Wanted: Courage in Hiring

In yesterday’s post I talked about a dearth of courage at the executive level. Today’s post deals with the courage to hire—or not.

During this long recession in job growth and stubborn refusal of companies to grow, hiring has been the biggest challenge.  The official number of jobs lost is 8.7 million and we have supposedly gained all of those back. But a job gained may not be the same job as the one lost. A software engineer and a Starbuck’s barrista may both have jobs but they’re very different in every way.

Take the labor force participation rate. Jim Puzzanghera reports in LATimes online that “The labor force participation rate remained at 62.8% in May, the lowest level since 1978 and a sign that many people have given up looking for work.” Then there’s the issue of quality. Many of the recovered jobs either pay minimum wage or a much lower salary than prior to the Great Recession. It’s easy to cut wages when a lot of folks are beating down the doors to get any job at all. If you’re an older worker or a veteran, your chances of landing even a minimum-wage job are small.

Labor Force Dropouts are responsible for the decreasing official unemployment rate

Still, the economy has picked up and companies are starting to advertise high-quality jobs that pay good wages. The good news, as  Catherine Rampell reports in the Washington Post’s  “The Big Freeze on Hiring,” is that “Employers have more job openings today than they’ve had at any time since the Great Recession began”

The only problem is that they’re often not following through on the hire.  @CRampell’s bad news?  “Employers may be posting jobs, but they’re taking longer than ever before to fill them.”  Hiring managers call in candidates and interview them, often five to ten times or more, but then decide not to hire. Or not to hire “at this time.”

Looking for the Purple Squirrel

According to a recent report from Dice Holdings based on research by Steven J. Davis, R. Jason Faberman and John C. Haltiwanger, it now takes 24 working days to fill the average job opening. As Ms. Rampell says in @washingtonpost, “That’s the longest hiring delay since at least 2001, the first year for which numbers are available.” How can an economy get better if companies are too frozen with fear to hire the people they need?

purple squirrelOften the delay comes because they still haven’t found the perfect candidate—known in the employment world as “the purple squirrel.” This is a purely theoretical candidate who “could immediately handle all the expansive variety of responsibilities of a job description with no training and would allow businesses to function with fewer workers.” And yes, the purple squirrel would do all of this for peanuts.

As I reported last year in The Problem with Finding Goldilocks, caution doesn’t always equate to safety. Granted, the cost of hiring the wrong person is high but the opportunity cost of not hiring anyone can be even higher.  The purple squirrel doesn’t exist, folks. Even if you actually found a purple squirrel, you wouldn’t want to hire him or her.

Lance Haun, editor of SourceCon.com, says in the Harvard Business Review’sDon’t Hire the Perfect Candidate, “Purple squirrels aren’t measures of success. At the very best, they are a measurement of luck and at the very least, they are the sad result of a poor understanding of the employment market and a company’s recruiting capabilities and consequences.” In other words, if you’re looking for a perfect candidate, you don’t know what you’re doing.

Courage to Get the Job Done

This is where courage comes in. Managers need to regain the courage to find a good, sharp candidate with enough experience to qualify and the smarts to learn the rest—and then hire that person. Don’t dither, don’t wait, don’t keep looking for the perfect person, just do it!

As David Hunt wrote to me: “Hiring managers are totally unwilling to take risks. Now, I understand the need to be careful, but there is no such thing as a risk-free hire… yet somehow they’ve become convinced that there is such a thing. “ Risk-free, of course, means that a guarantee that you won’t make a mistake or get criticized for hiring this person. Anyone can make a risk-free decision, even the janitor.

@davidhuntpe added, “It makes me want to scream ‘You wanted the manager’s chair, the manager’s salary, and perks… well, along with all those goodies come the responsibility for making decisions. And guess what, you’re also responsible for taking the consequences of those decisions.'” He adds that, “If you can’t make a hiring decision after talking with 10 people, you don’t deserve to be in the chair you’re in.”

Indiana Jones, Quest for the Holy Grail, Harrison Ford, leap of faith

Indy takes a leap of faith

Take a Leap of Faith

And he’s absolutely right.  Along with the office, the perks, and the salary of being a manager, director, vice president or C-level executive come the responsibilities. One of these is to get the job done even if the candidate isn’t perfect, the new hire will need some training, or the economy isn’t where you’d like it to be—yet. Take a leap of faith. Try something new. Go with your gut. Hire that person. Fill a hole in the org chart. Make a decision. Then move ahead and don’t look back.

OK, you may not be Indiana Jones but you can have the courage to act. Recognize that no one is perfect. The purple squirrel is not going to show up on your door begging to work for peanuts. But you still have work to get done and a company to grow. So suck it up and get to work already.

One thought on “Wanted: Courage in Hiring

  1. The hunt for the Purple Squirrel is not too different from the hunt for Prince Charming. Firstly, they are both mythical.. Secondly, the people searching for them aren’t offering /bringing very much to the table themselves.

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