Don’t Recruit Like a Wallflower, Get Out and Dance!

I'm no Wallflower copyRecently I’ve been given the challenge to pause and consider my experience in recruitment and what I’ve come to realize is that in some ways this aspect of the Human Resources profession is not given the credit that illustrates the challenges of actually actively scouting and recruiting talent. This is something I think in today’s North American labour market will become a vital component to the success of organizations and impact society in ways beyond simple economic measures.

The concept of attracting talent is going to take a new turn. With a growing gap in the number of jobs available and the people who are qualified to fill them organizations are going to need to seek talent in ways that fall outside their traditional spectrum.

By traditional I mean this:

  • Analyze the job; what does the job do, and what KSAs (knowledge, skills and abilities) are required to perform the job successfully
  • Create and post an ad hoping that talent exists that may be interested in working for you
  • Collect resumes from those who are interested and begin screening them
  • Interview your short list and evaluate your top candidates via reference checks
  • Make and/or negotiate your offer to the most qualified candidate
  • Onboard the successful candidate into the organization

The challenge that we face with traditional means of recruitment is that we count on a hiring decision to be made based on the talent that is actively searching for work. In other words, we are waiting to be noticed like a wallflower at a Jr.High dance hoping that someone will want to dance with us. Is this really how we are going to find the top talent in today’s competitive market? I remember Jr.High and how competitive it was when everyone wanted to dance with “that person”. I also remember how those who sat on the bleachers waiting; often ended up listening to the music all night, not dancing.

While the traditional methods described above are certainly what I would consider a good hiring process, I don’t really consider waiting for something to fall in your lap, “recruiting”. Pushing some paperwork, placing some ads and asking a few questions don’t mean that you are going to end up with the top talent on your team or as Jim Collins might say in the famed book From Good to Great, “Getting the right people on the bus”. Imagine if the top sports teams out there waited to see which hockey, football or baseball talent were interested in playing for them; would some of these teams even be able to compete? No, they wouldn’t. Some of these organizations have to bend over backwards to attract the talent they have in order to just get in there and play the game.

Too many organizations out there have faltered over the years by relying on their marketing, without considering how they are going to close the sale. The difference between a good hiring process and recruitment comes down to sourcing top talent, and building lasting relationships. It’s selling the benefits of working with your organization so people can understand why they would be better off working for you than any of your competition. It’s about getting out there and talking to people about the culture that exists in your work environment so both of you can make a decision about the prospects that are before you. Most importantly, it’s about always being on the lookout for talent that may show itself at any time in any number of ways and then recognizing when to seize the opportunity to convince the talent to consider a career with your organization.

I recall a time when I was tasked with recruiting over 200 technically inclined people in a 7 month period of time. There was no way that simple job ads would suffice. I put on job fairs and attended career fairs but they just weren’t bringing in enough talent on their own, I had to do more. Determined to meet the targets that were in front of me I found myself in a state of mind that I describe as “always on”. It so happened that during a hot summer day in Winnipeg I decided to head out to a local convenience store to purchase some slushy drinks as a form of recognition for how hard my team was working. I brought trays of drinks up to the cashier who greeted me with the most amazing attitude I had ever encountered at the store.

He was kind, courteous, and articulated himself incredibly well. He tried upselling other products at the counter, by providing examples of complementary items that might go well with the drinks I was purchasing. Then he offered to help carry the trays to my car. That’s when I knew there was a person in front of me who valued the provision of an exceptional customer experience, which was a key aspect of some of the roles I was trying to fill. I asked the person, “Do you know anything about computers by chance?” He then indicated that he did and in fact was once a computer engineer in the country he originated from. That’s when I handed him my card and let him know about the positions we were hiring for. I learned in that instant that he also had a family and so I spoke to him about the benefits available through the organization and explaining all the ways this organization values family and the events that provide opportunity for families to share in our success. I then suggested that he consider learning more about us on our website and encouraged him to come in and run through our technical testing.

A few weeks later, I found myself in front of this same person, having made it through the technical testing, the preliminary screening and a phone interview; he was now sitting in front of me for a final interview. By the end of that interview I knew we had found some amazing talent that would perform well in our organization and who would also appreciate the opportunity we were about to give him.  Had I not recognized the talent at the time I was buying slushy drinks for my team, we may not have been so fortunate as to have him become part of it.

It’s easy to buy a book online based on the synopsis you read; maybe you test it out by reading a test chapter and read some of the reviews of others who have read it. In essence you are buying based on some very superficial information, but would you buy a car in the same way? Not likely. When making an investment of this magnitude a relationship is often formed. Most people will go to a multitude of venues sourcing the vehicles they are interested in, but also evaluating the trust they feel with the sales person, the integrity of the product and service available, and testing, thinking, and coming back. Sometimes the talent we run into behave the same way about organizations they may be interested in working for.

This is another advantage to “recruiting”. When you run across talent in the world you aren’t in a position where you have to make a decision right away like in my previous example. In some cases you may meet someone who sparks an interest, but perhaps only enough to make you curious. Opening a line of communication is what helps both parties decide if joining the organization is the right decision. Sometimes time is required to understand what the needs of the talent are that you are sourcing and likewise they may need time to decide if there is benefit to joining the organization. The late Stephen Covey might describe this as “finding that win/win,” (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).

I recall another situation when someone was introduced to me by a friend at a restaurant late in the evening. The party I was with was just waiting to be seated, and she was just leaving. We had a few moments of conversation where I was able to learn that she did similar work to what I was recruiting for. I was compelled by my desire to meet our targets to ask if she knew anything about us, or had ever thought about applying with our organization. I learned she had not lived in the city for long and didn’t actually know much about us. Then the hostess informed us that we were about to be seated and we parted ways, but before she left I handed her a business card and suggested that should she like to learn more about us she should call or visit our website.

She was certainly someone who definitely did her research before making a decision. Over a number of phone calls I answered questions about our organization and the roles we were currently trying to fill. I spoke about the different benefits to working with us and the hiring process that would be required of her to ensure she met the criteria for any role she was interested in applying for. Then the call came where she indicated she thought a particular role was interesting, but because we couldn’t guarantee a particular set shift, she thought it would be best to stay where she was. I’ll admit, I was disappointed; but then I asked, “why” the set schedule was so important to her. She explained that her current schedule allowed her to work a second job occasionally.

The conversation took on a new life. After she let me know how much she would earn and how many hours she would work at both jobs I was able to determine that a role with us, would actually allow her to earn more on a full time basis with us, plus allow her some degree of work life balance.  A week later I learned that she had applied for an advertised full time role. Given my ongoing conversations with her, I recused myself from the process and had a colleague of mine interview her. If this person was going to work with us, I wanted her to know it was because she was qualified, because she deserved the role, not because she had spent time speaking to me. I later learned she would be joining us. In my heart I knew not only would this be good for us, but would also be good for her and as time went by she excelled in the organization; I have to admit, I like it when I’m right.

As Human Resource practitioners move forward; the practice of building relationships with people and understanding how to align the needs of our organizations and the needs of top talent in industry is going to be a vital component in recruitment. If you haven’t considered how vital it is to ensure your existing staff act as ambassadors to your organization then you may already be falling behind the competition. In a time when many organizations are looking for more efficient and cost saving ways of running the business, don’t lose sight of the value of the people that fall in the cross-hairs of doing so.

Do you think your business could benefit from a more active recruitment strategy?



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