6 Reasons It’s Hard to Attract Great Talent

With all the new tools, techniques and services available to help companies find good employees, why are good employees getting so much harder to find? It may seem like a strange paradox, but there are several good reasons why. Let’s look at six of the biggest, starting with the most elementary.

1. It’s a buyer’s market.

No, you’re not imagining things—it really is getting harder to fill many positions because there are fewer people waiting to fill them. U.S. unemployment rates have been dropping slowly, but steadily since hitting a peak of around 10% in October 2009, down to an estimated 5.4% in April. Of course, unemployment is cyclical and it affects your competition, too. Just remember that low unemployment is a good thing—even if it makes attracting talent more difficult in the short run.

2. It’s a buyer’s market (Part 2).

Recruiting is a lot like marketing, but with candidates instead of customers. Marketers talk about the shift from the Product Age (any color you want as long as it’s black) to the Customer Age (learn what your customers want, then compete to give it to them). We have gone through the same transition in finding talent. Candidates used to come to us. They could only pick from the jobs we had open. Now the game is more sophisticated. We seek out the candidates wherever they are. We find ways to offer the careers, culture and benefits that people want. In doing so, we have taught candidates to be more selective. This all leads to better hires and greater retention, but it does make things more complicated.

3. Passive candidates are now in the mix.

It used to be easy to tell whether someone was looking for a job. If they weren’t sending out resumes, filling out applications or visiting job sites, they probably weren’t interested. It’s not that simple anymore. According to one survey, only about 25% of the workforce around the world is actively looking for a job. At the same time, only 15 percent say they are completely satisfied and not open to moving. That means that 60% of all workers are interested in talking to recruiters, even though they’re not looking. If they’re not actively searching, they’re not going to find your career site or even your job posting. You have to go find them. Tell your story in the places they already go. And remember—you don’t have to sell them right away. Start by getting them interested.

4. You’re getting better at finding what you don’t want.

A lot of talent assessment tools are designed to help you be less wrong—in other words, to make fewer bad hires. This is extremely valuable, but it can make it seem like you are seeing more of the wrong candidates and less good ones. In reality, unless your total applicant numbers have fallen significantly, it’s likely that you are just getting better at eliminating most of the candidates who are not a good fit. Over time, this should be reflected in improved retention. And that’s well worth the extra trouble.

5. You face the special problem of startups.

For those HR professionals who work in a startup, you may run into many exciting opportunities, but also some unique challenges. For one thing, your most desirable candidates are probably being courted by more established companies, and they may not see any reason to take the risk of going with a startup. Leo Shklovskii, co-founder and CTO of EnergySavvy, says, “It takes a certain amount of craziness to come work for a startup, right? You can go to Microsoft; you can go to Google. But it is a very different experience coming to a place that is as small as EnergySavvy.” But as difficult as it may be, adding the right people at this stage of the game can be critical to growth and success. Sathya Karthik Ramadass, CEO of Abiba Systems, says, “It is important to get ‘anchor’ employees. They are the initial set of core employee(s) who can help to attract more talent and build a larger team.”

6. You’re too picky.

I mentioned earlier that efforts for marketing to candidates have made them more selective. But before we complain that we have simply spoiled candidates rotten, we need to take a good look in the mirror. Recruiters, too, may have become more selective and inflexible about whom we are willing to hire. A report from Career Innovations says that “Inflexibility in pay, training and job descriptions” is a major reason why we have a hard time filling vacancies. The report goes on to say, “Companies may be trying too hard to fit the candidate to their job opening instead of tailoring a job to fit a talented candidate…you may be too readily disregarding great people who just lack one or two easily teachable skills.” Remember that even as we are becoming more scientific in our approach, part of recruiting will always be an art—the art of seeing potential in candidates, and how that potential can be made to thrive in your organization.

Remember, too, that we don’t judge our performance by how hard we work. We measure results. The new resources and changing landscape of recruiting may not have made things any simpler, but they do make it possible to do our jobs more effectively. Are you making better quality hires? Are engagement and retention improving? When you can answer yes to these questions, you know you’re doing something right.

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