Recruiting Is A Game of Constraints. Play It.

I’ve had the chance to talk to quite a few recruitment marketers and talent acquisition leaders over the years, and if there’s one thing that I can safely say about talent pros, it’s that they’re a pretty cynical bunch. Maybe it’s because they think that I’m there to sell them something (I’m not that guy).

Maybe it’s because they get approached by so many different vendors or “partners” that they assume that anyone who’s not a candidate or hiring manager isn’t worth taking the time to talk to.

But within the first five minutes of any conversation, recruiters are almost guaranteed to tell you, in one way or another, that they don’t have a whole lot of budget to spend (and are probably not spending what they have with you).

Look, I get it. Quick show of hands: has any talent acquisition professional ever had enough money to spend on all the stuff they wanted to?

Has anyone ever had all the resources they probably need to be the most efficient and effective they can at filling reqs? No one? That’s weird.

Let’s try another one. Who in the consumer marketing space, or any other business function, really, ever feels like they just have too much money and resources?

Still no one? That’s what I thought.

The High Cost of Transfer Fees.

So, let’s go ahead and agree that no one has money (or at least, not as much as they’d like or need). Cash might be king, but it’s certainly not the only consideration limiting recruiters from hiring the best talent available for every role, every time. I know most of these probably sound familiar (if not downright cliched): not enough recruiters.

Not enough headcount to support the overall work. Not enough hours in the day. Not enough tools or time to actually engage candidates and develop real recruiting relationships.

Considering these often steep limitations and constraints commonly placed on recruiters, it’s easy to throw up your hands and give up. Or at least, have a little pity party at how badly you have it, poor you.

How can anyone ever expect you to actually do your job of filling reqs efficiently and finding the best candidates on the market when you don’t have the money, people, time or tools to actually keep up with that market? How can you possibly overcome the probability of perpetual failure?

I mean, statistically and anecdotally (at least from the recruiters I’ve talked to), you’re already pretty screwed. So why bother doing anything more than the bare minimum required and simply post, pray and hope for some halfway decent applicants to somehow find you.

If you can fill a req cheaply and quickly, it shouldn’t really matter if the candidate is an all star or a B player to the talent organization. You think if you keep making hires, you’ll keep everyone happy, right?

Think again.

Championship Manager: Running The Talent Tables.

It’s like soccer (or football, for the rest of the world), in which part of what makes “The Beautiful Game” so compelling is that you’re forced to play without the ability to use some of your most important appendages. Doing so, even accidentally, is an automatic penalty.

That is, unless you’re the goalie, which is the position most recruiters find themselves in – playing a defensive and predominantly reactive role instead of pushing the ball forward and proactively going after the competition.

Attacking, though, means going ahead knowing you’re going to have to play on the field with 11 other people who are comfortable working with constraints.

You can’t win without coming out of the box and figuring out how to beat the competition with your hands effectively tied behind your back. This extended metaphor, obviously, has some important lessons for recruiters.

Look, if everyone could use their hands when they played soccer, it’d be called rugby. Which is to say, if you’re not willing to recruit without a whole bunch of external restraints (and personal restraint), you should probably consider a playing a different entirely.

Because this business probably just isn’t for you. But if you recognize that those constraints are a commonality shared by pretty much every recruiter out there and start focusing not on limitations, but how to overcome them, then you’re going to be way more effective at making great hires.

Everyone is more or less on a level playing field in today’s candidate driven talent market – too many demands, not enough time or money to handle them all. We get it. So, talent acquisition professionals and recruitment marketers must realize that no one has the assets they want. No one probably has the tools and staff they need to succeed. No one.

Not even the biggest brands or budgets are ever truly enough to corner the candidate market. It really all comes down to the connection and relationship between an individual recruiter, and an individual candidate.

And that’s something money can’t buy (although it sure can do a decent job faking it for a while).

Pro Evolution: Learning To Stay Onside In Talent Acquisition.

