I met with a CEO of a tech startup company last week. He had a very familiar story. “Forever (or at least what’s seemed like forever for him) we have never had a problem recruiting talent to our company, but now we can’t hire anyone”, he said to me. Seems like I have this exact same conversation with an executive at least weekly these days.
So, I put on my consultant hat to try and figure out what the real problem is. It’s rarely a recruiting problem and it’s always a recruiting problem. Let me explain.
When you have a recognizable positive brand, a fun place to work, lead the market in pay, and work in a cool industry, everyone wants to come work for you. Your top of the funnel is filled with candidates. You believe you must be super awesome at recruiting. You actually might be super awesome at recruiting, but you also could suck super bad as well.
You see in the history of the world it’s actually never been easier to find talent. Yes, you read that correctly. In the history of the world! Today, it is also one of the most difficult times in the history of the world to get that talent you found to accept your job. Both of these things are true simultaneously.
You can find them, you just can’t close them.
This has almost nothing to do with the pandemic. People in recruiting love to blame the pandemic, but this is simple economics at play. You have twice as many jobs open, in the US, as unemployed people, and most of those unemployed people do not have the skills needed for the open jobs. So, if you have 6 million unemployed people and 12 million jobs, you really still have almost 12 million jobs to fill.
In 2018 and 2019, before most of us even knew what a pandemic was or became vaccine experts, economists were ringing alarm bells over the lack of workers currently and in the future. But we ignored them because that’s what we do in organizations. We fight today’s fire, not tomorrow’s fire. And, honestly, even if we did decide to do something about it in 2019, what would we have done? Lobby for better immigration policy? Pay our employees to start having sex and create more babies? Truly, what would you have done?
The long-term vision strategy problem.
My startup CEO friend does have a recruiting problem. Because they made most of their hires through referrals, they never built the recruiting machine. No tech. No team. No strategy. No budget. Dead in the water, because we love to believe what’s working today will always work forever. Until it doesn’t.
His problem now is he’s playing catchup. Hire the recruiting talent. Build the recruiting stack. Create an employer brand. Do the recruitment marketing. Etc. The plan is actually pretty straightforward. But painful when you’ve only posted and prayed for your entire existence. All he wants to know is why can’t we just keep posting and praying, or when will post and praying start working again.
Posting and praying isn’t working right now, but it will work the next time that unemployment shoots up to 7%+, and that might happen again. We can always hope for a major recession to make hiring easy again. Most likely we won’t see high unemployment for a long time because of our current state of demographics, but a major recession, war, and pandemics are always our best hope!
Let’s just say we actually might have known this hiring problem was coming. Let’s just say. I mean because of millions of baby boomers leaving the workforce, a birthrate that is under replacement rate for years, closing our borders to skilled and unskilled workers, etc. Let’s just say we might have known this was coming, what could we have done?
We could have started growing our own talent by lessening formal education for jobs that didn’t education but we’re lazy as recruiters so we add in education to limit our candidate pool. We could have looked at candidate pools that have historically been deemed less desirable by executives: older workers, workers with records, workers with disabilities, etc. We could have automated more quickly and deeper into our processes. We could have added in more benefits and work environment options that retained and attracted more workers.
So, yes, you have a recruiting problem, but it’s not because you don’t know how to recruit, it is most likely because you don’t know how to plan and strategize. It is because we didn’t view recruiting like we do other business problems we have. We viewed it as an administrative function that you can just muscle through. You have a recruiting problem, but it’s not really a recruiting problem, it’s a business problem.