Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Why Some Companies Make It Difficult For Themselves To Find Good People

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.” If a candidate is rejected for a reason that is not listed in the job specs, the specs need to be revised, since they are the guidelines used to identify and screen candidates. Most job descriptions are simply that – descriptions; they fail to deal with the job issues.

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.


  1. Refreshing to have my long-held beliefs confirmed by your observations here: So-called "communications professionals" continue to be some of the worst communicators in existence.

    1. @Anon: I think what it is is that a lot of people simply don't know how to work with recruiters. Also, I have lectured companies on how to write job specs, but the problem is that the people charged with writing them (often the hiring managers, not HR), have no idea how to create an actionable specification.

  2. Great post, Paul. Job specs that throw everything in including the kitchen sink are just nuts. The more items listed in the job description the less it serves to discourage the wrong people from applying. Why? Because many people recognize that no one person can possibly possess all the requirements. So they throw their hat into the ring thinking they have 70% of what's being sought. Agencies, especially, should take the same disciplined approach to their job descriptions as they do with their creative briefs. We all know the power and potential of tight, single-minded brief.

    1. Thanks, Tony. How right you are. Sadly most companies don't know how to write a hiring brief.

  3. I feel relieved that there are same minded people in this world and less lonely in this battle of finding the right job. During all my jobseeker's time I only met one young lady who understood what was written on my cv, and I met at least 60 people in HR.

    1. Unfortunately, Danielle, there are too many "check-list" recruiters and HR people. I have written previously about how important personal relationships are in recruiting and how the internet (emails,specifically) has eliminated much of that.

      I just placed an account supervisor who had only worked on automotive and related accounts on a major cosmetics account. I was able to say to the HR Director that if she had received her resume via email she would not look twice at it. But I urged her to see her because I knew she was right for the job. And she got the job over many candidates who had previous cosmetics and package goods experience. And, to boot, she was more expensive than the spec.

      Keep at it.

  4. Clear, concise and easy to read. Thanks for a nice blog post!

    Licensing Company & Product Licensing

  5. All you really have to do is get yourself a program that will allow you to search through all
    the classifieds and job sites on the internet at one time and
    will let you know when there is some new gig that is meant for you.
    Remember all of the time you DIDN'T have to see your friends.

    You can use them to meet new people, share information, and find out about job opportunities as soon as they're available.

    my webpage; how to i need to find a job asap

    1. @Anon: Huh? You missed the point, but I think you are really promoting your webpage. I don't usually leave up self-promotions, but I want to answer you to make a point.

      The job boards are too often a black hole. Many companies are too busy to list all their available jobs, and the listings are often in error, which is the point of my post. That is not to say that active candidates shouldn't look at the job boards. Indeed, they should. But what is listed is often too perfunctory to be meaningful.


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

Creative Commons License