Personal Brand Building – An Expat’s Secret Weapon in the War for Talent

A Brand Called You?

As many of you will know, Tom Peters coined the terms personal branding and “Brand You” in 1997 and, according to Execunet, it is now the number one career management tool used by executives worldwide. How and why did this happen – and what does it mean to you as an expat overseas?

As the nature work force has changed through globalization and the IT revolution, there is no longer a job-for-life, and competition is fierce and internationally pervasive. In China, for example, localization is rife: you are only as good as your last project or position. It’s not just who you know that counts, but who knows you and what unique value you are perceived to have that your client or employer feels they must have.

What is Personal Branding?

Just like branded goods, people have brand attributes. A personal brand is simply your unique promise of value, that which distinguishes you from competitors. Personal branding refers to the process by which this value proposition is communicated to your selected target audience (your “brand community”), using various on-brand platforms, clearly, consistently and constantly (3 Cs of branding) to achieve specific goals. We all (probably) think the same things when we think of Subway (eat fresh) and Disney (happy) and even Oprah and Madonna. Martha Stewart has widely acknowledged for many years that she is a brand. What do people think of when they think of you? To be successful, your brand has to be authentic; a personal brand is never created, rather it is unearthed, polished and put in the right setting, rather like a rough diamond.

Why do we need it?

Does this sound egotistical and vain? Consider, then that:

Strong Brands:

– Are more valuable assets and can thrive in recessions and downturns, potentially protecting you against localization and redundancy
– Make you more visible – to hiring managers and recruiters
– Can extend their product lines (think Starbucks, MacDonald’s)
– Set you apart – differentiate yourself from other vying for the same positions and opportunities – and more clearly communicate the unique value you can deliver
– Help you win opportunities you may not be the most obvious applicant for
– Can command a higher salaries or fees – people expect to pay more for premium brands – not commodities
– Increase their market valuation (90% of the top soft drink manufacturer’s market value is reported to be its brand)
– Ensure people will trust you more and judge you less harshly if you make a mistake (Oprah?)
– Can attract and also retain quality staff and partners

Who Needs Personal Branding?

With over 22% of people worldwide using the internet globally, and more than 80% of users searching candidates and clients online, (and less than 20% of people actually “ego-surfing” – checking their online results), not cultivating, controlling and protecting your personal brand is not optional these days.

If you want to be known for something and develop an area of thought leadership (CEOs, executives, entrepreneurs), build a following (authors, speakers, CEOs) or a reputation for your expertise (entrepreneurs and consultants), or even just be known as a high performer or potential in your industry or company (everyone?), then branding yourself and knowing how to market your authentic value proposition effectively and selectively is essential.

How do we find our personal brands?

You already are a packaged brand, like it or not. You have a personality and people perceive you in a certain way, but there is a lot you can do to identify and emphasize the positives of your brand, which will guarantee distinction in your career or business.

Discover, Communicate and Build your Brand to Land Your Job

The three processes brand strategists use are extract, express and exude. Who you are (your authenticity), who needs to knows you (your selected target audience) and how you stand out from your peers (differentiation) is the extract phase, and your ‘personal brand’ is at the intersection of these three factors.

Extract: Involves introspection (a clear understanding your own motivated strengths and weaknesses) and getting external feedback through references, assessments, 360 brand assessments, performing a detailed SWOT analysis and being clear on exactly what is the value you can deliver and to whom. Take into account your similarities and key differentiators from your competitors. You will also need to examine your values, passions, vision, purpose, and set clear and measurable goals.

Combine this information into a compelling statement that communicates your unique and authentic value, says clearly who you serve and how you serve them, you will have a GPS for your brand. Weave all this information into a branded biography that tells a story and creates an emotional connection with your reader and build the foundation for your new personal branding marketing collateral.

Express your brand: When you are clear about your personal brand and the top 5 attributes you need to emphasize to resonate with your target audience, you can communicate your brand message to your target audience making it visible and credible, using the appropriate vehicles. Strong brands are known for something, not many things, and they are sending a clear, consistent message constantly. Are you using channels that your selected audience use and appreciate to communicate a strong message?

You must ensure you are managing your brand environment and exuding your brand with everything you do, buy and use. Examine all aspects of your life style: wardrobe, accessories, surroundings. What is the brand message they send to your brand community? Do they add or detract from your brand’s core message? If your primary attribute is ‘forward thinking’, for example, do you use an appropriate PDA to support this? If it’s ‘professional’ how does your appearance reflect this? What does your work or meeting space say about you? Should it be Starbucks or a particular (boutique?) hotel lobby? Is it tidy, corporate or trendy? More to the point, is it ‘on brand?”

Bottom Line for Expat Entrepreneurs, Executives and Job Seekers?

Identifying and clearly communicating your unique differentiation in the candidate or business market will help you be found by your target audience on and offline, boost your chances of landing a job you may not otherwise be considered for and help you stand out and be memorable so that you can increase your chances of winning or maintaining your target position in Asia’s war for talent.

