Open Letter to Corporate HR Leaders on Talent Recruitment

Open Letter on Talent Recruitment
War for Talent: Symptoms and Remedies

You can’t escape the sheer volume of content out there talking about the “War for Talent”. The top professional services companies (PwC, McKinsey) and the top business publications (Forbes, Harvard Business Review) have materials on winning the talent war. There are even books and Wikipedia entries focused on the War for Talent.

As a corporate or HR leader, you know what it is — the competitiveness of today’s business environment that makes attracting and retaining talented individuals increasingly difficult. I don’t need to define it any further because you’ve likely experienced it first-hand. What I want to do is list the key symptoms, address some of the root causes, and offer some non-traditional (well, let’s call them “unconventional” solutions based on the trends today) strategies to help your organization navigate this competitive talent landscape more successfully.

Key Symptoms

It’s Taking Me Longer to Fill Open Positions

A recent DHI Group study for 2016 reveals that 45% of employers indicate the time to fill open positions is growing compared to last year. In fact, the national average vacancy duration has trended upward consistently since 2009, now reaching a 15-year high. According to the companies that DHI Group surveyed, 53% cited the #1 reason for this increase in open position duration as an inability to find qualified candidates. The #2 reason was eerily similar, with 29% of respondents indicating that they were waiting for a more perfect match.

By my math, that’s 82% of the time that companies are leaving spots open longer because they are unable to find candidates that match their expectations. Let’s explore the concept of qualified candidate availability a bit further.

I Just Can’t Find Quality Talent Out There

A 2016 LinkedIn Global Recruiting Trends report cites the most valuable metric for recruiting performance is the quality of hire. The #1 obstacle to attracting top talent is finding candidates in high-demand talent pools. Coupled with the #3 obstacle, competition, the two make up 85% of the main reasons companies struggle to attract talent.

This data jives with the DHI survey. Bottom line is that the entrenched thinking in companies today is that talented candidates are simply not out there in the job market. However, a report by Jobvite revealed a 40% increase in the number of applications for each job in just a 3-year period.

My take: The numbers show that there are more candidates applying for more positions. You might struggle to find a suitable applicant quickly for a very specific role in a certain geographical location, but that should be the exception, not the norm. Houston, we have a problem!

Key Root Cause Issues

I am going to lean on my years of experience managing all of the operational aspects of an international call center, including hiring and retention, for a GE Capital Company as well as my time engaging with both hiring managers and job seekers.

Poor Candidate Search Channels

I have heard from people in corporate HR that they just can’t find good people anymore. I’ve gotten into the habit of asking them, “Where are you looking?” Most don’t really have a good answer to that one. They usually all say something very similar…with the term “social recruiting” (whatever that really means — if you want to classify posting jobs on LinkedIn, which is essentially a job board, as social recruiting, you’re fooling yourself) somewhere near the top of the list.

Inability to Identify Quality Matches

The next question I ask my friends in recruitment is “What are you looking for?” The responses here are typically things that are all good and I totally get, like people with high energy that share the vision for excellence and want to be part of a great corporate culture. But that’s missing the point, so I have to rephrase my question and ask them what tactics they are employing to find these people. Some form of keyword matching is the most prevalent thing here. This encompasses companies that seek out passive candidates on job sites or LinkedIn as well as firms that receive resumes for positions they post to the Web.

For LinkedIn, they filter candidates using the keyword search functionality on LinkedIn’s site. For actual applicants, the resumes get uploaded to an automated system (ATS), which makes them searchable for keywords. So before a candidate is identified as a possibility and their resume is even reviewed, they have to pass muster with the keyword search. I get it…you don’t want to spend time on resumes whose content doesn’t match the description of the role.

Fair enough, but when you get several dozen candidates that are a reasonable match, what information is considered about each candidate at the recruiter or HR Rep level to determine whether their information should be passed along to a decision maker? According to a 2015 Jobvite study, by far the most popular method (57%) is to focus on the length of a candidate’s average job tenure. Number two (42%) is the candidate’s length of tenure with their current employer.

Really! The most important piece of information about a candidate’s ability to do a job is how long they’ve stayed with other companies? Have there been some analytics done on this that I missed? Did they discover a strong correlation between length of tenure and ability?

I’ll grant that there may be a correlation for candidates that have had lengthy tenures in the past to desire a lengthy tenure in the future, but is length of tenure with your company the goal? Gosh, I hope not…at least not the primary goal. Quality of hire should come first, then the ability to advance and retain top-notch talent. I have seen plenty of businesses with mediocre and sub-par employees that are more than happy to stay on as long as you let them, so why is a candidate’s length of tenure so important?

In my mind, this is where most companies experience an epic fail. More on this in the section on remedies.

Bad User Experience

How companies engage with applicants is critical, both in terms of candidate willingness to seriously consider employment offers and in terms of their willingness to have any interaction as a consumer of the products or services offered by the company in the future.

