Mixed Messages, New Skills

We hear all sorts of conflicting messages these days. For example, we hear that virtual recruiting works best, but then we learn that people are really seeking personal contact and want old fashioned face-to-face contact. We are told that our candidates are members of social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook, and then we find out that many of our best candidates are not part of any social network. We hear that young people want freedom and flexibility and, in our interviews with new graduates, we hear them say they want stability and guidance.

What these mixed messages mean is that we are entering a new century and dealing with deep changes in the nature of business, work, and recruiting. The simple formulas and beliefs of last year are no longer applicable. A door has opened and let out the comforts and habits of the 20th century. Many of us now miss its familiarity and the rules that gave us a sense of security and certainty.

Indeed, our profession has changed fundamentally, although we are just beginning to see and understand those changes. The habits and skills we developed in a slower moving, more certain 20th century no longer work so well. Our cheese has been moved, as the eponymous book says, and we miss the familiar world of paper resumes, face-to-face recruiting, ringing telephones, cold calls, and classified ads. Technology and the Internet feel unfamiliar and foreign.

But, here are a few of the many things we have to look forward to:

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  • Personalization of the recruiting process. Today, every candidate is treated pretty much the same. Recruiters call that being fair, but I call it a lack of customer service and concern. A survey recently completed by McKinsey of global CEOs shows that the majority believe that their consumers will have a greater impact and influence on the way they manage their organizations than their employees or other stakeholders. This is a big change from five years ago when the same survey indicated that employees would have the biggest impact.

    Candidates are our equivalent of consumers and they are driving the changes. We are all individuals and want our uniqueness to be understood and evaluated. Retailers and product manufacturers understand this and provide hundreds of variations on products to meet our individual needs.

    We will need to use technology to communicate with candidates better and more frequently and at a deeper level than we do now. We will have to tailor jobs to meet candidates’ qualifications rather than to keep looking for the “right” person for our standardized job profile. The whole matching process will become more dynamic and offer the candidate more choices. Interactive Web 2.0 technologies will continue to emerge and become a core part of the candidate experience.

  • Development integrated with recruiting. When the supply of skilled and ready people is exhausted, which it already is in some professions and soon will be in many others, we will have to look at developing people internally or hiring people without the skills we need and training them. Sutter Health, a major heath care provider in Northern California, decided that it was more cost effective in the long run to train nurses than to continue investing so much in recruiting them. Other organizations, in other fields, have followed this lead.

    It will be more and more common to see the integration of recruiting, development, and retention into one function that some are calling “talent management.” This will greatly improve the decisions that are made every day as to whom to hire or develop and can help control costs and more effectively deal with the talent shortages we face. But, it will also mean that recruiters will have to expand their reach and become more strategic and capable in many other areas.

  • Selling and marketing as important skills for recruiters. A vital ability for recruiters to have will be determining an organization’s employee value proposition or, in other words, being able to explain to a candidate why the organization is better than another. The candidate pool is going to get smaller for some professions and filled with more and more unqualified candidates in others. Overall, the candidate pools will be savvier, smarter, and more discriminating, just as the consumer pool has become.

    The Internet has opened information channels and raised awareness to much higher levels than in the past. The burden on recruiters to explain corporate strategy and decisions will mean that you have to know more and probe more deeply yourself.

    Candidates will seek out firms with good reputations and financial track records, just as they are already doing. That is why lists such as the “100 Best Companies to Work For” are so popular. Candidates are literally shopping for jobs and not, for the most part, taking whatever comes along.

What makes all of this difficult is that every candidate, recruiter, and organization is at a different stage in the process of change. This creates uncertainty, anger, and frustration, and results in many mixed messages.

It is always comforting to hear that things are not really changing and that soon we will all be back reading resumes on paper and talking to candidates on the telephone. But, the long-term reality is that progress never moves backwards and that it’s best for us to adopt an experimental and forward-looking view of things.

The entire recruiting profession will look different, be run differently, use different tools, and be based on different assumptions than it was in the 20th century. And that’s good because we will need all the new tools and practices we can get for the new problems of talent shortages, rising free agency, smaller firms, and rapid change.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.


