‘Perceived Skills Shortages’: Have Employers Become Spoiled in Recent Years?

star-performer-at-your-workplaceLooking for the Elusive “Perfect” aka “Purple Squirrel” Candidate

Today’s organizations often look to hire the “perfect candidate” for their vacancies. However, while each recruiter and hiring manager ought to attempt to locate such individuals, the fact is that several employers are overly meticulous. In this type of scenario, this can result in extremes, such as leaving vacant positions empty for months on end, with the misguided belief that only a candidate who meets all of the specified knowledge, skills, education, expertise and competencies, will suffice.

In several organizations, the expectation is that new hires should be ready and able to hit the ground running right from day one, while not having any of the vital coaching or training and development, in order to achieve certain success on the job. On the contrary, it is impossible for even a ‘superstar performer’ to come into a foreign setting, and still be able to function at 110%. The consequence of this error in judgement could soon turn to ‘low staff morale’ followed by higher than normal staff turnover ratios.

Nonetheless, even in today’s tough economic climates, this expectation has resulted in a great deal of hand wringing about perceived “skills shortages” behind corporate walls. In a sense, employers became spoiled in what has been a “buyer’s market” for several years now. Unfortunately, this has led to the adoption of somewhat lethargic human resources practices, and an over reliance on technologies like applicant tracking systems, in concert with a failure to think about non-traditional candidates, and a strong reluctance to invest in training and development.

The bottom line is that too many employers have overcompensated for the poor job market by insistence on hiring solely “cookie cutter” candidates with cookie cutter qualifications. The problem is that they have created this filter, and thus find that no one can get through. Then, in response, they throw up their hands in frustration, blaming “skills shortages” – believing that, somehow the academic system is failing to adequately equip graduates, or that organizations need to utilize temporary foreign workers to solve their labour woes, which of course is simply not the case.

In accordance with current recruitment parlance, “perfect” candidates are generally thought of as “purple squirrels.” Primarily, a “purple squirrel” is one of those extraordinarily rare candidates who have absolutely everything needed to be extremely successful on the job — and presumably, even more.

Most recruiters recognize a purple squirrel after they see one, and filling each vacancy with such candidates is something they generally aim to do. However, because purple squirrels are so rare — and since they are such high flyers, they can typically demand salaries well in excess of what the job pays.

Holding out for a purple squirrel candidate can do more harm than good. It can even have a negative impact on the range of the workforce and cause ‘groupthink’ and other negative behaviours related to staff beginning to mirror each other’ thinking and actions.

Overcoming the ‘Skills Shortages’ Mindset

Employers will overcome the perceived “skills shortage” by being creative, and returning to hiring for potential and competencies instead of simply previous experience. In addition, while it is more difficult, expensive, and time-consuming, organizations need to provide significant coaching and development opportunities — one thing that may ultimately lead to increased employee retention and engagement.

In several cases, hiring a good, solid candidate, and coaching, training, and developing that person to overcome his or her minor shortcomings may well be a far better strategy. That is certainly true in the case where a vacancy is intentionally left empty for an extended amount of time; whereas someone could have been in place acquiring new skills, knowledge and experience, and consistently performing a good job, and not having any difficulty in professionally completing daily tasks, as well as more complex project assignments. This is what I refer to as a win-win scenario. Other staff members are not left to pick up the slack as when the position was left empty, and the new hire is proving to be a valuable asset to the team, and organization overall.

In most cases, it is still worth expending the time and effort in attempting to fill vacancies with new hires who come as close as possible to the hiring manager’s vision of the ‘perfect’ candidate.

While seeking out the ‘perfect’ or ‘purple squirrel’ candidates, it would be prudent to employ creative staffing techniques that allow the hiring of “mere mortals” in place of superstar candidates who may not be available, and in some cases may not even exist – or for that matter, hold any interest in taking on the role at the set salary.

Research Sources: Canadian HR Reporter, Consult Carswell

http://www.hrreporter.com http://www.consultcarswell.com/

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