would not be living in the same damn stalemate today. I urge each of you to stop worrying about getting funds for another job board, search tool, or employment branding project, and instead fight to have those dollars allocated to core sales training and interview training for recruiters, or to address institutional issues so that you have the tools to compete for talent (compensation, benefits, relocation, etc.).

We must all commit to stopping the lie that it is hard to find talent and begin to confront the true causal issues we are up against.

Join me at the ERE Expo in September as I demonstrate how Spectrum Health has confronted these issues and transformed to a successful recruiting model based on core skills, metrics, efficiency, and effort alignment.

Jim D'Amico is a globally recognized TA Leader, specializing in building best in class TA functions for global organizations. He is an in demand speaker, author, and mentor, with an intense passion for all things talent acquisition. Jim currently leads Global Talent Acquisition for Celanese, a Fortune 500 Chemical Innovation company based in Dallas, TX, and is a proud Board Member of the Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals.


16 Comments on “It Is Not Hard to Find Qualified Candidates

  1. Thank you for an interesting, thought provoking article. I’ve heard this perspective before but I can’t say that I agree with it in all cases.

    The best way to explain why is to break the recruiting process down in terms of real world activities. So, a recruiter is assigned a very tough job to fill and does his research (or has someone do it for her) and gets together a list of potentially qualified candidates based on all kinds of data points (online info, phone sourcing, referrals, etc.) But, in the case of really tough to fill positions, this list is always limited (I’m thinking of recent work we’ve had in epitaxial engineering, machine learning, and hypersonic propulsion but these days there are a lot of jobs in engineering, technology, and science with very limited potential candidate pools). Let’s say this recruiter comes up with 20 people that on paper are qualified. But when these potential candidates are contacted, none are interested. They don’t want to relocate to where the job is located, or they are really enjoying their current project, etc. Now, in theory, I suppose given an unlimited budget a company could buy one of these candidates. But in the real world budgets are always limited and there are internal equity issues that have to be respected. So the sourcing team keeps doing more research and digs deeper and deeper. Meanwhile, the recruiter keeps on contacting the 20 or so original names and keeps trying to sell the company, the job, the location, and whatever other objections are out there. Maybe a couple candidates agree to do a phone interview or even fly out to meet with the hiring manager. This is a scenario I have seen many times. How does this hypothetical job actually end up getting filled?

    In my experience, the vast majority of the time it’s only when a new candidate is sourced who actually is interested in the job. Depending on the team and resources this might take some time. But eventually someone who is interested is discovered in one way or another. Maybe this someone just had a disagreement with their boss or is frustrated by a lack of career growth or is actively looking to relocate or some other reason but they express at least some interest from the first conversation. Now, I’ll grant you that in some cases the job is filled because one of the original 20 names changes their mind and actually takes the job. But, in my experience, this is a small percentage of the time. There have been MANY times that I’ve had to tell recruiters that reported to me to stop wasting their time with the same set of names and to get out there and source some new names. And just as many times that I’ve had to kick myself in the behind and do the same myself. I’ve always thought that, while the closing process on an offer can be tough and can require significant tradecraft, it shouldn’t be too tough to get a candidate to come in for an interview. So, if a recruiter is spending a huge amount of time and energy trying to talk someone into an interview, they should probably at least consider switching gears and putting more effort into their research and sourcing for the position. This might include paying for additional resources to help to identify some interested candidates. Of course, this is just my experience mainly based on recruiting in highly specialized niches of engineering and science. A lot of organizations will never have the issues I describe. Thanks again, Jim, for a good article.

    Doug Friedman

  2. Doug, thank you for your comment. I certainly hear what you are saying, and can respect that each of us has unique experience, and I can certainly relate to yours. In the past I’ve recruited for such niche roles as paper scientists and scientists with specialized skills in enzyme research. What I have learned is everyone has a lever. Everyone. That’s the competitive advantage I bring an teach to my team. The difference between the good recruiter and the great recruiter is that the great recruiter can find that lever and make the connection with the candidate. Now our employers have to give us the tools to do our job (comp, relocation, etc.), but if they aren’t serious about winning, then we have to ask, why would we want to work for them?

    1. All due respect, that knocks out the entire bottom half of the market, and if you include those companies that are only average as ‘not serious,’ well then the majority of clients just got flushed down the drain. Should we honestly just not work with those companies? Do car manufacturers say, “Screw it, we’re just going to make Ferrari and Lamborgini level cars, because if people aren’t serious about driving why should we make a car for them?” Or, do they simply modify their approach to suit the customer, with lesser materials, craftsmanship, more automation and mass manufacturing, and lower price points?