Lois Freeke is the only China career and personal branding strategist combining 18 years’, mostly Asia Pacific, marketing and recruitment expertise. Lois is a successful China entrepreneur and co-founded the Industrial division of Niche, a ground-breaking fire/security specialist recruitment firm in China.

Leveraging her 10 years’ China experience and deep China insights, Lois helps China expat executives and solo-preneurs effectively differentiate themselves in the highly competitive market for career and business success. She has helped hundreds of clients and candidates manage their careers and job search strategies market themselves effectively and access hidden opportunities – and land their dream jobs.

7 Steps to Compete in the War for Talent

Word on the street says that the economy is picking up and more jobs are being created, especially in the manufacturing sector. However, I guarantee, the “war for talent” experienced earlier in this decade will increasingly become a challenge. This will create even more pressure for organizations to create a work environment that can attract and retain highly qualified workers. Just what does that environment look like, how is it created and how is it sustained?

First of all, a work environment that is attractive to candidates is an “engaging” environment, one where management believes in its critical value to the company and leaders are seen to “walk the talk”. An engaging work environment is one where workplace flexibility exists and employees can work from a number of locations.

Secondly, an engaging work environment sees management allocating time and energy to learning what job satisfiers are important to their employees. They then structure a strategy to reinforce and reward their team in unique and fun ways. Employees who feel valued will stay in their employment as long as they feel appreciated.

Thirdly, an engaging work environment values the contributions of all its employees. Employees are given responsibility, accountability, and authority over their work. They are encouraged to be creative and innovative and to improve their work performance in any way they can. Communication in all areas of the organization increases, people solve their own issues, and best of all they feel empowered.

Managers and leaders do exactly that; they allow for as much independence as possible and make themselves available to solve problems as they arise. The result is a workforce that is loyal and committed, who demonstrate energy and motivation and, frankly, “love to come to work”.

Fourthly, organizations who develop a reputation for being the best place to work invest in training and development for their employees. This can range from short one-day programs, to assisting with gaining professional designations. Employees who are current in their field of expertise are valuable assets to the company and they are motivated by being the “expert”. Employees want to belong to an organization that values their skills and helps them to continually develop.

Fifthly, employees are attracted to organizations who know who they are, where they are going, what they want to achieve and are also known to offer high standards for quality and customer service. Employees achieve part of their personal identity from their employer, and therefore the public image and reputation of an organization is very important to its ability to attract and retain talent.

Sixthly, employees are attracted to and stay with an employer who shares their personal values and beliefs. When that occurs, there is a culture of consistency that helps to bind people together. Look at what your culture has to offer and market this to potential employees. Take pride in your culture.

Lastly, employees are attracted by the leaders in an organization. Those leaders who command excellence will be able to build excellence. Good leaders encourage and help employees be the best they can be and gain a reputation in the industry. They are of strong character and are not threatened by someone with greater skill. They mentor, coach and develop employees.

It is well known that the “money motivator” doesn’t last very long. If that is all you can offer and that is all your employees expect, then you will also experience high turnover as your team moves from place to place in search of the almighty dollar. On the other hand, if you want to truly attract and retain high producing employees, spend your time and energy focusing on your organizational culture. Create an environment where employees are valued and appreciated, rewarded and recognized for work well done and are given the overall opportunity to act as “owners” and not as “renters”.

Recruiting Software and the Global Competition for Talent

Recruiting software can make all the difference when it comes to the global competition for talent. Make no mistake, the world has grown much smaller with the advent of the technologies that have globalized the economy and facilitated outsourcing to such a degree that even small businesses can have employees scattered throughout the world. And, because of this, in many industries, there is a very real global competition for talent. For businesses operating in this day and age, trying to remain competitive in a marketplace that has gone global, recruitment software and its applicant tracking capabilities can make a real difference in its efforts to recruit the most suitable applicants.

With recruiting software, a business’s reach is extended far beyond what can be achieved by traditional means at a comparative cost. That is one of the remarkable aspects of utilizing these types of technologies – efficiency is enhanced and better outcomes are achieved in a very cost-effective manner. Even large and highly successful businesses would be hard pressed to achieve what these sorts of business solutions can, using people, instead of technology, to perform such tasks. The time it would take for a human resources department to seek out qualified applicants and reach out to them to begin the recruitment process simply cannot compare to the efficiency that a good software program offers.

The global reach of quality recruiting software means that a business has access not to just the best of the best locally or even regionally, but instead can receive information about highly qualified potential recruits from multiple sources on a worldwide level. This is especially important to businesses that are making the shift to outsourcing in order to reduce day-to-day operational costs while still retaining a reliable staff able to meet high standards of performance. Niche-oriented businesses can benefit from recruitment software by having the cost-effective opportunity to expand their search for recruits broadly, increasing the chance that they will find the specifically talented people that will best suit their particular industry.

