'It's Hard To Find Qualified Applicants' -- Is Another Business Lie

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Dear Liz,
I am an HR Manager for a growing consulting firm.
I agree with you that it's not hard to find talented people, even for a small firm like ours, if you have a great culture and pay reasonable salaries.
I have never had a hard time finding great people to hire, even though our small firm doesn't have the perks and benefits our larger competitors offer.
We treat our job applicants like gold, because our company has no products to sell. We have no patents. All we have is our people.
I go to HR networking meetings and hear HR people say "It's so competitive out there! It's so hard to find great people!"
Of course it's hard to find people to hire when you make applicants wait for weeks between interviews, put them through ridiculous steps in the hiring process and ask them insulting interview questions.
Any company could get the same huge competitive advantage my company gets just by modernizing their recruiting process to make it fast and friendly.
They would never complain about the difficulty of filling their job openings again if they would just re-design their recruiting process to make it more appealing to candidates.
Why don't they do it?

Dear Heather,
Hats off to you and your team!
Here are five reasons most large, medium-sized and even small employers can't get their recruiting act together and therefore complain about imaginary Talent Shortages instead:

  1. They are not early adopters like you -- they are uncomfortable making big changes.
  2. They cannot shift their mindset away from the tired old notion that in order to hire great people, you have to put applicants through multiple tedious and insulting steps in the recruiting process.
  3. They do not have the organizational clout to propose the major changes in their recruiting apparatus that forward-looking companies like yours have adopted.
  4. They do not understand that recruiting is a sales and marketing activity.
  5. At a deeper level, they believe that their value to the organization is bound up with their ability to reviews gazillions of resumes and interview tons of people, and then tell most of those people "No thanks."
Companies that lack a visionary CEO and/or HR leader will only realize that they cannot abuse job seekers and be successful when the "talent shortages" they complain about get so bad that they have to stop and look in the mirror.

Then they will see that they create their own recruiting problems.
I've been an HR leader since 1984.
Like you, I worked for growing companies. I needed to hire hundreds or thousands of people every year, and had limited resources to do it.
I noticed right away that recruiting is by far the easiest part of the HR function.
There are much harder parts of an HR Manager's job.
It's hard to comfort an employee who has just lost a loved one or received terrible news.
It's hard to tell an executive twenty years older than you are and three levels higher on the organizational chart that they cannot fire an employee just because they want to.
It's hard to tell a supervisor that their fear-based management style isn't working, and that they need to soften their approach.
Recruiting, on the other hand, is easy.
If your culture is great and your recruiting process is fast and respectful, recruiting is a snap.
Many HR people don't yet have the confidence to tell hiring managers "No, we're not going to post a job ad that includes sixteen Essential Requirements for an entry-level job. We're going to rewrite the job ad to include one or two requirements, because you and I both know that any smart person could do this job with two weeks of training."
Most job ads are ridiculous, as you know. They reflect old-line bureaucracy and/or managerial hubris rather than reality.
Pre-employment tests do not yield better hires -- but they drive talented candidates away.
Panel interviews are insulting and intimidating to candidates. Good interviews are friendly and conversational. These things are obvious, but many leaders have blinders on and can't see what is right in front of their faces.
To see these obvious realities, they would have to open their minds to the idea that in recruiting -- a sales and marketing activity, as we know -- the employer is not in control.
Talented candidates are in control. You have to entice them. Every HR Manager who understands this has an advantage over the ones who don't.
Hang onto your human-focused recruiting process as your company grows, Heather, because people will put pressure on you to make it as crusty and obnoxious as most companies' recruiting processes are.
Resist the pressure!
The talent market is a market like any other. Supply and demand rule.
If I walk into T. J. Maxx hoping to find a diamond necklace on sale for $29.95 and there's no necklace available, that's not a Reasonably Priced Diamond Necklace shortage -- it's my own delusion.
Every HR leader has the opportunity to vault their companies ahead of their competitors by doing the same thing you're doing, but they have to find their own voices -- and backbones -- to do it.
All the best,

Liz Ryan is CEO/founder of Human Workplace and author of Reinvention Roadmap. Follow her on Twitter and read Forbes columns.

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