Who’s to Blame for the Perfect Fit Syndrome ?

An employer trying to hire the perfect candidate is in many ways a good thing. It’s a significant improvement from the days of hiring anyone who could fog a mirror. But has the pendulum gone too far?

The answer is a resounding yes. A perfect candidate does not exist. He never has, he never will. The best any manager could hope for is the candidate who has many of the essential skills and experiences, lots of potential, a willingness to learn and develop continuously, and is engaged with and by the culture. That’s a tall order — a very tall order and one that many managers take to extremes.

The result of falling victim to The Perfect Fit Syndrome is that sometimes these positions are never filled. I’ll admit that might be the extreme case but it’s also not so uncommon.  Many managers place the sole blame on the poor quality of job applicants.

But that’s a cop-out and one excuse that senior management has bought hook, line, and sinker. 

Managers and recruiters point the finger at applicants, and senior management accepts the company’s inability to attract top talent on the hearsay of managers and HR.  I’m here to say that it’s fair game to point the finger right back at senior management.

If raw materials or supplies are in short supply, the COO, plant manager, and general manager are held accountable for developing a strategy to correct the problem — at least that’s how it works in top performing companies. Rarely does senior management just give up, chuck the strategic plan, and contract the business. If they can’t find another source, they re-write the rules and do whatever it takes to divert resources from competitors.

But when it comes to recruitment and staffing, senior management seems to be victimized and blinded by a manager’s spell. Plans to grow are curtailed and revenue goals are lowered because HR can’t find and managers can’t identify enough qualified employees.

Here’s the solution: Senior management must begin holding managers accountable for both filling open positions and retaining top talent.

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  1. If current recruiting and retention strategies aren’t working, it is a manager’s responsibility to develop, present, and sell alternatives and recommendations to senior management. Finger pointing is a skill that many managers have transformed into an art form. As the saying goes, managers should not be able to present problems without offering solutions. It’s a manager’s responsibility to ensure operations are carried out so that strategies are executed effectively. A lack of skilled workers may be a real-world reality but it’s also an over-used excuse for poor management.
  2. Managers must be held accountable for identifying the high-potential candidates and employees and developing them to full potential. It might be HR’s responsibility to source and resource better, but it’s a manager’s responsibility to ensure a new employee is on-boarded, developed, and engaged. Few companies hold managers responsible for guarding their “most important asset” with care. Turning down candidates who are near-perfect or have high potential because a manager doesn’t have a penchant for mentoring and development is unadulterated negligence.
  3. Managers must stop pointing fingers at job applicants and HR. Senior management must stop taking managers and recruiters’ word at face value. For sure, recruiting and managing employees this day is hard. In fact, for some positions in some industries, it is near impossible. Sometimes finding the right employee is akin to finding the needle in the haystack. But it’s time to stop the belly aching. For every media story about companies feeling the effect of skilled workers, there is a success story about how another company fought and won another battle in the war for talent. Since when is “hard work” an acceptable excuse for poor performance, especially when a lack of willingness or inability to do what it takes compromises strategic goals and outcomes?

Admittedly many candidates fall short of even the most basic qualifications. But managers and recruiters can’t just blame job applicants for making the job of finding qualified candidates so hard.

I’m not suggesting in any way, shape, or form that companies lower their standards. Setting a high bar for hiring is the right thing to do. But the height of the bar has to be realistic.

That means that companies must hire employees who have the essential qualifications or potential and then train, mentor, and develop them up to full performance. In other words, managers need to learn to identify the diamonds in the rough and accept responsibility for making them shine.

Managers and HR can’t be blamed for the shortage of skilled workers. But they can be held responsible for finding and implementing ways to deal with it. It’s just unacceptable and even preposterous to see how many companies are compromising growth plans because HR and managers have been afflicted with The Perfect Fit Syndrome.


30 Comments on “Who’s to Blame for the Perfect Fit Syndrome ?

  1. “But that’s a cop-out and one excuse that senior management has bought hook, line, and sinker.”

