If all my clients needed were a list of relevant candidate names for the key position(s) they are trying to fill, they certainly would not need to pay me a fee to provide it. Simply pay a $75K researcher to use Linkedin and the multitude of job boards for active candidates and call them. The issue most often is differentiating the value we bring beyond that commodity that elevates us from other sourcing services.
Just as the most important part of an application system is the specification and test plan, we must spend several hours redefining the resource needs directly related to the business challenge at hand. Most often we illustrate that the profile of the candidate(s) needed and the job description originally used to market the position are remarkably different. We can’t sell a position to a passive candidate that is essentially identical to what they are already doing. The synthesis in this market is defining a growth opportunity, not filling a job.
It is astonishing how many times the ‘grocery list’ get’s published when we not only haven’t decided what we’re cooking for, how we will measure if the guests are to be satisfied, nor even if the ingredients are available within our budget. I get incredulous responses like “Those were the skills that the incumbent had and he/she did a really nice job for us.” My quick retort is why do you think they left, and you want to replace them at the same cost?
The stock market is reaching all time records. 10 days ago ended the longest daily winning streak since 1996. Though down slightly last week, the Dow has sailed up 10.7% in 2013. There is virtually full employment in IT professions and a dwindling talent supply. The sale of existing homes in February was the highest in 3 years. Tuning the hiring process to move technical talent has never been more important.
Last Monday I was conducting a Position Definition Session © for a retained search. This bio/pharmaceutical instrument company is seeking a new Software Manager and had their ‘perfect’ candidate turn down their offer 3 months ago. Being a leader in their lab analysis instrument market, they are seeking to instill some rapid development methodology, structured team and project management, and technology vision for their next generation offering due at the end of the summer. The Director wanted to divest some of his daily responsibilities while adding some technical horsepower.
Following this unique methodology, we define 12 month company goals and objectives with budgeted deadlines, list the company attraction attributes compared to industry and market, and Identify a list of IDEAL attributes for the position; deliverables toward company objectives.
As we were navigating the first few pieces of this 15 step process, some normal and usual conflicts began to surface. We free flow list ‘ideal’ attributes in our Career Step Stool© categories of technology, functional, administrative/management, and human traits. This is what I call assembling the perfect Mr. Potato Head. The visual of creating the open ended wish list in these categories usually is enough to demonstrate that we are creating an inhuman candidate who can fly with eyes in the back of their head.
We then weigh (scale of `1-5) importance of each attribute to the success of position objectives. Later we operationally define the behaviors expected to measure the strength of each attribute. OK, this may sound more complicated than it is, but that’s why it’s important to have all the decision makers in the room for this visual exercise. It forces us all on to the same sheet of music and highlights differences of opinion, emphasis, or importance. The touch points of the candidate to the success of their individual goals must me optimized for the enterprise.
By now Mr. Potato Head is turning into an elephant. Yes, we all agree we’re looking to hire an elephant. As we try to rank the attribute and define what each means. For example, the candidate should have ‘vision’. To one, the candidate is a trunk, to another it is a tail. To a third, it’s a leg with a large circumference. Lastly the hiring Director say’s that the candidate should more likely be a large flat grey wall similar to the white board on which I’m documenting the notes. The operational definition of vision does not describe the elephant’s visual acuity, but ability to bridge emerging technology from the current set, assimilate the customer base predictions of future need into a next generation product set.
As we try to whittle the wish list for its weight of importance to success of the business deliverables, the magic begins to work. You want all these skills for this budget limit? If someone were to have all these skills, what is the professional reason to leave their current job to come here and do very similar work? Are you going to bait them with more compensation without offering them a growth path in the eyes of the bigger market? All other factors remaining the same, more money without the skill increase will reduce their marketability. Recall the candidate who you said was perfect for you, yet turned down your offer 90 days ago? Think as an A-player he didn’t see this same reality? In fact the offer he accepted was on the opposite coast in another industry. That was the growth he sought that you couldn’t offer.
Continuing the attribute ranking, they discussed how they had passed on many candidates who had good strength in 4, but always missing one of the 5 key skills. I suggested that there may be an alternative. That a temporary consultant might infuse one of the skills that can be learned and applied to the entire team. It raised eye brows and sideward glances. Identifying one of the skills that a motivated and proven A-player could grow on would widen the candidate pool, increase competition, and lower the bar on compensation, while reducing the time to fill. That extra compensation not expended to hire the ‘perfect’ candidate could be used for a gunslinger consultant whose directives would be to infuse the team with the optioned skill in a short time frame.
I queried the hiring Director on the attribute the offer turn-down candidate owned that the others lacked. The Director was the evangelist to infuse an Agile development methodology into a company in their same industry with the help of an outside consultant. OK I thought the light bulb might go on here. That candidate had done just as I was suggesting at his current company. He absorbed and implemented Agile with a consultant resource. To this point the hiring Director used the lack of proven Agile methodology in a successful project as a knockout factor. Why not consider an Agile consultant here and maybe even review the candidates in the ‘passed’ pool for a second look?
This began a scurry of discussion about which of the other attributes besides Agile could be substituted; Microsoft development environment, instrument industry, project management, administrative team management, or the ‘vision’ mentioned above. In addition there were hopes for UI, architecture, analysis & testing tools and the ‘motherhood –and-apple-pie’ soft skills of mentoring, written, and verbal presentation skills. Each of the key 5 desired skills remained stubbornly coveted with 3.5-4.5 on a scale of 5 being no compromise.
The position being redefined was posted on a contingency basis about 190 days ago, attracted 125 candidate resumes, and culled to about 5 onsite interviews. The one selected candidate turned down the offer. The desired candidate ‘had everything we wanted.’ That candidate eventually accepted a new job from a competing offer requiring relocation of about 1000 miles and a new industry domain. Does this not suggest that the organization thinks more highly of itself and its perceived needs than the market? The company apparently has not reached a pain point to compromise. In other terms, they are looking for a Ms America who can cook, sing, sew, and manage the household, not realizing they themselves are not that attractive. Their Ms America has many other options.
In this rapidly increasing talent shortage emerging from the worst recession in half a century, with a ballooned national debt, changing how we hire will be imperative. We need to define our business challenges accurately and rank needs vs wants. A talented and experienced recruiter is not in business to find you candidates. They should help you synthesize the available skills to the business challenge while making room for A-candidates to grow professionally. Then not just introduce them, but negotiate the match and assure all parties in the process, gain.
At this point the company has deferred on a retained search. Maybe our Position Definition Session © however pointed to a need to lower the candidate requirements or lower the company goals. We need to measure the pain in not hiring to effectively define measures for the right candidate.
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