If you’ve ever hired the wrong person for the job, you know that the poor fit stings—personally, professionally, and financially. Every rushed or subpar talent acquisition means a new and long road of pain. At best, you must overtrain the new hire while internal customers grow frustrated by missed goals, strained relationships, lackluster performance, and poor results. At worst, your reputation gets a black eye, results sink, and you must rehire. It’s a surefire way to sabotage your growth, especially in a market that’s changing fast and expects more from your company than it can deliver today.
Years ago, conventional wisdom argued that success in business hinged on companies figuring out the best path forward, then hiring employees to follow the plan as dictated by the organization. But that’s not how money is made in today’s market. High-performing organizations know that if you get the right people, results will come.
Talent acquisition, then, is more than an HR process: It’s a foundational business strategy, and your organization’s long-term health depends on it.
Best-in-Class or Best Available?
How do you find best-in-class talent when the constraints of time or resources make it tempting to settle for the best available right now? The short answer: Top performers—the kind who can transform your business, ignite existing teams, and boost revenue and market performance—are hiding precisely where you aren’t looking. They’re happily employed and producing results for another organization.
We’ll call them passives, since they aren’t actively seeking a job today. The good news is that 9 out of 10 passives are open to a better situation if presented to them.
Why do passives matter? If you aren’t interviewing passive candidates for every role you hire, your talent search is inevitably plagued with blind spots. That means you can’t discern what the market is doing beyond your internal talent pool, that friend-of-a-friend referral, or folks responding to your job posting. Market visibility is especially critical for industries where technology, regulations, and buyer behavior are changing fast.
This all seems like common sense, right? But it’s not common practice, and it shows.
4 Talent Pools: Traits and Pitfalls
To understand why interviewing passives is a game changer, it helps to examine some pitfalls in common talent pools. Whether hiring an accountant, sales rep, scientist, or CEO, you have four possible pools of talent to pull from:
In some cases, it’s possible you have someone internally who can move into the new role. It can make good sense to reward star employees with a move up the ladder. We often see internal moves with entry- to midlevel roles.
Tripping points to watch for: Without looking beyond the walls of your organization, you don’t know if you’re getting best-in-class talent compared with the rest of the market. You may not even realize that the way your organization is designing the job is behind the curve and that the market has figured out something better. Pulling from your internal bench also leaves you with yet another job to fill.
Who do you know? It’s natural to think of the sharp professional you met at a conference, your friend Joe, or his friend Mary when you need to fill a job that lines up with their background. It certainly pays to know people, and your professional or personal contacts can be good referral sources.
Tripping points to watch for: When assessing an acquaintance or friend for a job, emotions can cloud your judgment and prevent adequate scrutiny. You may want the relationship to work so badly that you fail to ask the hard questions and uncover the candidate’s true technical depth and fit with your organization.
You post the job on select job boards and see who bites, attracting the attention of active jobseekers. Most likely, a steady stream of applications rolls in.
Tripping points to watch for: Sorting through thick stacks of résumés can tempt HR to favor the “most available” candidates over the truly “best-in-class.” The number of unqualified applicants can further clog the process and dilute the effectiveness of your talent acquisition staff.
As alluded to earlier, 86% of top performers aren’t actively looking for a gig, reports Talentnow. No wonder more than 7 in 10 organizations can’t find the right C-suite leaders, say McKinsey researchers. Although passive talent isn’t looking for a new opportunity today, most passives are open to a compelling one.
Tripping points to watch for: Passive talent is more expensive and harder to get. You must actively pursue passives, and tactics that work for other talent pools won’t work here. Passives require courtship and a custom approach versus requiring them to fill out your standard, five-page application or articulate why you should hire them, for instance.
As a general guideline, the more knowledge, experience, or finesse the role requires, the more crucial it is to explore passive talent to find your best-fit candidates. This is especially true with leadership positions or positions requiring deep technical expertise.
In part 2 of this article, we’ll explore how to find those hidden gems and make sure they are really a good fit.
Tom Bratton is the CEO and Managing Partner of Medallion Partners. Medallion’s mission is to serve people in business and career with Organizational Strategy and Design, Executive Search, and Career Development. Bratton began his career in Marketing, Sales, and Operations for global organizations such as Gillette, Clorox, Technicolor, and Jordan Industries before founding Medallion in 2006.