Saying You Can’t Find Talent Is Like Saying You Can’t Find Anything to Watch on TV

Screen Shot 2013-01-25 at 2.09.21 PMAs a child living in a rural area, I had but three, maybe four channels when the weather cooperated, to watch. Installing cable down our very long lane was not economically sensible, and my father sure wasn’t going to install one of those monstrous satellite dishes in the yard. So we watched network television through the slumping antennae on our roof and ignored the fuzzy lines that appeared on the screen whenever we ran the microwave. Despite my limited viewing capability, I could always find something for my viewing pleasure. Flash forward 25 years and I now have 150+ channels in addition to dozens upon dozens of DVDs from which to choose. Problem is, I can’t find anything I want to watch half the time.

Limit my choices and I can decide on something. Give me too many choices and I constantly search for what has got to be something better out there. The current so-called “talent shortage” mirrors this conundrum. For those not familiar with this idea of a talent shortage, it is born from the fact that 49% of current U.S. employers, according to a study conducted by Manpower, cannot find qualified people for their open positions. When you hear this statistic you perhaps jump to the conclusion that if companies can’t find qualified people, then qualified people must not exist. Hence, a talent shortage must exist.

This is flawed thinking. 

What may actually be occurring is employers keep flipping the channel hoping to find something better to watch. Here’s an example. Peter Cappelli, a professor of management and director of the Center for Human Resources at Wharton, relates a story of hiring ineptitude on this very topic. A staffing department trying to fill a standard engineering position was unable to identify one qualified applicant out of 25,000! Do you really believe not one viable candidate existed out of 25,000?  Another story is of a software developer being denied a position because he didn’t have two years of experience using a simple database tool he could have learned in a couple of hours.

Cappelli points to several reasons for the so-called talent shortage. He suggests:

  1. Employers want candidates to fit their roles perfectly similar to replacing a part in a washing machine … something Cappelli describes as the Home Depot effect.
  2. Qualified candidates are consistently eliminated sight unseen by strict requirements programmed into applicant tracking systems.
  3. The glut of available, skilled, unemployed people have made it easier to hire whoever you want and so less sophistication has been placed on recruiting, selecting, and retaining employees as had been decades earlier.
  4. Companies want superstar employees with low salary requirements.
  5. Companies are less willing to train like in the old days. Why pay to train a candidate only to have them hired away by a competitor who avoids the expense?

The recent Manpower survey corroborates point number four, as 11% of employers reported that applicants were unwilling to work at their offered wages.

I myself as a recruiter have experienced the frustration of placing engineers, one of the positions that Manpower says talent is allegedly scarce. Finding the talent, especially when relocation assistance is offered and I can search through several states or countries, has not been difficult.  Trying to find a candidate that matches at least 20 out of 21 of the necessary and preferred requirements has challenged me more. Even if the candidate matches most of the requirements and is a great fit culturally, the hiring manager shrugs and flips that channel. “Let’s see what else is out there.”

As a recruiter you might wonder, “Why ask me to fill the position if you are content to leave it vacant even when supplied with capable candidates?”

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Cappelli points out that there is a cost with leaving positions vacant, but the cost is difficult to measure. The benefits of not paying a salary however are much more obvious.

This begs the question as to whether employers are really that serious about hiring in the first place. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3.7 million jobs are currently available in the U.S. Though many will be filled in the coming months as new ones open, a core of unfilled vacancies will remain and continue to taunt the unemployed worker.

