Category Archives: Talent Acquisition

Fool’s Gold – The “Passive” Candidate

“Passive recruiting” has been a buzzword in the Talent Acquisition world for as long as I’ve been in the industry. Not only is it described as the gold standard of a “strategic” Recruiting team, but “passive recruiting” started appearing as a job requirement for positions outside of the Human Resources organization. It’s hip, it’s now, it’s a term with caché, baby.

Which begs the question… why?

Who Are Those Guys, Anyway?

Let’s start here: What qualifies you as a “passive” candidate? Well, the single most obvious characteristic is that a passive candidate is not looking for a new job, and that’s where this gets tricky. Why? Because a prevalent perception has been developed over the years that has two basic tenets:

  1. People who are actively seeking a new job are suspicious.
  2. “Passive” candidates are the “real” talent ~ So unobtainable, so beautiful, so completely immune to our advances, rare and precious, like the mythical unicorn label we like to borrow (George Costanza actually had a great quote about this mindset.)

When we receive a resumé from a candidate, one of our first questions is “Why are you looking to leave your current employer?” [or God forbid they aren’t currently employed; then they immediately go to the bottom of the pile, conveniently located inside the shredder.] We ask this question why? Because it’s important, right?

Well yeah, but… until we’re trying to pry them away from their employer. Then it’s not so important why they leave—we just want them to leave.

Is it me, or is that just a touch hypocritical?

We look at these things with our own lens, so indulge me a minute: I was a “passive candidate” at one point, and I can’t help but think my experience was more typical than we’d like to admit. Successful and tenured at my (then) employer, I was happy. I didn’t know that what I really wanted was a new opportunity. Thankfully, a recruiter alerted me to that non-conscious desire. Not his fault—that’s what we do for a living, yes?

And who was I, exactly? I was a guy who knew how to get things done at my present employer. I knew every back-channel, informal handshake method to TCB. I had a track record. I had a history. I had favors owed, favors due, secrets kept… and that’s what made me a great employee—for my present employer.

And then for the receiving company, here’s the reality of recruiting this passive candidate.

  • I didn’t really want to go. It took 3 offers before I bit. You know why?
    • It was a tough job to fill. Not many people had that specific skill set, and those who did wanted no part of the role. You don’t go after passive candidates for easy-to-fill jobs; this one was tough and my resumé matched.
    • Leaving a good job is hard. It’s an emotional decision – you’re not running from the company, you just answered the phone one day & felt wanted. But leaving? Leaving is difficult.
  • It cost them a sh*t-ton of money. Why else would I go? Scope of responsibility? Cool. Title? Even cooler. But it eventually came down to a fat check. I’m not above saying they overpaid, because they did. That creates a few fun situations for your precious unicorn – they will be at the high end of your internal equity. Maybe the very high end. Maybe at the very stupid high end. That fact will be a secret for about 2 days.
  • You have to walk the talk. All those benefits of your company, wonderful culture, flexibility, limitless resources, and advancement opportunities – better be legitimate. Maybe you had to hide some ugly truths, withhold some information, or make promises that may not be feasible (in the recruiting world, these are known as “lies.”) That won’t make for a very happy unicorn, as they paw the dirt & carelessly waive their narwhalian horn around in anger.

Obviously, this doesn’t hold true for everyone who has been hired, but it should remind everyone in recruiting about the importance of level-setting on “active” vs. “passive” recruiting, and the merits of each respectively. Why we have convinced ourselves that a candidate wanting to join our company is less appealing than the unknown is really the question that needs to be addressed. It’s no different than the dopey-eyed cows straining to eat grass on the other side of the fence.

There will always be a place for passive recruiting, especially for those hard-to-find positions. But buyer beware when you take the route of “pulling” instead of receiving. People are successful for many reasons, including their ability to navigate the organization where they currently reside. How much of that ability translates to the new job is debatable, but you can bet that it won’t be an immediate transition.

And that’s the rub, yes? Instead of poring through candidates who have actively positioned themselves for an opportunity with your company, we go looking for that which we do not have.


Counter-Offers & Boomerangs

Nothing quite like a marriage metaphor, right? You’ve heard these stories (or perhaps you’ve lived this story) – after years of asking, pleading, and begging (to a man’s ears = “nagging”) the husband to change his ways to no avail, a woman flips the switch and phhhhhht. She’s gone. Said husband, now realizing that she may in fact be serious this time, desperately promises the Sun and Moon for the opportunity to try again. Because, as you know, this time will be different. Stupid boys. (Editor’s Note: my wife has claimed “Stupid Boys” as the title to one of her upcoming books.)

How does that generally work out? Would you say “strong to “quite strong?” My guess is this only serves to delay the inevitable. The man is who he is, and soon enough he will revert to his normal state, fast-forward three months and we go through the same drama again, without having made progress in the least.