    Indeed, it’s the safe move. Even though so many hires result in bad experiences, every no-hire is assumed to be 100% the correct decision, when in fact the error rate on no-hires likely matches the error rate on hires. Which would mean, based on the numbers I’ve seen, anywhere from 1 in 10 to 1 in 5 decisions not to hire are wrong.

    “Since when is “hard work” an acceptable excuse for poor performance, especially when a lack of willingness or inability to do what it takes compromises strategic goals and outcomes?”

    In my experience, it becomes an ‘acceptable’ excuse when the solution that needs to be implemented involves changing aspects of the process and environment that upper management don’t see as a problem. For example, when the owner of a company runs around screaming at employees, engages in name calling and personal insults on a daily basis, property destruction by throwing their belongings around and on the floor, and occasional physical assault by grabbing and shaking them, and sees nothing wrong with any of that, what do you do? You can’t fire the owner of the company, and when the poor behavior and strategies are coming from the top, you’re left with few options. And these companies don’t disappear, they persist for many reasons. And someone will end up working there, just as someone will end up recruiting for them.

    The assumption that all no-hire decisions are correct is driven by the same underlying issue that leads to persistent issues like the above: everyone assumes they’re right, that they’re a good manager and that everyone else is the problem, even if the person in question is the source of most of the problems. The further up the management chain you go the more concentrated responsibility is, and the more persistent bad practices become because those people are just as unlikely to question their own methods as anyone else, and less likely to be checked by others.

    And this is where HR and recruiters run into road blocks. The above example may seem extreme to some, but it’s one I’ve encountered more than once in my career. And I know many others who have dealt with such people/situations as well. There are some downright poisonously and even maliciously incompetent people in this world and they don’t simply vanish when it becomes obvious what a persistent source of problems they are.

    The most persistent problem I’ve encountered is that companies set the bar too high without realizing that they’re playing way out of their league, that even seemingly reasonable requests are potentially out of their reach relative to what they’re offering. They all want Roll Royce candidates but most are only offering Kia to Honda prices when you factor in total comp, benefits, work-life balance, management, and opportunity. All buying is an auction with a bidding process, and if the total you’re willing to offer for the labor you need is capped and ain’t that high, you’re simply not going to get the pick of the litter.

    Those companies who are actually offering below average total comp based on such negative issues as outlined above will hit persistent roadblocks with their hiring, and in my estimation are where the majority of problems and complaints arise. Negative treatment can counterbalance even higher than average pay, and if what you’re offering is lower than average pay, lower than average benefits, and standard to poor treatment, your total comp is way lower than you think. Those companies may need to reconsider who they’re actually capable of hiring. Because we all know in reality they’re not going to reconsider their pay and how they treat people, or maybe giving their employees more than two personal days a year, etc.

    There is no such thing as a talent shortage, of that I’m convinced. I’ve never had a situation where I’ve been unable to find someone who fits the bill. I have often been in a situation where the comp offered – money, benefits, management, and opportunity – does not even match what the candidate is currently getting, much less what they’d want to make a switch.

  2. There are two kinds of hires; constrained and non-constrained.

    The former means licensing, specific degrees, and specific documented /graded experience; physicians, airline pilots, architects, pharmacists, etc. The latter means “you know it when you see it” type roles; salespeople, copywriters, business process and project managers, assembly floor workers, etc.

    The former is a closed market and if an organization is not making the hires it needs to, it’s usually pretty simple to point to the market answer; not paying enough, not offering enough perks, bad geography, etc.

    That’s not HR and Recruiting’s fault and there is nothing any one actor is going to do about it, except pay Mr. Market or change plans.

    The latter is a much different story where character/culture and training/development can make a big difference in talent market success or failure. As with many aspects of life and business, one needs to know which kind of situation one is dealing with before making decisions….

    There are two kinds of commenters: the kind who break things into two’s, and everyone else!

  3. @ Ira: “Who’s to Blame for the Perfect Fit Syndrome?”
    As Richard said much more eloquently than I am about to:
    “Hiring managers and their superiors.”



  4. @ David: “…how do we get hiring managers to read this, and grasp that they are their own worst enemy in filling positions?”

