Strategic Recruitment: Why Hiring “Just Anyone” Isn’t Enough


Deirdre Pickerell and Dr. Roberta Neault

It is no surprise that there is a labour supply/demand imbalance. It is estimated that there will be 913,000 job openings between 2003 and 2015. Currently, there are nearly 680,000 students in BC schools (K-12). If each of those students accepted jobs within BC, between now and 2015, some before they even graduate, only 74% of the upcoming job openings could be filled (see provincial government report).

Given this imbalance, one of the biggest challenges facing employers is finding just anyone to fill vacant positions. Yet, with the high costs of recruiting, integrating, and training new hires, offering just anyone a job clearly isn’t the answer.

Looking beyond simply filling vacant positions, employers need to consider how they are going to attract (become an employer/industry “of choice”), select (ensure you have hired the right candidate), retain (employee “poaching” is a reality in today’s economy), and engage (retaining unproductive employees doesn’t make sense) their employees. This isn’t a surprise to anyone – but making it happen isn’t as easy as it sounds.


Strategic Solutions
Today’s employers/industries are reaching out to under-represented groups within the labour market. This might include targeting non-traditional workers (e.g., women in the trades) or going beyond our borders (e.g., foreign trained workers). Employers are also looking to improve their image (e.g., become an employer “of choice”) and use multiple mediums to get the message out (e.g., signs on trucks/windows, TV/print media).

The “Inconvenient Truth”
The Oscar winning, Al Gore documentary on climate-change, The Inconvenient Truth, provides a good framework for the challenges employers face (

With a shortage of people to fill positions, employers are all trying to tap into the same group. In a global economy, BC isn’t the only province and Canada isn’t the only country looking to fill labour shortages by attracting foreign trained workers. We are competing with almost every other G8 country in the world. However, upon choosing Canada among their other options, skilled immigrants continue to struggle gaining recognition of their foreign credentials and work experience.

Have you considered that there may be a reason that underrepresented people are underrepresented within the labour market? How ready is your organization/industry to accommodate or make cultural shifts to attract and retain individuals who are not currently attractive to (or attracted to) your hiring teams?

An “image” can’t be just smoke and mirrors. Today’s employers need to demonstrate a true commitment to improving working conditions, providing opportunities for growth, supporting career aspirations, and understanding the challenges of balancing work and other responsibilities (e.g., caring for aging parents). Employees who join an organization based on perceived benefits will quickly leave, and have no problem finding other employment, if they discover that those benefits are not “real.” Be creative…once a fair wage has been negotiated, it isn’t money that will keep employees. Consider other benefits that won’t “break the bank,” but that give employees what they need (e.g., better shifts, telecommuting, family leave).


Strategic Solutions
Once a hiring pool has been identified employers still need to select the best candidate(s) to fill vacant positions. Hiring and training someone who, ultimately, isn’t a good fit is simply not a sustainable strategy. No matter the position, there are direct costs for hiring and training – employers simply can’t afford to create a revolving door of workers. Strategic selection practices include pre-employment testing (e.g., skills, personality, screening questionnaires), targeted interviews, verification (e.g., credentials, reference checks), and “try before you buy” approaches (e.g., hiring temporary workers referred via agencies, internships, coop or practicum placements).

The “Inconvenient Truth”
There are potential pitfalls to every selection strategy. Unfortunately, many of today’s selection strategies aren’t as useful as one might think – or hope. When using “tests,” it is important to note that one size doesn’t fit all – a test that works for an entry-level sales position is unlikely to also work for a vacant management position. One test only gives one “snapshot” of a particular candidate and might not provide enough information (or the right kind of information) to allow an employer to make an informed decision. Lastly, an unfortunate reality in today’s tests is “slick vs. substantial.” Some glitzy, high-tech tests look good at first glance and, in reviewing supporting material provided by the publisher or distributor, seem to be “the answer” to the question of selection. However, some of these tests wouldn’t stand up under proper scrutiny.

Targeted interviews are popular and can help in the decision making process. However, employers often hire in their own image or hire the person who seemed the most “likable” – this approach can replicate blind spots in a team. And, although it is widely believed that past performance is the best predictor of future success, the reality is that’s not always the case.

Just like any other members of your team, practicum/co-op students and temporary workers need to be vetted, trained, and supervised. However, with no firm promise of ongoing employment, they may not make the same level of commitment to an organization as a new permanent hire would and could leave at a moment’s notice should they get a better or “real” offer. Though the “try before you buy” concept can be incredibly successful, it can mean a revolving door of temporary workers resulting in an ongoing struggle to build high-performing teams, plan for expansion, or engage in effective succession planning.


Strategic Solutions
Current stats can be quite frightening: according to the semi-annual Employee Engagement Index in Gallup Management Journal, only 29% of employees are actively engaged in their jobs, leaving 54% not-engaged, and 17% actively disengaged! (See additional information at

Most employers “get” that it isn’t enough to simply retain their employees; many leadership teams have recently turned their focus to ensuring their employees are actively engaged in their work. Engagement teams are creating opportunities for advancement, learning, and skill development. They are customizing the “perks,” looking at competitive compensation, and negotiating better benefits.

The “Inconvenient Truth”
There is a competitive market for “stars” – keeping “the keepers” takes more than creative compensation. It is easy to keep the others (those at risk of “presenteeism” – showing up but accomplishing little) and a “one size fits all” engagement strategy can create an environment of resentment. Employees are left wondering, “Why do the low performers get the same benefits as the high performers?”

The reality is that, although a fair compensation package may contribute to employee retention, good wages alone won’t engage them. It isn’t all about money – it is all about relationships! Employees quit managers, not jobs – and quit jobs, not organizations. An engaged, committed, and productive workforce may require a shift in the corporate culture. Unfortunately, culture shifts don’t happen over night.

In times of low unemployment; where there simply aren’t enough people to fill vacancies, it is hard to imagine laying off staff. However, employers must be willing to let go and support the gracious exits of those employees (or even managers) who are negatively impacting the team or organization as a whole. No engagement strategy will be successful if unhappy, perhaps toxic, employees are allowed to negatively impact the organization as a whole.

Recruitment, retention, and employee engagement are big issues for most employers –small or large – in our current economy. We are no longer facing “impending” skill shortages; skill shortages are all around us – right here, right now! Job ads range from glitzy billboards to hand-written signs on neon poster board – a spirit of desperation is almost palpable.

However, in times like these, hiring “just anyone” is not the solution – that’s the inconvenient truth! Rather, strategic and intentional recruitment, selection, and employee engagement initiatives are more important than ever. As HR professionals, your organizations are counting on you – moving forward, what are you going to do to ensure that your organization is hiring the right people for the right job at the right time and keeping them engaged and productive once they join your team?

About the Authors:
Deirdre Pickerell, MEd, CHRP, GCDF has close to fifteen years experience as an educator, manager, and career management professional. With a background in both career development and human resources management, Deirdre is working to create a stronger bridge between the career management and HR sectors. Deirdre was recently honoured with a 2006 Award of Excellence; presented by the BC Human Resources Management Association.

Dr. Roberta Neault, RRP, CCC, has almost three decades of professional experience in career counselling, corporate consulting, adult education, and entrepreneurial endeavours. Roberta has developed corporate training programs and Master’s level courses for universities throughout Canada and in the US. Recipient of the 2002 Stu Conger Award for Leadership in Career Counselling and Career Development in Canada, Roberta was, in 2006, a Women of Distinction Award nominee in the category of Business and the Professions.

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