Monday Mornings with Madison

How to Find Talent Today – Part 1

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Estimated Read Time: 6 min.

Bill Gates once said that “The competition to hire the best will increase in the years ahead.”  The truth is that finding the right people to fill job openings has never been easy, but he was right that it has gotten harder.  With the unemployment rate holding at 4.1% nationwide — which is at the lowest level since 2000 and before that the lowest level since 1970 — it is getting harder (and may get even harder still thanks to stimulus from the tax overhaul) to find employees without throwing huge salaries and loads of benefits at the problem.  And finding highly-skilled, educated and experienced talent is even harder.

Sometimes, the challenge is finding people with the education, experience and skills to fill a high-level job.  Think of a CTO for a blockchain currency company.  Other times, the challenge lies in finding people with a combination of skills and experience that is hard to find in one person.  Think of a CMO for a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company that raises capital for real estate and is expanding into Latin America.  Still other times, the job may require a very deep level of knowledge in a niche area that few possess.  Think of a Chief Hardware Design Engineer for the Avionics department at SpaceX.  Or the job may be in very high demand and it may be hard to find someone who wants to leave an existing job to take a job with a less well-known company or one that isn’t offering as high a salary or benefits.  Think of programmers in Silicon Valley or Investment Bankers in Manhattan.   It can even be hard to fill customary positions — such as customer service, accounting, tech support, and sales — if a company simply has a lot of vacancies to fill because it is growing.  Given the today’s job market, what should hiring managers do today to find talent?  Here are some ideas.

Talent Pipelines that Deliver

The methods for identifying and hiring talent have definitely evolved in the last 10-20 years.  Few companies post ads in print newspapers anymore.  Instead there has been a proliferation of job boards and social media sites that allow job postings.  And it has become much easier for people to apply quickly and easily online using digital resumes and cover letters.  The result is that HR departments now receive an average of 250 applications for any job according to Glass Door.  The problem is that this is comprised of applicants who range from the highly qualified to the totally unqualified.  To handle the volume, HR departments are using ATS (applicant tracking system) software to pre-screen applicants.  These software programs are effective at culling down the pile but often ineffective for spotting up-and-coming talent, diamonds in the rough or those whose resumes are not ATS-friendly.  Using keywords to parse talent is like allowing a blind person to describe an elephant by holding the trunk or the tail.  It only sees what it is allowed to ‘see’.  That may explain why job boards are reputed to show anywhere from 4-20% of all available jobs.

Companies need to think out-of-the-box for ways to identify and recruit talent beyond standard job postings on job boards and social media sites.  If less than 20% of all jobs are posted on job boards, then 80% of the talent is being identified and hired using other strategies.  Here are what more creative companies are doing to identify talent.

1.  Network at Trade Association Conferences and Events

To discover a wealth of talent in a given profession, look no further than the people who are members of and active in their professional association.  Most people who love what they do and want to stay current with the latest trends usually become members of their trade association.  For some occupations, it is even mandatory.  For attorneys, practicing attorneys are usually members of the American Bar Association and, of course, the accrediting state bar association where they practice law.  And there are also local bar associations.  For accountants, it is the American Institute for Certified Public Accountants but there are also seven other professional associations for accountants and CPAs.  Especially active and qualified members become members of the Board of Directors.

There are literally thousands of professional associations.  It is chalk full of people with education and expertise in that occupation.   Attending networking events and conferences held by these associations is a great way to meet talent as well as meet with people who know others in their profession.  Leveraging those 2nd-person connections is the entire premise for LinkedIn.  But doing it face-to-face is a more personal, real way to get learn of possible hires.

2. Post ads on Trade Association job boards

If a trade association is a good place to network, it is also a good place to post a job opening.   If nothing else, it certainly helps ensure there are fewer unqualified applicants.  Usually only those who can see a trade association’s job board are members, which indicates that these are people who are invested in their own professional development.  And these are people who are usually far along in their careers, with a treasure trove of skills and experience.

3. Use Universities with programs in the area of study as a source of just-graduating, raw talent.

While experience may be an important part of the suitcase of qualities desired in an applicant, the value of recruiting recent college graduates is that their education is fresh and includes an understanding of the latest developments science and technology in their career.  Given the pace of change, there are fields where this knowledge is invaluable such as computer programming.   Tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Intuit and other tech giants have deep connections with universities such as MIT, Berkeley, Georgia Tech, and other programs graduating the top minds in computer science.  While small and mid-sized companies might not be able to attract computer programmers from MIT, they can certainly develop relationships with local and state colleges in the area where the company is located.  Having a close relationship with Deans provides a healthy pipeline of the crème-de-la-crème of applicants.

4. Offer Internships and then use that as a pipeline for talent as they develop their skills

Clearly this is not a pipeline that is going to deliver highly experienced or uniquely skilled talent on day one.  But this is a pipeline of individuals who, if selected carefully for ability and eagerness to learn fast, can become a rich pool of talent on an ongoing basis for the future.  Today’s junior legal secretary can grow and develop into a top paralegal with proper training and additional education.  The same is true of a coder that develops into a programmer or a nursing assistant who learns on the job while also taking additional classes.  Internships aren’t an alternative to college degrees but can enhance and accelerate the learning while also creating a pool of talent for the organization.  Hospitals have known and supported this approach for decades.  It is an effective strategy that many other types of companies are also adopting now.

5.  Find talent in fields that are related and can cross-over.

While some careers must be staffed with people who were specifically trained for that job, there are many positions where training in another related field translates well.  HR Directors can be outstanding Career Coaches.  A Job Fair Coordinator for a college can be an excellent Trade Show Manager for a B2B company or firm, such as a law firm or CPA firm.  Former classroom teachers, with experience developing curricula and lessons and imparting knowledge in digestible ways, can easily transfer their teaching skills to become a corporate trainers.  When considering job openings, it is important for a hiring manager to not fixate on finding someone with the exact job title as the opening.  Consider applicants whose skills in another field could cross over well.

6.  Relax on the requirements.

Many recruiters often comment that companies create really demanding job descriptions for the experience, education, and skills they seek in candidates.  The higher the bar, the fewer applicants that apply and meet the criteria.  The higher the bar, the more applicants that get weeded out by the Applicant Tracking System.  The higher the bar, the less opportunity there is to meet candidates that may be lacking in one particular area but really shines in other areas… or has incredible soft skills like passion, perseverance and personality.  By being more open to looking at a broader pool of applicants, the more likely a company is to find the candidate who is a diamond in the rough. To help parse through the higher load of applicants, use staff or create some simple tests to weed out the applicants who make it through the ATS but might still far short.

When job markets are tighter, it helps to think and look outside-the-box for people who may surprise you.  Next week, we will look at another half dozen sources for talent that your organization might never have considered.  Stay tuned.

Quote of the Week

“The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.” Steve Jobs


© 2018, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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