    They WON’T read this, and even if they did, most of them won’t think it applies to them, or if they do think it applies to them they’re too busy to really do much…This is the REAL world of recruiting, not some idealized, hypothetical, alternate-universe version of recruiting trotted out by high-level recruiting consultants to well-healed clients. It’s where things are ****** and they stay ******, but we continue on doing the best we can because WE ARE RECRUITERS!



  5. “But the 90-million-unemployed-people-question… how do we get hiring managers to read this, and grasp that they are their own worst enemy in filling positions?”

    You don’t. They’re aware, their individual circumstances all differ, but the common element is they aren’t accountable for the process or often for the hire itself, and until someone above them puts heat on them to get it done, they will continue to approach the process in a half-hearted and entitled manner. That’s why resumes/candidates sit unconsidered for weeks before you get feedback, why interview processes are drawn out and over extended, and ridiculously complex.

  6. It’s a really weird time for recruiting. I’m convinced there is no shortage of talent. And in the “old days” when companies were competing ruthlessly for scarce talent they either 1)paid top dollar or 2) took the most qualified candidate and trained him/her on the missing skills.

    This is a real mystery. I don’t believe we’ve cracked the code yet. If I had to guess the whole thing is a “crock” and companies are staging a smokescreen to hire overseas. Not that I’m a conspiracy theorist . . . .

  7. @Jacques:

    I see several factors contributing to the problem. In full disclosure: I am not a recruiter; I am an underemployed-and-looking engineer with a knack for identifying root-cause issues. If I might address a pet peeve of mine, though: talk about PEOPLE, not “talents”. Using “talent” dehumanizes the fact that people are involved – and is part of the problem; it creates a mentality that people are nothing more than cogs to be spec’ed out and purchased like commodities. (1)

    A. There is a belief among a supermajority of hiring managers that they don’t need to compromise on their list of requirements:


    Quote: “Sixty-seven percent of hiring managers don’t feel like they have to settle for a candidate without the perfect qualifications for the job”

    Why would that be? Because there is a belief that there is an “infinite pool” of people out there, and that all they need to do is wait until Superman arrives. So they wait. And wait. And wait. And when Superman’s not arriving, they blame the candidate pool instead of being a little introspective and asking “What am I asking for, anyway?”

    It’s almost like dating – and I’m not the first person to have drawn that analogy between hiring and dating. Imagine if a single guy (spoken as a guy, albeit married, so I’m familiar with the mentality) said that he would only consider dating a woman of a certain height range, hair length/style/color, eye color, figure and proportions, race, religion, personality, temperament, political orientation, and so on. A “perfect fit” girlfriend. They’ll be waiting a long, long time. Just as there’s no “perfect girlfriend” factory, there is no “perfect candidate” factory. What’s available is what’s available.

    B. There are no consequences for waiting month after quarter after year. In my article which I cited a post back, I proposed some metrics to provide a counterbalancing impetus. It’s safer for a hiring manager to scorn the candidate pool rather than take a risk. Addressing this is a senior-management issue. (2)

    C. Through the mentality of rejecting people who are unemployed, companies are artificially restricting their search. There are 90-million-plus people unemployed in this country. It defies belief that there aren’t people capable of doing the job. (3, 4) It’s not a skills shortage, it’s a willingness-to-train shortage.

    D. The leanness of companies these days is creating chimera positions that are different functionalities smashed together; and that nobody can be prepared for any company’s unique chimera positions from the outside (see point 4 of (5)).

    So the questions that need to be asked – and answered – are:

    1. How can HR people and outside recruiters communicate to hiring managers that their fixation on the “perfect fit” is what is causing them to not find people.

    2. How can HR people and outside recruiters interact with job seeker groups to identify 90%+ fits, proactively identify a training program for those people to become “perfect fits”, and coordinate with the hiring managers to be willing to train people to update their skills?

    3. How can HR people and outside recruiters communicate to senior management that there is no such thing as a “perfect fit”, there is no factory generating them, and that they need to give explicit permission to hiring managers to hire 90% fits, train them, and have a greater forgiveness if people don’t work out… because otherwise hiring managers will continue to put themselves into a position where they’d rather be stuck in analysis paralysis rather than take a chance that might damage their careers?