Taking advantage of the affordable reach that recruiting software offers can help a small company assemble a remarkable team drawn from diverse locations. Diversity of thought in the pursuit of shared goals is an important element of success in today’s global marketplace, providing the sort of creative solution making and product development that can help a business break out and achieve that next level of success. Another advantage to that global reach for talent is the ability to operate lean, without sacrificing a shred of quality. With the whole world to choose from, labor outsourcing allows for the sort of leanness in operation a small business needs to remain competitive in this challenging business environment.

Make the most of the opportunities that the world presents in this era of globalization with recruiting software. Competition for the best talent, particularly when it comes to niche businesses and markets, extends for beyond the local and regional into the world itself. This is especially true now that information and product distribution technologies allows for the outsourcing of so many different types of labor. Small businesses have opportunities like never before, and quality recruiting software can help them to take advantage of all that today has to offer.

Human Capital And The War For Talent

It is clear from experience, as well as the vast amounts of information available to employers that the demographics of the global workforce are changing. Patterns of migration, issues of diversity and social or educational development are presenting employers the world over with an increasingly difficult and important challenge – where their talent will come from in the future.

An advantage in the recruitment market

In 2008 a large proportion of ‘baby boomers’ are set to retire, and according to large consultancies like Deloitte and BearingPoint, there will be fewer graduates with the ‘right critical skills entering the market’ who can act as ‘ready replacements’ for those skilled and experienced employees leaving the market. This ensures the war for talent continues to rage as companies compete for the right Human Capital asset to give them the advantage in their market.

In a bid to win the war for talent, companies are increasingly developing more creative employer brands, talent acquisition strategies and retention plans. They are looking at a broader spectrum of factors, other than just salary and security, to attract people into their business and to keep them there. Those entering the employment market are no longer looking for that ‘job for life’, nor are they necessarily motivated by pay alone. This places factors like Corporate and Social Responsibility, flexible working, personal development and total reward much higher up on the agenda.

Not bad for a McJob

One high profile example of a corporation tackling their employer brand head-on is McDonald’s, who rely on a steady supply of Human Capital to give their business and their brand life. After the term ‘McJob’ appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary, being described as having low pay and poor prospects, McDonald’s responded in 2006 with the challenging ‘Not bad for a McJob’ campaign.

The McDonald’s fight-back campaign featured posters including examples of health policies, flexible working hours and prospects for promotion, with the objective of improving their public image as an employer of choice and ensuring their employees felt ‘McRespected’ and ‘McValued’.

McDonald’s represents an extreme example, but other companies across the world dedicate much time and resource to winning coveted places in top employer listings, such as the ‘Sunday Times Top 100 Companies to Work For’ in the UK and the ’50 Best Employers to work for’ in Canada. And, according to Sheffield University, it’s a case of ‘Who Cares Wins’ in today’s job market.

Now and into the future

Which organizations continue to win the war for talent will be based on many factors, and the demographics of the global work force aren’t going to stand still while businesses try and catch up. This makes having a transparent, consistent and strong employer brand essential, because it allows employers to align their talent acquisition and retention strategies to their corporate values. It also allows companies to project into the market a clear image of themselves, which a potential employee can buy-in to.

Whether it’s encouraging the aging workforce to remain motivated and continue working, whether it’s making the differentiation between themselves and the competition clearer to the smaller pool of Human Capital that do have the skills and abilities needed, or whether it’s continuing to drive a volume of employees into specific market sectors – strong recruitment campaigns, imaginative retention strategies, employee engagement initiatives, flexible benefits and work/life balance can be key ingredients in attracting and retaining talent now and into the future.

With BA and MBA, Penny’s background includes corporate marketing, executive development and consultancy in business to business service environments. Prior to joining Ceridian, she was CEO of the Institute of Management in Auckland, New Zealand. She also headed up the Lifeworks business as MD of Ceridian Performance Partners for 4 years before joining the UK Board of Ceridian.

Are You Ready for Talent War?

Indian economy is on a roll. I.T majors are hiring employees in thousands. Pharma companies are growing and hiring. This is the story across all the sectors. Are you happy? Of course, we all should be. But as a recruiter, are you concerned? You should be. With so much of hiring taking place, acquiring and retaining talent has become more challenging. Add to it ever growing demand from business to fill vacancies in shortest possible time to keep profit margins up, recruitment has become even more difficult.

Let’s face it. It is a war. War for Talent. Every one is attracting talented and qualified candidates to their organizations. As a company or a staffing agency, you need to build a brand to attract qualified candidates to you.

Have you noticed how big corporations make it so easy for candidates to apply for their jobs? They provide a dedicated candidate portal for job seekers. Not only does it make applying for job easy, but it also creates an employer brand.

Candidate portals or career portals are normally linked from corporate web site and help build a candidate pipeline to optimize recruitment efforts. Some of the benefits of the candidate portal are

– Competitive advantage, as most of the companies attracts talent through their websites.
– More Completed applications.
– Stronger Employment Brand.
– Reduced Recruiter workload.

