The Myth of the Hard-to-fill Job

Sep 20, 2011
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

I don’t want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their jobs. —Samuel Goldwynn

I just finished looking at a position profile for a job with a pharmaceutical company. The laundry list of bulleted requirements for this position is 22 — and I can assure you that these are not easy-to-find requirements. They’re all action words and full of responsibility for everything under the sun. (Yes, advanced degree required.) Perhaps God can do this job but in terms of mere human beings, I do not see it happening. I picked up the phone and had a conversation with a trusted associate who tells me the position has been open for a long time and has now been classified as “hard to fill.”

I dislike this “hard-to-fill” mindset. I know that some jobs, by their nature, are going to be a challenge, but the impossible ones just irritate me for a host of reasons. Let me enumerate just three of them below and we can then move on to solution-oriented thinking.

  1. It is Alive. After a while, hard-to-fill jobs take on a life of their own. Corporate recruiting quickly sees that the requirements are bizarre, and as such, a self-fulfilling prophecy begins to take hold. Very soon, no one is good enough for the job as the hiring manager breezes through resumes rejecting all. The corporate recruiters fail at every turn to impress the hiring manager, who actually thinks that this is a reasonable search. Sadly, it’s often a needle in the haystack dilemma that will come to no good for anyone involved.
  2. Hard to Please Hiring Manager. Hard-to-fill jobs, by their nature, often come from the most unreasonable of hiring managers. These are the managers who “know what they want and want what they want” with little regard to the available population. From those individuals, who are seldom pleased with recruiting in the first place, there seems to develop an almost perverse pleasure in finding reasons for not interviewing candidates. Often, they will have a cursory conversation with a candidate by phone if you pressure them, not get back to you, and when you track them down, tell you they did not like the candidate. Reasons why? It is in some notes they have and will get back to you. They seldom do.
  3. Circus Time. They seek out agencies. The hiring managers now turn on internal recruiting with a fury, saying that they just do not like any of the people you are showing them. Now that recruiting is demoralized, the fun and games really begins as the agencies embark on pumping in resumes. Naturally, because this is a hard-to-fill job, reaction time is often slow because the expectations to fill the job are not very high in the first place. Endless time is taken as the “critical job” sits empty. Honestly, how critical can it be if no one is doing it for six or eight months? The illusionary fee hanging over the head of the agency hire amps up the manager’s expectations to even greater levels because if they are going to pay a fee, the person better be a water-walker. Honestly, this is dismal for all concerned.

Hard-to-fill jobs? Almost never.

Hard-to-please hiring managers and/or corporate cultures of dysfunctionality: often times, yes. Illusionary thinking in terms of expectations and misguided hiring philosophy? Once again, often times yes. There are, in almost all cases, no hard-to-fill positions. Most positions that are open for endless time are that way for a reason. Let’s look at just a few of the many possibilities.

  • Perhaps it is not one job but actually two. Does OD/HR need to be called in to assess requirements and realign thinking and/or structure to make it work?
  • There is only budget for one job? Nonsense. A budget is artificial and nothing more then a spreadsheet, often put there by individuals who are, in reality, clueless. Change the budget and split the job or cut the requirements and hire two of them at slightly different levels.
  • Cost is too high? Why are you looking at cost when you should be looking at value and ROI? What if excellence cost a bit more then the bean counters had hoped for? Going one step further, what is the “cost” of not filling this position? Where are the pain points, and who feels them?

Lastly, organizational influences and political muscle should gravitate toward a discovery initiative as it relates to the real and meaningful problems associated with hard-to-fill jobs. These jobs should not sit and languish for endless time. The longer a job is open, the more scrutiny it should be under. Hard-to-fill jobs are a problem begging for a solution. Once unearthed, the associated difficulties should be vigorously addressed and corrected.

Do this and we empower recruiters to hire great employees. Fail to do this and they chase after illusions and sad possibilities.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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