Some Disturbing Observations: Are We Missing the Talent Acquisition Forest for the Sourcing Trees?

Apr 1, 2011
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

I just finished my 10th year of ERE Spring Expos (March 23-25, 2011) and I left with a great deal of optimism about the prospects for our industry over the next one to two years. However, with that general positive underlying feeling about economic prospects, I also have major concerns that not much has changed since the modern-day recruiting jungle came to be, circa 1995. I hope I’m wrong on this Groundhog Day-like feeling (i.e., reliving history). First, let me describe my misgivings.

photo by Todd Raphael

The first biggie for me, is we — as an industry — including practitioners, vendors, and HR/recruiting leaders, hiring managers, and company executives, aren’t seeing the forest for the trees. This ERE Expo, as great as it was, was not a recruiting Expo; it was mostly a SOURCING expo! About 75% of the vendors were offering some type of new sourcing solution, with the one big exception, Starr-Tincup Advertising, offering beer, wine, and hard drinks.

Second, about the same percentage of the presentations were focused on sourcing, with the majority of these on how to better use social media. It’s as if solving the sourcing problem will solve everything else. This is exactly the same message I heard at the first recruiting expo I attended in 1998: the advent of job boards will be how we’ll win the talent wars. History is repeating itself. Somehow we’ve lost sight of the real problem we as recruiters face, and based on last week’s Expo, I suspect that’s we’ll be no closer to solving it by the time the 2021 ERE Expo rolls around. If so, I’ll be on some island in retirement.

As I see it, sourcing top people is not the problem; hiring them is.

While important, sourcing is only a step in the overall solution, yet it still dominates everyone’s energy and focus to the point of distraction. Somehow we’ve been seduced and collectively have lost sight of the “hiring top people” objective.

A small example of this “not seeing the forest for the trees” problem, and the lack of progress this causes, will set the stage for a rethinking of the problem. When you think about social media at the big-picture level, all it really is is pre-requisition sourcing: building a pipeline or network of prospects before a req is approved. Third-party recruiters have been doing this forever, so it’s not anything new. It just now can be done at scale. This is huge thing, but if everyone is doing it, nothing much will change in the long run, other than for those who do it first and/or best. I don’t want to minimize the importance of this first and best idea, but you can’t stop there. It’s just a step, and not even the first step.

As a metaphor for the ultimate solution, let’s assume that ERE decides to hold an ERE Hiring Top Talent Expo, say in 2013 or 2014. At this expo we’d have presentations and vendors covering a balanced mix of pre-sourcing and post-sourcing solutions, with the tradeshow floor organized by tracks.

In the first track, called “Pre-Sourcing: Organization, Planning, Marketing and Messaging, Customer Analysis, and Job Definition, ” things like workforce planning, defining real job needs, conducting market analysis, ensuring hiring manager engagement, developing a competitive compensation strategy, and diversity hiring planning would be covered. If you don’t do all of this planning and needs analysis before you start sourcing, you’re going to waste a lot of time, money, and resources reacting to events, seeing candidates you don’t need to see, and doing searches over again. The theme of this track would be “how to do it right the first time so you don’t need to do again.”

In the sourcing track, we’d want to add a sourcing strategy, planning, and measurement section. This would address the need to develop different sourcing programs by class of job, candidate supply/demand factors, internal/external and vendor management issues, and how to determine and track performance to optimize quality while minimizing costs. All of this is needed to ensure that the best sourcing approaches are defined before you start using them, and that they’re flexible and able to fully support the hiring needs by class of job. The theme of this track would be something like “use flexible sourcing to maximize quality, minimize cost and implement a just-in-time to hire program.”

Finding people is not the same as assessing or hiring them, so we’d also need to add a formal interview and assessment track. Not only would this include the best interviewing and assessment tools, but also a strategy and planning section. Fully engaging hiring managers is critical here, too. Most managers, even if they’re competent interviewers, aren’t very good at recruiting top candidates, especially those who have multiple offers. Worse, they all tend to use non-standard and non-scalable methods, reducing overall predictability and assessment accuracy. But even if they’re good at assessing candidate quality, most managers tend to hire people based on different needs (more short term) than the company’s (strategic, raising the talent bar), so solutions need to presented that balance this short vs. long term issue. On this front, one session sure to be a big hit will be “Why You Must Not Let the Hiring Manager Make the Hiring Decision.” The theme of this track would be “how to measure and maximize quality of hire.”

All of these tracks are a waste of time if you can’t hire a top person within your compensation targets and/or compete head-to-head with other companies vying for the same candidates. In this case, one could contend that the most important track of them all should be totally focused on recruiting and closing. Since there will never be enough money in the budget and there will always be a high demand for the best people, new ways of closing and competing need to be used that actually work and that everyone uses, recruiting and hiring managers alike. In a scalable business process, lone rangers need to be put out to pasture, and proven best practices used in their place. The theme here would be “best practices for putting together career packages, negotiating offers, and closing top people without giving away the farm.”

While the type of Top Talent Acquisition Expo as defined would go a long way to addressing the real issues in our industry, we’d need another day to focus on the technology issues involved in all this, and the metrics needed to see in real time what’s working, and what’s not. If technology does not keep up, we will all be forced to slow down. The theme of this section would be “using metrics and technology to be sure you’re doing what you want done.”

For the past 15 years we’ve been promised that a solution to hiring the best is near, but there’s no evidence that we’re better off today than we were back then. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that what were offered actually caused the problems or made matters worse. Consider, now we need to use state-of-the art technology to manage more candidates we don’t want to hire, build expensive and sexy websites to keep up with the competition, rapidly upgrade to Web 2.0 to find and track more candidates we don’t want to hire, make sure we’re using SEO and SEM to make sure we’re found first by those we do want to hire and those we don’t, just to name a few things that have added to list of stuff to be done that doesn’t bring us closer to the goal of hiring better people.

Despite all of these so-called sourcing advances, the quality and accuracy of each individual hire hasn’t improved at all. From my position, as one of the elders in this industry, it seems we’re all getting snookered by the razzle-dazzle, losing sight of the real target. Perhaps all that’s needed to set us on a better long-term course is just changing the measure of success from finding great candidates to hiring great people. If so, I’m really looking forward to ERE’s Spring 2021 Expo.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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