Redefined: a Paradigm Shift for Talent Acquisition

May 13, 2009

First, before I toss my reputation under the bus on what may get called rantish, let me assure you that no staffing executives were hurt in the making of this document.  I’m also quite a nice guy who offers honest respect to almost everyone, but I’m constantly rolling through ideas so I’m slightly opinionated.

As a preface and insurance policy for striking a sour chord with a few folks who might otherwise retain my services, here’s a short disclaimer regarding business culture.

Business in general could use a big therapy session.

Most of the time ideas that should be expressed remain dormant and left unsaid.  And we wonder why nothing changes.  Much of our business culture is invested in perception more than reality.  Smoke and mirror tactics, with little risk and no miracles.  Imitated voices, dialects, email styles, and temperaments, all cloned from a fear of individuality.  But who will admit this?

It’s for this very reason that CEO’s often rely on 2nd opinion staff.  Someone who can operate outside the realm of fear and risk telling it straight.  Risk being creative.  Risk truly thinking outside the box.  With all the pedigrees and MBAs, what a shame it takes such drastic measures to get the simple truth.  Yet the need exists.

Perhaps business and capitalism in general would benefit from better PR within our own country if everyone felt they could truly speak as an individual and express their innate creativity.

Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge.  Maybe we all benefit from that.

Now without further adieu, I hurl myself under the bus in search of truth.  At least it sounds deep.

Okay, I feel one reason recruitment research is still an unacceptably challenging, painfully unique sell (both when selling to search firms and to corporations alike) is because there still exists an old, infectious mentality within much of recruiting that believes every cog in the search wheel is tied directly to the placement.

Let’s unravel this for a moment.

While the pressures of recruiting and research are very different, research is in fact hard work and takes a great amount of skill to perform well.

Researchers are the messengers of data, not the users of data.  They are the intelligence arm which harvests information required by any well informed talent acquisition effort.  And like information long ago, a messenger has faith in a wise king’s ability to discern that the content of a message is no reflection on the messenger.  How it was delivered, yes.  Speed, presentation, and success in the overall objective up and to that point, yes.  But not beyond.  If the news is good news and the king is joyful so much better for the messenger, but that is simply icing on the cake.

In real world terms today, once a researcher accrues 100 names that are spot on, there’s no guarantee any of the individuals will express interest in leaving their current organization.  In this hypothetical, 100 declines of interest is not necessarily a reflection on the research.  So what is the purpose for accumulating recruitment intel, and how do you sell the service if it’s not tied directly to the ultimate goal in staffing, the placement?

Many seek to measure research success the same way we measure a recruiter’s success; through placements, candidate interest, etc. and therein lies the problem.

These are two distinct units with their own micro-goals.  Until this division of labor is understood and embraced, research is forced to operate under a pressure it was not designed for and the true value is lost between the forest and the trees.

Consider our CIA and military ground troops.  The CIA is not held to account for winning a war.  Air and ground forces ultimately do that.  But the military depends on intelligence to achieve that goal, and so 2 distinct groups with unique responsibilities and micro-goals work together towards a common endeavor.  In the same way, Researchers can be passionate partners towards that shared endeavor, but their role is unique and separate, with its own successes.

Data is data, it cannot do anything except in the hands of those who use it.  In strictest terms, talent acquisition research is synonymous with market research.

I got my start as a Researcher at Futurestep/Korn Ferry back in 2004, and I was a recruiter before that.  I really enjoy working with RPO and executive search firms, so forgive me while I sell research as a full on replacement for both.  Look, if you’re selling for an RPO firm, you’re selling against another guy who needs the money too so how are we different?

Here it is…

When a company utilizes an outside firm for staffing, the incentive becomes defined by monetary gain as opposed to true, genuine concern for the welfare of the company.  We can dance around that or call it for what it is.  In other words, if I’m an external recruiter, I may care for my client but it’s because my client pays me to.