The husband is obviously the company in this case, the wife with the boot is the employee. The employee has been telling you, in some form or fashion, what you need to do if the relationship will continue successfully. Then one day, when you can afford it least, you have a resignation letter in your hand. If it’s someone you value, the knee-jerk reaction is to buy time to develop a counter-offer. But a counter-offer is the equivalent of putting air in a tire with a leak. You might get an employee to stay, but usually, for the same flawed logic as a spouse hanging onto a miserable marriage:

  • Other relationships (kids, in-laws, Bob in Accounting) will be impacted as well; we’re not prepared to deal with that kind of drama, so we stay. It’s just easier.
  • It’s still a risk. The thought of being wrong is too scary for some people. Better to be married/employed than to die alone on the streets, right? Sad to say, but many companies use fear of the unknown as their most effective retention tool. As long as no one is leaving, why change?
  • A fundamental belief in loyalty without reservation. There are still people who are of the opinion that “leaving” is NOT an option. GenX changed a lot of that mindset after seeing the curtain pulled back on the dealings of corporate America, and the Millennials have taken the torch even farther – if you want “loyalty,” buy a dog. Yet there remains a percentage of people who still believe in “until death do us part.”
  • The sad truth? Even if they accept a counteroffer, 50% of these people will leave within the next 24 months anyway. When you make that leap in your mind, it doesn’t just go away….it festers.

And that’s why you shake their hand and wish them well. Physically “present” vs. engaged is a gap in commitment.

So, what brought this topic to mind is a friend’s recent separation from his wife. Now that she has left, he desperately wants to change all those things that he had ignored, lo those many years. That’s a fool’s game, don’t you agree? But counter-offers are rarely a successful play. You’re delaying the inevitable, you’re setting a dangerous precedent with other employees who may take note, and you’re still not focusing on the fundamental reason they left. Fix yourself (or don’t, and live with the results) before throwing money at a losing proposition.

If you love them, let them go – “boomerang” employees come back after realizing the grass may not be greener after all. Most importantly, they return on their own volition, not because you troll their LinkedIn page. Almost half of companies surveyed agree they would consider taking back a former employee, and 15% of the employees admitted they actually did return to the old stamping grounds. Those aren’t huge numbers, but that 15% is an incredibly engaged group of people.

Don’t miss the opportunity – learn how to stop the next employee (or wife) from leaving; the time for courting is over when they are walking towards the door.

On May 23, 2016 John Whitaker joined the DentalOne Partners team as Vice President, Talent Acquisition, based out of the Dallas Corporate Headquarters.   John is responsible for leading the Talent Acquisition & Recruiting strategies and initiatives enterprise-wide.

The “Look-Down” Generation

It literally drives me crazy…driving in the morning/evening commute every day is a stressful task without added annoyances, but there it is, every…..single… After finally navigating your way around the human impediment clogging traffic for the last five miles, you look over at the driver and you see it. The “look down.

You know the look-down, right? Phone in lap, texting/dialing/syncing/selecting music, etc.? The “I’m not even pretending to pay attention dude, just leave me alone and let me sit here in the left lane until I’m good and ready to move over three lanes and exit?” It’s maddening (especially knowing the blare of my horns is drowned out by the Beats headphones they are sporting.)

It’s hard not to notice, and truthfully it’s hard not be hypocritical about it – I’m just as guilty of taking a glance, answering a text, or managing my incredibly counter-productive Waze app which basically dares me to update traffic conditions while I’m driving. So dangerous, stupid, self-absorbed, yada yada yada…until we finally have “MADAT” (Mothers Against Dumb-A** Texters), this is the world in which we live. For Millennials and GenX, it’s an ever developing, constantly growing challenge.

But for the younger generation, it’s even more problematic. With a constant distraction monopolizing their limited attention span, I’m convinced they have lost the innate ability to know what the hell is going on around them. I’ve got a 15-year old son learning to drive – he can expertly perform the act of navigating a vehicle, but the kid literally couldn’t find his way home with bread crumbs and a compass.

That’s because he’s been in a “look down” mode every time he’s been in a car for the last ten years. He knows the destination, but doesn’t know about the journey.

First-world problems, perhaps, but not insignificant. You’ve been in restaurants where you have four people, four iPhones, right? Parents, kids…it’s a little sad really, but we’ve accepted technology as a babysitter and there you have it. Our kids are going to be different in many ways, more technologically adept than we ever dreamed, but they are (generalization alert) by and large missing the world and the people around them.

And here’s the rub – as much as we would like to deny we ever use our “gut” in talent selection, we have innately spent a lifetime observing the world around us. Years spent people-watching in airports, in restaurants, in class, at the ballpark – the exact kind of activity my kids would find boring.

Hell, they may be right, but “boring” doesn’t necessarily need to be a negative. Sometimes it really is the seemingly insignificant details along the way that make us wiser.

So keep your head up, kiddo. There’s actually more going on around you than it seems.


Six Seconds That Cost You Dearly….

It’s one of the great statistics in recruiting…”Recruiters spend an average of six seconds reviewing a resume.” According to The Ladders, 4.8 of those seconds are reviewing four areas; name, current position, current employer, and dates of employment. It seems like a ridiculous statement (how, exactly, does one measure this?), unless, of course, you’ve spent time as a recruiter dealing with a motherlode of resumes – then it seems like a pretty rationale estimation.