According to Jobvite, 42% of candidates with a bad applicant experience would never seek employment with that company. In addition, approximately 64% of applicants will share a negative recruitment experience with friends, family, and colleagues. Conversely, 68% of candidates that view the application experience as very positive would be willing to accept an offer with a salary 5% below the low end of their target range.

Initially, that stat stunned me! After dwelling on it, I realized what was driving these numbers…culture. I read a lot of articles, blogs, and comments that talk about the importance of corporate culture…I agree that having a good culture is vital. Even if candidates aren’t able to articulate it, they understand intuitively that a vibrant culture cannot be manufactured by slogans or branding or anything else. Culture is the authentic response of all the business stakeholders to the mission, purpose, values, and focus areas that an organization pursues. For the recruitment process, that simply translates to the following message: “If you value me as a prospective employee of your organization, you’ll make sure to weigh my experience and credentials appropriately, to treat me professionalism, and to respect my time.”

One specific issue with time that comes up frequently is the time to complete an application. Many companies over-complicate the career website, adding in bells and whistles that aren’t necessary. From a candidate’s perspective, a simple, easy-to-complete application process is imperative. If it takes too long, 60% of candidates will abandon their application and never complete it. That’s a lot of people. I don’t have any stats on it, but I would venture to say that most of the would-be applicants that abandon the process are those that are gainfully employed today and spending that much time simply isn’t worth it…they may be what you would consider “optimal” applicants.

Unconventional Remedies

As a Certified Six Sigma Black Belt, I’m all about process streamlining and process automation. Whenever and wherever an opportunity to reduce cycle time and eliminate touchpoints is presented, I’m all ears. However, as a business operator, it’s vital to balance the benefits of the process improvement with any possible degradation in quality.

If a manual process is not delivering effective results, automating it just allows you to do a bad job more quickly. I think that this exact scenario is one of the primary drivers of this perceived War for Talent today. The trend has been to automate, consolidate, and centralize. I get it…now each HR Rep can support the recruitment process for more departments, even though the number of positions is increasing and the average tenure in the workforce is decreasing. This means that each HR Rep has more positions to fill at a much greater frequency than anytime in recent history.


Forget it…it’s not working. Your HR Rep is not equipped to handle that type of load. In fact, most HR Reps have only a vague notion of what each position really entails and what an ideal candidate truly looks like. Now you’re asking them to cast an even wider net? To me, the outcome is obvious…that wider net will allow a ton of great candidates to slip through unnoticed.

Instead, let your HR Reps run the database searches, interact with the third-party recruiter, schedule interviews, and answer questions related to policies and benefits. Put the efforts of candidate evaluation back into the hands of each business owner. I can guarantee that any worthy manager, director, or VP will assess each candidate based on their experience and value ahead of trivial things like job tenure.


Humans relate with other humans…machines, not so much. Like I said, I love automation, but it has to be done well for it to work…and what’s in place in most major companies today is not working. In the Jobvite survey I mentioned, 56% of candidates received no communications at all about their application…NONE!

Nothing says “I don’t value you” more than no response at all. Even some generic response from a do-not-reply email account is better than that…but still pretty terrible. Go ahead and create your automated email campaign, but invite a few recent hires or even candidates that were rejected (and pay them) to help craft a human-focused communication strategy.

Top-Down People Focus

Senior executives (CxO, SVP, etc.), this is where you come in. If attracting talent is a significant problem in your group or across your entire organization, then I can guarantee you that your culture isn’t as vibrant as you need it to be. A great culture is a magnet for talent. You can overcome serious flaws in your recruitment process by having a genuinely amazing corporate culture.


The talent is out there ready to plucked and put to good use. Are you willing to challenge the entrenched thinking and uproot the existing recruitment paradigm in your organization? If so, then prepare yourself, because it won’t be easy. If you do it right, it will probably even cost more than it does today…at least in terms of the time required from your business unit leaders. But seriously, what is the cost to the organization if you do nothing and stay on this path? How much are you leaving on the table by missing out on the best talent out there?

If you’re not willing to challenge the status quo, then good luck to you in the War for Talent.


Stephen Van Vreede

About Stephen—-

Stephen Van Vreede is not your average executive coach and résumé writer. He provides career strategy and concierge job search solutions for senior (15+ years) (ITtechExec) and up-and-coming (NoddlePlace) (5-15 years) tech and innovation leaders. Stephen and his team focus on building simplified, targeted, and certain career move campaigns, be it an external search or an internal promotion. He is co-author of UNcommon with career development leader Brian Tracy (released June 11, 2015). Contact Stephen directly at or send him an invite at To see whether Stephen and his team are a good fit for you, take their free (and anonymous) 1-minute compatibility quiz, Is the ITtechExec Approach a Good Match for You? Also, feel free to take his complimentary resume self-assessment quiz, How Certain Can You Be About Your Technical Resume? You might be surprised by what you find out!