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How to Compete in the War for Talent “Carol A. Hacker”

Employee Retention / Talent Management

War isn’t usually rational. It can’t always be won by applying time-honored principles and familiar practices. A current war shouldn’t be fought using the last war’s order of battle. However, there are a number of strategies for engaging in military conflict that can be applied to all manner of business including the Federal government.

There’s a direct correlation between war and the challenges businesses face today in fighting for good people. It’s hard to win a war without sufficient numbers of competent soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen. Nor can nations “effectively posture” with their adversaries without a firm base of solid, well-trained troops. And so it is in business.

Also consider this: Most militaries in the world operate without conscription. Modern militaries are on equal footing with organizations of all kinds in recruiting men and women. Not surprisingly, labor market demographics have done the same thing for business that loss of conscription has done for the world’s militaries. No one is compelled to work for you. It’s your job to make the work experience interesting and career-enhancing.

In a military operation, careful planning is always essential to success. In business, recruiting in competitive (and sometimes downright hostile) environments takes careful planning and flexibility in executing a mission plan. If your organization is experiencing a recruiting problem, plan your mission, rally your troops (or what’s left of them) and execute with vigor. You’re preparing for your version of Operation Talent Scout. To succeed it must be an all-out team effort. If you fail to do this, you may find your organization in a weakened position. You may ultimately be captured (i.e., re-organized, purchased, merged or bankrupted) by a competitor.

The economic expansion of the last two decades is the longest peacetime expansion of the twentieth century. The nation’s extraordinary financial performance has raised the question of whether the U.S. economy has entered a new age. A new age promises unprecedented increases in wealth and productivity. Yet it’s a time hobbled with labor shortages, especially in the technical arena.

Long after the demand for Y2K with its drain on skills and resources has reached its peak, other “hot” skills will be needed by most all organizations. Making the perfect hiring decision poses challenges like never before.

Are you tired of fighting for good people? Is your team’s performance a casualty of high turnover? Is it possible you’re not experiencing a shortage of personnel but a shortage of skills? If you’re open to improving your recruiting skills, read on…

Review the job function

A job vacancy provides an excellent opportunity to review the job function. Ask yourself if a redesign is in order. For many organizations a sudden growth surge leads to the creation of new positions. Some of the positions will be needed indefinitely; others won’t. Take time to identify long-range needs instead of hiring to “put out fires.” It will help you contain costs. It’s important to remember that most modern militaries expend tremendous effort in strategic planning. You owe it to yourself and your organization to take sufficient time to plan, develop and execute a recruiting strategy.

For example, you may decide to hire some people for the long term but hire temporary or seasonal help for the short term. Contract employees are also in great demand, difficult to find and retain even for short-term projects. Regardless of what you’re looking for, you’ll need to plan your recruiting mission.

There are many methods for locating and recruiting your future staff. From working with agencies, to advertising in the newspaper, to referrals from current employees, the ideas are numerous and varied. Don’t limit yourself to a handful of strategies unless you want to restrict your search. The militaries of the world assign people to recruiter duty for a period of two to four years. Before recruiters start, they receive extensive training in recruitment techniques.

Take the time to carefully review résumés and applications

It will save you valuable time in the long run. Despite the fact that some applicants use professional services to prepare their résumés, many do not. Résumés, cover letters and applications offer valuable insight into an applicant’s qualifications providing you know how to interpret the data.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a cliche, yet it holds true with applications and résumés. There may be good reason for what appears to be discrepancies in documents. It’s your job to find out more through a series of questions during the telephone interview. Decide then whether to invest additional time in the candidate with a face-to-face meeting.

The strength of the U.S. economy provides a remarkable opportunity for most organizations to focus on a bright future. The key to the long-term financial health of your enterprise is being able to identify and hire successive generations of people who share your commitment for high achievement. Résumés and applications are an essential part of the recruiting process. Learn how to use the information they provide to your best advantage.

Fine-tune interviewing skills

Organizations that don’t teach their managers how to interview often see them hire for the wrong reasons and wind up with employees that are a bad fit for the job and the department. Many people hire only those people they think are like them. However, to do so can be a mistake because a diverse workforce can add tremendous value to the agency as well as the military.

