The five-legged goat; why organisational recruitment fails



After a series of unsuccessful recruitments, a colleague told me that I was looking for a five-legged goat. When I asked him what he meant, he said “the candidate you are looking for just does not exist. The job profile is a hotchpotch of everyone’s expectations from this position. You are not going to be able to recruit successfully”. In a way, this was true. In a drive to be cost-efficient, perhaps we had loaded the job profile with too many expectations. But this did not fully explain the poor response to advertisements, or even if there were responses, the candidates were not interested in taking up positions offered to them.


Much has been written on why candidates fail in securing jobs, and reasons as to why they have been unsuccessful. In various social media notice boards, candidates post their availability for positions, often for a long time without success.


Conversely, why are organisations not successful in recruiting ‘good candidates’ for key positions? What are the challenges and bottlenecks and how do recruiting organisations solve these challenges?


Below are possible reasons and thoughts on how they may be addressed or resolved.


1. The Organisation has a poor reputation.


High turnover rates are evident, current employees complain and are looking for opportunities to ‘jump ship’. Peer organisations do not have positive things to say and the organisation is not ‘visible’ within its field of specialty or expertise. The organisation has a history of bad or sour relationships with peer organisations or other agencies. It is perceived as being ‘vindictive’ on account of the large number of ongoing litigation. It is defensive, and does not acknowledge shortcomings, fault or mistakes. Major changes, transitions or outcomes of ‘strategic planning’ are not communicated effectively or well externally. Confusion on role clarity of the organisation. Little, inadequate or effective representation of the organisation by its staff or management. It is not active on social media. The website is not maintained and out-of-date and a perceived lack of transparency.


Considerations: Undertake an honest and frank ‘root cause’ analysis as to why the organisation suffers from reputational issues. Follow through on addressing the causes. This may be a painful, costly and sometimes a bitter process. In the long run the consequent cost-effectiveness will be worth the effort. On some occasions an individual or individuals in positions of power and authority are the root causes. Under these circumstances hope that the larger organisation has adequate leadership/managerial courage and integrity to address this head on and resolve these ‘choke points’. The organisation should strive towards transparency, make its intent and purpose clear, be visible in spaces it is supposed to participate in and have open social media and digital platforms. Identify effective ambassadors and representatives who can speak on behalf of the organisation. Craft consistent and clear messaging and communicate. Be humble, and learn from mistakes. If relationship issues with organisations or individuals adversely affect reputation, go back and fix them.


2. The Organisation does not keep abreast of human resource trends


With massive changes in technological advancement, manufacturing, and growth of service industries the dynamics of supply and demand for human resources has also changed with an oversupply of technical resources and an undersupply of effective people managers and team leaders. If an organisation does not keep abreast of the ‘market’ and has an inadequate sense of skills and capabilities that are in in demand, it will not be able to effectively recruit. For non-profits this is especially challenging as resource allocations shrink and more countries see strong economic and development growth. Positioning an effective pool of ‘human resource’ capabilities within these contexts is challenging. Trade-offs between services which can be outsourced against what is needed in-house are not thoughtfully explored. The staffing which supports these trade-off’s is critical. Sometimes the outsourcing does not work as planned. In other instances, skills and capabilities which the organisation opts to retain are not relevant. Within this environment recruiting for key positions becomes especially challenging.


Considerations: Establish networking relationships with other organisations and agencies. Keep abreast of ‘human resource trends’. There is a considerable amount of information being generated by various institutions, organisations, media and digital platforms. Be active within these and subscribe to products which may be useful or relevant. Be familiar with the various ‘digital notice boards’ for recruiters and job seekers. Look for candidates who post their availability on various networks. Establish relationships with credible and reputed recruitment firms or ‘head hunters’ with demonstrated accountability to candidates as well as recruiting organisations. Be very clear and direct about the type of candidate you are looking for (technical, people manager, service provider). Also, how much you are willing to spend or be flexible in acquiring the talent you are looking for. Invest in ‘internship’ programmes as opportunities to groom potential talent into positions within the organisation. Seek out organisations willing to ‘second’ their staff. Maintain rosters of potential employees who may have interviewed with you but were not selected.


3. The Organisation is not clear on the candidate they need


The Recruiters have not been adequately thoughtful about what type of person and ‘profile’ they need to fill the position. Often this is a result of inadequate preparation and discussion. Although there is agreement the position needs to be filled, little or no consensus on the ‘profile’ of the position exists. Without adequate discussion among the management team, and consensus on the characteristics they define and agree for the position, clarity, ‘ownership’ or ‘emotional investment’ among the management team will be lacking. They do not see an ‘outcome scenario’ of what the implications of the position are or its impact on the organisation. ‘Ownership’ and ‘emotional investment’ by management is important as this indicates a collective intention for the good of the organisation. ‘Outcome scenarios’ explore how the position will function and impact on the different functional units of the organisation and its business transactions


Considerations: The management team should set aside time to deliberate and agree on the characteristics which define the position. This discussion should include the attributes they would like to see, expectations from the position and understand what it means for advancing the aspirations and ambitions of organisational priorities. The Job Description should be developed once clarity is established, consensus and agreement within the management team on the ‘profile’ of the candidate and the defining ‘characteristics’. The onus for this is not only on the Recruiting Manager as the impact of the position will affect all the functional units.


