As a board member of the Pinnacle Society, an elite group of 75 of the top recruiters in the country, I participate in two annual conferences a year focused on best practices and training on the realities of the employment picture that faces us today. I've written about the war for talent for eight years and as a staffing expert and an industry insider, my firm has been observing the hiring practices of scores of firms in the electrical industry for nine years. More importantly, we have had the opportunity to assess the talent pool for this industry and observe the ebbs and flows of the quality of that pool. Following are some of the biggest challenges I see in the hiring arena.

Talent pool

The talent pool is the shallowest we have observed in nine years. The sheer numbers of qualified candidates and the percentage of them willing to make a move have dropped precipitously. While reports of unrest within the employment ranks are saying 50 percent or more of the employment force is ready to leave their company, my firm hasn't seen evidence of that unrest. The overall quality of candidates we have been sourcing has been fluctuating somewhat, but the quantity of those candidates is significantly lower.

Relocation issues

Home prices and the inability to sell a primary home have seriously limited the abilities of candidates to accept new positions where relocation is required. This is the first time I am seeing candidates who can't afford to take new, higher-paying jobs.

Hiring practices

We've not seen a shift in hiring practices within our clients, and the number of interviews, length of the process and financial offer process have remained unchanged. The number of candidates with competitive offers and multiple interviews has grown exponentially. The result is that our clients are dawdling, or crafting non-competitive offers and simply losing candidates for reasons that have very little to do with their suitability for the open position. The searches are becoming more protracted, the strains of not filling the positions have increased, and the candidates are more often not impressed with client companies. The practice of requiring multiple candidates to interview is simply archaic and out of touch with the realities of the times. The market is such that finding the right candidate should be a stand-alone decision, without a comparative process. Candidates should be assessed solely on the merits of their abilities to provide the results that clients require with no assumption of the “next one” being potentially better. Waiting for the candidate of the century is simply waiting.

Screening tools

Clients are using more screening tools and crafting more barriers to entry at precisely the time when the talent pool is winnowing. Screening tools have emerged as another liability shield and rationale for not making a decision. Screening tools are rarely professionally validated within the specific functional position and industry or channel. Relying on them gives you an incomplete assessment at best and is discriminatory at worst. Ask your screening vendor to validate the success rate for their tools specific to the exact position you use it for, and within your industry. If your screening vendor can't tell you the predictability of success, then stop spending the time and money on the test.

Unrealistic qualifications

The talent pool is very shallow, yet job descriptions and requirements have not changed. In practice, it may appear logical to require that a salesperson have a college degree, a potential branch manager have experience in automation products, or that a design engineer be certified in Pro-E. But the reality of the times is that companies will need to attract talent and that talent will have to be more broadly defined. Job descriptions will need to become more relaxed. Your end game is to attract people who can help grow your business, reduce operating inefficiencies or improve margins. The definition of the baggage each employee brings with them needs to be re-assessed. For instance, you must ask yourself if they contribute to your company despite their lack of a degree. (Bill Gates and Michael Dell would say yes, since they don't have degrees). Maybe if the job were redefined, their tasks could be reassigned into differing priorities.

The price of quality

Every company should have the expectation of attracting quality talent to perform a critical role. But based upon the sheer realities of the existing talent pool, those expectations need to be reassessed. In 1999, 40 percent of job applicants didn't possess the necessary literacy or numeracy skills to perform the job. Today that talent pool is even shallower and the demands upon your employees will increase. Attracting talent to grow and absorb that growth will require that your definition of satisfactory become expanded. You will have to redefine job descriptions, what is required versus what is acceptable and the price you pay for that talent. Quality is expensive, but right-sizing your expectations will greatly expand your talent pool. Unbundling the requirements for a position will provide a broader reach, at little risk to attracting talent that is “good enough” to accomplish the tasks.

ROI

The average tenure of employment in the United States today is less than 3.5 years. Hiring new employees with an assumption they are coming to work at your company for a permanent position is anachronistic. In this market, a company should optimize their hiring process by identifying the “best athlete” who can accomplish the tasks at hand and deliver a solid ROI for three years or more. The tasks at hand will be different in three years, so don't try to hire someone who can do the job permanently. Similarly, trying to hire new employees on the belief they will be tied into the company career path is unrealistic in light of the average tenure in the United States right now. In short, solve 2008 problems in 2008 and be reasonable in those expectations.

Breathe

The talent pool is drying up. We live in an “at-will” employment society and yet we create extraordinary barriers to entry such as non-compete contracts, profile tests, arduous interview processes, baffling and intrusive application requirements, unrealistic relocation policies, arrogant responsiveness, drug screens, health tests, credit checks and criminal checks. Then we wonder why we can't seem to find good people. Maybe it's time to relax a bit, breathe, and recognize that the percentages are in our favor and that the majority of new hires do actually work out. For those that don't, they're “at will” — get rid of them.

Ted Konnerth is president/CEO of Egret Consulting Group, Mundelein, Ill., a retained search firm with specialties in electrical manufacturing, distribution, consulting services (architectural and engineering) and mergers and acquisitions consulting. Prior to founding Egret Consulting in 1999, Konnerth was with Cooper Industries for 16 years. He was vice president of sales for 4.5 years for a $1 billion division of Cooper before starting his search firm. Contact info: (847) 307-7125; or e-mail: tk@egretconsulting.com; website: www.egretconsulting.com.