Table of Contents
Recruiting is a market at the intersection of people and opportunity. People, the supply, and opportunity, the demand, are combined to make organizations more able to fulfill their potential. Recruiters sift, sort and select in order to meet the need of the groups they represent.
That sounds painfully obvious.
But, that’s where the big picture lives. A strategic perspective comes from considering things that are ridiculously apparent. Competitive advantage comes from finding a way to view the basics differently.
Basic Questions about the Labor Supply include
- How many people are there?
- How many of them work in the profession?
- How many of them live in the neighborhood?
- How old are they?
In order to fully grasp the responsibilities and consequences, you need a deep understanding of the supply and the demand factors for the labor market. In the end, all you need is enough data to navigate the confines of your niche. In the beginning, you have to learn the location of the ditch.
Population distribution means dividing the whole in various ways (age, gender, occupation, zipcode, kind of car and so on). An understanding of population distribution allows you to compare one place with another, one group of people across places and so on.
The most common map of population distribution is the “Population Pyramid”. This graph shows age and gender distribution for a country, region, city or planet. It gets its name from its basic shape. Here is a huge collection of examples of population pyramids.
For the entire history of the human race, with virtually no exceptions. the age distribution of population has had the shape of a pyramid. As people get older, there are fewer of them. The pyramid shape means that there are few old people and lots of young people. The older that people get, the more of them die.
Little more than 100 years ago, people lived to be about 50. The average life expectancy was 47.8. The pyramid had very few old people and lots and lots of young people.
This historic pyramid structure of population influences the way we see and think about lots of things.
- Families have traditionally had fewer old people and lots of young people. The traditional model of parenting is built on the idea of power resting in the hands of an older few.
- Organizations are typically envisioned in this way (tiny leadership group, large workforce).
- Government used to be organized this way.
- Our ideas of excellence (winnowing the exceptional from the mass) has its roots in the pyramid structure.
- Selection processes are always described as an inverted pyramid: the funnel
The pyramid has been the backbone of our communities for so long that we overlook the depth of its impact on our perception. Consider:
- Pinnacle of achievement
- Reaching the highest point.
- Rise to the top.
- The highest honor
- Climbing the ladder
Surprisingly, important parts of our world no longer resemble a pyramid. While life expectancy was growing, the average number of people in a family has been declining rapidly. Since 1970 the percentage of households containing five or more people has fallen by half. Overall, the average number of people per household decreased from 3.14 to 2.57.
More old people and fewer kids means that the so-called pyramid no longer resembles a pyramid in the US and all of the industrialized world.
I am going to stick with the pyramid idea just a little longer. The theme is so embedded in our world view that it shapes the way we see, imagine and execute our possibilities.
The “Recruiting Funnel”, where masses of candidates are winnowed down to a select few, is an example of pyramid theory.
The whole notion emerges from the longstanding shape of families and governments: a few old people running things, lots of younger people ‘being run’. It’s mommy, daddy and five kids.
It’s the foundation of hierarchical management.
Large organizations, with their single point (winnowing) authority perpetuate the view that pyramids are essential elements of society.
The reality is that family structure has changed. One or two kids and two parents is not an organization that can be run hierarchically. Combined with technology that is flattening our organizations, we’re in a transition period. The pyramid is built into our perceptual framework and it’s outmoded.
Historically, economic growth depends on a pyramid structure. More people, more work, more jobs, more goods. We have no idea how to engineer growth without an underlying impetus of population expansion.
And that’s just the point.
In all of the industrialized countries except the USA, population is leveling off or declining. That means that what used to be population pyramids are becoming rectangles or “silos”. In those economies, the birthrate has fallen below the replacement level. As a result, the population declines while the median age rises.
The pyramid is being replaced.
Scant attention has been paid to the fact that an employer brand is only relevant to the people who care about it. How they care and what they care about is a function of demographics, geography, and organizational role. Engineers from Georgia are different enough from Accountants in Manhattan that separate branding initiatives are likely necessary.
It may even be the case that the department is the proper level for brand initiatives.
For example, our friends at Starr-Tincup routinely receive an award as one of the best places to work in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. It’s a very cool place with an extraordinary vibe and culture. I’d like to work there. It’s a great place to be a creative contributor.
