The job market is tight. In August, the U.S. unemployment rate was down to 3.9 percent, a figure that hadn't been seen in more than four decades. As jobs are added and candidates can be more selective, leaders with less-than-appealing offers are in a tough spot.

Some of that's their own fault. Leaders who focus on money over culture or fail to craft enticing job posts put themselves at a disadvantage. Qualified candidates with great experience want to use their skills at places where they can grow.

Often, another part is also the leader's fault: how they recruit. Leaders inadvertently get in their own way, hiring the first person who seems qualified or someone with a list of cool companies on their résumé. Without determining how these applicants think or what value they could bring, leaders are sometimes left with candidates who don't make an impact or, worse, poison the well.

How leaders can stop sabotaging themselves

A 2017 Glassdoor survey revealed that 76 percent of companies struggle to find qualified candidates. And when they find people with a good grasp on the "basics," they still have a hard time finding people informed about the company or its industry.

As an executive coach, I'm constantly in conversations about getting more productivity and ownership from employees. You can't motivate the unmotivated. I've talked with dozens of leaders who complain about turnover, but they ignore the core issue: hiring the right people to start. At one company, we shifted the leaders involvement to become more integrated throughout the whole process. The leader had to stop leaving everything to HR.

If you want a strong culture, you must change your hiring practices. Do either of these sound familiar?

You look for people with specifically relevant experience -- only.

While some fields -- medicine, architecture, engineering -- require specific training, certifications, and technical knowledge, most don't. This is especially important to consider in smaller businesses, where fast growth means everyone (not just the CEO) wears multiple hats.

That doesn't stop leaders from trying to recruit people whose experience and skill sets align perfectly. They justify overlooking potentially high-quality candidates in their efforts to bypass training or a true ramp-up period. Chris Cho, the chief product officer at Monster, explains, "We've got to help recruiters realize that the best candidate is not always the one who checks off all the boxes."

Leaders need to look for experience and interests that are adjacent or using similar strengths. For example, someone who spent 10 years in banking may have the attention to detail that a tech company needs. Someone who trained academic advisors might have the patience and speaking skills to nail sales presentations and follow-up questions. Look beyond the obvious to find strong teammates who will grow with the company. Employees want to learn, and I make it my goal to ensure employees get as much from us as we're getting from them.

I find that mapping personality traits is more effective than reviewing skill sets alone. You want salespeople to have a mix of determination in the face of adversity and a willingness to challenge the status quo with prospects. Likewise, you want customer service people to have empathy.

You think about culture "fit" in terms of blending in.

Diversity has gotten a lot of attention, and businesses are clamoring for hires who can add something new. Smart leaders know candidates crawl their websites, looking for signs that they have something in common with the people who work there.

The problem is that some leaders focus on building on those commonalities, failing to see that they're building teams with identical perspectives. That's a real lose-lose, both in terms of bringing in fresh thoughts and fueling company growth. McKinsey & Company has found companies with higher gender diversity on their management teams are 21 percent more likely to earn above-average profits. McKinsey revealed racial diversity resulted in similar strong performance.

Leaders have to rise above culture fit questions like "Would I like to have a beer with this person?" and ask, "Would this person's viewpoint stretch our thinking?" Businesses that approach problems the same way keep offering the same types of solutions -- those that shake things up are more likely to disrupt their industries and speed up their growth trajectories.

It may be harder to draw in strong candidates, but leaders can also do their part to stop limiting themselves. If they open their minds in terms of who could fuel their companies' growth, they just may find a bigger pool -- and more success -- than they expected.

Published on: Nov 13, 2018
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