      The simple truth is, in any group of consumers only a small portion of them wants and can afford the top tier product. As recruiters we have to face the reality of the market and develop approaches and products that work for ALL potential clients to give them ALL a choice, not just the ones who are willing to do anything and everything to get the people they want. And, as a recruiter, if you’re only willing to work for those companies that are really serious about getting top talent, and who pay top dollar, and have great opportunities and potential career paths, I say that is not doing your job. It’s easy to hire when salary and benefits aren’t an issue and everyone knows your brand and wants to work there. It’s a lot harder when you’re working for a company with a bad reputation, or perpetually lower salaries, or where the managers and owners are know for being abusive, or even borderline insane. Making something happen in THAT environment is a true test of talent.

      Why should you want to work for them? Because the majority of the planet works with them, and by working for one of those lower tier companies for a while you learn a lot about what it’s like for the majority of employees out there in the world, how they are treated, how they are paid, the benefits they receive like time off which is getting closer and closer to nothing here in the US. And, you learn how hard it is to drive change even from within an organization.

      1. “It’s a lot harder when you’re working for a company with a bad reputation, or perpetually lower salaries, or where the managers and owners are know for being abusive, or even borderline insane. Making something happen in THAT environment is a true test of talent.”

        Any company that fits this profile should just continue down it’s path and go out of business. Maybe I’m an idealist and will only do work with companies that are respectful and have incredible people, but why help a bad company secure good people (or any people at all for that matter)?

        I’ll certainly work with an incompetent company on their hiring/training practices. However, “abusive managers/owners who are borderline insane” do NOT belong as managers nor owners. I refuse to use my abilities for a company full of jerks. I don’t need THAT test of skills. I like to sleep at night 🙂

        1. “why help a bad company secure good people (or any people at all for that matter)?”

          Several reasons. First and foremost, their money is the same as everyone else’s. Someone is going to work there, someone is going to collect a fee for a placement there. And not all recruiters do their own sales. Often times it just lands on your desk, and then you’re hiring for a company with a 1.7 Glassdoor rating.

          Second, they’re not going out of business. It seems counter intuitive but treating your employees like crap doesn’t guarantee business failure. It can certainly lead to that, but whether a business succeeds or fails is due to a confluence of complex factors. How the employees are treated is only one of them.

          Third, there is the possibility you can change things for the better for the people there. I’ve had that experience, and I take no small amount of pride in the fact that it was at least partially my incessant bitching about terminally low salaries – consistently below 25th percentile – that lead to at least a few departments having their salary scales regularized and raised.

          There will always be companies ahead of the curve, and always be those behind it as well. We can’t all work for Google and let the rest of the world sit around on welfare being supported by the fabulous 5% until one of them burns out or dies and is then replaced from the welfare crowd. Companies will be owned and run by a range of people, from the generous and wonderful to the abusive and horrible. And they will all employ people, and they will all pay people to find them people to employ.

          And to be honest, if you’re really just picking and choosing the jobs you fill from the cream of the crop, how is that a real test of you skills? How is selling only Ferraris to people with tons of cash to throw around and who already want a Ferrari a challenge in any way, shape, or form? I just recently closed a position for a higher up in a company. 100K+ salary, one resume, one interview, an offer that day. That’s nice and I think the guy is going to be super happy at his new spot, but I can’t honestly say it was a challenge. I knew what they wanted, found that, and they gave him asking price, and they’re a great employer to work for by all accounts. I’m glad I could connect them, but challenging? If those kind of fills were all I could put on my resume, I wouldn’t be too impressed with myself. The fact that I spent 5+ years at a company which was very difficult to work for, and made significant improvements in quality of hire and time to fill, as well as influenced policy changes for the better while I was there, I find that far more compelling, and I learned a hell of a lot more doing that than making easy placements.

          As recruiters we have to serve the entire market, and truly develop methods that will provide solid, quality hires to ALL employers, not just the ones everyone already wants to work for. If we can develop methods to do that, then we’re really doing our jobs.

  3. With the exception of truly hard to fill, limited candidate pool positions that Doug pointed out, I more or less agree with the article. I seriously hate the term sales though, I prefer convincing or needs fulfillment, anything really to avoid the word sales and the sleaze associated with it. But, the follow up question is what do you have to sell, and is it truly worth it to most candidates you will come across?

    At a previous position where I was dealing with extremely abusive management, and the company was widely known for that, I would target younger people, usually more junior than the position required, because often the learning opportunity for them would outweigh the negative treatment for at least a while. After a while the comp finally came to market levels after a few years, so at least other aspects of the total comp package started to be on a level with what was being offered elsewhere, it made convincing easier. There are some instances though where, if a company truly isn’t offering anything other than another job, and the comp and benefits are low, and the reputation isn’t there, or is bad, then even for what should be a fairly easy position to fill, you end up in the same boat as Doug mentions.

