Canada’s Talent Buffet: Forks or Knives?


September 18th, 2015 | Posted in by

How do you feel about buffets? I wasn’t a fan until I learned to skip the line and bypass the cheap carbs and fats. Now I go directly to the far end where the expensive meats and seafood are waiting. Somehow, loading up on protein makes me feel better about buffets. But, you don’t want to read about my eating habits.

My buffet is a metaphor for your talent pool. I’m hoping it highlights how some people get stuffed at buffets, while others get great value. Choosing your food is like choosing your team. If you go with a plan, you can get real nutrition; otherwise you walk away with a lot of empty calories. The key is to choose what you want/need based on seeing everything that’s on the table. Hopefully, this zany idea sheds light on how to play the recruiting game and encourages Canadian tech companies to revisit their recruiting.

It’s no secret that Canada’s talent pool is running dry. The same is true of the U.S. and specifically, Silicon Valley. As the talent pool south of the border dries up, many American companies are targeting Canadians, and it’s working. According to the Globe & Mail, there were nearly 350,000 Canucks living in the Valley last year. That’s close to 1 percent of our total population and almost 2 percent of our workforce. Notably, these people rank among our best and brightest.

As American employers proactively headhunt and poach our best minds, Canadian employers still wait for job postings and social media to bring them recruits. This wishful stance ensures that Canada gets the talent the Americans left behind. In other words, foreign employers are taking the protein and leaving the cheaper carbs and fats for Canadian employers. They are bringing knives to the buffet; and we’re still using spoons and forks.

I recall reading an interview with Steve Jobs in which he explained that he invested 25% of his time in recruiting. How did he justify so much time? Because he recognized that intellect is exponential in nature. One great software engineer is equivalent to many mediocre/average ones; the same is true of product managers, sales reps, etc. Along with upping recruiting efforts, Canadian employers need to accept that the power has shifted and we’re in a seller’s market. No one controls the price (or salary) of talent – only the open market does that. We need to revisit how we account for talent and its acquisition. Most Canadian companies are deriving salary ranges based on flawed or wishful surveys. If we believe in Jobs’ judgement, then teams built on top performers accomplish more with fewer people.

Recruiting is more competitive than ever. It should be a core-competency in every company. If we get it right, we can improve our GDP. If we don’t, we’ll soon be working for our friends south of the border. How do young companies raise their recruiting game? I’ve got some ideas and I’ll share them in a future article. Until then, don’t get beat at the talent buffet: Choose protein and leave the carbs.