Once recruiters realize that they have a choice between complaining and bitching about the impossible jobs they’ve been given, or they can shut up and put up results against every other employer out there who are effectively competing with the same restraints. Those that can actually put up, well, they’re the ones who win the war on talent. And they’re not content to sit around and let applicants come to them.

The best recruiters in the business, the employers of choice the choosiest employees choose the most, know how to overcome recruiting restraints and break through to the truly top talent every top employer is competing for at the moment – including you and your company.Don’t just stand back in the box and hope that you can make a last second block.

Because no matter how good a recruiter you are, if you’re playing goalie instead of striker in this game, sooner or later you’re bound to get burned. Promise.

So once you realize that this is scratch golf, where all handicaps are wiped out and everyone’s playing for the same score, you realize that you’re not really competing against the other players out there – you’re competing against yourself. If you focus on doing your best instead of constantly looking to the leaderboard and waiting for lucky breaks, you’re going to come out ahead.

Failure happens when you get distracted from the singular goal of beating par on every hole. And the best of us may get the occasional double bogey, but as badly as that sucks, that doesn’t mean you should suddenly stop shooting for eagles, either.

When the Wright Brothers first developed the airplane, of course, they didn’t have all (or really any) of the answers. They were bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio, after all, not wealthy by traditional standards nor formally trained in aeronautics, physics or engineering. The one thing they did know from bicycles, though, was the concept of lightweight mechanized propulsion.

That’s a fancy way of saying they studied how to go the furthest distance possible while putting in the least amount of effort, and built their prototypes around the core concept of efficiency.

This didn’t extend just to the actual plane, of course: economy was everything in the nascent days of aeronautics. Finding donors with enough vision and capital to fund their highly experimental enterprise proved nearly impossible. They had no idea what mechanical or material resources they’d need, how many people it would take and the improbability of actually achieving the long dismissed dream of human flight.

They just knew what they did have: a first class understanding of the mechanics of lightweight propulsion, an ideal site for the winds and climate required to literally get their business off the ground, and two brothers who had the willingness to do whatever it took to accomplish their vision, even if that meant figuring out a way to make it happen with next to no money or material resources.

There’s a reason it’s called “doing the impossible,” but sometimes, as with the Wright Brothers, the impossible gets done.

Champions League: How To Take Home The Hardware.

Visionaries who push ahead despite knowing the odds against them are objectively overwhelming are often seen as naive or even ignorant, but theirs isn’t a “glass half full” sort of optimism, operating on blind faith and dumb luck alone to tilt at those windmills. The willingness to actually try to confront – and conquer – the steepest of all odds is a gift.

But like all gifts, it comes with certain strings or expectations attached.

In recruiting, getting huge returns on no investment other than time, expertise and elbow grease means making choices. This can be tough. It’s important to remember that “choices” isn’t some thinly veiled code for, “OK, so maybe you can’t do every cool idea that comes into your head.”

Instead, it means being able to judiciously and justifiably allocate your limited resources for maximum impact. There’s no magic formula for doing that, no best practice or case study, really, for telling you the best recruiting resources for ROI, since every req and requirement is different.

Just remember success or failure in recruiting lies primarily not only in being decisive, making hard choices and accepting tradeoffs, but in making sure those are the right choices, too.

Sometimes, that means taking a chance. Just know that you no longer have to spend money on a tool or technology nor time on a tactic or talent strategy just because it’s what you’re expected to do, forget business as usual and start figuring out what actually works for you.

The cool thing about experimentation is that if something doesn’t work, you can pretty easily throw it out and keep iterating until you find what’s going to work best for the work you do. Rest assured that no matter how confident recruiters sound when they assert that they know what they’re doing, we’re all mostly making this up as we go along.

Realize that recruiters today are expected to try new things, and that the only way to systematically find out what works is by first seeing what doesn’t work. Eventually, you’ll figure it out, or you’ll fall out of recruiting like so many others who just couldn’t deal with the challenges, ambiguity and hard work this business requires.

Those who survive – and thrive – in recruitment do so because instead of being content with using your budget based on what the status quo might say you’re supposed to do and instead focus on what you have to do to do your job, instead.

