The Dirty Little Secret of Talent Sourcing No One Ever Talks About

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Yesterday I read yet another article about how to catch a Purple Squirrel, and right on cue, it got on my damn nerves.

Of course, employers want to hire good (even great) workers. Of course, that won’t happen by accident. And of course, no one wants to expend more resources than necessary to get an employee up and running.

But here’s the unvarnished truth — the “dirty little secret” of talent sourcing, if you will:

No matter how efficient the hiring process, no one knows whether or how well a new hire will work out.

And I mean no one. Not even the new hire.

What a new employee can’t possibly know

Until the new hire has spent time working for a particular manager, within a particular team, doing a particular job with particular responsibilities that draw out the new hire’s particular personality — and I haven’t even said one word about company culture yet — he (or she) won’t know whether he (or she):

  • Likes the work, the company, and the manager;
  • Likes the work and the company but dislikes the manager;
  • Likes the manager and the company but dislikes the work;
  • Likes the company but dislikes the work and the manager;
  • Dislikes the manager, the company, and the work;
  • Likes the work, the company, and the manager well enough to stay put temporarily but definitely not for the long haul;

… or can lay claim to some other combination I may have missed.

Getting back to the basics

And all of these variables will impact the employee’s commitment, enthusiasm, willing-ness to go “above and beyond,” overall job satisfaction, and ultimately, performance.

By the same token, as the manager is saying, “Let’s offer the job to _______.” He or she hasn’t a clue about the degree to which this decision will be mourned or celebrated in the weeks, months, and years to come.

So please (and I know I’m a voice crying out in the wilderness, but so be it), let’s stop all this talk of chasing Purple Squirrels! It only adds a layer of nonsense to an already charged activity.

Instead, can we get back to basics? Pretty please?

Does the candidate possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do the job to standard? Can you see yourself spending a decent amount of time each day interacting with this individual?

Is his shirt tucked in? Is her cleavage modest? Has he or she demonstrated a willingness to be coached? What about teachability? Flexibility?

Check, check, check?

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Then for heaven’s sake, what are you waiting for?

No matter how thorough the hiring process, mistakes are going to happen. (I’ll bet a stack of pepperoni that a certain Pizza Hut manager never envisioned firing someone for taking a piss in the sink).

There is always risk in hiring

So repeat after me: The process rigorous that is enough to eliminate all the risk inherent in hiring someone new doesn’t exist.

And yet, some of us keep trying. Along the way, we don’t seem to care how long a position stays open, how often we have to relist it, or how many candidates we have to jerk around.

One commenter on the Purple Squirrel article put it like this:

As a brown squirrel wanting a full-time tree to stash my nuts I felt I needed to comment on this article. Because of the “Purple Squirrel” companies are looking for, I can’t find a full-time tree to run up and down in. I can be trained to ride on little skis behind a boat or to run an obstacle course in weeks, but companies don’t want to train anymore… As [a] recruiter for companies, tell hiring managers there are a lot of great, fantastic and awesome brown, black, grey and ground squirrels out there with skills…”

The author had the temerity to call this the “best comment [she’d ] read in months” double exclamation point!! (Gee, thanks author.)

Here’s my problem: Considering our (still recovering) economy, with its (still) crappy unemployment figures and its boatloads of underemployed people, advice (no matter how well-meaning or entertaining) on how to catch/recruit mythical creatures — instead of solid, decent workers motivated and looking for gainful employment — is not a good thing.

In fact, I’d almost go so far as to call it irresponsible.

Double exclamation point.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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