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Always Open ‘Evergreen Jobs’ Can Improve Your Chances of Recruiting Top Talent

by Jun 30, 2014, 12:22 am ET

treesAs the war for talent continues, it’s time for recruiting leaders and hiring managers to shift to more creative and innovative recruiting solutions. A bold approach that I have been recommending since 1999 is the creation of “evergreen jobs.”

Simply put, these are the one or two most critical corporate jobs where you literally continuously search and hire every more-than-qualified applicant who fits the culture in order to ensure that you always have enough talent in these critical positions.

The term evergreen comes from the fact that the jobs are always open, just as an evergreen tree is always green. Now it might initially seem crazy to hire when you don’t have an open job, but the approach has proven to be quite effective. Imagine if you were an NBA basketball team and LeBron James suddenly became available. Would you hire him immediately, even if you didn’t have an open job or requisition? Of course you would. That’s the concept behind evergreen jobs. Evergreen programs frequently cover jobs with high turnover, including nursing, retail (i.e. REI), and call centers. But they work even better in high-impact mission-critical jobs at growing tech firms with large campuses. 

An Evergreen Job Program continually sources top talent in a mission-critical job. But rather than stopping when you create a pipeline of reserve talent, it continuously “over hires” each of the “more-than-qualified” applicants, in order to create a talent surplus in this critical job.

The Top 10 Reasons Why the Evergreen Job Approach Is So Impactful

Unique and creative recruiting solutions are unfortunately quite unusual in the corporate world. And in the rare case when one is introduced, it invariably receives an abundance of criticism and resistance. So please before you at least mentally think “I could never do that,” consider the fact that this evergreen job approach has many advantages and benefits that in fact far outweigh any potential costs and problems. The top 10 benefits include:

  • Sometimes top talent loses out to a superstar – in the case when an open critical job is filled with an exceptional candidate, the individual finalists behind the superstar are summarily rejected. The evergreen job program is designed to capture these more-than-qualified individuals who would’ve been hired without hesitation but for their bad luck (I call it the luck-of-the-draw situation) that this time they had to compete with an exceptional candidate. The evergreen program is designed to immediately hire this top talent that is so good that it simply won’t be available when the next job opening comes around.
  • You won’t miss out on “silver medalists” – in the many cases where an exceptional candidate is not in the running for a single open job, the next candidate (the silver medalist) and maybe even the one after that (the bronze medalist) are often more than qualified. The No. 2 and No. 3 finalists all exceed the qualifications, they fit the organization, and they would definitely accept an offer. We know that they are also hirable because if the first candidate rejects our offer, we will then almost automatically make an offer to the second, and if they say no, perhaps make the offer to the third most desirable candidate. So it makes business sense in critical jobs to make offers to all of the top more-than-qualified finalists in order to capture this top talent before they decide to go to other firms.
  • Continuously searching allows you to avoid “coincidence hiring” — most corporate hiring can be accurately described as coincidence hiring because there has to be a lucky coincidence that a top employed individual is available during the same time that you have a job opening that fits them. Rather than relying on this coincidence to occur, a superior recruiting approach is to continuously search for top talent in these critical positions and then hire top talent whenever they enter the job market. By creating a position exclusively for them (or by giving them a short-term assignment until a position opens up) you can successfully capture this suddenly available top talent that will clearly go elsewhere if you don’t have a job opening during the short time frame that this top talent is in the job market.
  • Some high-volume high-impact jobs always have a shortage of talent – everyone complains about talent shortages, but corporations seldom enjoy the opportunities associated with talent surpluses. Almost all corporations have at least one high employee-count critical job that always seems to be suffering from a shortage of talent. Because these jobs are critical, even a temporary shortage of talent negatively impacts your company’s performance. The evergreen approach can create that surplus through continuous hiring in that job. And if you are worried about having too many critically skilled employees, consider this response provided by one executive when he was asked by HR, “what will we do if we end up with a surplus of talent?” His response was right to the point: “We will simply start new businesses or projects that have been on the back burner for too long.” I you should ever reach a point where you have “too much talent,” you can easily suspend the evergreen job for a time until the surplus diminishes. It is also a good idea to plot the time periods during the year when there are continuous openings and when the most talent is available, so that you know precisely when to activate your evergreen jobs.
  • You will have a surplus and your competitors will have a shortage – sometimes you hire in order to negatively impact your competitors. In basketball for example, teams often “over hire” all of the top available talent at the critical position of center. Teams hire them all because … what team can have too many seven-foot centers? But they also over-hire in order to prevent the competitor teams from having the equivalent talent in this key position. Unfortunately, few corporate recruiting leaders act like recruiting is an us-against-them competition. If they did, they would realize that in the corporate world if you capture a disproportionate percentage of the available talent in a critical skill area, you obviously increase your firm’s capabilities. But simultaneously, you also purposely reduced the capabilities of your competitors because there is little available quality talent remaining in the market for them hire.
  • Some high-volume jobs always have upcoming openings – in many high-volume critical jobs, new openings occur on a regular basis. As a result, after making your selection for currently open jobs, it’s a mistake to reject the remaining “more-than-qualified” candidates because a new opening will likely occur in a matter of days. So under the evergreen program, rather than telling these “almost-hired” candidates to reapply or to wait, you hire them now and bring them on board because you know that they can be assigned to a new position shortly when it opens.
  • Having a surplus of talent provides time for onboarding and training – many corporations hire before the need in order to provide sufficient time to get a new hire up to speed so that they are actually ready to perform on the day you actually need them. The evergreen program will certainly hire some individuals before you need them, but there is no need for these new hires to idly stand around. Instead, this idle time can be used quite effectively for longer and more impactful onboarding and for any needed off- and on-the-job training (i.e. a rotation working in various departments and projects till a hiring manager has a need).
  • You will save recruiting time and money – because you hired the single top finalist and closed the requisition, before you can hire any of the still-desirable finalists, you are forced to go through the expense of opening a new requisition, of posting a new job, and going through new interviews. However under the evergreen program, by hiring all of the more-than-qualified candidates, under the current open requisition you can save a great deal of manager time and recruiting money. You may also increase candidate satisfaction because these finalists will not have to go through a duplicate set of interviews when the same position reopens in a short time.
  • Hiring manager satisfaction will improve – because more hires are made under each single requisition, hiring managers will have to devote less overall time to hiring. This coupled with the fact that they finally have a surplus, rather than a shortage. of talent in this key job will likely result in a significant increase in manager satisfaction with the overall hiring process.
  • Adding hiring speed may make the evergreen program even more effective – because the uniquely skilled individuals who fit evergreen jobs are in high demand, they are only in the job market for a short period of time. So by offering evergreen jobs an expedited hiring process that hires top talent in days (rather than weeks and months) the program will end up hiring an even higher percentage of exceptional talent.

