We all get so caught up in our own perspectives, careers, and day-to-day activities that we often don’t see alternatives to problem we face. Instead, we continue to follow traditional approaches, even when they are obviously inadequate. Almost everyone involved with talent acquisition is squirming under pressure from hiring managers to find more qualified candidates. Recruiters are quick to grasp at any solution that offers hope of giving them access to better people. Hence the rapid rise of niche job boards and referral and networking tools and the greatly renewed interest in Internet searching and “poaching” candidates. At the same time, recruiters face pressure to source in ways that may be legal, but not exactly ethical.
The recent discussions about ethics on ERE and on other various blogs are not encouraging. I do not believe in or advocate many of the practices that are being offered. All is not fair in war, as the Geneva Convention, the Nuremburg trails, and the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague demonstrate. It is easy to mark patently dishonest and deceitful practices as unethical; the real test comes in the “gray” areas. These are the areas where it is not clear if certain practices — such as willfully discrediting a company to make an employee feel that it would be best to move on — are wrong, and where our ethical thinking is tested.
Recruiters who use methods they know are deceitful or dishonest do no one a favor. They harm their employer’s reputation and sully their own. Recruiters who are not sure if a practice is wrong or not might do well to put themselves in the shoes of the candidate or the manager on the other side. They might also look at all the options they have and ask which of them does more good than harm. Good ethical practices treat all the parties concerned with dignity and respect and advance the values of the organization. In the long run, it is not important whether you “win” the candidate but whether you have done so with integrity and fairness.
So assuming you practice ethical recruiting, how can your organization meet its needs for talent? Conventional thinking about careers and a lack of imagination on the part of HR and recruiters is probably contributing to the perception that there is a growing lack of skilled talent available in the workforce. There are many alternatives to unethical recruiting and to filling talent shortages.
Larger organizations have many talented, culturally aligned, and productive employees who would welcome an opportunity to do something different. Leading-edge firms, such as Dell and Schlumberger, have developed internal systems that allow recruiters to locate people with specific skills within the organization. The systems capture employees’ skills, performance history, educational background, and interests. These employees are usually passive; they’re not looking for an internal move and not aware of the opportunity. Yet they are often eager to take a look at that opportunity once they are approached. These systems also allow actively looking employees to add personal information or to apply directly for posted positions. When there is a need to fill very highly specialized positions, internal people are frequently the best qualified to do so with the least amount of training.
Short-term Training and Coaching
Many times employees can be given skills more quickly than we think. Cisco, IBM, and countless other organizations have put together short-term, intensive training programs that enable employees to gain new skills and become productive in a matter of weeks. This is often no longer than it takes to source, screen, interview, and hire a candidate from outside who, after being hired, still needs time to become productive and learn the new culture. E-learning, mentoring, and coaching are all ways that employees can be given skills they need quickly while being productive.
Sometimes it is a good practice to let people rotate through several jobs so that they acquire at least some skills in many areas. This way they can be moved to fill gaps very quickly and with a minimum of additional education. Rotations can be done frequently but on a short-term basis so that the impact on the employee’s current position is minimal. It just takes some creative thinking to make this work without much bother. Often they can be squeezed into slower times or offered when work tends to be less than normal.
Corporate universities are being established at a record pace to provide more formal education to current employees either to meet future anticipated needs or to strengthen employee skills to better meet current needs. There are organizations with internal corporate training functions designed to provide employees for highly skilled or specialized jobs or for management and leadership positions. General Electric, IBM, HP, and Intel are leaders in making this a cornerstone of their people strategy.
Educating Hiring Managers
Times are changing, and with this comes the need for managers to better understand the talent marketplace. It will be harder and harder to find qualified people over the next decade. For some jobs — including certain finance positions, nursing, and pharmacy jobs, as well as management positions — there will be a crisis. Even aggressive stealing and blatantly unethical practices will probably not meet the needs. Managers must have a better understanding of these issues, and you as recruiters need to make the business case for managers approaching talent acquisition from a variety of ways, rather than simply going outside to meet every need. Talent acquisition is getting more complicated and requires recruiters, as I wrote last week, who are strategic talent advisors more than just “order takers.” The best recruiters do not need to use unethical practices because they have learned more options and have sold those internally.