Acquiring Talent vs. Recruiting

In today’s talent-driven world, many organizations are still recruiting, as opposed to strategically acquiring talent. Here are some recruitment red flags:

• Long job postings with too many “must haves” (think unrealistic), too little character (think “why do I want to work here?”), and too much detail that is not compelling.
• Overeager system users who think it’s fine to ask 10 questions in the ATS to screen out as many people as possible, scaring off good candidates.
• Artificial intelligence that is so cool it must be great. AI can do so much work that we won’t have to talk to anyone until the very end, except the best candidates may not stick around until the end.
• Hiring for the resume and not the person behind it.

Question: What is more important than having the right people in the right roles at the right time? Answer: Not much.

Talent acquisition is strategic sourcing and hiring with an eye on quality and the future and a tie to organizational strategy. Recruitment is finding people who are right at this moment and finding them fast. Where does HR frequently lean? Recruitment, because they are moving fast and gunning for efficiency. But finding the right people who fit strategically now, and in the future requires effort, time, and eyeballs. That’s eyeballs actually looking both at resumes and at real people, and that can feel rather inefficient. Let me share three observations.

1. A friend of mine is an expert in a highly specialized field and is ready for a job change. My description tells you that the national (not just local) applicant pool is very small. She is an interviewing machine because in addition to being in a small pool she is talented, intelligent, and tops it off with a great personality. She called me a few nights ago with an update, frustrated. The company that had been at the top of her list (a name you would recognize) had fallen to the bottom and was teetering on the edge. Why? The first interview was automated. Pre-programmed questions asked by a pre-programmed voice. That is not always a bad tool. But here’s the point… The smaller the pool, the better the economy, the more specific the role—the harder you have to work to show that you are genuinely interested in someone and that you are a great addition to his or her career. My friend was not impressed with a faceless, body-less interviewer when she was talking to major players in the industry. I get that.

2. One of the best people I ever hired was a young woman named Sana. I needed an HR generalist for a small HR department that was under lots of pressure to perform. I needed at least some experience, but invited Sana in even though she was a recent graduate and had very little experience. We had a nice conversation. I could see her potential, but I needed immediate ability. As we stood up, Sana stepped in close, looked me in the eye and said with a piercing intensity and earnestness that I still talk about today, “Julie, I’ve wanted to be in HR since I was in high school. I was thrilled when you called me. I know I don’t have the experience you want, but if you hire me, I will stay up all night to learn and will be the best HR generalist you have ever seen.” It wasn’t just the words. It was the commitment in her voice, the gripping way she said it, and the personal pledge she made as we locked eyes. Two weeks later she was seated in the office next to mine, and I still talk about her today as a glowing example of the right person not always looking like the right person. Artificial intelligence would have skipped Sana.

3. A small, local client of Oyster’s is a great employer—the CEO works hard to be inclusive, develop his people, retain the team, and provide great customer service. Their work is tied to the tax schedule, which means they work like Energizer bunnies for two months out of the year and have fairly manageable schedules the other ten. They are an ideal career stop for people in their industry who want to rise to the partner level, and, in my opinion, are truly a great place to work. But they struggle to find people, and when they do, it doesn’t always end well. I noticed several telltale indicators. Someone in the office told me their ATS rules out 75% of the applicants. That’s a lot. The last job posting I saw was really, really long, and it didn’t reflect any of the things that make them great. And the last line was the killer: “If you are interested, learn more about us at XXXXX.” As in, come and find us. The problem is that good candidates may not bother.

What should we make of these three examples? From the first one, we learn that we need to be personable, and personal, to convey who we are as an organization and spark interest from the right people. We have to know and be known. From the second one we learn that perfect candidates may actually be rather imperfect, and AI is looking for perfect. And from the third, we see old school thinking hiding a great place to work. Don’t expect candidates to go to much effort to find you; make it easy and compelling. You may irritate HR, but include an email address, even if it’s one like “careers@____” and have a live person at the other end who can be really glad to hear from them. (Yes, someone might have to manually put them in the ATS. Life is rough.)

Technology is essential. But don’t let new school technology knock out old school relationship building. And don’t kill talent acquisition with processes that miss good people or that make you look like an unappealing employer.

Julie Nielsen is president of Oyster Organizational Development, a firm that helps organizations and individuals be successful through organizational effectiveness strategies and coaching. Julie has over 30 years of experience helping organizations and individuals succeed. 

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