4 Ways to Repel Top Talent With Scarce Skills

Let’s acknowledge that, despite our widespread desire to offer a great candidate experience to every applicant for every role, talent acquisition functions simply aren’t resourced to do so. Like every business and family, we have limited resources within which we must operate.

One option for managing this budgeting challenge — the traditional HR approach — is to spread our resources as thinly and as evenly as possible in an effort to achieve some kind of parity or fairness. This usually means making distinctions by level (lots of attention, resources and money spent on executive candidates, less so on professional and few if any on hourly candidates). However, the perceived importance of these levels themselves is a hold-over from, literally, the industrial era. Not only do level-based distinctions make little sense in our knowledge economy, using them as the foundation for your talent-acquisition strategy will repel the very talent that the business most needs to grow — talent that is not defined by the levels we created in the 1930s.

Managing talent-acquisition resources the old way — spreading resources thinly and evenly by level — is a sure-fire recipe to repelling the talent you most need. Here’s how:

Fail to Distinguish Roles by Business Criticality

In our knowledge economy, while all jobs are important (or else they wouldn’t exist), only some roles are critical to building business value (I’m going to talk about this more at ERE in San Diego). It’s different for every industry and company, but examples are R&D roles at a pharmaceutical company, buyers at a retailer, or engineers at a defense contractor. You can practically draw a direct line between the quality of talent attracted and retained in those roles — and the company’s enterprise value over time.

Talent-acquisition and HR professionals should initiate conversations with top leaders in order to enlist their help in prioritizing recruiting resources. Failing to do so means that TA teams are over investing in the hiring of some (probably less important roles) roles while under investing in other (probably more critical) roles.

Fail to Distinguish Roles by Talent Availability

The other essential distinction for effective recruiting is an understanding of the talent availability in the marketplace for the role.

Let’s face it: if you’re hiring a marketing coordinator, there is a lot more talent available than if you’re hiring a digital marketing strategy manager. You can post the job for the former and likely receive a plethora of qualified candidates, which will not be the case for the latter. In order to find the right qualifications and fit, you will have to research who is in that role in other organizations, talk to them, and then compel them to consider your opportunity and company. It requires a completely different approach to recruiting.

Fail to Prepare Hiring Managers for Interviewing Those With Scarce, High-demand Skills

It might be controversial, but we believe that not every hiring manager needs interviewing training — much less the same information, delivered in the same way. Going back to our previous example, the kind of prep the hiring manager for the marketing coordinator opening needs is significantly different from what the hiring manager of the digital marketing strategy role needs. Truly, the hiring manager for the marketing coordinator might simply need a team of three interviewers (including him/herself), 15-minute prep meeting beforehand, a concise and structured interview guide, and a formal, 30-minute debrief meeting after the candidates leave. Nothing crazy or involved. 

The hiring manager for the digital marketing strategy role however needs to understand that you’ve (probably) been working this passive candidate for months, that he (yes, probably a “he”) has finally agreed to come in and interview, and that he’s probably going to take control of the interview and ask some really tough questions about the company and the opportunity. The hiring manager needs to know that this is *not* the time to be unprepared, to put his feet up on the desk, and ask the candidate, “So, why do you want to work for us?” Thorough preparation — including how to answer the toughest questions asked by the best candidates — and how to conduct a professional, job-related, and impactful interview is key to convincing the candidate to consider the opportunity.

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Fail to Audit Your Own Candidate Processes

Bad job postings and a convoluted, “compliance”-intensive online apply process is often like bad wallpaper. We know it’s hideous, but we just ignore it because we don’t have the time and energy to deal with it. While the bad wallpaper isn’t likely to repel anyone, your bad online experience will. But the on-line experience is only part of it. We recommend:

  • Auditing 5-10 job postings for your most critical roles. Are they lengthy, overwhelming, compliance-focused job descriptions? Or are they compelling, engaging job ads? There’s a difference.
  • Assessing your candidate drop-off: How many visitors drop off between job posting and “apply” — and then between “apply” and “submit”?  What is the drop-off rate for different pages or sections? (Want to know what “good” drop off is? None — unless you have realistic job preview elements that are meant to inform the candidate and drive drop off among those with an unreasonable expectation about what the job involves. Anything else is regrettable.)
  • Objectively observing onsite candidate experience. How easy is it to find the office and park? Does it cost money? How does travel or reimbursement work? How long do they have to wait, and where do they have to wait? How inviting is the receptionist (or security guard) and how welcoming is the environment? How often are interviews cancelled or rescheduled? How long are interviews and how many are there? How many times do candidates have to return? How long do they have to wait for an offer? How onerous are the contingencies they must satisfy? 
  • Asking: How do hiring managers conduct interviews? Audit several for critical roles by phone or in-person and evaluate how structured and professional the experience is — the balance of talking between hiring manager and candidate — and the ability of the hiring manager to answer questions effectively.
  • Asking: How many candidates drop out between the phone screen and offer, and at what trigger points? Why do they drop out?

Without understanding the current state of your candidate experience, it’s impossible to begin improving it.

These are just a few ways to begin re-thinking your approach to managing those with the skills who are most in demand in our current economy: IT, engineering, scientists, developers, etc. Start reassessing now, because finding and winning people with these skills isn’t going to get easier.

About the Author

Linda Brenner is co-founder and managing partner of Talent Growth Advisors (TGA), a national management consultancy based in Atlanta, Georgia. Prior to founding TGA, she led talent acquisition and talent management teams for companies such as Gap, Pepsi/Pizza Hut, and The Home Depot.

She started TGA in 2004 with the vision of helping business leaders improve talent results leveraging experience across operations, finance and talent management.

She and the TGA team have run finance and talent functions at Fortune 500 companies and have partnered with clients such as Coca-Cola, Raytheon, L’Oréal, Ogilvy, and Expedia. She works directly with companies to align talent strategies that map to the bottom line.

TGA helps clients with talent planning, talent acquisition and talent management current state assessment, process design and implementation services. She is passionate about defining what great looks like in measurable terms and taking concrete, measurable, and staged steps to get there.

TGA recently released the results of a first-of-its-kind Intellectual Capital Index that revealed that talent is the number one driver of market value in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

This finding has talent strategy and management implications for companies of all sizes.

She co-wrote, along with TGA Co-Founder Tom McGuire, Talent Valuation: Accelerate Market Capitalization through Your Most Important Asset, which details the firm’s innovative approach to talent strategy. She’s also the author of How to Manage Self-Directed Employee Development.