Getting It All Wrong – The Recruiter’s Paradox!

When recruiters ask managers to describe their “perfect candidate” to recruit they usually describe them something like this:

  • They are a top performer in their job.
  • They have excellent technical and team competencies.
  • They excel at getting things done, no matter what.
  • They work at a major competitor/benchmark firm.

In short, the perfect candidate is a successful person that is very good at their job and who is currently employed. They are also likely to be well paid and content (happy) in their job. I call these candidates “Content/Employed Performers” (CEP’s). They are sometimes also referred to as “passive” job seekers. The recruiter’s paradox When you look at the strategies that recruiters use to find their “perfect” person you usually learn that the typical recruiter’s strategy attracts the exact opposite of what managers really want. Instead of attracting “employed performers” they are actually attracting “unemployed / malcontents” (UM’s). I call that the recruiters paradox. Unemployed / malcontents are the easiest people to recruit but they are the exact opposite of what managers want! A typical web site or newspaper ad only attracts candidates that are “actively” searching for a job. These active searchers are often “unemployed” or “employed but they are malcontents” (those that can’t influence their managers enough to make their current jobs worth staying at)! Unemployed people are easy to find (in fact they will often find you) but they are not the kind of people you really want to recruit. You want successful people that are currently employed because people that are in high demand are almost always employed. Where have all the flowers gone? These days it is not uncommon for recruiters to complain about the “shortage” of good workers. There in fact is no real shortage of good workers. The number of superior candidates hasn’t changed at all (Where did they all go? They didn’t all die did they?). Certainly there is the appearance of a shortage but there is a simple explanation for it. During times of high unemployment, some of the content / employed performers that would normally be employed are excessed (laid-off) into the active job seeker pool. When a significant percentage of the “performers” are unemployed (and thus active job seekers) a standard web site will now attract some “good” candidates. However when boom times come nearly all of the good performers get hired again and they revert back to being “passive job seekers” again. When only poor performers respond to ads or web sites you get the “appearance of a shortage”. But all that has really changed is that there are now no top performers that will respond to recruiting tools designed for the active job seeker. The traditional recruiting tools no longer work because they were never designed to attract the passive employed person! Stop taking the easy road Surprisingly, the people that managers really want (employed top performers) are also relatively easy to find (but hard to recruit). They are highly successful performers employed at major benchmark firms. Everyone who is any good in their field knows their names. The primary problem with these Content / Employed Performers is that they are not likely to be looking for a job and they are hard to shift into the job seeking mode. Typically the very best content / employed performers are hard to recruit because:

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  • They are reluctant to go through the “pain” of updating their resume
  • They don’t visit web career/ job boards or read want ads
  • They will not return recruiter phone calls
  • They are hard to convince that they need a new job
  • They are usually well paid, happy and their current company has them on some sort of a retention program
  • When they do begin looking they have so many choices that they are hard to sell on your firm
  • They are generally only in the job market for a few days before an offer is made
  • They often have higher job demands then more “desperate” job seekers do
  • They turn down offers at a high rate because their current employer will almost certainly match any offer you make

It’s easy to see why recruiters focus on the “active” job seeker. They are easy to recruit and the “fill the requisitions” mentality as well as the reward structure of most firms push recruiters to take the easy road. Putting “butts in chairs” is certainly easier than hiring “Michael Jordan types”. However if you believe, as I do, that “championships are won with seasoned top performers” then you must consider shifting your recruiting approach toward the harder to recruit content / employed performer. How do you attract the content / employed person? Finding content / employed performers and convincing them to become active job seekers requires a three part strategy of

  1. name gathering,
  2. relationship recruiting, and
  3. “WOWing” them.

More on how to do that will be in next Friday’s continuation of this series.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.