The Leadership Labyrinth

Ask a CEO about talent acquisition and you'll get   . . .   "ask HR!"

The term "organization" does not refer to organized machinery or organized paperwork; it refers to a company of people who, together, have the ability to work towards a common goal. The skills and demeanor necessary to assemble people into an organization are among the most important traits of a successful leader. The following articles include valuable information regarding talent acquisition that is often overlooked by those in power.

Understand ... it is now a candidate's job market

Recent changes in the economy have sparked change within the employment market. It is crucial for hiring managers to understand that today, it is a candidate's job market. What's the difference? In a stale economy, employers can post an advertisement for an open position the same way a fisherman can cast a net. One simple post might result in hundreds of responses; including top-level candidates ... the big fish. In a candidate's job market, times are good and employers are forecasting growth. This means more people get hired and the fish become scarce; especially the big fish. For a candidates job market, employers may need to use bait and tackle to catch the high-quality talent that will drive their organization.


Understanding the employment market is very important, as it may require adjustments to talent acquisition practices to obtain the best talent available. If an organization fails to build a better team than its competition, it will eventually lose market share.


Furthermore, the shift to a candidate's job market will most likely be accompanied by other changes in the business climate; usually growth related. Although this is usually a change for the better, talent acquisition practices may need to be tweaked so that the people being hired are adaptable to changes in the evolving economic environment.

Take responsibility ... for talent

The ability to add exceptional talent to an organization is one of the most important qualities of leadership. Another important quality of leadership is delegation. However, if leadership delegates responsibilities and tasks associated with talent acquisition, at what point are they overly removed from the process?


There is no perfect formula to determine the best way to delegate resources towards talent acquisition, however, the chart below should help. It provides the division of labor necessary to secure top talent as well as the time and energy put forth. For more information on active and passive candidate search, see "Active -VS- Passive candidate search" below.

Talent Acquisition Delegation Questionnaire:

On average, who is doing the work to fill an open position and how many hours a week are they spending?

     A) Hiring Manager - hours spent per week ..................... (active search) ______ (passive search) ______ 

     B) HR - hours spent per week ......................................... (active search) ______ (passive search) ______ 

     C) Internal Recruiter- hours spent per week ................... (active search) ______ (passive search) ______ 

     D) External Recruiting Agency - hours spent per week ... (active search) ______ (passive search) ______

There are three important skills that a hiring manager needs to have:

1) The hiring manager needs to know when to commit time and/or money necessary to conduct a passive search and that all participants are doing their part in the search.

2) The hiring manager needs to know when to move search efforts from an internal resource  (HR or internal recruiters) to an external resource (recruiting agency or executive search firm).

3) The hiring manager needs to make sure adequate time is spent on the search, as the search process requires a lot of time.


Note: Timing is (still) everything. If an organization experiences a long term gap in its talent, it will eventually lose market share.

Active -VS- Passive candidate search

In the world of recruiting, there are two types of candidates, active and passive.


Active candidates are those who are unemployed, underemployed, or unhappy with their current work situation. Simply put, they are actively job hunting. Searching for active candidates is usually done through online job search sites like LinkedIn, and On these sites, job are posted, active candidates apply, and resumes are reviewed.


For large companies and recruitment firms, the recruitment of active candidates can include the use of a large database. Using technology that is built into the database, candidates can be organized, classified, and matched with specific positions. 


Unfortunately, active candidates do not represent the entire work force and a database consisting of active candidates may not represent a pool of top candidates. Why? Top candidates will be more quickly connected with new employment and remove themselves from the active candidate market. As the active candidate database ages, its best content will be the first to lose relevancy within the database.


Although the talent acquisition process for active candidates is fairly simple on the front end, a lot of time can be spent sifting through resumes to find a fit. It is not uncommon for candidates to apply for positions that are vastly different than their experience, which adds to the amount of resumes submitted. Active candidate searches often produce candidates that are "serial applicants". This means that they constantly apply for a large quantity of jobs and repeatedly show up in searches.


Passive candidates are successful at what they do and happy with their current employment situation. They are not actively job hunting, however, open minded to new opportunities. Because passive candidates are not applying for jobs, recruiters must proactively find them. To do this, they will use intense internet research methodologies to hone in on specific skills and experiences. Once passive candidates are found, recruiters will reach out and sell the opportunity at hand.

When a recruiter communicates with a passive candidate, they "unlock" them, turning them into an active candidate. This means the candidate will not only considers the opportunity presented to them by the recruiter, but all opportunities out there. This is driven by natural curiosity and the need to find a point of comparison. When your cousin calls you about a great deal on a used car, the first thing you do is check market pricing on the same model of used cars. Because of this curiosity, it is important for employers to process all candidates as quickly as possible.


A few notes regarding passive candidates:

  • An interview with a passive candidate might be a little different than an interview with an active candidate. In a passive candidate interview,  the hiring manager and candidate might interview each other. This can frustrate a hiring manager who is accustomed to speaking with people who are more anxious to get the job.
  • Passive candidates are sometimes perceived as being higher quality than active candidates. This is because the research used to find passive candidates can encompass the entire employment market, using methods that can find a very close match. Active candidate searches will be limited to those who respond to online ads. At the end of the day, everyone is an active candidates at some point in their career and performance in an interview will determine quality.

A Word About Agency Recruiters:

 Agency recruiting is a misunderstood profession. There is no specific college course nor college degree for it. Seven out of ten who pursue the profession will fail.


