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Sourcing Problems are Rarely the Problem

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When I ask recruiters, hiring managers, and HR/recruiting leaders what’s their biggest hiring challenge they always say they don’t have enough top people to choose from. However, when you look below the hood at what’s really going on inside the company it’s clear they don’t have a sourcing problem, they have (pick one or more of the following based on what’s going on at your company):

  1. the wrong strategy
  2. an advertising problem
  3. a hiring manager problem
  4. a recruiter problem
  5. a lack of resources problem
  6. a compensation problem
  7. a bad job
  8. an assessment problem
  9. none of the above
  10. all of the above

Nine out of 10 times a sourcing problem is a symptom of a much deeper problem.

Just about everyone complains they don’t have enough good candidates, yet these same people complain they’re seeing too many unqualified candidates. When I then suggest they have boring advertising that no one reads, they counter with the point that they need to post these so they can filter out the unqualified. I counter the counter with the point that since these same ads preclude a good person who is perfectly qualified from applying since they’re boring and negative, they say something like, “We have to post them this way, since we need to be in compliance.” I then throw my hands up and mentally leave the room, saying under my breadth, “That proves my point.” Here’s the whispered point so everyone can hear it: IF YOU WANT TO ATTRACT GREAT PEOPLE YOU NEED GREAT ADVERTISING.

But that’s just a start. Not seeing or hiring enough good people is a symptom of a much deeper and typically more insidious problem – the wrong talent acquisition strategy. With the wrong strategy, no matter how much you try to improve your tactics you won’t get too much better, and even if you do, it won’t be for too long if you don’t change the underlying strategy. The fundamental business principle here is that you can’t use the same strategy to find and hire top performers that you use for average performers. And because the strategy is different, the tactics need to be different, too.

As the economy heats up, the demand for talent generally increases at a faster rate than the supply. This is worsened by an uptick in turnover and the need to start competing for talent using compensation increases as a lure. Under these conditions, it’s important to rethink your strategy before rethinking your tactics. Putting added emphasis on the importance of this “totally rethink your strategy first” notion, is the fact that 83% of the fully-employed professional workforce is passive and only 17% is active (see this LinkedIn survey for more on this). Since there are disproportionately more top people in the 83% who are passive group, the importance of shifting your strategy is obvious.

Figuring out what your company’s actual or default talent acquisition strategy is is a great way to start assessing the depth of the problem. The graphic summarizes two radically different talent strategies.

The surplus strategy model is based on the assumption that there is an excess supply of top talent to choose from. Under this assumption, the primary focus of the sourcing and selection process is to weed out the weak. A talent scarcity approach is based on the assumption that there is more demand for talent than the supply. Under these scarcity conditions, a more proactive and aggressive recruiting process is required to find and attract these people, coupled with a more sophisticated assessment and closing process.

If you have a strong employer brand and are seeing enough top people for every critical position, then a surplus of talent model is sufficient. This is despite the fact that it’s somewhat impersonal and demeaning. On the other hand, if you are not seeing enough top people for these same critical positions, don’t assume you have a sourcing problem, assume you have a strategy problem. And even if you don’t, figuring it out will still lead you to the correct corrective measures.

To determine whether your company is using a surplus or scarcity talent acquisition approach, just look at the big process steps. The biggest of all the steps is at the top of the funnel – how you advertise and promote your job openings. If you are still posting traditional job descriptions emphasizing skills and experience, you’ve already lost the big battle. Unless you have a big employer brand you will only attract the unemployed and the 17% of fully-employed active candidates who are okay with a lateral transfer. You might find a great person now and then, but it’s problematic. To attract the 83% in the passive candidate pool you’ll need to advertise career opportunities.

A career move is not a boring job description wrapped in hyperbole and company platitudes. A career opportunity is a real story customized for your target ideal passive candidate who is looking for something significantly better than the job now held. Here’s an example of one we recently posted on LinkedIn. Notice how the skills are embedded in the copy. Don’t ignore the fact that no matter how the passive candidate found out about your opening, the person will quickly check out the actual posting before getting too interested. This is a critical point. To tie your strategy and tactics together every published posting needs to be compelling. If you’re unwilling to make this change, recognize that you’re accepting a surplus of talent model as your default strategy. This goes back to the theme of the article and the point raised that you don’t have a sourcing problem, you have an advertising problem masking a strategy problem.

A mishmashed strategy won’t work either. You can’t use a candidate surplus model to source, recruit, and hire the 83% of the candidates who are passive. It’s a waste of time, energy, and resources, and yet it happens all of the time. When HR leaders don’t see or understand the strategy or big issue problems, they attempt to fix them by improving downstream processes. I refer to this trapdoor as the Staffing Spiral of Doom Catch-22.

From Wikipedia:

A catch-22 is a paradoxical situation in which an individual cannot avoid a problem because of contradictory constraints or rules. Often these situations are such that solving one part of a problem only creates another problem, which ultimately leads back to the original problem. Catch-22s often result from rules, regulations, or procedures that an individual is subject to but has no control over.

The term catch-22 was coined by Joseph Heller in his novel Catch-22.

Avoid it at all costs.