    Shameless self-citation section:

    (1) http://40pluscareerguru.blogspot.com/2013/10/employers-choose-your-words-carefully.html
    (2) http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/blog/mass-high-tech/2006/10/upper-execs-should-be-asking-where.html?page=all
    (3) http://davidhuntpe.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/where-the-money-is/
    (4) http://davidhuntpe.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/whacking-the-nerve-again/
    (5) http://davidhuntpe.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/the-cost-of-crazybusy/

  8. I doubt it, Jacque. Most companies I’ve worked with and for are dead set against hiring on visas or overseas if it can be avoided. There are costs associated with each that most shy away from. I’m sure some are considering it, especially in the manufacturing area, but the problem persists even in industries where you can’t easily relocate a job overseas. I’m convinced it’s that they want more than they’re willing to pay for, and so are consistently finding their talent coming up short.

    Another component of it is, I think, the culture in which we live. It’s a marketing/BS oriented culture that companies get sucked into where people think what you say matters more than results. It’s PR, not reality. I’ve worked for such a company before, more time was spent discussing my chosen hair style and wardrobe than actual recruiting results. The owners were real big on selling Opportunity! among other buzzwords. That Opportunity! always ended up being a chance to get paid less than market, treated like hell, screamed at constantly, and never promoted. When it came to the reality of opportunity, they weren’t offering it. Most companies don’t.

    A guy or gal who has demonstrated their effectiveness already isn’t looking for a damn ‘opportunity’ to prove themselves anymore. They’ve proven it, once that happens it’s time for the employers to nut up and pay them what they’re worth, not demand they take the ‘opportunity’ to prove themselves over and over and over again. Companies want to sell every job to every person at every level as if it’s an unpaid internship which could lead to Something Big! It’s amateur marketing and sales from people who aren’t qualified to do it, which is why the whole “recruiting is sales!” approach bothers me to no end. There’s too many used car salesmen and not enough genuine needs being satisfied.

    Nor is the issue one of employer branding. It may not be formalized in a lot of places but every employer has two brands. There’s the one they think they have, and then the one they actually have; the one they try and sell people, and the one people find if they talk to current and ex employees and look at ratings on the net. And in my opinion it’s the gap between those two brands that is a major hinderance in hiring. Hiring managers and upper management need to ask themselves a simple question: Why would anyone want to work for us? And they need to come up with honest answers, not BS marketing hype that has no relation to reality. The sad fact is most would come up short with answers that would make a difference, many wouldn’t come up with anything at all to differentiate them as a place to work, and a fair number would actually end up realizing that no one really would or should want to work for them.

    That is the issue that will never be confronted. If no one in your entire company has been promoted in several years, selling that ‘opportunity’ is a lie. If your managers aren’t trained and are highly variable in their competence, there’s little to gain from working with them. If your middle and upper management/ownership still thinks screaming at people and insulting them is an effective management strategy and acceptable behavior, you have nothing to sell candidates. If your salaries/total comp including benefits aren’t at least at 50th percentile for your area, you have nothing to attract even the average candidate. Now, such companies will always exist and if they take the people they can get as opposed to the ones they want but can’t afford, things would go smoother. Or, if they truly do concentrate on offering something to offset the lack of pay etc., then they can compete by trying to find people who put enough value what they do offer to offset what they don’t offer. But, if you take an honest look at your place in the market and you come up short on every measure but still expect to get the best of the best in terms of candidates, then you’re dellusional and could probably use some psychiatric help.

    I’ve known several such owners/companies in the past. Their sense of entitlement in the face of horrible pay and treatment is amazing. And it is this dellusion that I think fuels a lot of these so called shortages. As I’m fond of saying, the average company is average, and half of them are worse than average, simple math tells us that. I don’t see many complaints coming from the EOC crowd of employers, so my guess is those complaining that they can’t find talent fall in the average or below category. Which means they have other issues to deal with.