Making the Business Case for an Evergreen Jobs Program

The evergreen job approach has the highest impact when companies are in growth mode and the market for top talent is tight. If your organization is in this situation, you will need to make the business case to executives about the power and the impact of the evergreen job approach. The most effective business case quantifies the negative dollar impact on revenue that having a shortage of talent in mission-critical jobs has. But it also demonstrates the positive value of the new opportunities that are created when you have a surplus of talent in any high-impact job.

Incidentally my research indicates that the cost of almost continuous position vacancies in a critical job is at least two times greater than the possible negative costs resulting from having “too much talent.” The final element of the business case should involve calculating and quantifying the increased “quality of hire” (the improvement in on-the-job performance) that results from hires under the Evergreen program.

Final Thoughts

As the economy improves and skill shortages increase, both recruiting leaders and hiring managers are increasingly on the lookout for new and innovative recruiting programs. The evergreen hiring program is certainly not new, but because of its many advantages, it does deserve a second look. I have tried to highlight each of its many advantages, but it’s hard to overestimate the value of its single most important advantage — finally provide a “talent surplus” in the mission-critical jobs whenever a manager wants it.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • http://plus.google.com/+LarryEngel?rel=author LarryEngel

    Some great take-aways from this article, John. I totally agree with your comment, “You may also increase candidate satisfaction because these finalists will not have to go through a duplicate set of interviews when the same position reopens in a short time.” This is excellent for time and expense of the recruiter and the company, as well as the candidates’ experience.

  • Charlie Allenson

    I have to disagree with your premise. While it might be great for the employer, it seems to also instill a high sense of insecurity among employees not knowing when it’s their turn to be replaced by someone you feel is more qualified. Not a very conducive atmosphere for attracting a loyal workforce. That same feeling of not knowing when your number is up could also lead to your top talent always seeking a better opportunity and bailing on you when the first one comes up. You might want to rethink this whole thing.

  • Chris Taylor

    Evergreen jobs represent a slippery slope that most employers should avoid.

    In actual practice, many employers and search firms use evergreen jobs to build their candidate database (in anticipation of future hiring needs). In my view, the use of evergreen jobs is a deceptive practice that wastes job seekers’ time and erodes the credibility of job postings (and jobs boards).

    I could condone the use of evergreen jobs if employers provided a clear notice (and explanation) that informed prospective applicants that they were responding to an evergreen posting.

  • http://www.medievalrecruiter.com/ Medieval Recruiter

    I don’t think he’s talking solely about leaving a posting open and other methods to build a pipeline, but deliberately over staffing in certain areas.