Name generation enables the corporation to do the work they do better than anyone, selling the candidate on working for them.  Name-gen challenges the corporation’s own internal team to be the first point of contact for a candidate, whether it’s the internal recruiter or better yet the actual hiring manager.  These lists make any market transparent for them, so they can systematically call or email any of the main players we bring back on a silver platter.


Imagine a Java developer at Pervasive Software here in Austin getting a call from a recruiter.  Like the 32 other calls he has had this week.

Then imagine the same Java developer getting a call from the Senior Director of Development from a competing company like Troux Technologies.  Major difference.

Those are 2 totally different conversations.  The fix, if you will, for staffing is not changing the external staffing model from contingent to RPO to the latest trend — rather, it’s placing the responsibility for candidate contact and recruitment on the corporation.  That is how you get real hires that end up staying for the long haul.

Why are more people not selling this into corporations?

Because external firms sell clients on their inability; the need for external help.  Research is just the opposite.  It enables the client to do what they do best.

Remember, search firms are paid on placements.

As we discussed earlier, if I bring back 100 names, there is a theoretical chance not a single one will want the job. Here is the hard cold truth, this is not the fault of any one single person.  I have provided the market transparency (market research) from which a company can glimpse something of their reputation with their competition’s work forces.  If no one out of 100 passive job seekers from their top competitors wants to even talk to them, that is market research that tells them something.  Perhaps their location is bad.  Maybe they are known for poor management.  Or poor compensation.

By removing the responsibility for the placement and changing it to a responsibility for data, a corporation is in a much greater position to make key hires, even if sometimes it means the research results in none.

By using research, no one is paid to convince an individual to take a job.  What if a dating service begged you to take a mate for marriage when you knew it was in their financial interest to do so?  See the problem?  Research solves this from A to Z.  But because it can’t promise the placement, it’s still a hard sell when it should be the easiest.

They say we don’t reinvent the wheel.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s because the wheel works.  Yet as long as I’ve been in it, the staffing industry has seemingly recreated itself several times over.  Take a moment to consider why that is.

Take a few more seconds.

It’s not always about the placement.  Sometimes a company learns more from its loses than its successes.  All throughout nature, harsh forces shape canyons and coal into beautiful things.  Triumph through adversity.  What if the staffing industry as a whole sold on that honesty instead of promising the moon to secure revenue?  Maybe we wouldn’t be right behind lawyers on that sink to the bottom of the ocean joke list?

The market tells a story.  When a company knows the market, their hiring strategy is the response.  Researchers bring a talent market into transparency. It’s not designed to convince individuals to take jobs.  That responsibility is incumbent upon the party hiring.

When realized in this broader context, the value of professional, strategic name-generation deepens as expectations are aligned with the market, instead of promises of placements where commissions and bonuses hang in the balance.

One reason the perceptions of research may have remained twisted stems from the irritations inherent in recruiting itself.  Because let’s face it, full lifecycle recruiting can be stressful work and to think that someone on the team should get paid well without having to suffer those same pressures seems unfair.  So research often gets hung on the same hook, so to speak.

To be totally honest, this not an issue that’s caused me a single concern while on a client engagement.  Not once.  My references will back that up.  But it is an issue when trying to sell the service to new clients.  I would love to be a better salesman for my company Horse2Water, but unfortunately sales has never been my strength.  If it’s yours, call me and let’s team up.  All the same, I believe with great confidence in my service and ability.

As a former corporate, RPO, and executive recruiter, I realize the value research holds at the fundamental level.  But the primary reason such an excellent service is not an easier sell rests in misplaced expectations.

I seek simply to right that wrong.  It may take a paradigm shift in staffing as a whole to accomplish that, but hey I’m not afraid.

horse2waterReagan Jones is the founder/Lead Researcher for Horse2Water. As an AIRS certified Recruitment Research professional with an extended track record for executing electronic research strategies in support of corporate, RPO, and executive search engagements, Reagan provides advanced internet search capabilities and e-dentification methodology, with a specialization that stems from a proven, combined experience in both executive search and high-level corporate recruiting.

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