I think I have been to every ERE Expo since the dawn of the Internet, but Dave and crew outdid themselves in Florida this year. It was filled with fresh faces, new ideas, and a new take on some lingering problems.
But the big news flash is that even with all of the new tools, hiring top talent is not getting any easier for anybody. In fact, it will be getting harder as the supply of the top-talent labor pool begins to decline as demand increases. Worse, the Internet has profoundly increased workforce mobility, and now everyone is looking. So expect turnover to increase. With this in mind, here is some critical advice:
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- Even if you’re now hiring enough top people, don’t rest on your laurels. With everybody accelerating their sourcing efforts, you’ll have to become more innovative and work harder just to maintain whatever competitive edge you have.
- If you believe you’re making progress but are not quite there yet, you’ll have to intensify your efforts just to stay even.
- If things are getting worse, you must do something massively different ó fast.
Here’s my quick take on some of the important ideas that were presented and discussed both during the Expo and into the wee hours of the morning.
- Anarchy plus bureaucracy yields chaos. While a Lone Ranger model might be appropriate for a third-party recruiter where you can cherry-pick jobs, permitting every recruiter in a corporate environment to do their thing is not a workable or scalable business process. This is akin to anarchy. Making matters worse are hiring managers who all interview differently, and members of the interviewing team who rarely agree on real job needs. This is chaos. Now overlay this with a misguided HR bureaucracy using the wrong controls and meaningless metrics. If this picture resembles your corporate recruiting department, there are only a few options available if you want to get better: civil war, revolution, or dictatorship. Regardless of the path you choose, don’t put a bureaucrat in charge. A dictator may be more appropriate for the short term.
- Recruiting is marketing. Seth Godin’s keynote speech set the tone ó if you want to hire top people, your jobs must stand out from the crowd, they must offer a compelling value proposition, and they must be designed to draw people in, not weed them out. If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, you don’t stand a chance of hiring the top 10% to 15%. So the key is to be different. I guess the real point here is that great sourcing starts with great advertising. If you’re not now seeing enough top people, this could be your problem.
- Are job boards relevant? According to the job boards themselves, the answer is a resounding yes. According to the companies using them, the answer is far less positive. Personally, I like The Ladders. This is a board for $100K+ positions where candidates pay a modest fee to view jobs. This yields a slightly more serious-minded candidate. I’ve used this board, and the candidates tend to be of higher quality. However, the big issue about job boards is that they are relevant only if you post compelling jobs that capture the candidate’s attention. If you post traditional job descriptions that are the same as everyone else’s, you will get average results. There are a host of other things you can do to get your jobs noticed by the right audience, but if your jobs are boring it won’t matter where you post them or who sees them.
- Employee referral programs. I’m in cahoots with Gerry Crispin on this one: employee referral programs implemented properly should meet 30% to 40% of a company’s hiring needs. The done “properly” caveat is critical. This was a hot topic in the group discussion phase of the Expo. Here’s my short list of advice on how to get more out of your employee referral program:
- Get all new hires to give you the names of the best people they worked with at the previous employer. Check out Jobster’s new tool to automate this.
- Have recruiters meet personally with all of your best employees. Then have them get the names of three top people the person has worked with in the past.
- Call these people and get the names of three more top people from each one. (Here’s a networking article on how to do to this.)
- Get personal. Minimize the use of referral emails to get great names; call instead. This past week I received three automated requests for referrals from people I knew. I did not respond to any of them. Yet if these people had personally called me, I would have given each one some names of some great people. Giving up a name is a very personal thing. I don’t think you can make it a commodity.
- Have great jobs to offer. A great referral program needs to start with a great job. Using traditional job descriptions to describe the work is the reason most employee referral programs aren’t as effective as they could be.
- Workforce planning. To me, this is the single-most important topic not discussed. At the group session, not one person signed up to discuss this important topic. Ed Newman and I seemed to be shouting at the empty bleachers on this one. If you don’t know now who you need to hire next quarter and the one after that, all of the above ideas will be far less effective. One small example: you don’t need to implement the type of proactive employee referral described for every position. Instead, target your efforts (i.e., John Sullivan’s “narrowcasting”) to only the critical positions identified in your workforce plan. Everything else is a wasted effort. The workforce plan allows a company to “time share” its scarce recruiting resources this way.
- Building relationships with hiring managers. This is another hot topic not discussed. A VP of staffing from a major company told me that most of his senior and mid-level executives (FYI ó these are your clients) would not work with their corporate recruiters unless they had an account manager approach. He described this as recruiters who had a true understanding of real job needs, those who could confidently engage with the management team and those who had the ability to recruit and advise top-level candidates at every step in the process. This is at odds with the more typical transactional model used by most U.S.-based corporate recruiting departments. Building relationships with hiring managers needs to be a key agenda item for all recruiting managers. It starts by knowing real job needs.
- Diversity hiring. This super hot topic generated the biggest draw at the group discussion. What a number of us found interesting was that most of those attending this session were white and female. From what I’ve seen, the companies that have implemented successful diversity initiatives started with a diverse recruiting team. Consider this if your diversity hiring goals aren’t being met.
- Become a data geek. Trudy Knoepke-Campbell from HealthEast Care Systems presented a convincing case study on how she significantly reduced turnover and improved candidate quality. It started by understanding how to use data effectively. Her turnover (reduced by a third) and hiring manager satisfaction (93%!) graphs were impressive. Interestingly, she said her recruiters were harder to convince than the managers. It could be that Lone Rangers don’t make the best corporate recruiters if your goal is to make hiring a systematic and scalable business process.
- Outsourcing doesn’t work ó or does it? One of the first major companies to outsource its recruiting function, Bank of America, made a presentation on how to insource it. I actually missed this session. But based on what I’ve seen, if a company is outsourcing its most important task, I’d sell the stock.
- Your technology investment is yielding a negative ROI. While not a public session, someone described to me a meeting they had with a number of recruiting managers evaluating their satisfaction with all of the available recruiting technology. First, every tool was listed by name, including every major applicant-tracking system, every major job board, and all of the major tools. The ranking was limited to either a positive, neutral, or negative. In the summary report, not one technology product or tool received a positive ranking, and most had negatives. The moral is that high-tech will not solve your hiring problems without a lot of high touch.
There was more to the Fall 2006 ERE Expo than described above, but these points provide a compelling and scary picture of what’s happening ó and what you need to do to about it. Hiring the best is not easy; it’s getting more difficult; you can’t outsource it; and you must not follow the crowd. My conclusion after these great three ERE Expo days: if you want to make a difference, you need to be different.