Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Don't Try to Hire the Perfect Candidate

I've just read a great blog by Lance Haun at HBR that will resonate with any recruiter these days. Particularly since the global economic meltdown, due to diminished confidence and perceived (wrongly) abundance of available talent in the market, employers increasingly look for "Purple Squirrel" hires. 

Purple Squirrels are perfectly skilled, perfectly experienced and perfectly educated candidates, living locally to your business and who are willing to work for peanuts. The problem is that in today's competitive market, these people don't exist (or they're extremely rare at best), and that's why some vacancies remain unfilled for so long.

"Companies often throw good money after bad when looking for the perfect candidate for an open position. Due to the lingering effects of the recession and the perception of a glut of talent, hiring managers are still picky about their hires and many jobs remain unfilled. Who can blame them? The cost of hiring the wrong person is extremely high, especially when you factor in the hidden costs.

When the right candidate doesn't materialize, the common solution is to keep searching, add more recruiters, or tap a search or staffing agency to increase the chances of finding Mr or Mrs Right. But, keeping a job open for months on end or redoubling a company's recruiting efforts doesn't actually address the core reasons why it's hard to find the perfect candidate. One of the reasons is that perfect candidates are too rare to bank on.

At the crux of the problem is the purple squirrel, a term recruiters and hiring managers use to define the the rarest of candidates, almost mythical in nature. These candidates are near impossible to find in an ultra-competitive industry and posses the perfect mix of skills, education and experience.

For every purple squirrel hire out there though, there are dozens, if not hundreds of open, unfilled job openings. Look at the career pages of some of the largest companies. Some of the best places to work in the tech industry like Google and Microsoft have hundreds of job openings that have been there for for, five and six months or more. They aren't the only ones by a long shot. Hiring manager and recruiters keep them open hoping that one day, they'll get notification of the perfect new applicant.

Too often, the candidate never materializes. If the purple squirrel doesn't show, you've spent money and time on a fruitless endeavor. It costs you the time the recruiter spent on the opening, the opportunity cost of time the recruiter could have spent on another opening, and the time of those impacted by the opening (managers, colleagues etc).

I'm not suggesting you go the other direction and hire whomever you want, no matter the consequence. It is time, however, to think much more strategically about purple squirrels and the pursuit of perfect candidates everywhere.

Let's imagine a fictitious future where all job openings had to filled in no more than 60 days. In this future, if you miss getting someone hired or if you wait too long, you lose the position for good and your business has to adapt. What would change?

Those purple squirrels would disappear. Very few companies could fill jobs in a timely manner while also chasing the scant possibility of snatching one of those rare creatures. Even companies with the budgets for it would at least hesitate with that sort of deadline. How would companies adapt to this new reality?

1. They'd better analyze what the job market looks like: One of the hot, ultra competitive fields for talent is in the engineering field, especially in Silicon Valley. Now, if you're a firm and you understand the competitive landscape, you can better decide on a winning strategy. Your chances of getting top talent across the board is next to nothing, but your chances of getting one or two very talented people that you've targeted and laid out compelling offers for is much, much better. You'd spend the rest of your time finding capable, but not top talent.

2. A better focus on training and retention: In some cases, it will be impossible to find even good matches for all the positions you need to fill. Sometimes that can be because of location or a labor shortage in the industry itself. Some companies choose to escalate the salary until they start landing the people they need, but others are using training programs to supplement their workforce. Keeping existing employees happy and on-board is the cheapest form of hiring. Retention would need to become a huge strategy to avoid hiring.

3. Throw cost-of-hire concerns out of the window: If time is everything, the effectiveness of a hiring tool must reign supreme above its cost. San Francisco State University professor of management Dr. John Sullivan banned cost of hire calculations when he was chief talent officer because, as he writes, "cost per hire had the negative effect of causing recruiters to shift their focus towards cost reduction and away from our real job, which was to produce high performing hires."

4. Recruiting would become a hunting profession again: The terms headhunter is a little out of date, not just because of its taboo sounding name, but also because many recruiters don't hunt. Instead, they are administrators, project managers or coordinators. If you only had 60 days to fill a job, you'd want some assurances that your team could do it, even if the applicant flow wasn't there.

5. A more honest evaluation of what the organisation needs: With a better understanding of the job market and what's available, along with recruiters who are empowered and enabled to find those folks in a timely manner, hiring managers and recruiters will be able to have a really honest discussion about priorities. When you can't float out a job opening forever, it forces all parties to understand the capacity of a recruiting department as well as what are the highest impact positions you should be hiring for.

This exercise is about planning and preparing for the best realistic talent acquisition outcomes. Even if you can't live in this ideal, you can better understand your situation to aim for more realistic candidate expectations."