CIOs Are Sellers Not Buyers In Today’s Talent Market

In military terminology the current war for IT talent has reached DEFCON 2, a state of palpable anxiety created by intense competition for individuals possessing specialized technical expertise.Some companies have even exercised the nuclear option. They’ve acquired other companies at inflated prices to procure the talent they’re unable to obtain through conventional recruiting practices.

Source: CIOs Are Sellers Not Buyers In Today’s Talent Market

IT leaders are accustomed to think of themselves as buyers of IT talent. They establish job descriptions for the positions they’re seeking to fill, solicit applicants and evaluate the qualifications of suitable candidates. In today’s labor market this approach is not sufficient to attract the data scientists, infosec analysts, DevSecOps developers, site reliability engineers, ML/AI model builders, automation engineers, etc. that IT shops so desperately need. Knowledge workers with specialized skills simply have too many job options for conventional recruiting practices to be effective. 

IT leaders need to function as brand managers, selling the unique benefits of working on their teams. They also need to function as detectives, finding and seducing fully employed individuals who can fill the gaps within their organizations. The rules of recruiting engagement are quite different when you find yourself operating at DEFCON 2.

Learning to sell

Hiring managers routinely rely upon a variety of circumstantial job factors to convert a prospective candidate into a full time employee. Managers control such things as job titles, base pay, bonus programs and work location. The latter consideration has become acutely important in our Covid-conscious working world. Many if not most job candidates are seeking maximum flexibility in their work location and in-office working hours. 

In today’s labor market these considerations are necessary but not sufficient to induce a candidate to accept an offer of employment. Candidates simply have too many choices, shifting them into buyers of the career opportunities afforded by prospective employers instead of sellers of their talents. 

In the not so distant past, an employer’s sales pitch would be partly predicated on the unique culture of their company. Traditional company cultures have been primarily built upon social relationships established through physical interactions among existing employees. These social frameworks are rapidly fraying as more employees choose to work remotely and interactions with co-workers become increasingly virtual. It remains to be seen if company cultures – as we’ve come to think of them in the past – can survive in world of virtual-first interactions within a company’s workforce.

If a prospective employer can’t present a job candidate with a compelling value proposition based upon circumstantial job factors and company culture, what’s left? Unfortunately, it’s a topic that IT managers have difficulty navigating in both pre-Covid and Covid-conscious times: employee career development. Managers who can describe the nature of the work candidates will be expected to perform over the next 1-2 years in terms of the challenges they will face, the skills they will develop, the business knowledge they will gain and the future career opportunities they’ll be qualified to pursue will establish recruiting snares that even the most highly sought after candidates will find difficult to resist.     

Personalizing the recruiting process

You might think that the current imbalance between talent supply and demand would force most companies to re-engineer their recruiting practices in ways that enable the earliest possible identification of desirable candidates and the constant wooing of such individuals until they’ve accepted employment offers. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If anything, the heightened competition for a limited pool of prospective candidates has made the recruiting process more chaotic than ever.

Old processes die hard. There are far too many repetitive interview conversations in which a candidate is required to justify their qualifications instead of discussing their career aspirations. Ghosting – the failure of companies to provide candidates with feedback following successful or unsuccessful interviews – is endemic. And the search for so-called unicorns (individuals possessing 99.99% of all the qualifications associated with a particular position) occurs far too frequently. 

Employers need to re-engineer conventional recruiting procedures from a candidate’s perspective. Recruiting is an exercise in relationship building starting with mutual interest progressing to mutual like and ultimately flowering into mutual commitment. Individual candidates accept employment offers for an idiosyncratic mix of circumstantial factors, co-worker cultural attributes, career development and advancement opportunities and social relationships established during or before the interview process. Recruiting procedures need to be redesigned to determine an individual candidate’s job selection criteria as early as possible and tailor all subsequent interactions accordingly. 

It’s ironic to note that companies are extremely sophisticated at characterizing the buying behaviors of prospective customers in terms of customer personas but mostly clueless when it comes to characterizing the buying behaviors of prospective job candidates. Persona frameworks used to market a company’s goods and services should be adapted for use in the recruiting process to characterize the job selection personas of prospective candidates. But quite obviously, this transformation can only take place after companies realize they’re no longer buying talent, they’re selling opportunities and job candidates are customers for those opportunities.

Two modest suggestions

Many companies assign a ‘buddy’ to every new employee. Buddies are typically peers who serve as informal advisors, answering a new employee’s ‘dumb questions’ and acquainting them with the unwritten rules of conduct that are so essential to social acceptance and initial on-the-job success. 

The chaos of the recruiting process could be significantly reduced if informal ‘buddies’ were assigned to promising candidates during the earliest stages of the search process. These buddies would not be hiring managers or HR recruiters. They’d be prospective co-workers who would keep targeted candidates informed about the progress of the search and, perhaps more importantly, continue to build the candidate/company relationship that was established during initial interviews. In effect, a recruiting buddy would serve as the candidate’s champion, representing the candidate’s perspective on the progress of the search (or lack thereof) and shielding the candidate from the behind-the-scenes chaos that accompanies many candidate evaluation processes.

It’s also quite common to ask new employees to prepare a 30/60/90 day performance plan describing their objectives during their first three months of employment. Such plans help ‘newbies’ focus on activities that acquaint them with the people, processes and tools they will need to succeed in their new positions. 

Prospective job candidates are frequently forewarned that they will be expected to formulate 30/60/90 day performance plans prior to receiving job offers. Some are actually asked to do so during the final stages of the recruiting process. Most candidates would likely be far more interested in constructing a 90/180/270 day career development plan describing the skills enrichment, business insight and leadership opportunities they will experience during their first nine months on the job. Candidates obviously aren’t equipped to construct such plans on their own. However, a hiring manager’s commitment to build such a plan during a candidate’s first 30 days on the job might just be the X-factor that compels them to accept your offer of employment.

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