Finding the top people in any field used to be really hard. I'm talking about just finding them — not attracting them, hiring them and retaining them. Just finding them was hard. But technology and data, moving at blinding speed, have changed all that.
LinkedIn just celebrated its 10th year of existence. I'm sorry to admit it but I have a car older than that. There are more than 200 million people on Linkedin, and that is just one way to find people. Unless you're in a witness protection program, I can find you online in somewhere between four and 30 seconds.
So finding top talent in the plastics industry is actually easy. Why then can't you hire them? Warning: What follows is not for the squeamish. You may find yourself going through the five stages of grief while reading it: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, hopefully in the end, some measure of acceptance.
First, hiring someone really isn't that important to most companies. If it were, you would have a written plan for how and where you are going to find the candidates you want to attract, a schedule for when you are going to have interviews, who will be involved in each interview with their availability confirmed, and the agenda for the interview. This would include the final decision makers. You won't do this — most don't. But if it were important you would.
Realizing that the top performers are interviewing you at least as much as you are interviewing them, the plan would include your presentation on where the company is headed, exciting new initiatives and a capture strategy for making an offer that will be accepted. The plan would include every detail from where the candidate will stay if out of town, transportation, and where you will take them to dinner (Oh no, you don't take them to dinner?).
The second reason companies can't hire the top talent is they are too slow. Waaaaay too slow. Time kills deals — just ask anyone in your sales department. Let's say your company finds someone you'd like to interview, and for some reason (you need to know why) they want to interview with your company. You might be reluctant to even schedule the interview until you have three candidates, because someone told you long ago that you should interview at least three candidates.
But either way a week or two passes by and you have a 30-minute phone conversation. It goes well, and you're thinking we should get this person in for a face-to-face interview. Now all you need to do is find half a day on the calendar when each of three or four extremely busy people are all available at the same time. Hmmm, that could be quite awhile, but let's say you find some time next month, on Monday or Tuesday of the second week. Hope and pray that the candidate can make it then. Because if they really are one of the best at what they do, and they cannot make those dates work, you've probably lost their interest already.
Reason No. 3 is companies do not know how to sell themselves to top performers. They know how to sell their products or services to potential clients, they know how to sell their financial condition to their banker, but not the company as a place to work. When a top sports star becomes a free agent and teams have them in, do you think they have them wait in the lobby, sit them in a conference room, offer them coffee and start by saying, "So tell me why you want to come and play for us?" They don't make an offer to every player that they have visit, but they understand that they want the great players to want to play for them, so that if they are in fact a good fit they will accept an eventual offer with enthusiasm. They'll talk about how they did last year, the improvements they are making to the practice facilities, a new coach they just brought on, how good some of the other players are to play with, and so on. I would suggest starting every professional interview by making a presentation. I've been with my kids on many college visits and every one starts with a presentation, including an exciting video of how great the school is. They may not even accept my kid if they apply, but they want that to be their option. Oh, and if there really isn't anything compelling about your company, that's fine, but forget landing a truly top performer — you cannot fool them. A strange phenomenon happens when a top performer decides to consider a new opportunity — they realize that if they are going to look at making a move (like to your company) they should consider all their options. This is an unintended consequence, but you are in a competition.
Fourth, and this is especially true with the Generation X and Y candidates, they don't trust your company. Unlike the baby boomers, who grew up with a certain level of trust in institutions like the government, big corporations, schools, and organized religion, Gen X and Gen Y don't see a reason to trust anyone. There is a 50-50 chance that their parents are divorced, they probably have a parent who has been 'downsized' or 're-engineered' out of a good job, they've seen wars they don't understand, and they've lost all faith in government (Congress' approval rating is around 16 percent as I'm writing this).
I grew up in Cincinnati, and if you could "get on" at GE, or P&G or Milacron (it was Cincinnati Milacron back then), you were set for life. We baby boomers miss those days, but understand they are gone. The Gen X and Gen Yers grew up with that reality, so even if you are a company with what you believe is a prestigious pedigree, they don't trust you. They desperately want to trust someone, but understand that you will have to do something to earn that, or the top performers that we are talking about will not resign from their current company to come to yours.
Finally, your company does not understand what the candidates want. Many studies have been done of Gen X and Y to see what is important to them. When compared side by side with what most employers think is important, the correlation is closer to the opposite than to lining up. Prestige, power, salary, and so on, the things that are important to boomers, rank near the bottom of the list for X and Y. They are looking for things like flexible hours, relationships with colleagues and interesting work. When companies try to woo them with an offer that represents a 10 percent boost in pay, with a better 401(k) match than what they have now, they are shocked when the candidate turns that down. I still hear hiring managers and human resources managers talk about 7½ percent unemployment.
A previous Perspective I wrote for PN, "Deciphering US labor data" (April 1, Page 6), addresses what a meaningless number this is in the first place. But more to the point, unemployment among the top professionals isn't zero; it's negative, meaning there are more openings than qualified candidates. We are in a candidate-driven market, we have been for around six years (interrupted briefly by the Great Recession), and we will be for the next 15 years.
The really good candidates are in charge. The companies that are actually hiring these people away from their competitors are listening to what is important to them, and meeting them at least half way. Are you thinking that your company just can't do that? Sounds like hiring someone really isn't that important.
Paul Sturgeon, a certified personnel consultant, is business manager of KLA Industries Inc., a Cincinnati-based executive search firm specializing in the plastics industry.