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Behind the Scenes of a Talent Search

Gene Manheim GUEST COLUMNISTGene Manheim GUEST COLUMNIST
Approaching the ‘Happy, Well-Paid and Not-Looking' Candidate

IN OUR RAPIDLY SHIFTING RETAIL world, the demand for experienced, highly successful executives has never been greater. But the search for talent remains a significant challenge for companies that are looking for the best candidate to fit their specs, especially since that candidate is often happy, well-paid and not looking.
     So, the big question always surfaces: What is the best way to engage people who are not necessarily looking for a new opportunity?
     Approaching this pool of highly attractive candidates is a different kind of dance. Instead of calling people and immediately asking if they are interested in a particular opportunity, we will say, "Are you interested in seeing if you are interested?"
     The goal is to capture attention, to explain the exciting nature of the role and how it's going to impact the whole company, and get them, as the dialogue progresses, to seriously consider the opportunity.
     You want to give candidates the room to think things through without feeling like they are being pressured. Often what's most important to someone successfully embedded in a company - the person we refer to as "happy, well-paid and not looking" - is whether the new opportunity is going to be compelling enough to get him or her to leave a good current position and company where they are successful and secure.
     We counsel our clients not to move too fast when they first meet someone, and to be cognizant of the fact that the candidates in the early going are exploring the opportunity, so it's really a two-way dialogue. For example, in a first meeting it is not a good idea to start drilling a candidate about his or her resume and desire to join the company, when the candidate may not have made that decision yet.
     We also tell clients to not be insulted if after the first meeting the candidate doesn't seem to be chomping at the bit for the position. We will explain that this is more like a "first date." The person has a job, a family, a home a thousand miles away. This is a big step. So don't extinguish the possibility that this could be right simply because he/she is not yet as excited as you would like.
     In addition, there is a new atmosphere in these post-recession times. Prospective candidates used to get more excited when they heard about a new opportunity: "I'll sell my house quickly, my spouse will find a new job" was not an overly optimistic reaction.
     Now they hesitate more. They are valuing the job they have more. They worry about the "last-in, first-out" phenomenon - that they could move to a great job, but suddenly there could be a scaling back of the work force even at the senior levels, with the new person at greater risk. Plus they have more concerns about finding employment in the new city for a trailing spouse.
     The housing market also has definitely thrown a wrench into the process. People immediately question whether they can relocate if they have a house to sell. The challenges include how long it will take to sell and whether they'll take a financial hit, which they can't afford.
     All of this means that our interaction with candidates has to be different today. We have to understand that the issues I mentioned - last-in, first-out concerns; housing; trailing spouse - are creating more anxiety than they did five years ago. This makes the more nuanced approach all the more relevant when contacting potential candidates. What we're asking them to consider is more of a big event and potentially traumatic than it would have been pre-recession.
     We try to be more sensitive to the candidate's situation, to respect their concern. And we explain that we believe if they investigate the opportunity, they will find it very compelling. Once a candidate is enthusiastic about pursuing the position, the issues and challenges are all open for discussion and can be successfully addressed if both parties want it to work.

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