  9. @ Everybody: Let’s see what we have so far:
    It’s basically Hiring Managers and their superiors fault for having unrealistic expectations. Most of them won’t change, because there are no *major incentives (positive or negative) for them to do so.

    The next question: “NOW, WHAT DO WE DO?”
    1) Whenever possible: avoid such dysfunctional/toxic work environments, and if in one: get out as quickly as quickly as possible. (BIG ******* DUH)
    2) Lets say we’re stuck in one, as I have (and it seems Richard has) been quite often. THEN, WHAT DO WE DO?
    After we have done all that is realistically within our power to improve things as we believe they should be and if that hasn’t worked, I suggest we release our “Inner CEO”- we work to get as much money, training, experience, benies, connections, freebies, swag, etc. as we possibly can properly squeeze out of the ******** until such time as we can do 1), and get the hell out of A******ville.

    If anybody has other alternatives to this besides nobly and stoically drowning in a sea of **** for your employer/client, I’m open to suggestions.

    Keith “Please Pardon My ******* French” Halperin

  10. “Lets say we’re stuck in one, as I have (and it seems Richard has) been quite often.”

    Only one real bad one, but thankfully my direct manager had enough common sense to try and shield his people as much as possible. The other managers there weren’t nearly as strong, and unfortunately even mine eventually gave up, nor could he shield you the higher you went there. The other places I have been haven’t been so violently dysfunctional except with regard to specific people, but have had some major issues. None that rose to abuse level is all.

    As to what to do, I agree. Fix what you can, extract what you can, leave at the first opportunity.

  11. @Keith:

    Here’s A thought for people, especially those in internal HR positions. Start to track things.

    For each position, keep a count of how many resumes are received for each position, how many are passed along to the hiring managers, and so on (as in the metrics I proposed, or other similar ones).

    Then, when you are called onto the carpet for not having positions filled, you can show things like:

    Hey, we posted this job six months ago here, here, here, and here. We got N resumes, of which we passed M resumes on, representing X percent of the resumes we received. Out of M resumes we interviewed on-site U candidates… with no offers being approved.

    Depending on these numbers and percentages, and in comparisons of hiring manager vs. hiring manager, the “perfect fit” syndrome should start to become apparent. An additional wrinkle could be to say “Out of N resumes, we passed along M that met the criteria set out, but… realistically, we received B resumes that *I* think with a class or two could also work based on my knowledge of the position and the business.”

    USE numbers on your OWN INITIATIVE to show how picky people are being, and how that is consting the company. It’d be especially good if a position has been open for a while and then, because of an error, or slip, or something, a customer is lost.

    Senior managers pay attention when customers complain, or go elsewhere. Can you tie that to the fact that relevant departments have positions open for long periods of time?

    When there is a consequence to the bottom line, and you can show the “perfect fit syndrome” is one of the factors, I suspect things WILL get changed a la my piece referenced above as #2.

  12. @ David,

    I’ve done that. Didn’t help. I think it’s useful to measure yourself and get knowledge yourself. But I’ve also learned that it doesn’t help with senior management when they’re incompetent and/or have their minds made up. Example: An IT position I was trying to fill. It was open, it was closed, it was opened, and closed, etc. I had emails backing all this up, tracked dates, etc. Hundreds of applicants, over 70 resumes sent to the hiring manager, no feedback. The position was finally closed with no hire. Several months later the owner of the company put heat on the manager of the HM, the position was magically open again and they both said HR never sent anyone. After being screamed at repeatedly I was sent out of the owner’s office where I promptly gathered all the info and presented it to my manager. Which included a curious habit the HM had of delaying delivery of job descriptions and then dropping them off in hard copy to avoid having an email record of when he actually got off his ass to do it.

    The end result? It was still my fault in the eyes of the owner, and forever on was brought up repeatedly as a mistake I/HR made. You see, his reasoning was we shouldn’t let his directors and managers close positions without asking him first, and updating him on every step, every day, no exceptions. Of course the managers did open and close positions all the time, this particular one lead to a major problem though, so from then on I essentially had to manage his managers for him because he didn’t trust them to be able to handle the work for which they were responsible and paid. These were senior manager and director level people, and I had to micro manage them and report to this guy, whose only mode of communication was screaming at people so loudly you could hear it a city block away and through three concrete slabs. Of course I didn’t do that, because I knew this would blow over. I just kept an eye on positions involving that manager and director. Few other people brought on such problems.