9 Comments on “Mixed Messages, New Skills

  1. Kevin,

    Excellent article! There truly are too many conflicting messages, frequently sponsored by ‘new technologies’ that are proving more and more to not be all that they are billed to be.

    I particularly liked your comment: ‘We are told that our candidates are members of social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook, and then we find out that many of our best candidates are not part of any social network.’

    While interviewing people, if I find they are extremely active on many of these tyes of sites (and new ones keep popping up), it sort of tells me that they are not working.

    The social networking sites are definitely good for someone who is unemployed and looking for a job, but a true ‘A’ candidate or senior executive is way too busy to be spending lots of time on social networking sites. Their jobs are too demanding to permit time to stay ‘active’ on these types of sites.

    Keep up the good work!

    Ted Daywalt

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  2. I think Kevin’s perspective is extremely timely. It validates the concept to develop relationships with each candidate and then customize the recruitment strategy to match up with the candidates needs. Our company’s campus relations department has added new technology services to our recruitment function for connecting with new grads in the highly competitive recruiting world for Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists and Speech Pathologists. We’ve started a blog and are piloting a text messaging product. These are merely tools to enable us to reach out to more students, not replace the traditional recruiting strategy. I would be interested to hear from other organizations that are using text messaging to reach candidates.

  3. I completely agree with your comments relative to talent development. As long as recruiting is looked at as a ‘connect the dots’ activity where we match the requirements on the job description with the experience on the resume we’re going to miss out on a lot of good TALENT. I often use the analogy of a classical pianist. Say you were writing a job description for a pianist and the requirements called out that s/he be able to play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I could find lots of mediocre pianists that can play this piece, but I may miss out on the virtuoso whose repetoire does not include this piece, but could be added to it in a matter of days. I believe that as long as we let narrowly written skills and experience portions of job descriptions dictate who we talk to we are going to miss out on lots of virtuosos.

    That said, your other comment relative to recruiting being a sales activity is spot on. That’s why as a third party recruiter I’m talking to candidates everyday whose resumes initially don’t fill the exact requirements I’m looking for. By talking to lots of people I try and match the candidate to the client’s culture, hiring managers style and position’s talent and skill set requirements. The more I know about all the parties the easier it is for me to sell them to each other.

  4. I correspond with only two individuals using text messaging on my cell phone:

    1. My son

    2. A 21 year old college trainee who works for us from another state as a sourcing specialist (*she uses online as well as telephone methodologies)

    I recently needed a SQL programmer for one of our own web sites. I emailed our intern, who forwarded the job ad to about 20 in her address book.

    Next thing you know is I received two qualified leads and hired one person to do the programming.

    All done site unseen from one text message that was duplicated and re-forwarded to a few dozen professors and friends at her college.

  5. Ted Daywalt of VetJobs posted a note saying, in part, that candidates who have time to be active on social networking sites aren’t working and aren’t of interest to him. Although I have a tremendous amount of respect for Ted and the work he does, I couldn’t disagree with him more on this point.

    I suspect that Ted was thinking about the typical Baby Boomer or Gen X candidate when he was writing his post. But 95 percent (that’s the actual number) of college students and recent graduates are active users of Facebook. As these candidates progress through their careers, they will continue to be active users of social networking sites because those sites are as much a part of their lives as is TV for Gen X’ers. Even the busiest of Gen X’ers watches TV and the same holds true for Gen Y’ers: even the busiest of them uses social networking sites.

    People, we can think that sites like LinkedIn and Facebook aren’t making a difference or aren’t important to the candidates that we serve and therefore us or we can understand that we have reached a tipping point in how this new generation interacts with each other. This isn’t about play anymore than using the telephone is about play. This is about their basic connections with each other.

    They don’t email each other or even instant message each other nearly as much as they did even a year ago. Now if you want to connect with a friend, you’re going to log into Facebook and email or instant message through Facebook. The reasons are numerous, but one is that Facebook emails are hardly ever spams as they’re easily traceable and take a bit of effort to send. Gen Y has figured out how deal with email overload, even if us ‘oldies’ haven’t and maybe never will.

