Recruiting: the myth of war on talent and where marketers should set-up

Hands up those of you reading this who have applied for a job, one that you thought you had the perfect mix of skills, qualifications and experience. And, you really wanted the role – so you had the right mix of motivation and attitude.

And then, nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not a word. Or if you were lucky, the dreaded ‘Dear John’ email.

Then, the next day, you read an article about talent acquisition, and, even worse, some hollow article about the ‘war for talent’.  Clearly you were not perceived to be part of that talent worth fighting for. I believe McKinseys were responsible for that particular crime against the English language – the ‘war for talent’. As the wonderfully articulate Lucy Kellaway in the FT puts it, ‘as a metaphor, the war for talent takes the biscuit. The big thing about a war is that there is always an enemy, but in this case there appears not to be.’

Then you read about Talent Acquisition Managers, talent pipelines, talent pools, looking for ‘world-class’ talent. And you think, ‘oh well, I guess I’m not world class talent’. I have recruited a lot of marketers, in four totally different countries, for household name brands, and none of this talent stuff that I read makes any sense. Reality is that most companies do not even know how to define “talent”, let alone how to manage it.

I was reminded of this the other day, talking to a researcher who was asking the country’s top marketers what their biggest challenge was. The number one issue reported was ‘getting the right talent’, but in the same breadth, I was told that of one individuals in the survey (who is a brilliant marketer) remarked that he simply did not have the time to read through CVs, so it was his recruitment agencies fault.

Now, of course, there are issues because the pace of technology moves much faster that most people’s jobs and careers do. However, jobs do not remain open because there are not willing and capable candidates. They remain open because many senior marketers are not willing to invest the time in finding the right person, are not willing to train them and outsource the activity to HR or externally. Essentially, recruitment isn’t working.

Outsourcing your hiring to HR to sieve through CVs, or worse, through a recruitment agent, is a dereliction of duty. It essentially says that, ‘although I am going to spend years of my life working with this individual I wish to recruit, and, even though I really need them, I am not willing to spend time reading their CVs; regardless of the fact that I am going to be spending lots of time coaching and guiding this person, I am going to outsource finding that person to someone who has no idea about marketing’.

So, here are my renegade rules for recruitment that I follow: one, no recruitment agencies – ever.  Only you as the marketer understand the marketing challenge of the brand in that organisation. Only you have the capability to recognise the magical mix of attitude and skill that make great marketer. You have to read all the applications. Yes, all of them. Two: drum the adage ‘hire for attitude and train for skills’ into your head. If they are right person, spend the money on a few courses to get their skills up to speed. Three: no deadlines for applications. Really, you are serious about ‘talent’ but they have to find you by a deadline?

Yes, my renegade rules of recruitment mean that I have spent multiple evenings of my career reading through 80-100 CVs, the good, the bad and the ugly. But I don’t regret it for a minute. I am holding their lives, their careers and their dreams in my hands when they apply for a job. I owe this to each and every applicant. And so do we all.