    Later on I learned the director in question was essentially a pet of the owner, someone who he had a lot of trust in and so would not admit or allow for this person to be human and potentially make a mistake every now and then. Nope, it had to be someone else’s fault all the time when it came to this person, or it would be his judgement which was flawed, and that could not be the case. Ever.

    People do not believe in, and are actively averse to measurement. Or, I should say, the average and incompetent are. One of the first things I did when I got to this place in question was to establish metrics for myself. I didn’t share them, but I needed to know where I stood and start making improvements. Eventually I moved them out and made them wider knowledge so I could be judged on performance. Despite continually falling time to hire and better quality of hire, the main point of discussion was my hairstyle, more often than not. I prefer a buzzcut, this did not jibe with the owner’s view of ‘professional’. My hairstyle and wardrobe (generally slacks with a button up shirt) were discussed way more than results. Why? Because the results were there, but I didn’t do things ‘their way,’ and pointed out problems they were causing that made my job much harder than it should have been, like incessant screaming at people and salaries so low my comp consultant couldn’t even put us on the scale. It’s easier to point to extraneous and irrelevant BS when you have nothing else to argue your point.

    The incompetent and the average prefer to avoid measurement because it forces uncomfortable questions. That’s why many employees AND employers hate metrics. If you have to identify an actual result and measures toward achieving it, it’s harder to make excuses for failure, and harder to do things like fire X from IT because “he’s just not the right fit…” Well, what is the right fit? Blank stare, or a list of all the skills X has, and is actually measuring up on in every objective sense.

    If you keep things ephemeral and ill defined, accountability is impossible. In companies dominated by the average and incompetent, that’s fine and dandy, and actively encouraged. In companies run by the incompetent, it forces their hand and exposes many of the things they see as necessary from their employees as irrelevant, and also exposes their management practices as wrong headed or even counter productive and destructive. This, in their view of course, can’t be the case, so it can’t be allowed to happen.

    Those of us who are confident and good at what we do are not afraid of measurement and encourage it, even when we may be coming up short in some areas. If I’m screwing up, I need to know; I know I’m not perfect. However, we are not the majority, or even a significant minority in this world. That is the source of a lot of problems. And measurement, while important I agree, will always be actively fought by people who know they are going to come up short when measured against an objective standard of performance. This is true of employees and managers, all the way up to directors and owners. No one with serious flaws wants someone to quantify them and show them where they actually stand in relation to what they think of themselves.

  13. @ David: When in a toxic/dysfunctional environment, it makes great sense to CYA, and metrics help you do that. At the same time as Richard says, a powerful and arrogant a****** trumps all the metrics and facts you can present.

    @ Richard: It’s important to know/show what you’re doing and being able to quickly present it to others in an easily understandable format. At the same time, I’ve been in situations where I had to spend 20% of my time documenting what I’ve done the other 80%, and have heard of environments (never worked in one, thank my lucky stars) where it was 60-70% documentation/data entry. My rule of thumb: up to 5% of your time doc/d e is OK for you to do. More than that-try and outsource it, and if you get in a place that asks for the 60-70%- outsource yourself outta there REAL FAST!


  14. Usually I find the documentation heavy places have that as the result of lack of tools to use. Documentation should be automatic in most cases. At that job where I related the IT story from, one of the missing tools when I got there was an ATS System. The owner looked at the one I recommended at the time (iCIMS) and said he didn’t see anything in there I couldn’t do with Excel. I guess the fact that 100% of my time would have been data entry if we tried that never occurred to him.

    Such people show their status as incompetent managers when they don’t consider the logistics and opportunity cost of their ‘suggestions’. What seems like a simple operation, like entering a resume into a spreadsheet, becomes a monster of a task when you multiply it out 20,000 times and require continual updates and then audits to make sure mistakes are caught and minimized. I guess he thought it would just magically ‘get done’ without thought or effort.

