Why employers can’t find talent when there is a 9% unemployment rate

A few weeks ago, I listened to Michael Hlinka, CBC Radio's Metro Morning business commentator, talk about a recent Bank of Montreal report that said, "Canadian companies are generally upbeat about their hiring plans for 2013 but they say it is hard to find qualified people despite the number of unemployed workers out there".  The report goes on to say that it is, "now harder to attract and retain good employees than it was before the economic downturn when unemployment was hovering around 6%" or what is generally accepted as close to full employment levels. The discussion that followed between host Matt Galloway and Michael explored this apparent oxymoron.  I think their discussion (which was limited by the constraints of radio airtime) overlooked some critical differences in today's business environments from those of a decade or two ago.

Today, employers are faced with a debilitating selection of employment candidates. When I graduated from university in the era before the Internet, resumes were paper documents and most employment searches were conducted face to face. My ability to contact employers and apply for jobs was limited to a couple of dozen applications in play at any time. Today, a new graduate can send out a couple of hundred job applications in a week without leaving home.  An employer receiving my resume years ago was only comparing me against a few dozen applications, all responding from within the geographic area targeted by the employer.  Today, that same employer is faced with hundreds or thousands of applicants, many either unqualified or in geographically unsuitable locations. Once these are screened out, the number of remaining candidates is still overwhelming and often beyond the resources of the employers to process and evaluate.

Our business environment has also transformed and the rate of change is accelerating. Modern, businesses have less slack resources and the performance bar to compete has risen. As a result, the cost of a "bad hire" is unaffordable and the cost of terminating that hiring mistake is expensive.  This causes employers to take longer to evaluate and vet a candidate before hiring and to keep searching instead of hiring the "okay" candidate that they might have in the past.  Employers are more conscious than ever before that the core skills that they are hiring for are only part of the employee package that they need. An employer hiring a software developer is looking for more than just their programming skills. They are also evaluating the candidate's business acumen, industry and domain knowledge, communication skills, sense of entitlement, ability to be a team player and fit against the employer's corporate culture (I believe that this is the major challenge to new immigrants searching for professional positions, but that is a separate blog for another day). Unlike in the past, a miss on any of the above criteria, is often a disqualifying checkmark.

So if this is the problem, what is the solution?

There is an old sales adage that, "People buy from People". This speaks to the role and importance of personal relationships and trust in the sales process. The corollary in a job search is, "Companies hire through Referral". If I am an employer and I receive a dozen referred candidates, why expend the effort of combing through 1000 un-referred resumes (unless the referrals fail to deliver a number of qualified candidates).

I have written many times on the importance of your network. It starts in college or university with everyone you encounter through your post secondary education. My son is graduating next spring with 486 connections on his LinkedIn profile, all of which were gained through university connections, peers, work experience, volunteer activities and professional networking events that he has attended while at school (career & job fairs, presentations, conferences, etc). Many of his connections are other students, in the same boat as him, but each of them has also made some professional connections. In total, he has access to 13,741 second degree connections, each of which is a potential warm introduction to a job opportunity.

If you are searching for a job, embrace the power of your network. When you see a job posting, look on LinkedIn to see who can introduce you? Be professional in your introduction requests.  Not everyone will be comfortable doing introductions but many will, especially if they have met you two or three times and like you. If someone agrees to introduce you, provide them the information that they need to do a professional introduction including your cover letter, resume, the job posting and two or three succinct bullets on why you think you are a good fit. Don't oversell yourself, just give them a realistic story that they can pass along.

Be proactive. Expand your network. If you are targeting specific companies as ones that you would like to work for, find people who are in those companies and find a way to meet with them or find people who have senior relationships into your target companies and meet with them. Find a way to impress them so that in the future they could be an introducer. This is a multi-step process over months, not a one-off meeting so build your network before you are job hunting.

If you adopt some of the strategies I outline above, maybe employers will find the talent they are looking for sooner.

© 2012 Meaford Group

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