With so many skilled, college-educated people searching for jobs, do you really believe a talent shortage exists? Would it make sense if I told you that among 25,000 channels I couldn’t find one thing entertaining enough to watch? Sounds pretty far fetched doesn’t it? Perhaps I just don’t really want to watch TV.


photo: Brian Day, for NASA

Ryder Cullison has more than 10 years of experience working with retained search clients as a search professional. As a pioneer of Interview4, he has great knowledge of video interviewing. He writes about all things hiring and looks forward to engaging with his audience on topics of leadership, recruiting, candidate screening, and employee satisfaction. Follow him on Twitter @hireintelligent and @cullison1


27 Comments on “Saying You Can’t Find Talent Is Like Saying You Can’t Find Anything to Watch on TV

  1. Ryder, excellent analogy and analysis. Employers are too often like kids at a “make your own sundae” bar. I’ve seen kids paralyzed trying to choose between the gummy bears and the crushed Oreos. They simply can’t make a decision.

    The ridiculous list of requirements you cite is another disquieting factor in that it facilitates companies eliminating likely qualified candidates and it discourages candidates from applying. I could go on but just let me say that I agree with virtually every point you make in the article and appreciate your sharing it.
    Only the best,

  2. Ronald:
    Thanks for the reply and I enjoyed your sundae bar analogy. My kids have similar problems with that as well as toys. Put a few toys on the shelf and they can always find something to play with. Give them too many and the toys end up crammed in a toy box or scattered around the house with no little boy or girl’s attention.

    A lot of sad candidates are out there and many are feeling probably a lot like they belong on the island of misfit toys because employers won’t play with them if they posses a smudge or even an out of place thread.

  3. Firstly – good analogy. Human beings, I think have a problem with “Choices” – too many choices, is a problem as they are not content with what they have and always looking for more and better. But if given fewer choice they respond better, focus on the problem, find solutions and be creative to achieve the goal. In my experience growing up- I too have ran into much difficulty when faced with multiple choices and regret with selection made.

    As a recruiter, I try to understand the hiring managers problem and give them best three to four choice to decide from- that way they function better as well as get on with the business. Later down the road, they come and say the candidate is good. In conclusion, I would so say choices are good but “too many choices” are not good.

  4. Great article! I wholeheartedly agree with each point. There is definitely not a talent shortage….more like a shortage of common sense and an eye for opportunity.

    There needs to be a shift to looking at what a person “can do” and not what they “can’t do”. Sometimes a little OJT will do the trick but as you mentioned employers seem to be moving away from this. Also, if you want to hire a rock star then be ready to pay a rock star salary or at least a competitive salary. As a recruiter, I’ve been told numerous times “I’m ready to pay whatever it takes” but when it comes time to pull the trigger, it doesn’t happen. Very frustrating.

    The only thing we can continue to do as recruiters is to act as an advisor and help decision makers recognize these areas of opportunity as they arise.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. @ Ryder: Enjoyed your article. Part of your premise is well-documented by researchers like Barry Schwarz ( and Sheena Iyengar (, who basically say that too many choices weakens our ability to make a decision. (However, there are decision/analytics tools which can help with this.)

    Also, why do we operate under the assumption that all positions are theoretically fillible? Some are too low-paid, some have inherent contradictions, some are just asking too many things, etc. It’s our jobs as recruiters to help hiring managers arrive at realistic expectations. I’ve developed a simple to help with this…



  6. Fantastic article! It’s funny to see grown up “professionals” act like our children who are “bored” and “can’t find anything to do.” Truth is, boredom is a choice. There a million things “to do” if people are willing to get up and look. The same is true for hiring managers. As you said, it leaves one wondering if they really want to fill the position or not.

    Perfect fit is not a possibility. Most hiring managers know this. Truth be told, how many of them were “perfect” for the job upon arrival? It’s important for those in the position to hire to realize that maybe what they are looking for is unrealistic and very imperfect. This might help them set reasonable expectations. As the owner of a boutique executive career management and recruiting firm, I have experienced this frustration over and over. I present outstanding candidates that meet most if not all criteria provided, only to have the “bring me more” response. It often leaves me wondering if there is a human being alive who is a “perfect fit.”
    Ken Schmitt

  7. This article was very good because I been out of work for now for one year and two months. I have a lot of great experience in my old profession but because of certain requirements now I can’t get hired. I have decided to get some new training to better market myself. I also feel that there is a lot of great talent people like myself who deserves a chance to prove to these employers that we are good employees.

