Three New Assumptions for the Internet Age Recruiter

It is clearer every day that our recruiting methods are based on yesterday’s needs. But for recruiters who want to succeed in today?s marketplace, it?s important to leave behind the outdated practices of the Industrial Age, and to start embracing the challenges of recruiting in the Internet Age. Let?s briefly review how the world used to work. The industrial economies of yesteryear needed large numbers of people with basic skills (even the three “Rs” were seldom required), and not much more except a good work ethic. Most workers were interchangeable, much like the machine parts they made and installed. The industrial economy also leveraged two trends that provided an abundance of people for the system. The first of these trends was the movement of farm workers to factories in order to earn more money. The second was the influx of immigrants from Europe who were willing to work long hours toiling in factories. Because there were so many available people, companies acted as if there would always be more workers than needed, and the whole process of recruiting was a process of elimination. Interview for the best, weed out the not so good, and hire only those that stood out. You might even say it used to be a matter of how to ?select? out. The fact that there was an abundance of people with interchangeable skills led to the assumption that people are a cost, and that we should always seek out the cheapest person for any given position. This in turn led to the establishment of job titles and standard job descriptions. These were good practices, after all, if jobs were similar and people could be quickly trained to do a variety of jobs as long as they had basic skills. But, with the advent of the information age (or the Internet age or whatever we want to call this time we live in), the time has come when we need to reassess these assumptions and ideas. If you are going to be a successful 21st century recruiter, you are going to have to adopt these three new beliefs and throw away those industrial age concepts:

  1. Jobs are increasingly unique. The people needed to fill a specific position often need to have a blend of skills, experience, and motivation that is specific to that position. Rather than hiring a generic marketing manager, for example, a recruiter might now be asked to find a person who has a marketing background in some particular area, who has a degree in some specialized area, and who has written for some specific publications. So running the usual generic searches on the Internet or making the same resume searches recruiters have used for years, you now need to be much more precise. This requires that the recruiter understand the jobs in great detail and be able to identify what is unique about them. This leads to the need for more unique pay packages and very specific benefits. Some of this is beginning to be reflected in menu-driven benefit plans and in the more popular use of performance-based bonuses to reward people for their unique contribution.
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  3. There is and will continue to be a shortage of skilled workers. The population of America is not growing rapidly and in fact is barely at replacement if you subtract immigration. Of course, many skilled workers WILL immigrate and alleviate the shortage to some degree, but it will be a constant battle to find good people for the rest of this decade and beyond. The number of young people completing college has been flat for a decade and will remain that way for sometime. Everyone who will work for you has already been born, and the recent baby boom will not help us in our working lifetimes. Lifestyles have changed dramatically, too. Many are choosing to work for themselves or to spend short periods of time employed and other periods traveling or doing volunteer work. Our industrial age work ethic is almost gone and has been replaced with a belief in flexibility, self-responsibility, and freedom to move around and between jobs frequently. This means that recruiters have to be able to identify people who are ready to move and help them do it. They have to develop relationship-recruiting methods, getting to know candidates personally and maintaining those relationships over long periods of time. The net fishing techniques of the past will not work for much longer.
  4. All people are investors, not assets. The word “asset” carries the idea of ownership and the ability to depreciate and sell. None of these are appropriate to apply to people. I believe that all employees are choosing to invest their skills and time in your company in return for some return on their investment (ROI). Whenever the return drops below a certain level, people start looking for another position or begin contemplating a career move. Firms have to develop recruiting strategies that are focused on enticing investors to work for them. They need to outline the return and quantify what the employee will get in return for their labor. The older firms that had retirement programs and generous benefits and a “no layoff” policy were doing just this. They made it clear that for loyalty and commitment, the firm would provide these benefits. As the 1980s eroded these, employee loyalty also eroded. Recruiters have a responsibility to educate management about this investor mentality, as all successful recruiting will be built on it. These three simple ideas, along with the death of the industrial age assumptions, give us the foundation for today’s successful recruiting.

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, 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


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