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What Kind of Recruiting Problem Do You Have?

Posted by Bob Corlett on September 6, 2011

Not all recruiting problems are created equal. Sometimes you can just run ads and hire good people. Other times you might engage a search firm to call everyone in their database. Few hiring managers venture beyond those two stark choices: either tell HR to run an ad, or tell a headhunter to go sell your job to people in their Rolodex. But of course, these two fine solutions don't resolve most recruiting problems. Which explains why very few hiring managers have a team full of top performers (even after they engage search firms).

Perhaps if you could better clarify your exact recruiting problem, you could solve it more decisively. And, after gathering data from hundreds of our completed executive searches, that's exactly what we did. Now, before we accept any new search, we carefully assess how much intensity it will require in 4 common problem areas: Definition, Sourcing, Selection, and Decision Support

Although each of these problem areas require very different skills and levels of intensive effort, I notice that nobody ever asks me about three of them.  Instead, new clients only ask me about our candidate sourcing (recruiting) capabilities. I'm while I am happy to answer that we have superb sourcing capabilities, I also know that sourcing is only part of the solution. So let's get into all four of the most common kinds of recruiting problems, and what you can do about them.

Definition intensity:  The owner of a small company needed more sales. He could not figure out how to get them, despite having worked in his industry for many years. His solution? Hire some salespeople to beat the streets, and let them figure it out. (He spent an hour trying to convince me what a great opportunity it was for a salesperson to come work for him). Like a medieval alchemist, he was trying to turn his sales problem into a recruiting problem. Except recruiting can't solve a problem you cannot define.  

The intensity of defining job requirements might be as quick and easy as "Find me another person with attributes like Sally" or might be as complex and intensive as asking "Are we looking for someone to execute a strategy that already works, or are we looking for someone to discover a strategy that works?"  If you are hiring a search firm for their great Rolodex, but what you really have is a definition problem, all their sourcing cannot help you figure out who will be successful in the job.

Sourcing intensity:  One of the most grueling searches we ever conducted was for a nonprofit manager who decided that the only way she could meet her business objectives within her budget was to create a job that combined two fairly common skills that are almost never found together in nature. Kind of like looking for someone who is both a supermodel and a construction worker - theoretically possible, but highly unlikely. (Yes, I still kick myself for accepting this search). The problem was clearly defined, the skills desired were crystal clear, but the candidate sourcing intensity it required was off the charts. Not even 1% of the qualified people we contacted had any interest in the job as it was defined.

Sourcing intensity comes in two forms: it is either hard to find people with the skills you desire, or else the people you seek are plentiful, but just not that receptive to your job. Just because you can define what you want, and find people who can do it, there is no guarantee anyone actually wants your job. When you don't have a compelling story to tell, you will lay flame to a lot of sourcing time. Is your location terrible, pay low, or job unappealing in some way? Are you looking for a left-handed, bi-lingual, Russian nuclear physicist? Does your ideal candidate receive more than 2 calls a week from search firms? Then your level of sourcing intensity will be equal to 10 other searches. And remember, if you hire a search firm to flatter, cajole, and sweet talk these rare, elusive, or high-maintenance people into your firm - you better know what was promised to accomplish that ... and you will need an equally intensive plan to retain them.

Selection intensity: Once you have people interested in talking with you, how hard is it to decide who to spend your precious time with? In lower level positions, you need to know how to quickly winnow down hundreds of resumes without overlooking the "diamonds in the rough," but in executive searches, you need a skilled interviewer to hone in on cultural fit, and to assess skills and strategic thinking. Very different skills.

To present a slate of 6 qualified candidates, sometimes we have to talk to 30 people.  Sometimes it's just 12 people - but the conversations might last an hour and half each. We've found that the interviewing skill required and the interview time needed varies widely from search to search.

Here is a test of selection intensity: How keenly does your recruiter listen to you? Do they really understand what you are trying to achieve by making this hire? If your recruiter is better at talking than listening, or lacks business acumen, then this aspect of your search is probably being done only superficially. In fact, your search might be just a mindless hunt for the perfect resume. Without the proper selection intensity, you will almost certainly overlook great "out of the box" candidates and instead waste time talking with people who have a nice resume but are not a good fit.

Decision Support intensity: Searches often fail right at the finish line. Once you have a good candidate sitting in front of you for the interview, how hard will it be to forge a consensus among all the decision makers? Do you have a dysfunctional board or executive team? Is everyone rowing in the same direction, or are there stark differences in approach between key executives? Do you have a hiring manager who is so risk averse that they find almost any excuse not to hire?

If you cannot make a hiring decision in a timely manner, all of your other efforts might be in vain. Good candidates are repelled by internal political battles, and they certainly don't wait around for indecisive managers. They (correctly) ask "If being hired is this haphazard and slow, am I really a good fit? And "If I am a good fit but decision-making is this slow, how excruciating will it be to work for them?"

So once you have a better definition of your recruiting problem what do you do next?

  • If your challenge is Definition, be sure you are working with someone who is thorough in understanding the job before they begin recruiting. You are at risk if all you had was a 15 minute phone call with the recruiter, or if they never "pushed back" or challenged your thinking.

  • If your challenge is Sourcing, be sure you understand how compelling your job will be to candidates.  Most hiring managers overrate how attractive their job is relative to other opportunities in the market.

  • If your challenge is Selection, be sure you have confidence in the person who is pre-screening candidates for you.  Challenge their thinking to be sure they are looking at candidates the same way you will.

  • If your challenge is Decision Support, be sure you are working with someone who has a process to resolve those differences.  Winging it and hoping for the best is not a strategy.

Topics: Hiring Process, Recruiting Executives