Man of the Match: Standing From the Competition.

Most recruiters know their weaknesses, but too few know their strengths. That’s because we’re too busy with business as usual to figure out what’s really working to get the best business results.

If you want to beat the competition, it’s critical to focus on looking yourself in the mirror, forgetting everyone else for just a minute and really being honest about what you have that no one else out there on the market can offer top talent.

This shouldn’t be aspirational, but self aware. You know what’s good and what sucks about working at your company. It’s essential to accentuate the positive, rather than minimize the negative. Doing so means remembering that it’s just as important to figure out what sets you apart from other recruiters as it is to focus simply on what sets a role or req apart from other opportunities at other employers.

So, what is it that makes you, well, you? Is it your engaged workforce, compelling corporate culture or your killer employee generated content? Is it your great employer brand and word of mouth reputation?

Is it your internal mobility initiatives, flexible policies, amazing benefits or unique perks? Whatever that answer might be, focus on figuring out how you can extend and amplify those assets within your employer brand and recruiting conversations.

If you have an amazing mission, compelling employer value proposition or  share real people talking about their real jobs in their real voices that really resonate with your candidates and customers alike, you don’t need to spend any money or time on accentuating the positive and transforming these assets into real recruiting results really quickly.

It all comes down to being able to tell stories that effectively engage and excite external candidates and internal stakeholders alike while conveying what it is that really makes working at your company different.

Professional Premiership: The Key to Avoiding Recruiting Relegation.

If candidates don’t know what makes you special, they won’t think you’re anything special. And you’ll probably not get a whole lot of special candidates, either. The focus on differentiation not only works to attract the right candidates to your organization, but also screens out those who might not be a great fit for your culture, vision or values.

If your candidates don’t want the same things your organization can offer, well, there’s no sense in wasting anyone’s time – which, of course, is one of the most precious resources any recruiter’s got, really.

When you’re focusing on employee generated content and finding out the best way to craft and share the stories in a way that will resonate best with the top talent you’re looking for, it’s important to remember you don’t have to get too cute or creative. You don’t have to be conceptual or abstract, you don’t have to hyperbolize too much or try too hard.

You just need to make sure that the stories you’re telling represent life at your company, and your company’s impact on its employees lives. This can be surprisingly straightforward.

For example, SAS is renowned for its amazing perks related to work/life balance and employee flexibility – a well known benefit that pays far greater dividends than offering huge salaries or spending a ton of money on recruitment marketing.

They know that their commitment to work-life balance is unique, and extremely attractive to both current and potential employees, and really use that as the foundation for their recruitment messaging and marketing. Everyone claims to be a great place to work, but it’s your job to explain to candidates why you’d be a great place to work for them.

In other words:

Ask not what candidates can do for you. Ask what you can do for your candidates.

Listen to what they really want. And find out how to deliver on those unique career aspirations and expectations, even if playing that game means doing so with constraints.

The sooner you figure out how to dominate your competition, even with your hands effectively tied behind your back, the sooner you can start scoring the points required to run the talent table in 2017 – and beyond.

About the Author: James Ellis is a digital content strategist focused on helping Fortune 1000 companies and other enterprise employers develop recruitment marketing strategies to find and attract the best talent.

James has served in a variety of recruitment marketing and employer branding leadership roles, and has almost a decade of experience managing content and inbound marketing projects and initiatives for some of the world’s biggest brands.

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, where he was the social media voice of Bucky The Badger, James currently lives in Chicago, where he is one of the branding brains behind SaltLab and also anchors the popular TalentCast podcast.

Follow James on Twitter @TheWarForTalent or connect with him on LinkedIn.



For more than 15 years, James Ellis has focused on connecting cutting-edge technology to marketing objectives. As a digital strategist for TMP Worldwide, he helps some of the largest companies in America answer their most pressing digital questions. Follow James on Twitter at @TheWarForTalent. Learn more about TMP Worldwide at www.tmp.com.


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