Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary and author of The Work of Nations, was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal a few days ago about his views on the workforce and talent. I think this quote sums up his attitude and opinion about where competitive advantage comes from:
“The only unique asset that a business has for gaining a sustained competitive advantage over rivals is its workforce?the skills and dedication of its employees. There is no other sustainable competitive advantage in the modern, high-tech, global economy.”
While all recruiters that I know believe this is true and preach the value of defining and hiring the best people, it is hard to get hiring managers and executives to put budget dollars and actions in place to get that talent and keep it.
The first issue many recruiters face is their inability to offer an exciting wage. The talent shortage that many of us feel may be more a factor of non-competitive salaries and poor recruiting techniques than it is of an actual lack of skilled people.
A U.S. Census Bureau report issued last August states: “Nationally, 2005 marked the first year since 1999 in which real median household income showed an annual increase.”
This has been caused by steady, modest inflation and most organizations’ reluctance to raise salaries despite record corporate profits.
This is a fact that has been overlooked by many pundits writing about skill shortages, and recruiters have repeatedly told me that the salaries they can offer are perceived as low or barely adequate by candidates.
Obviously, this makes recruiters’ jobs more difficult. It also limits the desirability of many jobs and locations and makes organizations willing to pay a bit more (i.e., Google) to attract the best candidates.
While we can all see how logical it would be for organizations to raise wages, we know they are most likely not going to increase significantly. Candidates are not going to get easier to find. All indications are that they will continue to be scarce and fickle.
Given this scenario, you need a mind-set and a skill-set that are markedly different from the past. The most logical approach is to begin developing skills that will make you successful and help you overcome frustrations.
Learn to Influence and Sell
Most important and on top of the pyramid of skills is the ability to build a relationship with senior executives and hiring managers and use those relationships to influence and educate. A functional hiring manager or highly focused executive does not understand the talent issues we deal with on a daily basis.
To them, recruiting is running an ad and screening resumes. They assume everyone wants to work for their organization and they assume that the salary levels are adequate.
It is the human resources executive and the recruiter who have to make them understand and take action. Educate your hiring manager on the trends that are making it more difficult to find the best people. Perhaps you can work out a strategy with them to offer a more attractive overall compensation package or work much harder to jointly create a job and a work environment that is highly engaging and attractive to the type of candidate you seek.
It will take a mutual effort to be successful, and it will require creativity and your willingness to use whatever it takes to influence the manager.
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Guide: Practical Tips for Remote Hiring
Know the Market
The competent recruiter is able to tell the hiring manager what the employment market looks like, what the supply of talent for a particular job is likely to be in her area, and how difficult it will be to find and close on candidates.
This knowledge has to be data-driven and can only be collected by vast reading, lots of discussion, the intelligent use of surveys/data tools, and by being aware.
As a part of this, you have to know how big and profitable the market is for the product or service your organization offers. Are competitors laying people off, which might open a fresh source of trained candidates for their firm? Is the market they are in growing, shrinking, or flat? This kind of information, combined with the ability to build relationships, can improve your candidate flow and build your reputation for in-depth knowledge and for being able to create a talent pipeline.
Your market knowledge will allow you and your hiring managers to focus your relationship-building on valuable candidates while spending less time on the commonly available candidates.
Competent recruiters use metrics to put together business arguments for solutions they suggest, for programs they want to initiate, or for the systems they want to buy. They use facts, numbers, and results to get what they want. They have a core set of metrics that show how they have added value, raised quality, improved profits, or saved money. Ideally they show where programs should be expanded and where they should be shrunk or ended.
You need to have the facts at your fingertips. Managers want to know what has worked and what hasn’t. If you are as influential as I hope you will be, you will need to be able to anticipate and answer all questions. If you prepare well, focus your arguments, and have data to back up your claims, you will be far more successful.
We all know that there is a talent shortage and that it will get worse over the next decade. We can show that salaries and generational attitudes are making it more difficult to recruit the best people. Knowing this is only half of an equation.
The other half is learning how to compensate for these issues by changing our skill sets, working harder to help our clients understand, and getting them engaged with us in the hunt.