Congratulations! Your Company is Great at Not Hiring!


November 19th, 2012 | Posted in by

I have come to realize that I see recruiting in a way that is not shared by many.

Where most see an HR function, I see a Sales and Marketing challenge. While many companies look at their recruiting challenge as one of ‘Talent Acquisition’, I quite frankly don’t get that at all. Look at how recruiting departments are designed like purchasing functions, where orders are filled, scarce skills are sourced, candidates are treated like commodities and talent is acquired for the lowest possible price.

I do understand how historically this made sense. I am from a mining town, where my grandfather and his peers would line up at the gates of the mine waiting to see who would be selected for work that day. A manager would walk out in the morning and select his workers for the day, making selections based on physical appearances – who looks strong and capable enough to get the job done. Labour was an abundant commodity, with plenty available to fill the order of the day. HR departments were designed around these economics, and were trained to be discriminating buyers of manpower.

The doom and gloom of today’s general employment stats may lead you to believe that we can still hire this way. “Post it and they will come.” And maybe this is true in some segments of the economy, but certainly not in tech, or with any company that needs the best people to succeed. When there are lots of great mines and few great miners, we have a problem and we need to throw all of our thinking about Talent Acquisition out the window.

No, the fact of a skilled talent shortage isn’t news. So why then do so many companies behave like they have an unlimited supply of people and time? Are we so stuck in our ways that we can’t evolve from the commodity hiring mentality?

I think something else is going on…

There isn’t a people shortage, there is a talent shortage. Not the same thing. The problem isn’t that there aren’t enough resumes out there. It’s that most of them belong to people you shouldn’t hire. What if the wrong people apply to work for your company and you don’t keep them out! Yikes! It’s your job to weed out the imposters and the time wasters that want to sit quietly and take a pay cheque! Hiring is risky business, because making a mistake is expensive. If you hire no one and blame the talent shortage, isn’t that better than hiring a room full of potential misfits?

We have 2 problems that are in opposition.

  • The wrong people want to work for you
  • The right people don’t know you exist

Look at these 2 problems and choose the one you’d solve. If you’re like most, you chose the one that avoids risk rather than the one with the big upside. So you build a recruiting function to address the question of RISK, and it puts process, tools and rules in place to weed out the potential cultural misfits, technical lightweights and the unwashed masses. In fact, most every HR person is trained to reduce costs and eliminate risk, and will focus on NOT hiring the wrong guy. If you look for imperfection, you will find it almost every time.

I say it’s time we start working from a different set of assumptions. Think of what would happen if you recruited like a sales team. Of course, qualifying people is a critical part of the process, but focus your recruiting energy on attracting and bringing in the best, then expect greatness from the people you hire. Rather than looking for a perfect fit for your culture, you create a culture that is designed for the most talented people; that inspires their best work and accomodates their harmless imperfections. Accept that you’ll fail a few times before you get it just right. But in the process you’ll unearth hidden gems and build an environment that perpetuates success.