There’s No Talent Shortage If You Can Poach From Your Competitors

First of two parts

Recruiting is just like fishing. You may think that there is a shortage of fish when the real problem is where you fish and what bait you use!

I simply have to laugh when I hear CEOs and executives complain about the talent or skill shortages that their companies face. I laugh because I find that this so-called “talent shortage” applies exclusively to firms with weak recruiting and employer branding.

If you work in the tech field, for example, you will hear many executives complain about a shortage of talent.

But how do you explain the fact that one firm, Google, faces no talent shortage because it gets nearly 3 million applications each year? For 5,000 hires per year, that is over 600 applications for each opening.

When most of the companies in its industry are suffering from a talent shortage, Google, because it’s the No. 1 employer brand, has only a “talent sorting problem.”

“There is a dire talent shortage … unless you are a great place to work” — Tom Peters

There is no real “talent shortage”

If you are a fisherman, you already know about the well-prepared fisherman’s paradox; this is when dozens of anglers on a lake are complaining about the lack of fish, while at the same time, the best skilled fisherman/woman is continually reeling in the fish and views the disparity in results as simply “a bait problem.”

Shifting back to business, if your firm’s head of sales was audacious enough to state that your firm was facing “a shortage of customers,” any good CEO would likely immediately respond in anger by pointing out that the leading firms with the best marketing, sales staff, and products certainly don’t seem to also be experiencing the same “customer shortage.”

You can’t as a corporate leader blame any shortage of fish, customers, or top candidates at your firm or the marketplace. It is a recruiting problem, pure and simple, and recruiting leaders who try to tell you that there is a labor supply or talent shortage facing your individual firm are in reality guilty of trying to deflect the blame away from themselves.

 For any single firm, there is a huge talent pool

The myth of the talent shortage begins when you focus on the needs of an entire industry, rather than the needs of your own firm. If there was a real shortage of, for example, nurses, then you should ask yourself this question, “How many qualified nurses live or work within 50 miles of your facility?”

If there was a real shortage, the answer would be zero, or a number lower than your current job openings. But the actual and accurate answer is almost universally, “There are thousands of them, but they all currently work at our competitors.”

Now, continuing with the fishing analogy: One of the reasons that great anglers continually catch the most desirable fish is that they know the best location where they should cast their bait. In the same light, firms can eliminate any shortage of qualified prospects if they change their location to where the most desirable talent can be found. And that is “working across the street at your competitors.”

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Any single organization needs to recruit less than 1 percent of the talent currently working in their industry. So if your firm wants to have a talent surplus, it must consider the other 99 percent of the industry’s workforce as your talent pool and your talent farm team.

Recruit your competitors and there will be a talent surplus 

So in the end, the real problem for a single firm is not an actual shortage but the inability of your firm to attract currently employed and skilled individuals away from their present employer and over to your company.

In other words, there is plenty of talent that could be recruited. You are just fishing in the wrong place, with the wrong equipment, and with unattractive bait.

For any single organization, it’s not a supply problem, it’s an attraction problem. The recruiting principle to remember is “Those firms with the most effective attraction bait” (one which is powerful enough to draw talent away from your competitors) will never suffer a talent shortage, even when the majority of industry firms do.” 

With outdated gear, you won’t attract your share of fish 

What also makes me chuckle is the fact that the same leaders who are complaining about a shortage now, as few as two years ago in a down economy had a talent surplus and hundreds of applicants for each job opening.

Since there have been no news reports of aliens abducting a huge number of talented individuals, it makes sense to look for another answer. All that has really happened is that there are many fewer easy-to-attract unemployed people, and that the “active” recruiting tools that worked well for your firm during high unemployment times are simply ineffective today.

So the 100 percent accurate answer as to why your firm faces a shortage, and the top firms in your industry do not, is that your firm is recruiting the wrong target audience with weak bait. Weak bait in the recruiting field generally means that your firm can’t attract top talent because it …

  • Has a weak employer brand image;
  • Uses ineffective or outdated recruiting tools; or,
  • Offers jobs and a work environment that are simply less exciting than your competitor’s.

Tomorrow: How to Overcome any Talent Shortage at Your Company

Dr. John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in strategic Talent Management solution. He is a prolific author with over 1200 articles and ten books covering all areas of Talent Management. Along with his many articles and books, Dr. Sullivan has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/organizations in 30 countries on six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source, including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., The New York Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, Harvard Business Review, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column and the ERE Media blog. Dr. Sullivan has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC Nightly News, NPR, as well as many local TV and radio outlets.

Fast Company called him the “Michael Jordan of Hiring,” called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industries most respected strategists.” He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and was ranked #8 among the top 25 online influencers in Talent Management.  Adding to these acclamations, Dr. Sullivan has also served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, as well as becoming the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. Dr. Sullivan is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). Most importantly, he wants to hear and respond to your most pressing questions about advanced talent strategies.

His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and