Building Candidate/Career Portal is a difficult task for small and medium sized companies because of complexities of technologies involved. However, there are various SaaS solutions that allow companies to use this technology at very affordable rates.

Candidate/Career Portals allows candidates to login to portal and update their profile and other details. Candidate can search for other job offerings available within the company and can also track their application status. They can also view their communication with the company. They can even set automated alerts which would be sent to candidate when a job matching his profile is posted on company’s website.

From Recruiter’s point of view, Candidate/Career portal present huge opportunity as these candidates have shown interest in the company as an employer. It is much quicker fill an opening when you know candidate details like profile and what he is looking for and you know that he is certainly interested in the company as an employer.

Technology is revolutionizing recruitment process all over world. Are you using right systems to recruit the talent your company deserves?

May Job Numbers Jump Start War for Talent

The latest May 2010 job numbers have just been released showing an increase of 25,000 new jobs, the fifth consecutive month of increases, particularly in the full time work category. The private sector appears to be driving the rebound while the public sector is not far behind. While I view this information as “good news,” I can guarantee that this increase in job numbers will greatly heat up the war for talent, especially at the senior level.

This is because the economic upswing is already bringing many baby boomers closer to a retirement decision. As one of Manitoba’s leading executive search professionals, over the past six months I have already seen the impact of senior executives finally taking the leap into retirement. They have been waiting in the wings during the recession and riding out the stock market volatility, but now is the time. However, their departure is leaving significant holes in many organizations’ leadership teams.

The whole concept of the “war for talent”, already ten years old, is an even more critical challenge today than it was during its early stages. The challenge partly results from three factors. First, senior executives are already beginning to exit the workforce in greater numbers. Secondly, as a result of belt-tightening during the recession, many organizations have not been able to effectively develop internal talent to move forward in a succession situation. And thirdly, the labour pool for young up and coming professionals in the ages of 35-45 is also shrinking.

So, what does this mean? It means that companies and not for profit organizations alike are going to be forced to go to the outside candidate market, which at the senior and experienced executive levels will continue shrinking at a more rapid pace. It also means that organizations will have to widen their search efforts and dig deeper into a smaller talent pool to find the right candidates. Finally, executive search efforts will need to be more creative, intense, and focused using multiple channels of communication.

Most organizations do not have the time or capability to conduct such intense or focused search activities and are turning to executive search professionals for help. An executive search professional can assist in a number of ways, but most notably the following:

Defining the opportunity – most senior leaders who have been with a firm for a long time take themselves for granted and have difficulty viewing their organization from an external point of view. Search professionals can help to define the employee value proposition, or in other words, what will attract a smart, ambitious and talented candidate to the opportunity? What are the challenges a new professional would face and what level of sophistication is required to be successful. Once the list of skills and competencies is identified, search professionals can begin their work.

Broadening the scope – talented candidates with the right skills and experience are no longer lining up at the door. Therefore, organizations must broaden the scope of their search beyond the local talent pool and this requires significant time and extensive research. Search professionals are tapped into both online and traditional resources to conduct these searches. In addition, over the years they have developed in-depth candidate databases and have developed relationships with professionals who are open to new opportunities and are just waiting to be tapped on the shoulder with the right job.

Matching challenge and compensation – getting a candidate to the door is one thing, while creating an attractive compensation package is another. Yet, at the same time, it is well known that money is not a long-term motivator and therefore organizations must offer other alternatives. Typically, candidates are attracted by the organizational brand and its inspiring vision, as well as the challenge of making a difference.

There are a number of routes that can be taken to conduct the search for new candidates. However, partnering with an executive search professional provides the best value proposition for today’s war for talent.

Paul Croteau, managing partner, is known as one of Manitoba’s leading executive search professionals. His more than 25 years of experience in the recruitment of senior management and executive leadership professionals are the foundation to his solid reputation for developing a deep understanding of his clients’ needs, enabling him to provide exceptional service and successfully meet the complex challenge of matching the right leader to his clients’ business needs.

Seven Strategies for Winning the War for Talent at Non-Profits

The other day I had a phone conversation with a man I have known for many years. He is a local behavioral health executive. We were talking about the difficulty of hiring and retaining entry level staff. He bemoaned, as do many others, the problem of staff turnover. I responded that based on my observation that a lot of these entry level workers left within six months, my conclusion was that a number of them were probably mistakes or miscalculations of the hiring process. His opinion varied somewhat; he thought that the pool of persons he had to choose from was increasingly sub-par and that losing a good share of these hires was inevitable. This is a problem which is likely to continue as the economy slowly improves. That is, those that were willing to accept a $10 per hour job at a non-profit during more difficult times are now being offered $15-$20 in the traditional business community. He has a point but I would still argue that regardless of the economy and the size and characteristics of the applicant pool it is still possible to pick the best of the pool and that is our responsibility as organizational leaders to find ways to figure out who they are.