  15. Bulk of the blame should be on the shoulders of recruiters. I have written job descriptions with clear explanation of the skill set with required skills and good to have skills, only to see the job posting requiring all the skills or so mangled that only the most hopelessly enthusiastic applicant would apply . Going through rejected resumes or rejected applicant’s LinkedIn profiles, I could see time and again, very qualified applicants who were rejected outright, either because the recruiter did not fully read the resume or the words did not match exactly. In many cases great applicants are thwarted by corporate policies requiring a 4-year degree. I have worked with a number of people who did not have degrees (and even some who were entirely self-taught) who could out-code and out-engineer (I’m also an EE) any of the superstars I’ve worked with in 28 years. I have colleagues who are in their 50s, who will not be considered for a job because of ageism (yes, of course it exists!). One wonders why the younger generation has to make all the same mistakes on company time, when they could have an experienced mentor.
    The situation has only worsened in the last couple of years. We now have recruiters from SE Asia who can barely speak English, doing email blasts and cold-calling “possibles”, some with only one matching term on their LinkedIn profile.
    Having used staffing firms, and having seen their job postings ($55/hr all-inclusive), and then billing us $150/hr for the developer, I can only say that the recruiting/staffing process is REALLY and truly broken.
    There is no need for more BSc/BEng/BA H1-B visas to the USA, only for the super-skilled, and give those green cards. We have the skills here to service engineering and IT positions. Just fix the recruiting process!

  16. I agree, Steph, ageism exists. But, putting aside the bias portion, there are reasons for not hiring someone who is over qualified, one being turnover. Sure, a company with an opening for an EE can potentially get a senior engineer, but their budget only allows for an entry level or junior person. So, they hire a senior engineer at the junior salary level and he/she can, of course, do the job no problem, and is happy to be working. However, the company’s fear is that the second a position with pay and responsibility matching that person’s experience shows up, they’re gone and the company is stuck with a vacancy again.

    It kind of like you have a market glut of sports cars but you’re looking for a commuter box like a Honda Fit. You can get the Ferrari at a steal! But then three months later there’s an oil crisis and you’re paying 150 bucks a week just to commute to work and back because the car you bought, though the price was right and it got the job done in the conditions you bought it, is now a bit much for what you really need.

    Also, in my totally unverified and anecdotal experience, older candidates tend not to interview as well, unfortunately. I’ve tried to place quite a few in all the positions I’ve been in, very often they come in and the interview devolves into a gripe session about how hard it is for them to find work when they are obviously qualified, in their opinion, of course.

    If I could offer an advice to older candidates it would be to calm down and ATFQs during the interview, because 20-30 years of experience in X qualifies you to do X, but you may be interviewing for Y and you and your potential employer need to know that, and make sure your experience is applicable.

  17. @ Steph: What level recruiters are you using, and how much are they being paid? While you can get some extremely effective sourcing, candidate/development, and scheduling/coordination resourcres (less than U.S. minimum wage- I often use some of these, an emp;loyer should no more expect to get quality recruiting on the cheap, than to ge en get quality engineering or

  18. @Richard, @Keith: Thank you for the comments.
    I agree older (as I am) candidates sometimes interview particularly badly, as the one who applied for a coding position and then walked out when we put a laptop in front of him (he had expected to oversee coders – somehow…).
    As for recruiting: I don’t recruit anymore as I run a small boutique consultancy. When I need something highly complex done, I use my LinkedIn contacts and contract. I firmly believe this is the way most high tech development (not in academia), will be functioning in a couple of years.

  19. You’re very welcome, Steph. While FINDING all sorts of very good viable candidates continues to get easier (as John Smser has said: “Pretty good sourcing gets better and better.”), GETTING them *remains a realm for recruiters.


    *Unless you’re NOT looking for the “Fab 5%” or other in-demand skill sets, in which case offering a fulltime job w. benefits is usually enough to get very good people.

