Dec 172013

Every year, we hear about a shortage of talent. Many people label it a “war for talent.” Well, this war has been going on for decades, with no end in sight. Is it really a war?

No. And there’s data to back me up.

Back in August, Cutter Fellow Robert Charette published “The Stem Crisis Is a Myth” in IEEE Spectrum. He published the data I have seen for years in my clients.

We do have problems hiring people. Absolutely. But we don’t have a crisis. We don’t have a shortage of talent. We have four specific problems.

1. Hiring Managers Create Overloaded Job Descriptions

It’s difficult to write a great job description. It takes about 20-30 minutes to analyze a job. It takes another 20-30 minutes to write a great job description. It can take you another 30 minutes to write a great ad from that job analysis.

Now, I have a lot of personal practice analyzing jobs, writing job descriptions, and writing ads. It no longer takes me that long. But for a manager new to hiring? It could easily take that long. And when you need someone right away? It seems easy to go with a generic job description, because, gee, those generic job descriptions are right there from HR, and all you have to do is add a bunch of keywords and skills, and BAM, you have a job description.

Well, that’s how you get overloaded and overcomplicated job descriptions that rely on certifications, education, and have no bearing on past achievement. Besides, the job description will be terrific for the automated candidate-tracking system.

2. Hiring Managers and HR Don’t Know How to Source Candidates

When you get overloaded job descriptions, you think the automated candidate-tracking system actually helps you hire candidates. That’s because you feed the résumés into the system, and then start searching. But that’s not what happens. The combination of too many keywords and too many essential skills create a sourcing nightmare.

When hiring managers and HR both leave the sourcing to the automated candidate-tracking system, everyone suffers. Candidates look at a job description and say, “Huh? Only a superman can fill this job. I won’t bother applying.” Or they say, “I’ll apply anyway.”

Hiring managers and HR get the worst of all possible worlds: candidates who don’t screen themselves in or out for the position. Hiring managers have to read résumés a gazillion pages long to counter the need for many keywords.

But let’s say you actually find a candidate you want to interview. What do you look for, when you screen résumés and when you interview?

3. Hiring Managers Want Candidates Who Have Done Exactly This Job Before

One problem when hiring managers screen résumés and when they interview, is that they often want people who have done exactly this job before. What is the probability that you can find a candidate who has done exactly this job? And at the salary you want to pay? Close to zero.

Instead of looking for an exact fit, look for someone who has done something close to this job, who is adaptable and quick to learn. Hiring for adaptability is a much better idea than hiring someone you think is an exact fit. In our fast-paced world, what job hasn’t evolved over the past year?

4. Companies Are Reluctant to Train New Employees

Because every organization is different, a candidate may not have precisely the tool or language expertise you want. But that kind of expertise is easy for people to learn. What’s hardest for people to learn is how to fit into your culture.

If you find a candidate who fits your culture, but doesn’t know a specific language or tool, it’s easier to train that candidate on how to use a tool than to train the candidate on how to work with other people.

Those are the big problems. There are plenty others, specific to how companies organize the interviewing and what they ask in the interview. But if you fix these in your organization, you would find your hiring would flow much more easily.


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