At any rate, my friend went on to make a very interesting observation: “Community services are expanding as government continues to privatize services and phase out institutional programs. The non-profits running these new programs are all paying about the same for direct care staff; offering about the same benefits. ” “The only difference, he said, was in the quality of the work environment being offered.”

This started me thinking about what were those work environment variables that applicants as well as current staff found attractive? What features were attractive to new staff and which ones did current staff find valuable enough to keep them working for the organization as opposed to looking for opportunities elsewhere. So, if we truly regard staff not as an economic drain on the organization, but as the organization’s “most important asset” then it would be smart for us to pursue clear objectives with regard to the characteristics of the work environment that we should be pursuing in order that we are able to attract and hold on to the brightest and the best. Two factors will pose barriers to our success: the retirement of baby boomers and increased job opportunities closely following the growth of the economy. An ABC news report last week indicated that currently the ratio between companies planning to add jobs in 2011 and those planning to eliminate jobs was the most favorable it has been at any time during the last twelve years. The war for talent is about to heat up folks and you better be ready for the fight.

Here are some work environment features you should look at in order to evaluate your ability to win the war on talent.
1. Make sure your physical facilities are clean, safe, attractive and functional. For too long social service employees have had to put up with facilities that were totally inadequate. That must end.
2. Salaries and benefits need to be competitive, that is within 80% of what is being offered for each job category in your region of the country. If you are within that 80% number, you can compete; below that you will be left with the people that no one else wants.
3. Train, train, train. Make a commitment to the ongoing personal growth and on-the-job success of every employee. Part of your agency’s culture should emphasize learning for everyone from the CEO to the janitor. Staff training always increases staff retention.
4. Encourage appropriate social interactions amongst staff, on the job and off. Positive social relationships keep staff engaged and motivated, even when things aren’t going so well. Workers often spend more time with other workers than they do with their own families; these relationships can be appropriate and at the same time rewarding.
5. Make work fun. Even the most menial of tasks can become fun if we are creative enough in our approach. If you want to see what I mean, do a Google search on the Pike Street Fish Market and see how fisherman make their job fun.
6. Provide a way for staff to have input into operational issues that effect them. Chances are, when there is an operational challenge, those working closest to the area of concern will have some good ideas about what to do about it; you’ll never know if you don’t ask them.
7. Over communicate about the organization. Make sure everyone sees how their job is related to each and impacts the culture of the organization, its mission and its current challenges. It’s always a shame when I see organizations withhold important information from employees. Chances are this information is the subject of a well-oiled rumor mill anyway; better to have the truth out there and in a way so that whatever the challenge is, employees can influence the outcome to be more positive.

So there you have it, seven strategies to win the war for talent at your organization. Make sure you have objectives that you are pursuing in each strategic area. If you want to look at how other organizations are poised for this war, I would suggest reading Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness, A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose. Yes, Tony runs a company that sells shoes on-line and that’s a different business than we are talking about. Nonetheless, I think his strategies will stimulate your own thinking and you will get a bank account of very creative ideas to draw from.

Small Business Recruiting – Competing With the Big Guys for Talent

It’s difficult for small businesses to compete directly with large companies for top-notch talent. So why try to take them head on? There is more than one way to win the recruiting game. Follow these tips and you will soon have the big guys asking you for advice on how to successfully recruit talent in this ever-changing economy.

Develop Your Niche

Many successful small businesses have figured out that the way to compete with large companies is to develop a niche. The same holds true when it comes to hiring talent.

Your company must have at least one thing that the bigger companies don’t have. Identify this distinction and use it to compete. For example, are your employees empowered to make decisions without going through three layers of management? Do you give employees a day off during the week to attend college classes so they can obtain their degrees? Make sure everyone knows what differentiates you from the rest of the pack.

Consider the Culture

Sure, the big guys have the money to throw at people, but you’d be surprised at how many people would turn down the money for the opportunity to work in a smaller, more personal environment that is both stimulating and fun.

A big advantage of working in a small company is that you don’t have to go down four layers to speak directly with your staff. Take advantage of this situation. Ask your employees for feedback on the work environment, and wherever possible make changes to improve the environment. Word will get out quickly that your company is one for which people want to work. Before long, you will have people knocking on your door.

Market Yourself

You buy a product because you like the way it’s packaged. More times than not, it’s all in the marketing. The same holds true in recruiting. People form opinions early on when looking at companies. Make sure they are forming the right opinion about yours.

Take a look at the way your jobs and company are packaged. Start with your Web site. If you were cruising the Web and you happened to come across your site, would you stop to take another look?

Most Web sites are plain vanilla. In order to get noticed, you need to stand out. Try the following:

· Personalize your Web site. Include pictures of your work force.

· Ask employees to write testimonials on why they choose to work for your company.

