Apr 25, 2012

Before we experienced the 2008 economic disaster, the phrase “war for talent” seemed to be overused by every corporate and agency recruiter I came in contact with. It seemed to go away until the first or second quarter of 2011 and now seems to be back on every executive and recruiter’s mind. Recruiters across the country have shared with me the excitement they have about recruiting again — about building talent pipelines, implementing social media, bolstering up their LinkedIn connections, and creating new and compelling candidate value propositions.

Let me start by giving one word of advice: stop!

If you are serious about recruiting the best talent, take this as an opportunity to build a recruiting culture throughout the entire organization — up to and including the CEO. Don’t make the mistake of throwing all of your time and money into new-fangled technologies, building talent communities, or costly social media campaigns unless you have the basic principles of recruiting drilled into both your recruiting staff and your hiring executives.

Let me ask a few questions:

  1. What is your organization’s candidate value proposition? Does everyone involved in the recruiting process understand these points? How is this information communicated to candidates?
  2. Are you really using your social networks/connections? Are you continuously broadcasting your open positions to your networks? Are you growing your LinkedIn connections?
  3. Are you building talent pipelines? How do you create a talent pipeline? How do you communicate to and track those in your pipeline?
  4. Are you interviewing consistently and effectively? What questions is the recruiter asking? What questions is the recruiting committee asking?

Most of those reading this can probably provide a detailed answer as to what they are doing in each of these areas. For example, every time I ask the question “Why would someone want to join your organization” I get a very lengthy answer. Whether I ask the CEO or the recruiter, both can rattle off 10-15 bullet points of why any particular candidate should pack up their current offices, quit their jobs, and walk across the street to a new, fantastic, opportunity.

In the same way, everyone talks about growing their social networks, particularly LinkedIn, and the value this brings to their recruiting effectiveness.

On the surface both of these issues seem like great news — but are they really?

As the competition for finding, engaging, and attracting the right candidate heats up, every organization needs to reassess their understanding of, and strategy for, implementing each of these focus areas.

Let’s go through the four questions I asked earlier.

What Is Your Organization’s Candidate Value Proposition?

Although we need to understand the perceived selling points of our opportunities, relying on canned pitches identified by your marketing organization or some third-party branding organization does not really provide you with the edge you might think.

The best answer to this question is not that you have “bring your dog to work day,” or that lunch is free each day. The best answer is in fact a question: how many of us ask potential candidates what is important to them before we tell them why they should work for us? Few recruiters or hiring executives can tell me with certainty what the hot buttons are for any candidate they are potentially courting, with the exception of very few superficial issues.

Although it is always important to understand the selling points of the organization we are recruiting for (value proposition), the key differentiator as competition increases is being able to deliver a more compelling value proposition based on information gathered from the potential candidate.

Learning what to ask candidates, when to ask candidates, and how to ask candidates about their motivation is the key to unlocking the door to their minds. Understanding what makes they tick and crafting an appropriate value proposition is much more effective than a mass-marketed value proposition.

Are You Really Using Your Social Networks/Connections?

It seems that in recent years the badge of honor that recruiters wear proudly on their chests is the number of first-level connections that they have on LinkedIn, the number of friends on Facebook, or the number of followers on Twitter that they have. Unfortunately when you look at many of the statistics on source of hire, these same tools still lag behind other more traditional recruitment tools.

Expanding your network for the sake of claiming that you are the most connected is a bit like saying you have the most friends, but when it’s time to move, no one shows up to help, leaving you to fend for yourself. Sheer numbers do not guarantee success as many organizations have discovered since social media hit the scene.

Why does social-media-based recruitment often fail? Let’s look at a few of the reasons:

Disregarding the branding aspects of social media

In today’s age of technologically savvy consumers and candidates, social media is a tool often used to uncover more about an organization then often known by its recruiters and hiring managers. It used to be joked that a consumer who had a negative experience with an organization’s service or product would tell seven people, while only telling one or two about a positive experience. With social media, one negative hiring experience can now be tweeted to thousands of others in seconds. Other sites like provide a dedicated medium for potential candidates to learn about the darkest secrets of your hiring process, management staff, and other company-related dirt.