    This article is on point as far as it goes, and I myself wouldn’t shy away from some sales training to brush up on my convincing skills. But I think a lot of companies face a very real but self imposed candidate shortage, brought on by poor hiring practices, bad reputations, and poor management. “Institutional issues,” are mentioned in the article, but only in passing, when in reality I think that is a major issue at a lot of companies. But generally speaking, a lack of qualified people is not the issue and it is high time that gets addressed. The issue is their interest in the company and the position, your ability to drum that interest up, and then the hiring process they get put into, which often takes qualified AND interested candidates and casts them into the limbo of, “They’re good, but we’d still like to see more people…”

  4. How questions are framed is very important. Skilled people at market rates may be hard to find if market rates are not in line with market forces, which happens all the time for various reasons.

    Jim is exactly right that the question of scarcity is ALWAYS related to the question of price. “Predictive Talent Analytics” (lord help us) will financialize these market forces in doubtless unexpected ways….

    Will recruiters start thinking like bond traders? Jim says the good ones already do….

  5. Well written article. I think that you are 80% correct in that talent is easy
    to find. The remaining 20% is hard to find and they seem to be the talent
    that my internal clients are looking for. That said, I do agree 100% with
    you that we should stop chasing the latest job board, etc.; I think we have
    reached the stage where we are wasting budget dollars on competing solutions designed to attract the same active candidates.

  6. Peter Cappelli from Wharton explores this subject in his recent book _Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs_, subtitled “The Skills Gap and What Companies Can do About it.”

    He contends the ones making placement hard on everybody in the recruiting scene are the very employers themselves. Companies have become extremely picky as he explains. Candidates must know everything about everything, and be a bargain-priced Purple Squirrel. Companies say they want those who are into “lifelong learning,” provided that they learn on every other company’s dime except theirs. (Speaking of 17 years ago, this didn’t happen — you could actually learn on the job and be admired for that.)

    Cappelli states this is having detrimental effects on applicants, existing workers, and the very bottom line of modern employers. So it needs repair, for everyone’s mental and financial sake.

    Meanwhile, in terms of this blog posting’s topic, what’s more challenging to find beyond the “qualified” are the “competent.” When fields change so fast, proving you can actually do the work is what matters — whether or not you’ve done it before.

    In order to get out of this aforementioned stalemate, it’d be great to see more people showcase, pursue and demand instances of actual job competence, from candidates to employers and recruiters too.

    1. I don’t think they’re so much consciously demanding purple squirrels as they are making the safe bet, which is to say, “Maybe, but we’d like to see more people,” up until the vacancy causes a breaking point and they’re forced to make a hire. Making a decision to hire someone is risky, people would rather avoid it. So they use all encompassing job specs to either put someone in the ‘No’ or ‘Maybe’ category because they’ve only got 90% of the laundry list of skills and experience ‘required’ to do the job. Then they happily interview on into infinity and never make a hire.

  7. In the context of this article, it would be fair to mention that Spectrum Health is not only the largest hospital system in Western MI (4x the # of employees than it’s closest competitor) but is by far the largest employer in the western half of the state with more than twice as many employees than the #2 employer.

    For many employers that are “the” employer in small metro areas, the biggest challenge isn’t necessarily finding candidates, as they will most likely find you. If they are not working for you yet, there’s a very good chance that they will take your call, knowing you probably offer the best stability in town or in some instances, the only option in town.

    Recruiters should be aware that your environment may not reflect their environment.

    I’ve had many conversations with Recruiting and HR leaders that refer to a presentation they saw or a book they read. Often these books are success stories from G.E., Google, or Amazon. And often these clients are small or mid-level companies that are trying to compete with Fortune 100 companies for talent. The truth is, Google’s recruiting strategy is not always applicable for a mid-size medical device company.

    I won’t disagree that interviewing and consultative sales skills are valuable for recruiters. I will also say that offering a higher compensation, better benefits, and relocation packages help a great deal but are most likely not determined by the recruiting organization.

    There is no silver bullet or perfect blueprint for a recruiting organization. I’ve built more than a few and every time they look completely different based on the needs of the organization. More often than not, there will be multiple strategies within a single recruiting organization based on the needs of individual functions, locations, or even business heads. There’s a methodology to developing a strong recruiting organization and most of the time, it’s more like, “let’s tweak this here” or “let’s do this better,” rather than, “you’re doing it wrong,” or “you need better recruiters, better comp packages, better benefits, and a better social media brand.”

    There are some best practices however, and if Mr. D’Amico is willing to share his success story, it’s probably worth checking out. I’ve seen his presentations personally and I can attest he knows what he’s talking about.