  20. I agree that’s the way it should go, and certainly around roles like developers there’s a move that way. But, I think too many companies still have the factory mentality of 8 hours a day, clock in, clock out, be on-site, etc. People still think about work in too vague a sense as opposed to product desired, time frame, and quality standards. Likewise candidates very often want a job, as opposed to a project, and all the assumed perks of a job like a consistent salary, benefits, social interaction, chance to advance, etc. I think our society is too mired in that way of thinking to break out of it any time soon.

  21. This is a well conceived and well written article. You are correct Ira, there is no such thing as the “perfect” candidate. That said, there are candidates better suited than others for any particular role. A great hiring/pre-hiring assessment tool can help identify those with a high or even moderate likelihood of success in the role (you start with the highs and progress to the moderates, if need be). All that means is that the candidate possesses the behavioral characteristics identified by the employer of either existing employees who’ve met with success in the role or a “job modeled” employee that should meet with success in the role. Clearly if a wise selection is made up front, it makes the job of managing the new hire easier. However there are pitfalls there too. The manager needs to learn (or have exposure to) an instrument that will help them maximize the effectiveness and output of the hire. Hiring assessments are as much management tools as HR tools. At that point, it becomes about communication. The manager needs to learn to speak to the employee in the language (think manner) the employee needs to hear the communication. This happens by taking a look at both individuals, manager and employee and creating a way for them to best communicate with each other. When a great tool is used, all will benefit.

  22. @Henry I obviously agree about the perfect candidate. I also agree assessments can be helpful. And finally I agree that managers need to learn to use them. Too often they are taken out of context. Job matching, modeling, job fit or whatever we want to call it is complex because humans are complex. One assessment doesn’t cut it. We recommend a battery of assessments – personality, behavior, values, cognitive abilities, and sometimes EQ and skill tests. Often the candidate is a great fit in one aspect (let’s say they have a similar personality to top performers) but their behavioral style is off. They can do the job but he and his co-workers and/or manager will get along like oil and water. Other times they have what it takes but don’t share cultural values. I wrote an earlier piece to this one where I recommend not only looking at all the factors make the fit good but what factors could cause the placement to implode. Here’s the link https://staging.ere.net/2014/02/11/why-good-candidates-fail-beware-the-90-percent-job-fit/. How many times have we hired the highly competent but due to different approaches to work, a toxic communication style, or a cultural conflict, the near-perfect fit candidate didn’t work out. My life and passion is assessment but the very first thing I tell my clients is that they have to be put in context. Employee selection sometimes is like buying a great fitting pair of pants. They look good, they feel good, the price is right but…the 1st time you bend over you blow out the seam or the zipper separates.

  23. @ Richard, Keith, David and all who commented – thanks for the robust, provocative and even somewhat contentious discussion. A lot of passion here. As many have said before me, if you believe it, it might be true. It seems to be that we might all be right…it’s just a matter of timing. But it seems we all agree that recruiting and employee selection won’t be getting any easier (even if we get better) for a long time.

  24. @Ira

    I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been called Henry! It’s not a problem, I’ve been called worse.

    I digress; what you say is true. Even well vetted candidates will fail. My mantra, is hire for behavioral fit, teach the job. By this I mean, provided the candidate has the “smarts” to learn the job skills, those skills can be taught. You can’t teach behavioral characteristics. You either have them, or you don’t. People are bundles of habits, and habits have greater force than reason. Smoking is a perfect example of that. Consider how hard it is to change yourself, and you’ll quickly realize what chance you have of changing someone else. My clients look to behavioral fit first. This does not mean don’t vet the candidate, but if they don’t have the behaviors the employer deems necessary for the role, the rest is academic. Then it’s up to the manager to work his or her magic on that employee.

  25. @Ira and others:

    Ultimately, what is at root here is FEAR. Fear of making a bad hire.

    This is why hiring managers write 17-point MUST HAVE job descriptions, rejecting anyone who has, even, 16 or 18. This is why HR departments are looking at electronic games, and personality assessments, and every new gimmick under the sun to eliminate the risk from something that has inherent risk – the hiring of a new person.

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