Why job descriptions are not enough to get you great talent
If you’ve looked for a job in the past decade, you’ve surely come upon articles like this one, that extol the virtues of a job seeker finding creative ways to market themselves, whether it be through great resume writing, a fine looking LinkedIn profile, or something more creative. But if you’re on the other side of the equation and hiring talented and capable professionals for your organization, you will surely need to do some marketing of your own to compete for talent. The supply-demand is not in your favor and you might have to get creative yourself. The current unemployment rate for degreed professionals in the U.S. is just over 2.5%, which according to economists is functionally ZERO—meaning that anybody who wants a job either has one already or won’t be without one very long—and that’s even for those at the bottom of the barrel. What about the ones who have risen to the top? Think they might have options?
In my previous post, I noted the 3 things your recruiter ought to be doing for you. In this post, I want to address the step of crafting a message that would attract the right candidate to the position. Successfully navigating this effort requires us to think about your position, your team, and your company from a marketing perspective. When marketers think about the product they are selling (your open position), they begin by thinking about who would buy the product (candidates). Many hiring managers approach their open positions a bit too idealistically, and don’t properly target a market that would be attracted to the position. They tend to look for candidates who would be MORE than qualified for the position and for whom the job would be immediately or very quickly boring and unchallenging.
Years ago I was assisting the Controller of a mid-sized company to hire a new staff accountant. He had a team of 4, but had recently lost a staff member who after just 1 year felt they had outgrown the position. When we first sat with the Controller to listen to what he was looking for, he said what he really wanted was a bachelors in accounting with a good GPA from a good school and 2+ years of public accounting experience. (If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me to find them someone with a bachelor’s degree and 2 years of experience in a field, I would not need to be in business.) Anyone who understands the supply and demand of accountants would know that the candidate he described is probably the most highly demanded candidate in the accounting field. Someone with that progression is on track for the top of their field, and they are also likely the most talented at that level, so why shouldn’t he try to hire them? Because he didn’t have the product to attract and keep them. His team was 5 people with this position filled and when I asked him what his expectations for growth of the team were, he had no intentions of growing for the next couple years. When I asked him why his last 1-year staff accountant left and he explained that he had continuously asked for more responsibility that the team didn’t have to offer, we came to the realization that what he really needed was someone a little less. And is that such a bad thing? Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking I’m nuts, that he should try to find a way to attract the best of the best at all times and not settle, but the staff member he did eventually hire from us stayed with him for years, and was a high performer for the level of tasks required and the career progression available to him. A realistic target market for the product you’re offering is a first step and an informed recruiter can help you understand the dynamics of the market you are recruiting from and to identify the right person for your need.
Perhaps you do need to look for the best of the best for your position, though. In that case, the next step of crafting the message to that candidate is even more critical to your success because you are competing for them. Start by asking what makes your position attractive objectively. Of course they’ll get to work for a great boss (ha.), but it’s important to look at the position from the perspective of the population you’ll be targeting. What do they want from work?
Begin with thinking about the actual work you and your team do that this person will get to contribute to. Do you work in an interesting or buzz-worthy industry like healthcare IT, or cyber security, or cloud technology? Would you consider hiring someone who didn’t have experience in your industry, since that might make the job that much more attractive to them? Is there something else that makes the work empirically interesting, like dealing with large quantities of data (Big Data) or the fact that what your team is working on isn’t being done anywhere else on the planet?
Perhaps the work itself doesn’t sell, or even if it does, think about what makes your team great? I like to joke that recruiting is a lot like manual labor some days, but if you do manual labor really well with great customer service and a fun team, then there’s no reason not to love it. (Which I do!) When we hire for my team, we focus our message on the opportunity ($), the industries we serve, a flexible management style, and a capable, happy, and fun team. We include some of that message in our job postings. Do you? Make sure your postings reflect your team and the real advantages of working there.
What makes the work in your position attractive and what makes working on your team attractive to the people you want to hire are not things your recruiter will know, but they are items they can help elicit. If it is your internal recruiter, they can likely help with the last step, which is identifying items that make your company attractive. It is important here to recall what some refer to as the 5th ‘P’ of Marketing: Position. Position is the notion that your message means very little unless except when it’s compared to the other products or solutions that solve the same problem for the consumer, i.e. the other companies they work for and their benefits. For example, if you’re selling a hamburger with “real beef” but all the competitors also have “real beef” in their marketing, then you may not be setting yourself apart as much as you think. (There is a competing notion that just saying “real beef” may imply the competitors don’t necessarily, which can be a benefit, but that’s a much more complicated discussion than this article can bear.) When considering the benefits of your company, you have to look at who you are competing against to make sure your message lands. A good benefits package is nice, but if your competitors offer a great benefits package, then perhaps a focus on the company’s growth trajectory is a better message. Beanbag chairs and a comfortable common space may be great, but if you’re in Silicon Valley, then you’d better up your game to include laundry service and catered lunches if you want the best talent and a message about the beanbag chair might not be strong enough. On the other side of the coin, sometimes we take for granted some of the perks you do have because other companies run thin on benefits, and I had one customer who could brag about free coffee to their candidates because some of their competitors literally made people bring in their own coffee! (Travesty.) One of my favorite things about our office—which I tend to remember in winter most—is that we have covered walkways from the parking garage to the front door so if it’s raining like heck, I don’t have to get wet.
Sometimes it’s the little things, and sometimes the larger, but make a list, add the appropriate ones to the job description or website where you advertise your positions, add some to the email or LinkedIn messages your recruiters are sending, and make sure to reiterate them in the interview process. If your recruiter isn’t helping you to navigate the market for your talent, or if they can’t seem to get this message in front of the right population to get you who you need, give us a call or send me a message.