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Stop Hunting for Unicorns

This article was originally published in Smart Business Magazine.

Companies partnering with staffing agencies to hire highly skilled laborers who can work on a temporary basis are finding it increasingly difficult to fill open positions. Focusing the requirements for candidates while maintaining a perspective on the candidate pool is necessary for companies to succeed in this job environment, says Nick Bailey, Area Manager at Nesco Resource.

“The labor market has changed over the past 15 years and many HR managers are still adjusting to this new reality,” Bailey says. “The most talented skilled maintenance technicians are currently working great jobs with good pay and benefits. They aren’t likely to be interested in leaving that stability for a position that might not even last three months.”  

Unicorn hunting is a phrase used to describe companies that are in search of the “perfect” candidate who checks off every box on their list. That may actually exclude the best available candidates in the pool, Bailey says.

“It’s the psychology of choice,” he says. “We assume there is an unlimited number of candidates and the perfect candidate can’t possibly be the one you’re sitting in front of right now. Unfortunately, it’s paralysis by analysis. The more options you have, the less likely you are to make a decision at all.” Smart Business spoke with Bailey about how to manage, not lower your expectations, and get on the path to filling your company’s personnel needs.  

What is the difference between tough positions and those job openings that are impossible to fill?

Staffing professionals like a good challenge and want to find the perfect candidate for customers. But they also know the candidate landscape. If you’ve had a position open for six months, or have interviewed a dozen candidates with no luck, it may be time to rethink what it takes to get the position filled.

The staffing professional you’re working with is likely to know the reasons why. It could be offering a pay rate that does not match up with the required experience for the position. Some companies also declare that the position is only available on a temp-to-hire basis. There are some parameters that will simply exclude all or the vast majority of candidates available.

How can you avoid unicorn hunting without lowering expectations?

It’s not about lowering expectations, but rather working with your staffing provider to understand the candidate pool and manage expectations. For example, if you think of the job description as a wish list, which points on that list are mandatory?

If you clarify the essential skills that the candidate needs to do the job, and indicate flexibility for others that would be nice to have, but aren’t imperative, you put yourself in a better position to fill your open slot.

Perhaps even more importantly, you need to give a candidate a reason to want to come and work for you. What are the advantages of the opportunity you’re presenting? How could this job help the candidate boost his or her own resume? What are you willing to offer candidates that they might not get with other companies? If you have a strong 401(k) or profit sharing plan or a competitive salary, that’s going to make your opening more attractive.

How do companies get into unicorn hunting in the first place?

Many companies just don’t have deep expertise on the process of matching a skilled laborer with a position of need. Staffing firms have years of experience filling positions and they have their finger on the pulse of the labor market. They know who is out there, what they’re looking for and who might be a good fit for your business. Employers who tap into that expertise and are willing to look at the market from the employee’s point of view can make headway on filling personnel needs.

The other key point is to not be afraid to hire someone who appears to be a solid candidate. If you have an individual who has a good resume, a good interview and a strong reference letter and seems to fit your needs, go ahead and make the hire. Avoid the temptation to wait for a “perfect” candidate who you likely will never find.

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