· Have employees describe interesting projects that they have worked on.

· Make it easy for people to apply online even if they don’t have resumes. After all, many top candidates are not actively seeking jobs and therefore may not have updated resumes.

Be sure your Web site reflects your environment. A well-maintained Web site can be a powerful weapon.

Be Flexible

Sometimes it seems like we are all going after the same talent. But there are groups of capable, educated people out there who are often forgotten. The part-timers. The people who dedicate part of their lives to raising a family, doing philanthropic work, or pursuing a dream. These people are very committed to their cause and will be very committed to you if you give them a chance to use their abilities in a non-traditional way.

Set up programs like job sharing, flextime and telecommuting and make them a part of your culture. You will find that people are more than willing to exchange higher salaries for flexibility in the workplace. You will also find that this part of your work force will be highly loyal to you because they know there are few employers who actually walk this talk.

Letting Go

It’s hard to let go of the reins but people want to feel like they have a direct impact in the day-to-day operations of their company. Loosen up some of the control and let your employees step up to the plate. You’d be surprised how many balls get hit out of the park once you step aside.

Competing for talent takes more than money. The smart player will be the one who comes up with the winning strategy. Yes, some people can be bought, but is that really the type of person you want on your team?

Fighting the War For Talent During the Recession

At first blush, it would seem that the current recession, accompanied by layoffs, company downsizing and closures, and rising unemployment would freeze the war for talent and recruitment. Not so. Why?

First of all the current economic recession has masked the shortage of workers for two reasons–layoffs have created a ready supply of good workers, and would be job changers are holding onto the jobs they have. But this won’t last. Why? Demographics. The number of 65 year olds will surpass the number of 18 year olds in five years. Smart companies are quietly preparing for the next round of talent warfare. What are some of these companies doing?

They develop a rehiring strategy. According to research conducted by Watson Wyatt Worldwide, and HR consulting firm, in all past recessions, almost 60% of American companies rehired a significant number of their former employees who had been laid off. Other companies such as Cisco implemented a community program, which placed laid-off employees in a reduced salary outplacement program to assist them to finding another job before they’re laid off.
They overhauled their recruitment and hiring systems. Everything from interviewing, employee orientation and training is reviewed and revised to make it leaner a meaner. The motivation for this rarely takes place during good times.
They conduct a talent inventory in the organization. This includes creating or revising the company’s succession plans and developing bench strength.
They review and revise their leadership development programs. Survey after survey indicate that people who quit their jobs do so because of their relationship with the boss, not because of dissatisfaction with their job. A recession is a perfect time to take a hard look at leadership style and training to increase employee satisfaction with management.

According to Jobfox Inc., a company providing employment research and consulting, there are three recessionary fallacies when it comes to talent management during recessions:

Fallacy 1: Weak economic activity results in weak recruitment for talent. Not true. Layoffs and downsizing results in reorganizations, reallocation of responsibilities and new positions with different kinds of talent are created.
Fallacy 2: Employers only hire when they are growing. Not true. There is little correlation between economic growth and hiring. The reality is that all hiring is a function of what is called “churn” in the workforce. Workers quit, get fired or laid off, find new jobs or go back to school. There is constant movement. And today, every year, the average professional remains in his or her job three years before they move on.
Fallacy 3: Job hopping freezes during a recession. Not true. Top performers invariably leave troubled companies during tough times, and stay during good times.

In summary, recessions cause more, not less churn.

So this recession provides different dynamics for companies in the war for talent. The smart companies recognize that and are already implementing smart strategies to take advantage of that.

In the War for Talent, Employers Are Their Own Worst Enemy

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be 10 million more open positions than available workers in 2010, and the former Employment Policy Foundation (EPF) projects that this gap will grow to 35 million by 2030. The EPF also projected occupations requiring post secondary training or a college degree will increase to 65 percent by 2030. Currently, only 38 percent of the American labor force has a two year degree or higher. With recent college educational attainment rates at about 28 percent (US Census Bureau, 2003), the gap between knowledge worker demand and supply will widen. This fact coupled with the projected loss of educated senior leaders due to baby boomer retirement (US Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast is that the five hundred largest employers will lose 50% of their senior leaders in the next five years) makes it highly likely that US companies will be facing a “War for Talent”.

There is mounting evidence that companies are already feeling the talent crunch today. A recent survey of staffing directors conducted by Monster and Development Dimensions International reported that these professionals overwhelmingly reported that competition for talent was strong and the war for talent is getting increasingly hotter.

As the “War for Talent” heats up, some employers are employing effective battle tactics while too many others are engaging in hiring practices that are dooming them to a fate of mediocrity or even worse, extinction. While there are numerous habits that could be identified as dysfunctional, four of the most common hiring habits leading to battlefield casualties include:

Overly restrictive hiring criteria
Subjective selection procedures
Slow speed in acting on candidates
Poor candidate interviewing experience

This paper will explore each of these habits and suggest alternative strategies for success.