So what do you do?

  • Use your current employee population at all levels to create a balanced social media picture of your organization. People love to use Facebook, Twitter, and the like to convey their dissatisfaction with their previous or current employer. Encourage employees at all levels to post honest, positive, and encouraging information regarding their experience. An employee praising their internal mentor; an executive thanking an employee for their contribution; the CEO openly tweeting the success of their organization and thanking all team members.
  • Encourage staff to join and contribute to user groups on sites such as LinkedIn and others. Get your team involved with others in their specific function or discipline. Relationships can be made with future candidates while at the same time placing your company name front and center in each group.

Primary focus on taking without willing to give back

We have all seen this happen. Recruiter A joins LinkedIn, connects with as many people in a given industry user group, has six to nine months of success identifying candidates, and then complains that the well has dried up.

Social networks are all about relationships that include give and take. Always being the friend who asks for help but never offers to help others eventually leads to the lone-mover syndrome I mentioned above. In a similar way, joining user groups solely as a way of recruiting candidates without providing some benefit to the group is the same way. Join user groups where you actually have something to contribute in the form of information, statistics, trends, etc. This could include hiring statistics for a specific related position, or compensation trends based on recent recruitment data. Be seen as a valued member of the group who is not just sucking information from the group.

Primary focus on building contacts and not relationships.

Quantity over quality of relationships is an ongoing battle in recruiting candidates. Whether a recruiter, hiring manager, or company executive, this is often the No. 1 cause for failed recruitment initiatives. Social media increases the issue since it seems to favor numbers of connections over quality of relationships. The intent of social media was to foster relationships, yet its poor application usually detracts from its success.

Building real relationships that foster an exchange of ideas and a willingness to refer others should be one of the primary goals of tools like LinkedIn. Qualified candidates are being InMailed on a daily basis from multiple recruiters and hiring managers regarding the “great opportunities” that they have. How does a potential candidate decide which unsolicited request they will respond to?

Potential candidates have an overwhelming propensity to respond more often to a request that is based on developing a relationship then on selling a “great opportunity.”

In simple terms, there are basically two ways to approach a consumer or candidate when approaching them regarding a potential opportunity:

  • Selling what we have
  • Selling what the buyer needs

The problem is that most recruiters and hiring managers make assumptions about why candidates should be interested, rarely uncovering the real needs of a candidate. The right value proposition in recruiting must be tailored to the unique needs of each individual, especially when they are being courted by multiple organizations — namely your competitors.

Most recruiting processes look like this:

  1. Fill the need (Pitch the value proposition — “Great Opportunity”)
  2. Ask pre-closing questions (Does the proposition fill the need?)
  3. Close the sale

Effective recruiting looks like this:

  1. Build a relationship — It’s tough to find out what motivates or demotivates someone if we don’t have some type of common ground.
  2. Identify the need — what does the potential candidate like about their current role/organization and what could be improved? (This is how to create a real value proposition)
  3. Overcome objections — If the candidate is happy and we just pitch a canned story about our great opportunity, how to we uncover their real motivation?
  4. Fill the need — now it’s time to deliver a tailored value proposition based on specific candidate desires.
  5. Advance the sale — if done correctly, your value proposition sets up the candidate in a way where it becomes very difficult to say no.

Are You Building Talent Pipelines?

First we need to define what an effective talent pipeline is versus the traditional understanding of pipelines. More than 95% of the time I ask the question “What is a talent pipelining?”, I get a similar answer: “Talent pipelining is having a stable of candidates who are qualified for our positions and open to a call from us when a position becomes available.”

