In Times of Low Unemployment, Your Industry is Your Farm Team
Like many, you have probably heard that there is a shortage of talent. This statement would be true if you were managing the macro-level economic engine of a state or country, but luckily, you are not. The plain and simple truth is that for any single firm there is an abundance of qualified talent available. However, accessing that talent requires that you use the rest of your industry as your "farm team."
Like in professional sports, talent farm teams are full of pre-qualified, well-trained professionals waiting to be upgraded. In great economic times, it is truly survival of the fittest. To survive and thrive, you will have no choice but to take top talent away from those firms that cannot compete.
While it may be true that recruiting specific talent for access to trade secrets or to harm the business practices of another organization intentionally may constitute a crime, recruiting talent away from another organization to fill a legitimate business need is both legal and ethical. Failing to recruit talent, on the other hand, would be a breach of ethical behavior between you and your employer.
While ethics is the most vocal argument heard, it is not the biggest barrier to farming talent from other organizations. That honor goes to a resistance by recruiters who only now how to recruit the "easy way," such as processing the inbound response to advertisements, corporate career sites, job boards, job fairs, and walk ins. Because such recruiters are not well-skilled in direct sourcing, they jump on the most visible bandwagon as an effort to mask their true reason for not recruiting the best talent available.
This isn't just their fault. Somewhere along the timeline of history, our culture made it more taboo to admit that you don't know how to do something than refusing to do it and lying about why. Organizations have been "stealing" customers and employees from each other for centuries. Third-party recruiters make an excellent living primarily by removing employees from one firm and convincing them to go to another that offers them a better situation.
The 'Can't Find Talent' Excuse is Weak
It is possible that everyone who claims this issue missed the fact that the Information Age came and went, as did the knowledge economy. During both of those economic phases, information propagated at exponential rates and the true value in society migrated away from tangible processing to intangible collection, aggregation, mining, and distribution of information. Stating that you can't find talent is tantamount to admitting you are ill-equipped to recruit in today's market conditions.
In the most successful recruiting organizations, the back-office portions of the recruiting life-cycle have transformed into advanced information processing units, purchasing information, aggregating it, mining it, and producing targeted talent inventories. Science fiction it is not; it is a well-refined process used by sales professionals to capture desirable market share for decades.
For senior professionals in the recruiting function to not know about large relevant information stores or how to leverage the information should be embarrassing given that most entry-level marketing professionals know how. Finding the names and occupations of almost everyone of working age in the civilized world has become easy. Who among us doesn't carry a credit card, have a mortgage, subscribe to a magazine, belong to professional association, or search on the Internet?
Salespeople identify potential customers by purchasing "sales leads" and you can use the same approach if you want to identify individuals within a profession, region, or even salary range (yes even salaries are in databases). Privacy advocates constantly complain about how easy it is to access even the most personal data about individuals, yet recruiters can't find the basic information to contact professionals in any particular job category. If your firm's recruiters can't find all the candidates you need, give them better tools or get better recruiters. It's just that simple.
Difficulty in Attracting Candidates
Over the course of the last decade, a number of technological innovations in recruiting made it easy for the ideal job to become the hunted, with the applicant as the hunter. While this did wonders for the efficiency of recruiting, it decimated the skill set of the average corporate recruiter who in just a few short years became nothing more than a process administrator. In the economic boom of the 90s, such tools were popular, so even though the unemployment rate was low, talent was playing the field.
Then came the bust in 2001/2002, and applications poured in, often in volumes organizations were ill-prepared to handle. However, this time around the same market conditions are not applicable. Recruiting technologies are not new, a good portion of the labor force isn't using them, and applicants aren't lining up to be treated like crap by organization after organization.
Unfortunately, most employment functions haven't changed their approach, and as a result, they are losing candidates to the more innovative and aggressive competition. During the current period of low unemployment, you must use multiple approaches to proactively seek out people that are no longer looking for you.
Shift resources toward "low unemployment" tools that are more effective in attracting currently employed individuals. Those tools include employment branding, proactive employee referrals, recruiting at professional events, targeting boomerangs, professional networks, and yes, even resource-intensive direct sourcing.
Difficulty in Finding Top Talent
In the war for talent, you can't gain a competitive advantage and win if you use the same tools as the competitor. By using the traditional suite of approaches, your firm will struggle to gain a competitive advantage, because competing firms will likely use the exact same traditional tools and approaches.
Supplement your recruiting toolkit with unique tools like contests, billboards, movie placements, videogames, non-recruiting/professional events, new media (i.e., YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Second Life, etc.) that are designed primarily to find and convince the "next generation" as well as the content, employed top performer.
Further complicating matters is that many corporate recruiters only know how to recruit the "U.S." way. In fact, there is a great deal of talent (who often also speak English) in countries like India, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, and South Africa. The problem is that most recruiters don't know how to recruit outside the borders of their own country. Making matters worse, managers and companies refuse to let professional-level workers work remotely from their own country.
The Power Has Shifted
When unemployment is low and filling jobs becomes more difficult, the power shifts to applicants. Now that the power has shifted, today's applicants expect recruiting to go from a "graceless process" to one that treats applicants more like customers.
Managers need to treat top candidates like free agents, and treat all applicants like customers. You must do extensive market research into identifying what these "customers" will and won't accept in their individual job-switch criteria. Offers must include flexibility in where and when they work, how they will be managed, and other individual needs. If you do not "mass personalize" your offers, you'll lose the war!
I frequently hear recruiters whine about the difficulty of finding talent and the shortage of talent. I also find that many supply the "shortage argument" as an excuse to managers as to why their firm is not successful in recruiting.
To me, all it really says is that they have failed to adapt and grow as the unemployment rate and the power and expectations of candidates have changed. The very best recruiters have stepped forward and begun using new tools while others use the same exact search pattern for every job they attempt to fill.
To me, recruiting is a lot like looking for water. Use a different approach when it's raining than you would use in times of drought. It's not that there is a shortage of talent; it's just that many recruiters are using "high unemployment strategies" and tools in a low unemployment world! It's that simple. The future of recruiting is clear. In a business world that changes at lightning speed, recruiters and recruiting managers have no choice. They must change at least as fast as the overall business changes!