  8. My brother is a veterinarian.
    He has spent the last few years developing a practice management app that is beginning to catch fire across the world.

    He gets emails from venture capitalists all the time.
    Most of them he hits “delete” on.
    (See how easy that is?)

    He stopped by on Monday and mentioned the latest one to me.
    He said it actually made some sense.
    I said why don’t you call the guy?

    He said, “Well we don’t fit EVERYTHING he wants.”

    Boss me I said, “What does he want? Let me see.”
    He pulled the email up on his phone.”

    Summary of Key Investment Criteria
    Fragmented and growing industries
    Strong leaders that share our goals and values or owners looking to exit the business
    Growing, high-margin service businesses with $2-30M in revenue and $500K-$4M of pre-tax earnings/EBITDA
    Recurring or highly repeating revenues with high levels of customer retention
    No significant customer concentration

    He asked me what the last meant. I said it means no one customer represents a great part of your business thereby threatening the business if the customer leaves.

    He said, “Oh.”

    I said, “What here doesn’t fit you?”

    He said we’re not at $2m – we’re almost there. We will be by mid year, I’m sure.”

    I said, “Are you nuts? Call the guy. Don’t let some packaged “requirements” list stop you. When someone sets out to buy a business they have a “wish-list” a mile long. What they get many times doesn’t fill even half of them!”

    “Okay,” he said grumpily. Maybe I’ll call the guy…”

    I’ll let you all know what happens next.

    My point here in telling the story is that so many opportunities get missed because people pay TOO CLOSE attention to some ill-formed capricious idea that came out of some misanthropic mission of what a perfect world looks like.

    I can understand doctors paying close attention to what is being said. Engineers too – I get that but will somebody please stand up and tell them to throw some mud up on the barn wall.

    SOME of it is bound to stick.

  9. Some of the reasons candidates were declined last year at final interview:
    a) Didn’t like the candidates voice
    b) Candidate had not visited the clients store (even though he lived hundreds of miles away from one)
    c) Didn’t think the cultural background/accent was a culture fit
    d)Candidate wanted 3k more
    e)Candidate too focused on advancement opportunities: not job at hand
    f)Candidate didn’t live within exact close zone
    g)Candidate answered “snow” question wrong: said they would work from home during a snowstorm
    h)Candidate is overqualified
    I)Candidate works for a firm that is failing: they will bring failure to our firm

    You get the picture here……..wouldn’t be so bad if these reasons were identified at first interview instead of last.

    Anyone else got a list of the Top Ridiculous Reasons for Rejecting a candidate?

  10. Excellent article and very apt analogy. I think one of the key things that separates a good recruiter from an excellent recruiter is how consultative they are – most are called Recruitment Consultants but few enact that. A big part of the job is talking to clients and making them aware how realistic their expectations are. I remember working a really tricky role that had been dragging on for three months; I finally found someone great but they decided they would only offer him £3K below his stated salary expectation (which they were aware of at interview). I tried to explain why they were making a mistake (they were desperate for the hire as well) and they were aware of how hard it was to find these people but they stuck to their guns, and lost out on the hire. I had to sit down with them at that stage and have a serious chat about their recruitment strategy – if they agree to see a candidate at a certain salary, they have to honour that. After that chat we were able to work together more productively, but it is difficult to get that kind of relationship with a client.

  11. Ryder–great points! One way for recruiters to get around this in some aspect, is to prove their actual skill. With skilled technical talent in less supply than the demand, recruiters that are armed with validation of the candidate’s actual abilities are going to have an easier time persuading hiring managers to make the call. Objective data will narrow that “sundae bar” mentality. After hiring over 1,000 technical folks in my time at a large global hosting company, the frustration was such that I left to solve this problem and created a company to do that. We are in beta currently, and happy to let anyone from the ERE family try it for free–

  12. @ Andrew- well said. At the same time, ISTM that fewer and fewer clients are looking for “great” consultative recruiters. More and more of them are asking for perky, 20-something, lower-cost, order takers with the title of “Sr. Recruiter” and 2-3 years of agency experience under their belts (or perhaps, my colleagues and I are just getting old….)