Although I don’t necessarily disagree with this statement, there are obvious issues putting this type of philosophy in place:

  • With the demand on recruiters to fill open positions, do they really have the time necessary to initiate, cultivate, and maintain these types of relationships?
  • What is the shelf life of a pipeline candidate? If the recruiter has successfully performed their job in developing a relationship and understanding the motivation of a candidate, they have also helped educate the candidate that better opportunities exist. At some point those developed as pipeline candidates will make the shift from somewhat passive to active and will proactively seek opportunities, quickly adding an expiration date to their shelf life.

Don’t misunderstand my point here. I’m in favor of developing pipelines. In fact my definition of pipelining is: “All activities that result in developing relationships with contacts in a given function, company, or field that can be sustained, and result in future candidate development or referral attainment.”  Pipelining can include all of the activities referenced above: social media, user groups, etc.

Always initiating, developing, and maintaining relationships with those who you can return to at a later time to assist in a search directly or indirectly is a more consistent and successful strategy when candidate pipelining.

Are You Interviewing Consistently and Effectively?

Whether a recruiting executive or hiring executive, have you ever interviewed a candidate who the other had met with, only to come up with a completely different view of the same candidate? Why does this occur?

Inconsistency in the interview process is often the main factor in mis-hires.

Interviewing inconsistencies generally stem from one or more of following areas:

Not understanding the required skills/competencies of the position. After conducting hundreds of post interview briefings, it is painfully obvious that many recruiters, hiring managers, and interview committee members are not looking for the same skills in each candidate. The recruiter can be looking for skills A, B, and C while the hiring manager is looking for skills D, E, and F and so on. Much of the disconnect actually finds its roots in the position-intake session between the hiring committee and the recruiter — if the meeting ever happened! The goal of the intake meeting is to:

  • Define the short term and long term objectives of the role.
  • Define realistic skill requirements of the candidate — ranked in order of preference.
  • Define the realistic preferred skill requirements of the candidate — ranked in order of preference.
  • Define the realistic competency requirements of the candidates — ranked in order of preference.
  • Define the realistic preferred competency requirement of the candidates — ranked in order of preference.

If the intake meeting does not result in agreed upon candidate requirements, what do the members of the interview committee base their interview questions on? What do they compare the candidate against (More on this one to follow)?

Improper candidate comparisons. Comparing candidates to each other is a recipe for failure, unless the candidates are compared to the agreed-upon skills and competencies first. The natural tendency of interview committee members is to only compare candidates against each other and not the actual agreed upon candidate requirements — a mistake that often leads to choosing the “best of the group,” and not the “best of the best.” Example: Let’s say that you interview three candidates and decide to hire/recruit the best of the three as compared to each other. Six months later the new employee is failing — he/she just does not seem have what it takes to do the job. The employee is unfortunately terminated and a post-termination review of the employee is made in comparison to the required skills and competencies. Although the candidate may have been the best of the three, he/she did not meet with the required skills and competencies. This is a common issue at all levels; however, it seems to be even more prevalent as senior leadership levels.

Interview committee interviewing for different criteria. This is much different than not understanding the requirements or improper candidate comparison. Although the interview committee may understand the position requirements, there is not formalized comparison and discussion of their opinion of each required criteria. A best practice is to have each interviewer rate each candidate on each individual skill and competency required — such as a 1 to 5 rating with 1 being the highest. Upon completion of the interview, results from each interviewer are lined up side by side for comparison. In an event that the ratings are more than two points apart (one indicated a 1 rating while the other indicated a 3 rating on the same individual competency or skill) it becomes obvious that one interviewer saw something the others possibly did not. This difference spurs on discussion and healthy debate if handled appropriately. If there is only a single interviewer and the recruiter, the same comparison should be done only after each has an opportunity to interview the candidate.

It seems the war for talent is slowly returning to a pre-recession fervor. How we position our brand, engage candidates, and select only the best will determine the success of each and every organization that has employees. Happy hunting!

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