Bad recruiting? No, it’s more likely a matter of bad habits, bad systems, over-appropriation of requisitions, or some combination of the aforementioned. But here’s the kicker – this lack of attention is only committed to the resumes that are actually seen. There exists another great statistic in recruiting: 80% of submitted resumes are never even seen by a recruiter.

Think for a minute about the impact these two trends can have on the overall talent of your organization. If these statistics hold true, a recruiter averaging 1,000 resumes a week is scanning 200 of them for a total of 20 minutes spent reviewing the qualifications of l,000 candidates. That’s the price you pay for allowing “paper” (realizing most of these are viewed electronically on an ATS) to speak for people.

You know, part of the occupational residue of being a recruiter is to expect resumes to be perfectly constructed to get to the point quickly, be SEO optimized (redundancy alert, thank you), properly updated and ripe for Boolean search. That’s not necessarily the case for a great number of people; those who are heavily tenured, or those who might be first-time job “shoppers” may very well have a pretty dysfunctional resume. Chances are it matches a rather spare LinkedIn profile – a lot of us (guilty) exist in a social media bubble where we expect everyone to have a user-friendly format, . Careful, or you’ll end up hiring a great resume.

So that’s the situation, but what is the solution? Is there one solution? Doubtful. So what do you address first?

First, let’s talk about what you don’t want to do —- resist the urge to follow your initial reaction. Do NOT try to minimize your resumé flow. As a matter of fact, open the dikes.

Next week: “Riding the Avalanche

John Whitaker is Vice President, Talent Acquisition for DentalOne Partners. For more than 20 years he has built and developed high-powered recruiting teams focused on developing a competitive advantage via strategic Human Capital positioning, planning, and practices.   

Little Brothers Grow UP

Work in big corporations long enough and you start to recognize the caste system inherent in the professional community. R&D is indispensable, Manufacturing has to actually make the ideas come to life, and then somebody has to sell it, so Sales becomes critical as well. The “big 3” pillars in a company—discover it, make it, sell it. That leaves a lot of the “rest of us”—the dreaded SG&A. Support functions. Overhead. Don’t fool yourself, Human Resources professional, we’re all just an expense in the eyes of the big brass.

As a result, I always felt somewhat of a kindred spirit with my friends in IT, Finance, Legal, et al. And of course, within HR there’s a special kinship and brotherhood that… hehehe, no, not really. Human Resources has its own version of Lords & Commons, too.

I’ve got 22 years in Human Resources, almost evenly split between the HRBP and Talent Acquisition function. And one thing continually holds true— Staffing/Recruiting/TA is looked at as the tactical, administrative little brother of the HRBP.

How to define the mindset of the HR Business Partner? Pretend Senior Leadership is Don Corleone, running his empire while keeping the other families in check. His consiglieré, Tom Hagen, holds a powerful role as he remains tied to the hip of the Old Man, remaining out of sight unless summoned to take care of some of the dirty work involved with a termination and/or delivery of a horse’s head. Polished and educated, whispering advice as needed. It’s a peach of a role if you can find it.

Go on, admit it. We break into Human Resources via Talent Acquisition, then move up to a more “strategic” role [this is where I risk over “quotating” terms, but how else does one make a snarky reference?]. Hell, that’s what I did. Put in my time filling requisitions, got tapped on the shoulder, and then up the ivory tower I went. Spent the next 10 years in a Business Partner role. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome job, especially at the Senior levels when you’re actually allowed in the Star Chamber with the other important folks. You feel so… necessary.

After 10 years in a corporate BP role, I finally took the leap into lone wolf-dom as a consultant. And a funny thing happened—no matter the high-level strategic initiatives being tossed around the Board Room, the topic invariably ended up in the same place—talent acquisition… how to attract, hire, engage, and retain talent. Whether it was a company of 100 or 100,000, the same issues continually arise. Get. The. Talent.

So, with 10 years of investigations, layoffs, performance improvement plans, and terminations in my rearview mirror, it was time to get back into the front-end of the employee experience. And my, how things had changed.

It’s a war (for talent.) And in times of war, you don’t need Tom Hagen. When you go to the mattresses, it’s time to put Michael in charge. You know, that little brother that used to fetch your coat for you.

The war for talent changed everything. Economic recovery and a generational transition in the workplace put Talent Acquisition at the front of the battle line as it became a candidate-driven market. The role of “Recruiter” is (or should be) the center of the HR Universe: We are the marketers, branders, and brokers for the most important corporate asset. Thanks to advances in HR Technology, we can do more, while doing it faster and better than before. We are the Steve Austin of Human Resources; we’re #WorkplaceScientists now, not just resumé screeners. And we’re just getting started.

Recruiting will continue to dominate the HR function for years to come as Boomers exit and the digital age completely dominates the acquisition of talent. Strategic, innovative, progressive, creative, and indispensable—THAT is Talent Acquisition of the 21st century.

Remember that the next time your HRBP seems a little reticent about sharing information; it’s tough when your little brother outgrows you.


HR used to be "Personnel." That ain't happening here.