    Either embrace this new and often better way of communicating or confine yourself to only serving a dwindling number of Boomers and X’ers.

  6. After reading my initial post, I thought it would raise some ire and Steven Rothberg of CollegeRecruiter.com correctly stepped up to the plate to ping me. So let me be a bit more explicit in my comments.

    I find what Kevin said – ?We are told that our candidates are members of social networks such as Linkedin and Facebook, and then we find out that many of our best candidates are not part of any social network. – is very true. And I think it stems from the fact that the best candidates are too busy working. For the same reason that recruiters find it hard to contact the best ?A? candidates during the work day ? they are busy working.

    My son is an active user of these sites and he got me interested in them since it is definitely one of the technologies being embraced seriously by GenY and Millenials (and to some extent Gen X). I think the new social networking technology is very helpful and if one is to stay current with what is happening in the job market, they are a necessity.

    The sites are fabulous for people out of work that are trying to network to find new positions (or for those who want to leave their current employer for a new position, check out the reputation of a company, etc) and for finding some types of candidates as Frank Risalvato of IRES very aptly demonstrated.

    The networking sites are also great if you want to stay in contact with friends from school, past work places, military, churches, clubs, political groups, interest groups, etc. All seem have their own internet social networking sites today. To the point that maybe there are too many.

    Steven, I think what I am trying to express is that there are some drawbacks to the networking sites. Nearly every day, I get multiple requests to ‘join’ a network from Linkedin, a Yahoo group, a school group, religious group, political group, etc. As a general rule, I do not respond unless I know the person. But responding takes time. And it seems that new ‘social networks’ are popping up all the time (especially in this political season), not just the mainstays like Linkedin and Facebook, but all sorts of Yahoo groups, ERE groups, etc. If one joined them all, it would be very, very time consuming, which is why I generally do not post items as I am busy actually working. I like to review posts and pick up trends, but I also have to run a 7×24 business as do you.

    Here is my major concern. Since I have originally joined Linkedin (which lead to my being contacted by other social networking groups), I have noticed that my information has been used primarily to try and sell me things. I find that a bit disturbing. Time management is important to me. It disturbs me as to how the information I have originally put on Linkedin has been used. But I think that just comes with the territory, sort of like pop-up ads on various web sites.

    I totally agree with you that networking sites are a new and often better way of communicating, just as the many IM programs were new and in some cases better ways than email. But with the way I am being inundated by sales calls and my info being used by other networking sites to send me ?invitations?, I almost wished I had not put any info on Linkedin. It would have saved me a lot of time.



  7. I totally agree with Ted’s feelings that we’re all being overwhelmed by the number of ‘friends’ and social networking sites and the demands that each of those put onto our valuable time. I’ve gotten into the habit of ignoring virtually all friend requests. Once every week or two, I’ll go to LinkedIn, Plaxo Pulse, etc. and approve the friend requests all at once. I’ve also turned off my email notifications from these sites for all but the most urgent items.

  8. Along the line of new skills… I just thought I would add–you can either carry the ‘cross’ (totem pole) from the bottom, or you can carry it from the top. I went into an outside sales position when all my training came from inside. I cannot do both because my framework—the distance from my right hand to my left hand could not span the anchor to the tip. In otherwords the skills used in one position were sort of lost in the other–although retrievable, by reviewing and re-studying the prior.

  9. Interesting article Kevin, you’re one of my heroes. My thanks to you and those who posted some thoughtful comments on the subject. A quick review of articles this year and it’s easy to spot mixed messages about the ‘new skills’ which aren’t really skills at all, rather methods, tools and technology.

    My friend Nik Palmer at AIRS made a comment that ‘in 5 years the recruiter’s job will be unrecognizable’ and when I think about all the changes in the last five yrs, that remark is likely to prove true.

    One thing won’t ever change, and that’s recruiting is a contact sport. You comments about the marketing/sales skills are 100% correct; regardless of the tools, methods, media, and god only knows what technology lies ahead, it will come down to identifying the best prospects, positioning your company (branding), and selling them the job.

    Sylvia Dahlby
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