But, if you imagine for one second that a roughneck from the oil and gas industry or a software designer from the computer industry (both big in that part of Texas) would be happy there, you’ve got another thing coming.
This is why generic employment branding efforts for big companies don’t work very well. Branding is a targeting exercise. The brand is weak to the extent that it is delivered (no matter how inexpensively) to people who aren’t part of the target audience. Messages have to be tuned to (and all about) the people who receive them. If Starr-Tincup were to hit a bunch of oil industry folks with their message, it would turn them off. That’s unnecessary bridge burning.
This is a good news, bad news situation.
For smaller companies, the expense of articulating a message to the tiny audience of people who care means that all of the hard work is in audience development and identification. Larger companies, who can afford to have more generic messages, have an unnatural advantage in the employment market. This means that, for the time being) their cost of brand development is lower on a per applicant basis.
As we move headlong into the era in which everything is measured twice, these notions will start to validate themselves.
The Employer Popularity Index (EPI), an offering from AfterCollege, is worth your attention. AfterCollege powers job boards for and distributes job feeds to over 16,000 college departments around the United States. Using there distribution as a base, they are looking to correlate Employer Brand with college departments to get at the dynamics of Employer Branding for College Recruitment.
The early incarnations of the EPI are a classic mash up of performance data, cloud tags, and maps. By late Spring, the tool will have 100,000 samples from registered poll takers. This is a great demonstration of the ways in which the competitive playing field can be understood.
Of course, the AfterCollege stats are biased towards big name entities. The degree to which Google dwarfs a ten person consulting shop is more than size and money. The underlying brand propels the significance of Google’s employment brand to extraordinary heights.
The EPI, even in this beta format, allows employers with big recruiting budgets to really evaluate the competition on a market by market basis. This should, in turn, foster more targeted recruiting messaging and tactics.
In the end, great 21st Century Branding is all about the end user, not the company doing the branding. In the employment arena, what matters is not what your message is or even how effectively you navigate the Best Employer’s contests. Sustained effectiveness requires a visceral connection between the company and the applicant. AfterCollege’s EPI points the way to the level of detail required to be successful.
The “War for Talent” rhetoric is about 10 years old. It’s an awful way to describe the fact that there is a steep competition for a certain kind of employee. There’s really no such thing in the ranks of the over 40 crowd, the ethnic population or the trench level workforce.
The focus on competition for scarce resurces shifts our attention away from more pertinent questions like “how to make the most out of what you have”.
These five links should give you a refresher on the War conversation and some food for thought about alternative views.
- Chinese and Indian Entrepreneurs Are Eating America’s Lunch
“America is rightfully worried about its sinking competitiveness, and does indeed need to improve its education system. But it could win the battle and lose the war, because India’s and China’s successes aren’t due to their education systems, but despite them. You’ve probably heard of Indian outsourcing hotspots like Bangalore and Chennai, but it’s not just call centers and software sweatshops Americans now need to worry about: Technology entrepreneurship is booming all over in China and India, and is beginning to innovate; these startups will soon start competing with Silicon Valley. The next Google could well be cooked up in a garage in Guangzhou or Ahmedaba”
- Tussle For Talent
This is the Econmist’s review of a new book from the guy who headed Recruiting for GE. The continual pursuit of the best talent did not get easier in the downturn, it got harder. Now, the best players are more aware of competitive dynamics and their value in the universe.
- War For Talent
10 years ago, McKinsey started the dialog about the War for TAlent with this short whitepaper. Take a moment to read it and see if things have changed. “What is troubling is that most companies are ill-prepared to meet these challenges. Regardless of size or industry, most companies have yet to pinpoint the formula that will make their organization more attractive to talented people. High performers are likely to leave companies where they feel underdeveloped, undervalued, and underpaid. While 72% of all managers surveyed say that winning the war for talent is critical to their companies’ success, only 9% are conﬁdent that their current actions will lead to a stronger talent pool in the next three years.”
- The War For Talent is Dying
As recently as a year ago, there was massive optimism that social networks would help companies solve the Talent Imbalance. This piece was an element of the exuberence. Today, it seems like the promise of social networks is dimming.
- Eric Schmidt: “It Is A War For Talent”
The economy is still cool to the touch. Even so, the competition for the best and brightest is hot in pockets. This TechCrunch piece is a video interview with Google’s CEO and focuses on their decision to give an across the board 10% raise.