December 11, 2017
Why Are Some Jobs Open Forever And What Can We Do About It?

Company A has a job that needs to be filled. After the opening becomes available, one month passes. Then another month and another. Before long, it’s well over six months, which begs the question: Why isn't this job getting filled?

On the surface of it, it would look like the company can’t find a qualified candidate. However, my take is that it's probably something else.

As certain industries – financial trading, for example – have been challenged by various business conditions, some companies are saying, "OK, we’ve got some serious work to do. We can’t just bring aboard a solid candidate to fill a role. We need somebody who will make a difference and help us compete extraordinarily better."

Welcome to a whole new ballgame. Suddenly, someone meeting the criteria of being very well competent in their skill set may actually be insufficient. That’s because a variety of companies are seeking the kind of candidate will give their business a competitive edge. That's a much higher standard versus matching talent to a position. In this kind of situation, it's often understood that companies will look for a long time because bringing in someone who can’t enhance their competitive position just won't do them any good. Patience comes to those who wait and these companies are frequently willing to do so.

This might explain why some of these coveted positions seem to be open for what seems like, well, forever.

The rationale reminds me of how a music company decides whether they’re going to sign an artist or not: Do they need to sign new artists? Of course. But the real question for them during an evaluation period is: “If we sign this artist, is he or she going to put our label on the map as a bonafide superstar? Are they going to have one hit after another, win a bundle of Grammy awards, sell millions upon millions of albums and have a die-hard loyal fan base? Is this the next Taylor Swift, Beyonce, etc.?”

They’re looking at the artist they sign and evaluating their impact on a generation over the next decade or more. If they’re a “one hit wonder” at best, will signing that artist do the record label any good? Questionable.

In another example, look at any Olympic team in track and field, swimming, gymnastics, etc. Are these slots to be “permanently” filled? No. All you have to do as an athlete is compete at a higher level than a person already on the team and you’ll knock them off the team.

It’s why a hiring manager can view their team through a lens we refer to as “Evergreen”: Their current team has a strong skill set for the time being but if and when they find a candidate who is even stronger, anything is possible and nothing is set in stone.

Another reason jobs go unfilled forever? Too narrow of a focus.

Picture a manager who has a very specific problem they need solved right now. With that specificity in mind, they look for the perfect candidate who has a very particular skill set to solve that very particular challenge.

You can see where this is headed, can’t you?

It’s great if it works out, but all too often, the definition of the candidate is so narrow that the list of potential candidates who might be an ideal fit also narrows down dramatically.

Along these same lines, certain companies insist on using a test to effectively identify the very best candidate possible. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, if only a very finite number of people can legitimately take that test – the candidate pool can get awfully limited in a hurry and yes, perhaps too limited.

For example, let’s say that a company requires that all candidates for a particular role be required to take a test but they insist that only five percent of all candidates ultimately have access to the test.

One of the primary skills of the position, in a given metropolitan area, is held by 10,000 people. Seems like a large number, doesn’t it?

However, we need to narrow the list down to a particular industry, which might take our once large pool of 10,000 people down to 1,000.

Here’s where the pool can become quite tiny: If the company insists that only five percent of candidates be able to take the test, 1,000 candidates remaining will dwindle down to no more than 50 candidates total.

50 candidates would still appear to be a lot - but wait. We’ve only identified these 50 people by virtue of them having a matching skill set. We still don’t know if they’re interested in the position, if they’re available for an interview or if they are affordable based on salary!

Consequently, the hiring manager could be looking at a situation where that job could go unfilled for a while because the candidate pool is too small. They may have all the urgency in the world to fill a job, but it’s tough to fill a job when the selection criteria of candidates is already so narrow and the expectation of them making a long-term positive contribution is already so great.

It’s a combination that can bring a lot of uncertainty.

Even doing well on the test is no “sure thing.” In fact, we were recently aiming to place a candidate and the initial signs were very positive. The candidate excelled on technical test portion of the company’s hiring process but it was during the interview that there were issues because the answers he gave weren’t quite to the company’s satisfaction.

Now, perhaps the interviewer had a very detailed and systematic approach to asking questions in that he wanted a precise answer to address each question rather than an answer that remotely veered off course a bit. In that type of situation, some candidates can have difficulty even though, at the same time, they may perform well during a test that requires them to solve problems.

On the positive side, although it’s becoming even more challenging to fill certain technology jobs, what that also tells me is that technology jobs are becoming even more valuable to an organization. It’s a changing world in which the companies that are hiring tend to emphasize the kind of technology that is less than five years old.

Candidates may find themselves with a higher bar to clear these days, but there’s good news in that development too – regardless of whether a person has five years of experience or 25 years of experience, candidates who are driven to get ahead and heavily invest the time in training for the interview process (including tests) can excel. No longer can a candidate purely rely on what they already know. Those who push themselves to be proficient in new technologies while elevating their interviewing skills for technical jobs may be at the top of what is becoming an increasingly narrow list.

Jobs can be open for an infinite period of time in some cases, but make no mistake – those conditions can change. At Roy Talman & Associates, we understand the balance that must occur between being highly selective and highly attractive. If a company is selective and the candidate pool is tiny, that business will have a difficult time finding the diamond-in-the-rough talent they’re seeking. So we work closely with those businesses to ensure their focus isn’t so narrow that it limits their opportunities to identify a promising talent.

Meanwhile, we also work with candidates to steer them in the proper direction as they strive to stand out in an increasingly competitive crowd. When you have over 30 years of recruiting experience as we do, even the most narrow windows of opportunity can open up quite a bit more.