1. Overly Restrictive Hiring Practices

A recent feature on the Information Technology blog,, published an email that was received from Andrew Stuart of the Australian recruiting firm Flat Rate Recruitment. It read:

“I had a client building an advanced network security application designed to prevent denial of service attacks. I sent them person after person and they kept knocking them back. The reason was almost always because the person didn’t have enough low level

TCP/IP coding experience. The people I sent had done things like design and develop operating systems, advanced memory managers and other highly sophisticated applications. But my client wasn’t interested. They required previous hands on experience coding low level TCP/IP. Eventually I got an application from a very bright software engineer who almost single-handedly wrote an Amiga emulator, but had little or no experience doing low level TCP/IP coding.

I told the client, “I have a great guy here who has no experience doing low level TCP/IP coding and I think you should hire him.” They were extremely skeptical. I pushed hard to get an interview. “Look, this guy is a superb software engineer who doesn’t have low level TCP/IP coding experience now, but if you employ him, within 3-6 months you will have a superb software engineer who does have low level TCP/IP coding experience.”

As you might expect, the company took a gamble and sure enough, the candidate ended up being the smartest and most capable programmer in the company. This little anecdote illustrates the importance of learning ability in job success. As a retail executive recently related, “Retail industry knowledge is not rocket science. I can teach retail knowledge. What I can’t teach is natural leadership. Give me proven strong leaders and I will quickly make them into strong retail leaders.”

The Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection caution against selection on the basis of knowledge, skills, or ability learned in a brief orientation period. While the definition of what constitutes a brief period is left somewhat vague, the logic is clear: Selection requirements should focus on those qualities or experiences that are critical for candidates to possess at time of hire and not knowledge, skills, or ability that can be learned in a reasonable amount of time. It is not surprising that there is considerable research showing that mental ability or learning ability is the single most important predictor of job success (Scmidt et al). Smart and passionate candidates quickly close transient experience and knowledge gaps and add significant long term value to the organization.

In addition to learning ability and passion, employers too often focus on finding individuals that perfectly match a long list of overly constraining requirements that are grounded in faulty logic. Typically, these requirements are not listed on a position description but are determined through discussions with the recruiter or hiring manager or learned through the process of introducing candidates for open opportunities. Let’s consider the following overly constraining requirements (real examples) and their underlying assumptions and implications:

• International Consulting Company requirement – “candidates must have lived and worked in a foreign country”. Assumption: Living and working in a foreign country is predictive of an individual’s appreciation of cultural differences and their business impact as well as being predictive of the candidate’s ability to operate in a variety of cultures successfully.

Logical Flaw – the fact that I have lived and worked in another country does not necessarily indicate that I was either successful or enjoyed the experience. Being

successful in a single culture (e.g., France) does not necessarily translate into success in another culture (e.g., China). Result – Individuals who have traveled extensively or have a true passion for international work and are willing to be students of different cultures will be excluded from consideration.

• Corporate Procurement Specialist Requirement – “candidates with manufacturing procurement experience will not be considered.” Assumption: Procurement specialist dealing with supply chain vendors in a manufacturing environment will not be properly equipped or familiar with the nuances of how to handle vendors supplying a corporate environment.

Logical Flaw – manufacturing procurement specialists also supply the desks, paper, equipment, etc. for the office environment. Core skills of vendor negotiation, analysis of alternative sources, cost reduction strategies, and inventory management are highly transferrable. Result – Highly skilled procurement specialists that would likely be extremely successful in the role are not even considered.

• Plant HR Generalist Requirement – candidates who have had corporate experience or attained titles of HR Director or above will not be considered. Assumption: Individuals who have “tasted corporate life or higher level work responsibilities would not be satisfied with the demands and realities of plant HR challenges.

Logical Flaw – Corporate roles are not always valued more than plant positions. There are individuals who prefer the pace and demands of a plant environment to a much greater extent than a corporate environment. Result – Individuals with both plant and corporate experience but with a strong passion for plant environments will be overlooked.

2. Subjective Selection Procedures

It is amazing that companies take a highly structured and data driven approach to making capital or other strategic investments but rely frequently on “gut feel” for making strategic talent selection decisions. In the previously cited DDI and Monster survey,

nearly half the staffing directors admitted that gut instinct and intuition play an important role in hiring. Selection systems without tests and assessments often lack critical information that could turn a “maybe” into a clear “yes” or “no.”

Not only does the absence of testing and assessment information increase the probability of subjective selection decision-making, the use of unstructured interviewing also promotes gut instinct decisions. In a recent discussion with a hiring manager, the manager admitted that he really did not know how to conduct a professional interview. He indicated that he liked to conduct a more casual conversation and look for any indications of characteristics that might prove troubling. In his words, he was looking for

the “right vibe” and he would know it when he saw it. Evidentially it was a scarce quality since he conducted close to 100 interviews before making a final selection decision.

