The Future of Recruiting: A Q&A with Talent Strategist Steve Cadigan

The current hiring landscape is proving to be difficult for all employers looking to hire skilled talent. While the struggles of today may not necessarily be the struggles of tomorrow, it’s best for employers to be prepared and plan ahead.


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To help you plan your future talent strategies, Steve Cadigan—Talent Strategist and Founder of Cadigan Talent Ventures—joins us in the following Q&A. Cadigan offers his take on the current hiring market, how you should adjust your strategies to attract talent, and what role recruiting technology will play in the future.

HR Daily Advisor: Due to low unemployment and a growing skills gap, recruiters continue to struggle to find top talent. Is there an end in sight for this candidate-driven hiring market?

Cadigan: The short answer is no, I don’t see an end in sight. The skills gap is a huge, huge part of this, and I think it’s worth trying to understand this. Today, the shelf-life of a skill—meaning, how long a skill that you have is valuable to you as far as making you more valuable as an employee—according to John Seely-Brown, the former CEO of Xerox, is about 10 years. It used to be 50 years, and that number is declining annually.

Think about that—given the rapid advance of technology, companies need new skills and talent to remain competitive, and we have yet to have schools, universities, and companies themselves catch up to educating people as fast as the need for new skills is growing. This is contributing to a supply problem in the world of recruiting. I don’t see us catching up or bridging this gap anytime soon.

The second big trend that is driving this candidate-driven market is the transparency to opportunity. Today, we can all see and find more opportunities for places to work and jobs to do than at any point in history. Similarly, we can find insight into the values and culture, compensation, and perks at other firms better than at any time in history.

With more visibility to choose and with more, shall we say, temptations dangled in front of us as far as places we could work, people are leaving jobs and companies faster than at any time in history. The Bureau of Labor Statistics in the United States reported last month that the average tenure for workers in the country (non-farmworking) was 2.8 years for workers aged 25–35. This is staggering, especially when you consider that this is the “average,” meaning there are many below that number.

I spend a great deal of time helping my clients think through this last reality. Most companies worldwide are experiencing a similar trend—people are not staying as long as they used to, and that is contributing to a strain on recruiting and forcing companies to think about their recruiting strategies differently.

HR Daily Advisor: Do you think recruiters and hiring managers will go back to their old, recession-style strategies or continue to use their current candidate-driven market strategies?

Cadigan: Listen, if you are recruiting the way you “always used to recruit” in today’s ultra-competitive recruiting reality, then you are doomed to fail.

If you are still posting jobs with boring descriptions on your company site and tossing them out to LinkedIn or or other job boards, hoping the right person will find them, then you are fishing the “old way,” with little hope of success, in my view. I am seeing some amazingly creative approaches starting to take shape in the world of recruiting that have more to do with culture and organization structure than anything else.

If you step back and look at what we discussed in Q1—the skills gap and turnover—and you ask yourself what you can learn from those trends that could be an opportunity for you in recruiting, you probably want to focus on education AND on alumni, for example.

Here’s what I mean: If the reality is that most organizations cannot predict clearly what skills they will need for a good portion of their organization 5–10 years out, and if a big reason people are leaving companies is that they are not learning enough to prepare them for the digital revolutions of tomorrow, then you need to prepare your employees and use this education as a big attraction hook in your recruiting (it has a huge retention hook, as well).

People are more likely to work for you if you say that their growth and development are critical and that they will grow and learn more with you than they will anywhere else—this will be a HUGE asset to turning the tide of your recruiting. It’s a big commitment, but what choice do you have? Plus, if you are growing your talent all the time, they are more equipped to address an uncertain future, so it’s definitely a worthy investment.

Similarly, in a reality where turnover is higher than it’s ever been, you have two choices: Try to keep people longer (so you will have fewer replacement jobs to fill), or accept that you may not be able to turn that tide and create a different strategy, like an alumni strategy. If you have more people leaving your company than ever before, this means there are more ex-employees in your firm than ever before.

What are you doing to nurture that demographic? What are you doing to keep them close and curate them and woo the ones back you regretted allowing to leave? I am seeing many more companies today have real vibrant alumni programs—and these programs help address development and education, as well, by the way.

Both of these examples are organizational and cultural commitments that can help recruiting massively.

HR Daily Advisor: Is there an advantage for recruiters to continue to use their current practices during a recession-like hiring market?

Cadigan: Well, that entirely depends on what practices they are using. But generally, I would say that building a funnel is something that should happen all the time—in good markets and recession markets. Even in slow times, building your funnel is critical because it helps you be ready for when the light turns green. Many companies I have worked for had succession plans that required people from outside the company be included. This is a good practice.

HR Daily Advisor: Switching gears, do you think recruiting technology will replace real-life talent acquisition professionals in the future?

Cadigan: As with anything, I think that some tech will continue to help supplement the recruiting process and, in some cases, in a big way, but so long as we are still recruiting humans—this is a world of human connection, and hence, I don’t see tech replacing as much as supplementing.

Tech can help us find talent, but it’s not yet at a place where it can say, “This is the person you have to hire.” We are worlds away from that. Tech cannot say, “You will work great with this person,” but we are seeing some great new insights grow around who may work best in our culture.

HR Daily Advisor: Do you think recruiting technology will get better at being less biased?

Cadigan: Well, the realist in me tells me that if humans are innately biased and if humans are building the technology to try and eliminate bias, how well are we going to do? I am hopeful for progress, and clearly, the most important first step seems to be taking shape toward a solution, and that is recognizing we have a problem.

We need to keep trying, but honestly, I think the best thing we can do about bias has nothing to do with technology. I think if we all learned to have better, more frequent bold conversations, and if we build our collective ability to talk about the hard stuff, we could better navigate so many hard issues.

What tech, especially social media, seems to have allowed us to do is find out how different we are, and it allows us to retreat to places where there are more people like us. I tend to think we need to have tech help us find how we are more alike and ways we are similar than dissimilar.

HR Daily Advisor: What other types of recruiting technology do you see hitting the market that’s not currently available?

Cadigan: As you may have gathered from my responses above, I think we really need to be careful in the world of Human Resources that we don’t over-obsess on tech to the point where we lose sight of the fact that every job is a team job and every team operates best on trust.

Do you build trust better through interacting on a device with someone or by speaking and connecting with another human being in real time—face-to-face? I think it’s face-to-face. Are we spending more time intentionally building trust in organizations, or are we spending more time talking about technology?

Building relationships and human connection is a beautiful thing, and we have to be mindful of being seduced by tech and/or thinking a new tech or app will solve something that a real discussion and human interaction could do better.

Steve Cadigan is a highly sought-after talent adviser to leaders and organizations globally. As founder of his own Silicon Valley-based firm, Cadigan Talent Ventures, he advises a wide range of innovative organizations that include Twitter, Google, GoPro, The Royal Bank of Scotland, and the BBC. He is also regularly retained by some of Silicon Valley’s leading venture capital firms, such as Andreesen Horowitz, Index Ventures, Sequoia, and Greylock Partners, for his counsel on an array of talent topics.

Cadigan speaks regularly at conferences and major universities worldwide, and his amazing work in shaping the unique culture at LinkedIn led Stanford University to build a graduate-level class around this groundbreaking work. Cadigan is frequently asked to appear on global TV and is a regular guest on Bloomberg West and CNBC, as well as a regular contributor to Forbes.