I spoke a couple of weeks ago in Cincinnati. One of the questions which was asked at the end of my presentation was why it is so hard to find qualified candidates. It is a problem in every market and location.
I would like to share with you three recent situations where the companies made it almost impossible for me to find good people. And I hope it helps partially answer this question.
Sometimes hiring managers are just too fussy and completely limit the ability of professionals to find an appropriate candidate for their open job. Often job specs they create are really nothing more than generic descriptions of a job, but have nothing to do with who they want to hire or what problems they want solved. Bad job specs send everyone on a wild goose chase. And, very often, the salary budget is not aligned with the experience needed to do the job.
I recently had a senior manager call me to ask why I was having trouble recruiting for a fairly senior job which had been open for what he considered a too long a period of time. (It was only two months.) During our conversation I asked who the client company was and what the brands were that this person would work on (I had previously asked this of the HR Manager, who told me it was confidential). He also refused to tell me, saying the information was confidential (Effective recruiters know how to handle confidential information). This was not a New York City agency, so finding someone to work in this suburban location is difficult to begin with. However, the double whammy came when he described the combination of experiences that were absolutely mandatory for appropriate candidates to have. Add to this that I know this is an agency where they insist on hiring people with category experience. How can I possibly find anyone to work there – except for pure dumb luck – if I don’t know where or how to look for them? I know that this manager is angry with his human resources people and their recruiters for not being able to move faster. But he has completely ham-strung us.
To take it a step further, I asked this gentleman to explain the account issues to me and to tell me the skills he was looking for. Aside from telling me that there were no issues (give me a break), he asked me why my knowing this would be relevant. When I told him that I wanted to understand the criteria he was using to evaluate candidates so I could help him screen for the ability to do the job; he again told me it was not for me to know.
This is a more common attitude than I can tell you.
In another instance, I was working on a wonderful senior job. The assignment came with a three page job description which listed all the duties and responsibilities. I sent someone who I thought would be great and was informed that he was not a good match. He had never had experience working on a major “icon” account (Coca-Cola, IBM, Apple or the like). I went back and reread the job specs and description and, of course, this was nowhere in the three pages. In my Ad Age column, I wrote one with the title, “Want Better Candidates? Write Better Job Specs.”
When it comes to paying an appropriate salary, my mother had an expression which she used when I took too much food on my plate and couldn’t finish. She said, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach”. This is often the case with hiring people; companies want more than they are willing to pay. All too often the finance department dictates the salary level based on the title. But the salary doesn’t take into account that there is 65% travel, a fourteen hour work day and a six day work week, all accompanied by a miserable client. If a company wants to hire someone under these circumstances, it is good business and smart to pay more than the normal rate. Years ago, when Messner, Vetere, Berger, et al was in business (today it is HAVAS) they had the MCI account, which may have been the busiest account anywhere, ever. They always paid a significant premium for good people because of the insanity on the business. As a result, they were able to attract good people quickly.
The three examples I gave are simply the tip of the iceberg. Companies are often their own worst enemy when it comes to finding and hiring the people they want and need.