For the most part, the recruiting industry is an all-or-nothing proposition. A candidate who falls through the cracks will bring an agency $0 in fees. A successful placement can generate between $10,000 and $30,000 in fees.


The commission percentage that a recruiter earns depends on the agency. This information is not typically shared with the client, however, this number can greatly influence the search. If a recruiter is commissioned on a very small percentage of the fee, there is little incentive for them to spend a lot of time working on the search.


Recruiters who fill high-level positions are often called executive search consultants, however, the positions they fill aren't necessarily executive-level roles. These recruiters are typically well compensated through high commissions and free to spend a lot of time on each search, possibly hundreds of hours.


Some recruiters will work within an industry and/or position niche. A recruiter who only recruits mechanical engineers within the aviation and aerospace industry would be an example of a niche recruiter. By specializing in a specific type of recruitment, they can identify all available candidates within a geographic area and present them to all companies that are willing to look at them. At this level, the task at hand is less research driven and more of a match game, connecting the right candidates with the right companies.


Although the trading floor is behind closed doors, the battle for top talent is as fierce as the trading of any valuable commodity. Every day, there are winners and losers. With every hire, there will be a contribution to goods or services that will allow one company to better compete with another.

Key Talent ... the key to success

The various positions within an organization are not equal and should not be treated as such. Some positions will be at a more influential level, influencing the company's strategic positioning and/or expanding the company's intellectual property. If a manufacturer adds a VP of sales to its coffee maker division, they will not only expect leadership over the sales department, but the development of successful sales strategies that will have the sales people closing more deals. If they hire a top design engineer for the same division, they will expect improvements to the design of the coffee makers that will help win market share.


As these influencers strive to forward market share, there will always be changes in the market. If coffee prices sky rocket and people start drinking tea, the company will need to adapt to these changes.


It is the job of top leadership to formulate a vision for their company and predict the direction of the market. If a company's strategic positioning and intellectual property need to be considered when filling high-level positions, then it is the responsibility of top leadership to find alignment between their vision and available talent.

The subtractive job interview

Once you have a stellar resume in your hand, it's time to start thinking about a job interview. Some hiring managers look at the job interview differently than most. They look at it from the perspective of subtraction. Rather than collecting the enormous amount of information needed to determine an excellent candidate, they will focus on information that might weed out a poor candidate. Although, weeding out candidates may sound a bit barbaric, it can force a company to hire above a certain standard without being seduced by specific skills and experience. 


The subtractive process is best performed at the beginning of the interview, as there is less of an emotional attachment to the candidate and less room for bias. Certainly, as the interview transpires, the direction can head into positive territory. Here, candidates can promote their skills and experience and sell themselves.


What are some of the negative attributes a hiring manager should look for in a subtractive interview?


               Does the candidate think that they are bigger than the job?

               Is this position the next logical step in their career or is it their dream to open a coffee shop?


               Does the candidate lack respect for the position, company, industry, product and/or service?

               Did they do their research and will they develop a passion for the position?


               Does the candidate have personal issues that might show up within the workplace?

               Will a bad attitude show up to bog down the corporate culture?


               Does the candidate have unrealistic expectations?

               Will there be any surprises when faced with the following?

                         •  Intense work ethic requirements

                         •  Long hours, exceeding the 40 hours work week

                         •  Travel requirements

                         •  Unique corporate culture requirements

                         •  Challenges specific to the position that had caused issues or turnover in the past


To develop candidate questions, many interviewers use the STAR method:

                      S - Situation

                      T - Task

                      A - Action

                      R - Result

STAR is a method that can help interviewers collect candidate information as it tells a whole story within their work history, rather than a one-dimensional answer. With STAR, the candidate is asked to provide information on a past situation, tasks assigned to the candidate within this past situation, the actions that the candidate actually took to complete the task assigned to them, and the results of those actions. What is the desired outcome? If the candidate successfully completed the task in a way that markedly improved the situation, they get bonus points in the interview.


STAR is simplified in the above paragraph, however, it can be very difficult for a candidate to produce this information, within this format, on-the-fly. The best interviews are conversational, as they allow the candidate to share information in a more spontaneous fashion. If the STAR method is use, it will probably glean better results as a point of reference for the interviewer's conversational interview rather than a task assigned to the candidate. 

A Talent Driven Organization

Remember when your company decided to become a  "sales driven organization?" This strategy probably came into play when profits were down and top leadership felt that they needed to develop a way to get them closer to the money. So the knee-jerk reaction was to turn to the sales department; the department that is closest to the customer, and thus, closest to the money. In theory, putting focus on the sales department will automatically generate revenue.


“In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.” Albert Einstein.


In practice, putting focus on a weak sales department can stimulate improvements and increase revenue. Usually, a focus on the sales department does not stimulate true transformational change and exponential growth.


What should an organization strive for? A talent driven organization.


What makes a company better than its competitors? Is it the product? Service? Value? An advertising agency? The sales department? It can be any number of factors, however, the primary source of a company's competitive standing in the marketplace is most often its employees. If the employees are top-notch, the company has a high probability of winning market share.


When a company pushes its sales department into new promotional programs, it needs to include surrounding departments as well. Communication needs to flow across departments to make sure all opportunities and deficiencies are exposed, not just those within the sales department. When everyone knows the plan and realizes their role within the plan, teams are built, ideas are shared and talent finds success.

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