Talent shortage, my butuckus. Poor management, more likely. Overly-narrow job descriptions are killing companies, and the board of directors doesn’t even know it. A former client who is looking for a new job thought he’d found the right gig in the right company. After several interviews, the recruiter handling the search told him he was one of three finalists. So, here’s what happened, in his own words:

I got a hold of the recruiter yesterday. She said she would talk to the VP later and call me back. She did, and told me that they decided not to hire any of the 3 finalists and start all over again.

During the interviews, they mentioned that they had made a bad hire last year who was then let go. I asked the recruiter if they were being overly cautious because of that experience. She said partly, the other part being they had not found the “ideal” candidate. She also said she believed that all 3 of us were a fit and qualified for the job.

I guess they are waiting for Clark Kent to show up.

No, I think the more likely problem is that the managers doing the hiring are dopes who can’t manage their business. Sorry, but that’s not intended as hyperbole. I see this again and again. All the candidates were qualified and fit. The managers seem ill-suited to manage a new hire.

It might be the economy that makes managers so risk-averse. Such aversion often clouds rational thinking. For example, what’s it going to cost the company to leave this position un-filled and the job un-done for several more months? What’s it going to cost when one (or all three) of those “fit and qualified” candidates join the company’s competition — and work against this employer? Note to managers: These are the questions your board of directors asks.

The suggestion I offered this person: Go back to the company and express your understanding and good wishes. Then propose to help them get the job done while they continue their search for Clark Kent. Offer them a consulting proposal based on what you learned in the interviews. Do not give them the whole enchilada so they can go do this on their own. Give them just enough to show you can help them ease the pain and make money for their business. That is, your new challenge is to get a consulting gig out of this, if you’re interested.

If you get in, you will get hired later because you’ll be the insider. Might as well get paid while you wait it out :-).

(Uh, Clark Kent is a fictional character. Any resemblance to an actual perfect candidate is fantasy and reveals goofy, blurred management vision.)


  1. Nick:

    First, congratulations on the syndication by Universal Press Syndicate.

    As I read this post, it reminded me of a sports analogy.

    Would an NBA general manager wait for the next Michael Jordan to show up, or would he or she hire the best possible player for their current needs?

    Thank you, and all the best.

  2. Hmmm. I wonder if your ex-client actually wants to work for such a company. Red flags everywhere, if you ask me….

    Congrats on your UPS syndication. I’m a fan!

  3. Bravo, Nick! Recently a NETSHARE member said it best, these days Albert Einstein couldn’t get hired as a math teacher. Or to put it another way, John Davies, author of The $100,000 Career; The Power of Networking for Executive Job Change, defines HR as standing for Hiring Resistance. Congrats on the syndication – you’ve always been in the major leagues in my book. http://blog.netshare.com.

  4. Companies won’t change their hiring practices until managers take over the recruiting function, or until the board of directors recognizes that hiring can be a competitive advantage. Managers believe they’ve got too much work to do already, and no board is willing to step into the muddy waters of HR.

    That leaves the rest of us, who can take advantage of the weaknesses of managers and boards. Some of us will get good jobs as a result; others will recruit the best people out of these companies.

    Thanks to all for your kind words!

  5. I am not sure if ALL weak managers are just that. There is a very tiny subset for other reasons. Look at Enron for criminal activity. Don’t discount medical reasons like dimentia and alzheimers. I worked for an organization that fell apart because of principals in advanced age were tragically afflicted.

  6. It’s like you say in your book, Nick. The “ideal” candidate is probably the person who just left the job because there was no more room to grow. I’m the ideal candidate for the job I have now, but that doesn’t mean I want to do it until I die.

  7. Who says companies want competent employees? This isn’t 1960.
    Big business operates under a completely different set of rules today:
    1) Competent employees cause trouble; idiotic employees create more work (and therefore business) by having to do, undo, and redo
    2) He who plans can be countermanded; he who fails to plan can look heroic by put out the fire resulting from lack of planning
    3) He who communicates clearly can be blamed; He who stays incommunicado is never in the wrong
    4) Incompetent employees are a blessing to lousy managers; lousy managers are the job security of incompetent employee
    5) He who decides, loses.
    6) Collapse is actually the start of the business cycle
    And those are just a few.
    But since our monetary system is imaginary anyhow, what does it matter if we’re competent or incompetent?

  8. Cedric,

    You’re really Scott Adams, and that’s from your to-do list for new Dilbert cartoons, right? ;-)

    I appreciate your cynicism, and it’s warranted. But I like to approach this differently. I take people and companies at face value. When they say something, I give them the benefit of the doubt.

    Something interesting ensues: I can now judge them based on the position they took. “I took you at your word.” When they blow it, I don’t do business with them any more, and I tell people. You might be surprised how many really good companies and people I’ve had the pleasure to do business with as a result of taking that approach.

    The rest? Who cares?

    Of course, due diligence is still necessary if you want to avoid unnecessary pain. But much of the time, I find my approach works pretty well, and makes it possible to find the few gems.

  9. Great topic. Job security for premium headhunting as the choice of outsourced recruitment options! As consultants, we create the all important “assignment brief” which goes beyond the haphazard job description and list of requirements provided by the client’s management or HR department.

    A client interview to obtain answers to targeted questions is crucial to identifying details beyond the requirements and job description. A necessary, time consuming step to a successful placement. We use a standard questionnaire format to get additional information about job scope and work environment.

    Asking the client to identify the following helps to create a detailed assignment brief;

    What kind of personality do you think would respond best to this position?

    What are the absolute “must-have” competencies for this particular position?

    Define the Employee Value Proposition (EVP). A good EVP summarizes the challenges, projects, growth opportunities, learning experiences, and the type of work that needs to be done.

    Why do people come to work at your company and why do they stay?

    What does this job offer that is unique or makes it most attractive to a potential candidate?

    How does it differentiate you from your primary competitors?

    Describe real needs and clarify job expectations.

    What are the 2-3 major challenges to be faced by the candidate in this position?

    Define 6-8 deliverables i.e. steps required for on-the-job success.

    What must the person in this job need to do to be considered extremely successful?

  10. Nick,
    I fought like mad at a previous firm to simplify titles and to recognize that there are fundamental difference between titles and roles (and that by viewing title as role was unproductively constraining to the talented professionals).
    In my department alone there were something like 32 different titles, and they wanted me to write a set of responsibilities for each position. Further, they played games with the titles and salary levels, so that a principal specifications writer was a grade X, while a principal project architect was a grade X+4. If you happened to be a great spec writer who could also manage projects, you couldn’t transfer into that ‘role’ at the same pay grade.

    I proved to them that we could reorganize ourselves from 32 titles to 10, maintain very nearly the same salaries within the revised structure, and get rid of the notion that a title was equal to a role.

    Ah, to no avail…by using titles as roles, they had invented the perfect mouse trap.