Like a Virgin

What are you looking for?

Having recruited for years I've seen trends come and go. Behavioral interviewing, personality testing, psychological profiling, stress testing, competency models and so on. Some good, some bad.

After decades of hiring in several sectors I believe we're missing the mark: we're not getting into character.

What Matters

For more than 30 years the myth of the stable career has been imploding, yet we still look for the perfect employee.

Post WWII, US industry grew rapidly unfettered by competition (much of the industrialized world lay decimated) or regulation.

Good times.

And then things changed.

Skyrocketing fuel costs, an unpopular war, emerging Asian competition, a rebuilt European base and growing strength in South America saw US commerce struggle in the 70s to retain share and profit ultimately giving way on both fronts as the global economy began to take primordial shape in the 1980s.

So we rushed to reconfigure. Mergers and acquisitions and leveraged buy-outs seldom even heard of before became the rage. We did it because it was action. We did it because it was in the news. We did it because everybody else did.

Greed is good.

And yet, even as we jettisoned entire divisions we failed to understand what would happen to employees when we changed the rules midstream, told them there were no more corporate careers and everyone was now on their own. What did they do?

They believed us.


Today recruiters and managers bemoan the lack of skills in labor pool and complain about the difficulty of finding talent. But is this true? In a country with over ten million – 10,000,000 – unemployed, can that be right?

No, of course not.

You see, organizations have evolved financial practices but not employment practices. We still want purple squirrels fit for a predictable stable environment. Not perfect? Not employable.

Blemish on your credit history? Good luck. Criminal history? You're out of here. Been fired from a job? Uh-oh. We use dubious rationale as a proxy to eliminate people from consideration because we're intellectually lazy, unwilling to look deep into character.

Employers want perfect hires regardless of their own chicanery. We protect our self-promiscuity yet become indignant to find our partner isn't a virgin.

But we're not in Kansas anymore.

Now What?

People are resilient. Rather than worry about loyalty, perfect or purple squirrels people learned how to manage their own careers.

Regardless of the study you reference rest assured over 50% of your employee base is actively aware of other opportunities. More than a third have secondary incomes. Contracting, temping and self-employment have continued to grow as people understand employment today is a different game.

In a world where “jobs” last less than three years no one has a five-year plan.

Moving forward the best thing employers can do is pay attention to the people already on board. If you think the labor pool is shallow you'd better invest in the employees you've got. Next, when you do look for new hires think about the real nature of employment. Do you have jobs or careers? Are you hiring perfect or people?

And unless you're selling purple squirrels it might be smarter to look holistically at candidates and stop pretending you're in a position to demand perfection.



4 thoughts on “Like a Virgin

  1. Read recently about the perfect solution fallacy, which rang true for me re recruitment. How many times have we seen a manager looking for the moon on a stick? Holding out for the perfect candidate that does not exist, unwilling to compromise, or unwilling to consider filling in one or two of the gaps with training. It may be a cliché, but the whole ‘hire for attitude’ is still good advice.

  2. YES! Some of the best people I know, uh-maz-ing talent, were hired and let go months later in sweeping downsizing – twice. Before a few years ago they were rising stars and now they’re lepers that people wonder why they’ve had three jobs in four years. Bad luck? Chose poorly? They are still rockstars. They are still awesome… yet marked. Companies can search and search for that purple squirrel but in that 10,000,000? The talent is there.

    • Absolutely agree Alli. We’ve lost sight of what it means to employ someone – its a big momentus deal that should be a happy occasion but we’ve cheapened it to a pure transaction. And we would why we can’t drive engagement. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Alli – I appreciate them!

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