4. The organization is ‘locked into’ fixed and outdated recruitment processes


Lack of creativity and innovation within the recruitment process is a major challenge to good recruitment. The advert for the position is ‘passé’, outdated and does not generate excitement. Information is lacking. Few or no mechanisms for the candidate too find out more about the position, prospects, time lines and its positioning within the organisation are established or in place. Opportunities within a vibrant environment of effective social media and digital innovation are underutilized. Within the organisation there is a culture of ‘linearity’, an assumption that a ‘boiler plate’ approach will work. Once an advertisement is placed, sequences of events will automatically follow. If at all ‘good candidates’ apply and are interviewed, there is inflexibility within the compensation structure and a grade-based ‘organisational hierarchy’, leaving little room for negotiation.


Considerations: Be creative and innovative in advertising and broadcasting the vacancy opportunity. Use as many avenues as possible including social media and digital platforms. Head-hunt. Provide mechanisms for potential candidates to contact the organisation to receive more information on the position, or get greater clarity on prospects, positioning and intangible benefits (opportunities for travel, networking, exposure to new areas of work, the potential for personal and professional growth). Be willing to negotiate and be flexible as the market is very competitive, especially for certain types of positions. Hierarchies are obsolete, where organisations with flatter structures which foster team-work and ‘cross functional’ teams are demonstrated to be more progressive in making headway.


5. The Interview is not a conversation, but an interrogation.

The recruiters see themselves as benefactors and the candidates as needy individuals expecting a favor, throwing themselves at the mercy of the panel. There is inadequate respect for the candidate, and the interview experience is not pleasant for the candidate. Panel members are of the opinion any question can be asked and are often insensitive and ask inappropriate questions. The panel has not studied or reviewed the Cover Letter or CV adequately and waste time going over information already presented in the candidate’s documentation. The whole experience is underpinned by condescension. Reasons for this are often the right people are not on the panel. A common occurrence is when the panel includes people recruiting for positions above them in the organisational hierarchy and are insecure or intimidated by the candidate’s credentials. The panel is not adequately invested in the recruitment and do not have the greater good of the organisation at the forefront. Often, the interview panel is cobbled together at the last moment


Considerations: The Recruiting Manager should consult with seniors and peers, and be thoughtful and deliberate in putting together the recruiting team, which includes the interview panel. Study the Cover Letter and CV thoroughly. Craft questions carefully to understand the candidate’s motivation, characteristics, potential and what value the candidate brings to the organisation. Structure the interview as a conversation of mutual benefit, both for the candidate and the organisation. The benefits and learning will then flow both ways and provide the candidate with the space and opportunity to present ideas and concepts. This will also help surface the extent to which the candidate wants the position, can contribute to the expectations or if the candidate is ‘just looking for a job’. A good interview is an investment in advertising the organisation. Even if the candidate is not selected s/he will have positive things to communicate about the organisation.


In conclusion, within the extremely fluid job market, where offers and counter-offers make it difficult to nail down qualified and competent candidates,

  • Even if the candidate does not strictly meet the position requirements, assess the potential of the candidate’s ability to ‘grow into the position’. This would require some investments in capability development, training and opportunity cost. But the payoff in taking this informed risk may result in a competent, tailor-made and loyal team member who will opt to stay on and grow with the organisation.

  • Even if the candidate’s resume has short comings, it is not a deal-breaker. Assess for characteristics and skills such as situational management, relationship building, ability to stretch and adapt, willingness to learn, and self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses.

  • Be deliberate and thoughtful about ‘outsourcing’ functions that might be better managed by ‘specialist’ services and retaining a core of staff who are invested, accountable and are effective team leaders. They will figure out how to provide the opportunities and space to unlock latent talent and potential capabilities of team members and deploy these to best effect.

  • Be a ‘learning organisation’ which is willing to take informed risk and manage uncertainty. Innovative ways of working are through ‘cross functional’ teams where team members are not restricted to the boundaries of their functional units or ‘silos’. They are actively encouraged to work across these barriers with members from other functional units towards delivering on agreed upon products. Often this will result in individuals being accountable to multiple managers and this needs to be understood and managed.

Illustration credit: The New Yorker Magazine, Cartoon by Leo Cullum

Disclaimer: The contents of this post do not represent the views of any organisation, agency, institution or individual. The contents are the opinion of the author of this post.


Colombo, Sri Lanka

November 2017

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