How Talent Acquisition Squanders Potential

There’s never been a more exciting time to work in recruiting and talent acquisition. What started out for me as a chance occurrence over 15 years ago (as the story goes for many of us) has landed me a privileged role in a fast paced and dynamic industry. But the industry is changing fast, and my biggest concern is that some of our practices for assessing talent are quickly becoming out of date.

Let’s be clear: most organizations do not have the talent they need to achieve their strategy – far from it. Many in fact do not know what skills and experience they will need to meet tomorrow’s challenges. Where was cloud computing and data mining 5+ years ago? Those of us in talent acquisition are now in a place where we have no idea how this will truly play out in the future or what the true impact of this situation will be.

Similar to no doubt many of you, I’ve developed a real interest, maybe even passion, in talent and recruitment, partly because it has the potential to shape tomorrow’s future, not just for organizations but for individuals as well. What organization doesn’t want to hire the very best talent, and who doesn’t want to find their dream role? My old CEO used to repeat over and over again that we are in the business of improving the lives of others. Although that’s perhaps a bit over the top, there is arguably a lot of truth in it.

“My old CEO used to repeat over and over again that we are in the business of improving the lives of others.”


The problem with previous experience

Everyone has talent and potential, but organizations do a terrific job of squandering both – which seems ironic considering we have a talent shortage. Mindful of the pace of change, and our inability to predict tomorrow’s needs, is it not perhaps shortsighted to invest such little time in getting to know people? Are we potentially shooting ourselves in the foot?

I recently met with a Senior Partner from one of the world’s top leadership and talent consulting businesses. This was someone who, as well as having had a successful corporate career as a CEO, has more recently had access to some of the world’s best IP and research around talent and leadership. I asked the question “With access to all the information you have, coupled with all your experience as a leader, what do you believe are the most important things to look for in a person?”

He reflected on the question for a while and responded that he believed it was a combination of learning agility, and personality traits and drivers. To put it another way, you need to understand who someone is and assess their ability to know what to do when they don’t know what to do.

What’s interesting, however, is that all around the world the recruitment process largely has the same hierarchy of requirements that focus on what you’ve done and who you’ve done it for rather than who you are or what you can become. We are obsessed with a person’s past rather than their future potential.

Let’s look for a moment at soccer, and the world’s most expensive player, Paul Pogba. Pogba was sold by Manchester United to Juventus in 2012 for €1.5 million, and then sold back to Manchester United in 2016 for €105 million! Letting him go in the first place is arguably one of the most expensive mistakes in football history, but how did it happen? Irrespective of which stories you may have read, Manchester United ultimately overlooked his potential and the player subsequently didn’t feel valued by the club.

If you’d been the talent scout for Juventus and relied solely on his past it wouldn’t have made for great reading – only a handful of first team appearances, and no starts or goals. Still, Juventus backed his potential, and in the following four years Pogba won seven trophies for Juventus as well as numerous personal awards.

Within the corporate world how many companies have let go of or failed to recruit a Pogba for not placing more value on potential or getting to know them better?

Isn’t it somewhat baffling that while we accept we are unable to predict the skills required to meet tomorrow’s needs, we stay anchored in our way of judging someone by their past skills and experience? The educational reformist Sir Ken Robinson said that we know three things about intelligence: it’s diverse, it’s dynamic, and it’s distinct.

When are we going to realize that the same is true of talent?


Talent acquisition needs to think outside the box when it comes to assessing candidates.You recruit people, not resumes – so get to know them

In the noise and confusion of the everyday it’s also easy to lose sight of some of those core human needs relevant to all of us: connection, being heard, being understood, and worthiness. I would argue that it is by truly understanding these we stand the best chance of matching the right people with the right organizations (and vice versa).

In our industry, how much time do we spend really getting to know who people are, what they’ve learned and what motivates them? I believe this is as important, if not more important, than any other part of the recruitment process, yet it remains sorely overlooked, often an adjunct at the end of the process.


The times they are a changin’

What is startlingly clear to me, however, is that something within our industry needs to change and doing nothing isn’t really a viable choice. There are many famous (and overused) quotes from the likes of Einstein and Ford about the results of not changing. Essentially, it involves recognizing and accepting that what has made you successful in the past is not necessarily going to make you successful in the future. This, however, amounts to nothing unless we are prepared to adapt and learn to let go rather than fight change.

But this requires courage and leadership, two qualities which sadly aren’t in abundance in HR. It also requires an attitude on behalf of the individual and organization to embrace failure on the path to eventual success. Will this strategy work? Will that solution fail? Maybe, maybe not.

We will never know unless we are allowed to try.

“Ah, but we’re not structured that way”, “I don’t have time”, “you have your head in the clouds” you cry! The list of unique circumstances or excuses, often credible, is endless, but it comes back to my point about leadership and courage and remembering that the current model is struggling.

I’m wary of preaching on a virtual soapbox, but I do believe we must remind ourselves of the importance of tasks that involve a real interaction with another human, rather than losing oneself to the internet or hiding behind an email or text message. We only have to look at the state of our candidate management and levels of hiring manager satisfaction for evidence as to why this is so important.

I’ll leave my final words to the great American poet Robert Frost, from his poem ‘The Road Not Taken’…
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”


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