Friday, May 21, 2010

Employers Continue Hopeless Quest For the Perfect Hire

I've been reading Manpower's latest talent shortage study that asked employers in 36 countries about their hiring challenges.

Manpower found that almost one-third (31%) of employers surveyed are having a hard time finding talented employees:

"Unemployment levels remain high in the United States, yet employers continue to have difficulty filling select positions," said Jonas Prising, Manpower president of the Americas. "The issue is not a lack of candidates, but rather a talent mismatch. There are not enough sufficiently skilled people in the right places at the right times. Compounding the issue is the fact that employers are seeking ever more specific skill sets, or a rare combination of skill sets, and are less willing to engage in anticipatory hiring. This paradox adds up to a very challenging and frustrating situation at a time when people need work and employers need talent."

But is a lack of "sufficiently skilled people" the real problem, or are employers being way too picky? I would argue it's the latter. Employers are obsessed with making the perfect hire. You know, that new person they can plug into the job who somehow knows exactly what to do from day one and performs like a well-oiled machine.

But that's fantasy, not reality. Employees aren't "plug and play" devices; they're stubbornly human with unique strengths and weaknesses. They need the training and development employers are more reluctant to invest in now: U.S. companies slashed their training budgets by an average of 11% last year.

It's as if companies think "Why spend the money on training when you can just hire the perfect employee? He or she is out there somewhere; we just need to find him or her." So companies put candidates through multiple rounds of interviews, if they even call them at all. The perfect person is always right around the corner. Why commit?

Survey results like these make me think of Seinfeld, who always focused on the one habit his girlfriends had that drove him crazy and became a deal breaker:

But any long lasting relationship, romantic or professional, requires both sides to realize the other person has flaws but we still love them anyway. We're willing to put up with the 2% that drives us crazy because the other 98% is so damn awesome.

The problem is, employers aren't willing to put up with the 2% and they're getting frustrated when they realize a new hire doesn't come fully loaded with all the features -- e.g., "skilled" and "talented." But even the most talented and skilled hires must re-adapt to a new workplace with different rules, processes and people. Adapting takes time and patience from both sides.

Like a serial dater who never seems to find "the one," employers need to realize there is no perfect hire. This person simply doesn't exist. Never has, never will. Companies that can't let go of their unrealistic hiring expectations will end up just like Seinfeld, kvetching - without a laugh track - how they could finally hire someone if only applicants weren't so hopelessly flawed in some superficial way.

The sooner companies stop looking for perfection, the better off everyone will be.

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