The Way It’s Always Been…May 03, 2023
On January 2, 1996, I had an epiphany! While scraping ice off the 2x4 purlins before nailing down roofing metal for the poultry house I was helping build, I realized that I didn’t want to make a living as a carpenter for the rest of my life. Truth be told, I didn’t really want to do it for the rest of that day but I liked eating food and sleeping inside so I pushed through. A week or so later, I was one of about a thousand folks to apply for forty full time positions with a local manufacturing company, one that hadn’t hired full time employees straight off the street in close to a decade. After nearly two months of competency testing and interviews, I was one of the forty to accept an offer and started what I thought would be the job that got me through college on March 12, 1996.
Before I go on, I want to stress that I’m forever grateful for the carpentry experience I had prior to accepting that position; it’s something that serves me well to this day. My desire for chance on 1/2/96 was largely driven by trying to drive nails through multiple sheets of metal with a hand I had broken on New Year’s Eve - but that’s a story for another time… The points I’d like to call your attention to are that I was one of ONE THOUSAND people to apply for those 40 open positions and that this job I thought would get me through college lasted nearly 19 years (which was still less than the time I needed to finish a degree). I don’t share that “one out of one thousand” stat to boast but to make a point that recruiting was significantly different in those days, and it still carried some hefty costs.
During the almost two decades I was with that organization, I held several different roles and was blessed to gain some incredibly valuable experience, including the last 18 months where I hired over 225 candidates that I mentioned before. To say I saw some pretty drastic changes over the years just might qualify as one of the biggest understatements in history. Not only did the organizational culture change significantly, I can assure you there was no time during that year and a half where I was tasked with all that hiring where I anything that resembled the interest in working for that organization that existed in 1996. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely reviewed well over a thousand applications and I probably interviewed close to a thousand people, but at that point it took that many to find 225 who had anything close to relevant skills, could pass a drug screen, and had a clean enough background check that we didn’t need armed guards.
I share all that with you for one reason… Through varying economic conditions, the approach to recruiting candidates changed very little but produced wildly different results!
One of the constants I saw was that the recruiting process itself, as well as the time required to bring new employees up to speed, ended up being quite the profitability killer. In the decade since, I’ve only seen the impact recruiting has on profitability grow. Regardless of how many open positions an organization has, there’s rarely a time where too many outstanding candidates are waiting in line to fill a spot. Another constant has been that the responsibility for filling these open positions generally lands squarely in the lap of someone (usually wearing some sort of HR hat) who does not have the final say in what the overall organization culture will be. This often results in huge advertising budgets with hopes of making the open positions visible to anyone with a pulse and offering massive sign-on bonuses to the folks who have anything close to the skills necessary in those roles.
We’ve all heard some variation of the idea that if we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got… It was Eric Hoffer that said “In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” I believe this is just as applicable to the recruiting process, especially if we want to capture even a portion of that lost profitability, as it is to any other aspect of our world today! And I believe doing that will require us to break away from the traditional recruiting approach and build a strong leadership presence into how we attract great people to our teams - so stay tuned for more on that!