By Peter Weddle -- Perhaps you’ve heard of them. They’re called “retronyms.” They are words that have been redefined by the advent of new technology. You’ve seen them in the transformation of “mail” into the pejorative “snail mail” and the revision of “television” into the quaint “black and white television.” Once familiar and adequate, the root terms from the past have now been given new meanings by the advance of technology and the addition of a descriptive label.
We in recruiting have seen this phenomenon occur in our own profession. We use a retronym to describe what we are about in the labor market these days. It’s a war, right, a War for Talent? But not just any war for talent; it’s a War for the “Best Talent.” Thanks to the Internet, it’s now necessary to add an adjective to a word that should be sufficient in and of itself.
Talent is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “a special often creative or artistic aptitude.” The acquisition of people with talent, therefore, is the goal of every organization. Some may do it better than others, but every employer sets out, at least, to attract and hire those who have that special aptitude in the skill areas it needs to accomplish its business operations. They know they need the competitive advantage that talent provides. And, they recognize that their probability of success declines dramatically when they employ people without it.
Why, then, do recruiters now believe that they have to recruit something better than garden variety talent? Why do they now focus on sourcing and selling the “best talent?” I think there are at least three reasons:
First, unlike most retronyms, the “best talent” is not a negative term. It isn’t something that technology has made obsolete, but rather something that it has made possible. By properly tapping the power of the Internet, we can actually reach into that very small population of the truly superior talent in the workforce and present a case for their moving to our organization.
Second, we have proof positive that the economic value of superior talent is greater—indeed, considerably greater—than that of average talent. The McKinsey & Company study that was, ironically, called The War for Talent provided quantified confirmation that “A” level performers are 50-100% more productive than “C” level performers. We’ve always known that intuitively; but the report demonstrate that reality with numbers, so that even the Chief Financial Officer will understand.
Third, many corporate leaders, including some in the HR profession itself, believe that they can acquire the best talent with a minimum of fuss. All they have to do is bolt a little recruiting technology onto what recruiters are already doing, and bidda-bang-bidda-boom, magic occurs. There’s no need to change policy, process or procedures or even the capabilities of the recruiting staff (witness the number of HR Generalists being asked to recruit as an additional duty in an already overloaded day). As long as they have the Internet, pulling in the best talent is as easy as fishing in a barrel.
The first two of these reasons make sense to me, but third … well, the third is just way off the mark. The best talent may be a retronym, but recruiting it with the Internet is not like using other technology. Take the television, for example. The viewer’s experience is enhanced by simply flipping a switch on their color, flat screen, high definition, surround sound set. As long as they can find the on-off button, they’re good to go. Online recruiting, on the other hand, requires considerable knowledge and skill, at least if you want it to help you with your work. The Internet, alone, does not enable us to recruit the best talent; that outcome can only be achieved if we fundamentally change in the way we recruit, as well. In other words, we must redesign our recruiting to capture the full potential of the technology.
What should this redesign involve? As a minimum, it should encompass the following:
A change in recruitment advertising. It doesn’t do any good to use the Internet to connect with previously inaccessible populations of great workers if your message has all the appeal of a wet mop. Unfortunately, however, that’s the nature of most job postings today. They are uninformative, uninspiring and therefore uninviting to all but the untalented. To access the best talent with the Internet, companies are going to have to change their view of the purpose and content of recruitment advertising posted on that medium. They must give it the same priority as the advertising they devote to their products and services and develop it with the same care and creative energy. They must see their job postings not as simple notices of open positions, but as electronic advertising brochures that have the power to differentiate and sell their special value proposition as an employer.
A change in branding. An organization’s employment brand isn’t conveyed via a slogan or a marketing campaign; it is, instead, the sum of the experiences that are provided to candidates throughout its recruitment process. And in many organizations, those experiences are off-putting to all but the most untalented of job seekers. Candidates are subjected to the “black hole” of online resume submission and to the generic content of corporate career sites; they have to endure being kept in the dark about their status as they move through the recruiting process and the frustration of being unable to connect with a human being at almost any point along the way. To recruit the best talent, companies must redesign their processes to improve the interactions they have with candidates at each and every touch point, online as well as off. While administrative efficiency is important, the critical objective is to provide a total consumer experience that is so unique and compelling that it attracts and sells even the most reluctant (i.e., passive) of superior talent.
A change in individual communications. Most organizations are able to attract at least some of the best talent in the demographics for which they recruit. More often than not, however, these prospects are not seeking jobs; they are window shopping employers. For that reason, virtually every candidate management system on the market today has some functionality for communicating with them. Unlike applicants, these individuals are not yet ready to submit a resume (in fact, they probably don’t have one), but they are interested in learning more about the employer. In most cases, they are successful and employed (somewhere else) and all but ignored by the recruiting team. Why? Because the team has neither the necessary skills nor the time to communicate with these individuals. Yet, doing so is the one sure way to enhance the quality of a company’s applicants and to cut the time and cost of sourcing them. To capture those benefits, companies must change their view of the timing and purpose of individual communications on the Internet. Their goal is not to develop a database of static resumes, but rather to build a vast web of active prospect relationships that nurture interest and trust among the best and brightest.
The “best talent” may be a retronym—a cohort of the workforce that can now be effectively recruited, thanks to technology—but it cannot be sourced and sold by technology alone. Indeed, the War for the Best Talent will only be won by the “best recruiters”—those who most effectively adapt their organizations and operations to capture the full potential of advanced technology.
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