I’ve heard it again and again—the same lament uttered by everyone from senior executives and functional leaders to recruiters and hiring managers:
“I can’t find the qualified talent I need.”
The tone in their voices is unmistakable. It’s the sound of lost hope. Their search for qualified individuals has become tantamount to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Adding to their frustration is the fact that millions of people are searching for work and employees are jumping ship at their old companies in record numbers. Despite this abundance of available talent—and despite making significant investments in their TA teams, their recruiting tools and technologies, and their candidate experiences—finding qualified candidates hasn’t gotten one bit easier. Indeed, it seems to have gotten harder.
How can this be, they wonder.
The answer to their question is the subject of a recent Harvard Business School (HBS) report, “Hidden Workers: Untapped Talent,” and an ensuing spate of articles based on the report’s findings, including Inc.com’s “In the Middle of the Great Resignation, Employers Are Rejecting Millions of Qualified Workers, New Harvard Research Finds,” and The Verge’s “Automated hiring software is mistakenly rejecting millions of viable job candidates.”
I’ll be honest. Reading these pieces sent my blood pressure soaring.
Hidden Talent & Our Broken System
As a Talent Board consultant, I help organizations examine and improve their recruiting practices and candidate experiences. An alleged dearth of qualified talent has been a thorn in my side for a long, long time. I’ve found that, for many employers, it’s a self-imposed problem. The HBS report and the articles it spawned explain why:
In short, these pieces are saying that the very technologies and practices we’ve implemented to improve our recruiting results and candidate experiences are actually hindering our ability to source and hire qualified talent.
The truth is, these technologies and practices are only partly to blame. We are the real problem.
Where We’re Going Wrong
Recruiting technologies are only as good as we enable them to be. Take ATSs and RMSs, for example. These tools screen out candidates based on the parameters we set (emphasis on “we”). In fact, when our parameters are particularly narrow, the technologies follow suit. As the HBS report states, “they exclude from consideration viable candidates whose resumes do not match the criteria but who could perform at a high level with training. A large majority (88%) of employers agree, telling us that qualified high-skills candidates are vetted out of the process because they do not match the exact criteria established by the job description.”
The article in The Verge cites one company that rejected applicants for a retail clerk position because they “didn’t list ‘floor-buffing’ as one of their skills, even when their resumes matched every other desired criteria.”
Overlooking viable talent that’s hidden in our systems is hardly the only way we’re working against our own best interests. For instance:
We Are the Solution
I don’t want this post to become a diatribe (has it already?!) so I’ll stop there. The point is, we can’t expect technology and processes to save us from ourselves. By not paying attention to active candidates we contribute to our qualified talent problem, which means we’re part of the solution.
We could begin solving our problem with three steps:
Another opportunity is to ensure that your systems and tech stack are configured and used optimally to identify applicants who possess the core requirements, skills and experiences that are most likely to enable their success in the position. As the HBR and other pieces make clear, too many employers have fallen down on this step.
Recruiting technologies and processes that haven’t been carefully crafted, tested, and adjusted incrementally over time are bound to fall short at some point. They function best with some amount of human oversight and course-correction. Taking a “set it and forget it” approach means “hidden talent” is very likely going to remain hidden.
One final note from the HBS report: it affirms that companies that purposefully hire hidden talent report being 36% less likely to face talent and skills shortages compared to companies that don’t make an effort to uncover and hire hidden talent. These companies also indicate hidden workers outperform their peers materially on six key evaluative criteria—attitude and work ethic, productivity, quality of work, engagement, attendance, and innovation.
If that doesn’t convince you to go in search of the hidden talent in your own systems, I don’t know what will.
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