  13. Great article Ryder and I too was thinking about kids with toys. I wanted to share that though my clients retain my services and are accustom to my only presenting a couple of candidates, I still have to manage their expectations. With every new search, I ask – “A year from now, when you are completing your new hire’s annual review, what will they need to have done in order for you to say their performance was excellent?” Generally their answer bears little or no resemblance to the internal HR job description. It also serves to focus everyone on the real objectives and the subsequent skills and experiences that are truly needed.

  14. @ Charles & Everybody: Would a carefully-, thoughtfully-, and thoroughly answered “what will they need to have done in order for you to say their performance was excellent” be a realistic alternative to a JD?


  15. @Keith, this is a very realistic approach and one that I’ve used. My variation on Charles’ question is this. I’d ask the managers, “What outcomes or results will you see from the candidate we hire when the job is done completely and correctly?” It really gets them thinking and often produces more concrete job necessities than the safe and ambiguous JD.

    We’ll never get rid of the JD, but we can, and must get the information necessary to effectively source the right candidates.

    There’s my two cents. And hats off to Ryder for sparking such a robust conversation!
    Only the best,

  16. Thanks, Ron. It does make sense to use it, but do you think you can just use it, and not the JD as well? I guess I’m trying to see if I went to a hiring manager and told him/her: “You asked for someone who has done these three things. These four people here have shown on these answered questionnaires they’ve done these things. When do you want to see them?”


  17. 5. Companies are less willing to train like in the old days. Why pay to train a candidate only to have them hired away by a competitor who avoids the expense?

    This has to be one of the worst justifications ever. If you honestly believe that investing in an employee will make them leave your company, you need to take a hard look at your retention and compensation policies.

    Why on earth would I rush off to another company after spending a year learning about the company who trained me? Just to start all over as the “new person”?

    I believe the challenge exists that after all that training the employer refuses to recognize it and provide increased duties, position and compensation. Why did you train a new employee and then leave them with a trainee’s duties and salary? After such treatment, then and only then does the employee look for greener pastures.

  18. @ Ian: “Why on earth would I rush off to another company after spending a year learning about the company who trained me? Just to start all over as the “new person”?”

    Because I could make a lot more money doing so! (An employer might seriously consider a raise/bonus at the successful completion of training, particularly if that wasn’t a general policy.) That’s why if you want to keep people around, you need to treat them well, compensate them decently, and if necessary give the multi-year, guaranteed raise/bonus, no-lay-off-without cause” employment contracts.


    Keith “Loyalty=Cashflow” Halperin

  19. I agree with Regina that so many candidates who have been out of work are facing the snowball effect. They continue getting overlooked and their situation is exacerbated. There’s another article I just read about the unemployement statistics as of January. There are so many options, and I think employers are looking too hard for an exact replacement rather than looking for someone who is willing to learn.

  20. I agree with your article! I can’t take my wife to the Cheesecake factory to eat – the menu is too blooming long and it takes forever for her to order! And then she worries if she ordered the right thing.

    So I get it and agree that too many choices can definitely be bad. But I also wonder how many recruiters submit crapola candidates and just hope something sticks? I have seen this happen over and over and I wonder if Hiring Managers know how to fire their recruiters?

    Out with the bad, in with the good.

  21. I agree with Fred’s comment. There are some horrible recruiters out there and we are often asked to come in behind them to fill positions that “can’t be filled”.

    A good recruiting agency will partner with the hiring manager and will only submit great quality candidates – every single time. A great agency works with their client to define an overall strategy, and keeps them from getting 25,000 candidates to sift through to begin with.

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