In another experience with a hiring manager, a candidate was rejected on the basis of a single question. The question was, “how many people have you terminated?”. While the candidate did in fact have experience with under performers and had conducted terminations, it was not enough in the hiring manager’s eyes. The hiring manager felt that a higher rate of terminations would indicate that the candidate could lead a diverse work force and make tough performance decisions. It is just as likely that a high termination rate could indicate that the candidate had poor coaching and talent development skills.

The lack of structure in an interview with interview questions clearly tied to competency requirements opens the door for interviewer stereotypes to surface. Early in my career, I was a classification counselor in a state correctional system. Part of the job was to make custody recommendations for prisoners entering the state system. The recommendation was made by a panel of three individuals who represented different perspectives including field leadership. The panel membership varied. On one occasion, a particular field captain was selected to participate in the custody discussions. It soon became apparent that he applied certain stereotypes in evaluating prisoners as he indicated that he felt that small ears close to the head was a possible indication of a high security risk. While this is an extreme example, it illustrates how individual stereotypes can affect judgment.

There are numerous research articles on the deleterious effects of different types of rating errors and rater biases on rating accuracy. As a single example, a study by Marlowe et al.(1996) found that both attractiveness and gender contributed to rater bias. Highly attractive individuals were rated higher than less attractive individuals and males were rated higher than females.

Clearly, objective testing and assessment information coupled with structured behavioral interviewing leads to superior, more informed selection decision-making.

3. Slow Speed in Acting on Candidates

In computing the true costs associated with hiring, it is necessary to consider the lost productivity associated with having the position vacant. One would think that this true cost would motivate employers to act quickly on evaluating candidates for positions. However, the speed of candidate reviews is too often very, very slow. This slowness manifests itself at each stage of the process…slow to review initial candidates, slow to conduct phone screens, slow to get them into initial interviews, and slow to conduct deep selection steps.

The cause of this slowness is most frequently associated with heavy workload pressures and overly booked calendars. The paradox is that faster time to fill metrics would help

alleviate workload pressures for both HR and the hiring manager. A shared sense of priority and an intelligent and organized approach to executing selection steps also eliminates the likelihood that high quality candidates will abandon interest and accept employment with a potential competitor. Losing high quality candidates at the end of a selection process results in even greater recruitment costs.

Another rationalization is that a slow hiring process is reflective of careful and deliberate selection decision-making. However, the view from the external perspective of a job candidate is exactly the opposite. Overly slow or involved selection is more likely seen as being reflective of a disorganized and inconsiderate organization that does not view talent as a priority. Slow hiring processes can quickly erode an organization’s employment brand and affect their ability to attract good talent on an ongoing basis.

4. Poor Candidate Experiences

In addition to a slow selection process, a poor interview experience can also contribute to a company’s negative employment brand. Research has shown that interviewer qualities such as warmth, sincerity, empathy, and listening skills as well as interviewer behaviors such as question style, invasiveness, and job knowledge both impact applicant reactions (Harris & Fink, 1987). Other research suggests that negative applicant reactions can also affect an applicant’s attraction to a job opportunity and their desire to pursue employment with the organization (Ralston & Brady, 1994).

Other factors can affect candidate reactions. Candidates react less favorably to interviews conducted by phone than those conducted face to face (Silvester, Anderson, Haddleton, Cunningham-Snell, & Gibb, 1999). Poor pre and post interview communications, promptness of the interviewer, and interview length could also impact a candidate’s reactions.

The question is: In a time of scarce talent, why would you want to irritate quality candidates?

Strategies for Success

These four bad habits can easily be corrected. The first step is to take a position of recruiting quality talent rather than individuals that have performed the exact same position in the exact same industry and faced the exact same challenges. This overly narrow strategy brings tremendous talent supply constraints and ignores the value of passion, ability to learn, and the importance of overall leadership qualities. There is also the added advantage of injecting new perspectives and thinking into the organization by bringing in individuals with diverse backgrounds.

The second step is to utilize testing and assessment information to increase your confidence and predictive accuracy that a candidate can successfully perform the job. These methods can be used to identify individuals that possess true leadership talent. An individual with a high level of talent but a slightly non-traditional background (e.g.,

comes from a different industry) could well make a much greater contribution than an individual that has performed the exact same job in the same industry but possesses modest leadership talent. The third step is to adopt structured behavioral interviewing and train your interviewers to conduct a professional, job relevant interview. Structured behavioral interviews will increase your predictive accuracy and increase the likelihood that candidates will form a positive impression of the organization and its opportunities.

The final step is to take a close look at your selection process and key metrics. Shortening “time to fill” will help ensure that you do not lose quality candidates to other organizations and will positively affect your overall “cost of hire”. Better organization and scheduling of talent selection components (initial review, screening, interviewing, testing, etc.) should have a very positive impact on time as well as candidate reactions.

These four steps go a long way in arming an organization to win the War for Talent.