Asking the right questions helps to insure legally compliant interviews. Good questions will keep you focused and help you maintain control of the interview. The best questions are probing and require that the candidate explain the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “how” of their skills and work experience. Candidates can easily answer the “what” questions. But the “how” questions require candidates to explain in detail how they did something. If they haven’t done it, they won’t be able to fake it. It’s nearly impossible to answer the “how” question and show depth and knowledge without having performed the task.

Some managers hire purely on “gut feelings” or intuition. That can also lead to disastrous results. They both play a role in the hiring process, but should be used as a confirmation after a series of pre-planned questions are asked during the interview. Beyond the questioning, hire for attitude, everything else is secondary, and then if necessary, train for required skills. There’s a prophetic axiom that applies here: “People are hired for aptitude and fired for attitude.”

Because of the keen competition for talent, recruiting and hiring people who are eager to learn may be your best strategy. It’s important to note that most militaries grow their own talent through training. Not surprisingly, most business will have to do the same.

Check references

Research indicates that almost 25% of all résumés include misleading information or outright lies. Just as militaries may engage in deception during warfare, an applicant may do the same. The most common form of deception involves overstating education followed by inflation of job responsibilities. Checking references can sometimes reveal these deceits. You may be thinking, “Why bother to check references? Employers won’t tell me anything because they’re afraid of being sued.” That’s not necessarily the case if you ask only job-related questions. Use a direct approach. Keep the questions strictly focused on learning more about performance, skill level and specific job training. Once the reference feels comfortable with you, information will be easier to attain.

You’ll do two things when you check references¾ verify the facts and solicit opinions. The most effective way to validate background information is to use preprinted forms with fill-in-the-blank statements for verifying education, former place of employment, etc. Include a section that authorizes the release of information and have the applicant sign it. You may want to check with your legal department for wording. Then follow up with each reference by telephone if you don’t get your answers within a reasonable amount of time. Many employers skip the fill-in-the-blank form and go straight to the phone. Use a list of questions to guide your phone discussion. Take appropriate notes, particularly if you have references to check on many applicants. Modern militaries have a variety of methods for gathering intelligence. One source is old-fashioned human intelligence. Businesses do it everyday in gathering marketing data as well as checking references on job applicants.

Ideally, you’ll want to check references yourself. You may have someone in the human resources department do the work for you, but you run the risk that the reference checker won’t be as familiar with the job requirements as you are. This can lead to a less than satisfactory outcome. Some businesses hire a reference checking service. If you decide to hire such a service, be sure you feel totally comfortable with the quality of their work. You may have to check their references to get this information.

Finally, you can’t ask the references anything that the law doesn’t permit you to ask the applicant. That includes questions regarding age, religion, race, marital status, children or child care arrangements, parents, residence, health status, psychological well-being, financial obligations, previous arrests, memberships in social organizations, or visible characteristics.

In summary

We are in a time of labor shortages that aren’t predicted to abate in the near future. Today, business demands require employers to do one of two things: Either continue to recruit job hoppers, pay higher and higher salaries and create an environment of more, more, more, or selectively recruit to hire top talent and foster a work environment where people are committed to stay for the long haul. It all starts with finding and attracting the people who most closely meet your job requirements.

Carol Hacker is a human resource consultant, speaker, and trainer who ranks among the experts in the field of recruiting and retention issues. For more than two decades, she’s been a significant voice in front-line and corporate human resource management to small businesses as well as Fortune500 companies. She’s the author of the highly acclaimed books, Hiring Top Performers-350 Great Interview Questions For People Who Need People, The Costs of Bad Hiring Decisions & How to Avoid Them, The High Cost of Low Morale …and what to do about it, and 450 Low-Cost/No-Cost Strategies for recognizing, rewarding & retaining good people, Job Hunting in the 21st Century-Exploding the Myths, Exploring the Realities and 366 Surefire Ways to Let Your Employees Know They Count. Carol can be reached at 770-410-0517 Her website is

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