    1. Good points. I think there’s way too much concentration on what Employers of Choice do with regard to recruiting which isn’t applicable to other companies. My experience mirrors yours, there is no silver bullet. But I would also add there is often a lot of internal baggage and internal barriers to improvement, which are often driven by company culture, but way more often than people are willing to admit are driven directly by management, which in the end determines the company culture. For one, they refuse to hold hiring managers responsible for making hires, and instead tend to always target HR and/or recruiting and never circle around to see if the hiring managers are telling the truth when they claim they haven’t seen qualified people. They also tend to not train anyone, ever, including their internal managers.

      There is no skill gap, there is no shortage of qualified people. It’s the hiring process. It’s broken at most places and few if any people seem inclined to fix it.

  8. Keith,

    Have you read Cappelli’s book, Why Good People Can’t Find Jobs, or something along those lines? I read it this weekend, it’s a good, short read, using some broader statistical measures to basically show that there is no talent shortage. His conclusion is basically employers are too demanding, have job descriptions which are too broad and specific, they offer no training, and in the end are usually too cheap to pay the rate for the person they end up wanting.

    One key point he made which I should have realized myself given my background is that there is no shortage specifically because a shortage is a very specific economic term; you literally can’t find what you need. A shortage is NOT a situation where you can find what you need but don’t want to pay for it. My favorite example from the book is one company in particular who had over 20,000 applications for an engineering position, and they claimed none of them were qualified. Cases like that really put the deficiencies in the hiring process front and center and put the lie to the ‘talent shortage’ and ‘skill gap’ claims.

  9. I completely agree. Time and time again I shake my head on “War for Talent” articles. Everyone says the term but not many actually know what they mean by it. It’s a general statement with no call to action.
    I feel that the Human Capital Management Software arena has blown up with every idea imaginable. Many companies buy in but they have a dysfunctional process to begin with. A system for managing applications or succession of people can only do so much if you don’t have a good foundation and many companies miss this point entirely.

  10. I agree that it’s not hard to find people who meet the qualifications. As a previous corporate recruiter and now a 3rd party recruiter, I have found the true challenge is not actually getting them into the door, it’s finding the magical blend of skills, motivation, and personality that will make a hiring manager want to move forward. I’ve seen qualified people get turned away after interviews and while some of the reasons are valid, e.g. interview question responses, behaviors, communication, etc., some reasons are not as valid. Many hiring managers are looking for “top talent” but they cannot define what that means and therefore decide to pass on people that they actually like because they weren’t “wowed”. Many hiring managers are in constant search of something that may not even exist and often times, they end up hiring someone from the beginning of the search process. It’s only after they have spent countless hours interviewing that they recognize that they didn’t actually know what they wanted in the first place but feel they’d recognize it when they saw it.
    While I understand the “lie” aspect and I definitely agree as it relates to the Human Capital Management Systems available nowadays, I think the fundamental problem with recruiting is the unrealistic expectations and broken recruitment processes. I have worked for companies with middle of the road compensation/benefit packages with decent reputations and I haven’t had any issues. Where the problem is, from my experience, is in a flawed process. That’s a reason, as a recruiter, I may say it’s challenging to hire someone. It’s not that I can’t get them in the door – I can source and recruit qualified people for interviews all day long. However, if I’m just inserting them into a flawed system and/or unrealistic expectations, I can count on the positions staying open for much longer than necessary.

  11. Very thought provoking article and it’s true, there are loads of qualified, good employees looking for work. And many would love to be offered a position, but in many industries, the qualified people cannot get the job for many reasons, but I believe the number one reason is the “Peter Principle”! Good candidates apply and recruiters send good candidates, but they are still being “interviewed” by someone at the company! Many managers, hiring managers, and interviewers have reached positions where they aren’t qualified and they are often intimidated by a really good candidate. I’ve seen it myself multiple times and have had numerous managers in my working career that had no business being a manager. They can send reports in on time and are great at administrative duties (that’s what gets promoted in today’s world), but they have no idea how to train, motivate, or assist a good employee. I recently was in an interview and had calculated the market potential for the open sales area by doing my own research for the numbers. During the interview the manager mentioned the difficulty for finding business and I asked him (very nicely) what the market potential was for the area (thinking he’d have better numbers) and he said, “I have no idea, I’ve never calculated it”. Now, I thought I did a fairly good job in the interview, but 10 minutes after my interview with the manager (plus another one in the interview), I was told I was not moving forward in the process. What self-respecting “manager” doesn’t know the market potential for the territories in their districts?
    There are too many unqualified and intimidated managers that need to be removed for the qualified ones looking for work.

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