February 22, 2007   view past issues

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Feature: WEDDLE’s Research Factoid

WEDDLE’s continuously conducts both primary and secondary research on Best Practices in employment excellence and HR leadership. Among the documents we recently reviewed was a 2006 Towers Perrin survey conducted among HR executives at 250 large and midsized North American organizations. Towers Perrin asked the executives a very simple question: What is talent?.

The data below indicate the percentage of respondents that selected a specific workforce group as talent.

  • 86% identified senior leaders
  • 82% identified employees with leadership potential
  • 76% identified key contributors/technical experts
  • 48% identified entry level employees with leadership potential.
  • The groups are, by no means, exhaustive or even meaningfully structured, but they do provide an interesting perspective on our work as recruiters.

    What the Findings Mean

    If you put 100 HR professionals in a room and ask them to identify the key challenges facing their employers, virtually all of them would mention the acquisition and retention of talent. Getting them to agree on what they are talking about, however, would apparently be an equally formidable challenge.

  • We’ve been saying we’re in a War for Talent for at least a decade now, and still, there’s no general agreement on the definition of victory. Talent is one of those terms everyone uses, but few subject to critical scrutiny. For a recruiting function to perform at its peak, however, it must take the time to ensure there is genuine understanding of and complete agreement on what the term means among both its staff and the hiring managers they serve. To put it another way, you can’t devise effective recruiting strategies until you know who it is you’re trying to recruit.
  • No less important, it would seem that we have, consciously or unconsciously, set limitations on our search for talent.

  • While I would agree that individuals who demonstrate leadership are, indeed, talent, I think such individuals work at all levels in an organization (not just at senior or entry levels). In fact, I believe the most successful organizations are those with the greatest number of employees who see themselves as leaders and act on that vision every day, whether they work in the corner office, among staff cubicles or out on the shop floor.
  • I’m astonished that one-in-four of our colleagues don’t consider “key contributors” to be talent. They may not be finalists on American Idol, but these individuals clearly provide an extraordinary return on what their employers pay them. They deliver expertise that is critical to an organization, they perform at superior levels on-the-job, or both. If that isn’t talent, I can’t imagine what is.
  • Finally, the different categories of talent identified above suggest that talent is a quality that is limited to a subset of workers. It is, as one publication opined, “…the small, but critical segment of the workforce that is capable of driving growth and profitability.” In the Towers Perrin survey, HR executives defined talent as a group that makes up no more than 15% of the workforce. This notion is probably based on the fact that talented individuals are rare and very hard to find. Scarcity, however, doesn’t mean that we have no choice but to accept a limitation on the talent we recruit. In professional sports, for example, consistent champions don’t limit their search for All Stars to a couple of key players; they try to hire the best players they can at every position they have. Said another way, the most successful recruiting teams are those that set out to capture an unfair share of the rare talent their employers need to succeed. Any other objective, it seems to me, is selling our employers and ourselves short.

    Please Note: As a part of our ongoing research, WEDDLE’s has been surveying both job seekers and recruiters on the Web since 1996. We’ve amassed hundreds of thousands of data elements probing:

  • what they do and what they don’t do,
  • what they like and what they don’t like,
  • and most importantly,

  • what they think works best.
  • To add your insights and opinions to our research, please visit the Polling Station at the WEDDLE’s Web-site.

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    Section Two: For Your Consideration

    Peter Weddle has been writing columns for his own newsletter and for the Interactive Edition of The Wall Street Journal since 1999. The following column has been drawn from that work and updated for 2007. For a complete collection of Peter’s writing, please see our book Postcards From Space.

    The C Strategy

    Stripped of its embellishments, recruitment is an exercise in persuasion. Its purpose is to sell an employer to an extraordinary candidate. Not any candidate, not an average candidate, but a person who is among the best in their profession, craft or trade. Why? Because “A” level performers are much more productive than their mediocre peers. According to the McKinsey & Company report called The War for Talent, they provide a 50-100% performance premium to their employers, adding significantly to sales booked, customer satisfaction, quality of output and internal morale. In other words, selling “A” level performers on the value proposition of your organization as an employer is the key to winning … not only the War for Talent, but the War for a Big Bottom Line in today’s hyper-competitive markets.

    Which begs the question: how do we sell to “A” level performers? In my view, it takes an understanding of two key factors:

  • First, we have to recognize that the best and brightest have choices. They are highly valued by their current employer and sought out by other organizations all of the time. To be successful, therefore, we have to “out-sell” both. We have to develop and communicate a value proposition that is so persuasive it compels top talent to buy into our employer, even in the face of all of that other competition.
  • Second, we have to recognize that consumers, but especially fickle consumers (and that’s precisely what top talent is), want a lot of detailed information about the product they are being asked to buy. And increasingly, they are turning to the Internet to find it. According to David Leonhardt of The New York Times, as people get closer to a buying decision, they switch from looking at ads on television and in magazines to conducting research online. Said another way, they move from general, emotional appeals to specific, objective information about a product’s features and benefits.
  • What do these two factors mean for us? If we want to increase our yield of high caliber talent, we have to “out-sell” the competition with facts presented online. Where and how should we do that? I recommend an approach I call the C strategy. That’s right. Use “Cs” to get “As.” Here’s what it involves:

    Compelling job postings. “A” level candidates are not going to be persuaded by the electronic equivalent of a three-line classified ad or by the bureaucratic language of a position description. To sell the best talent, our job postings have to act like “electronic sales brochures” and include enough information to (a) answer candidate questions before they ask them and (b) convince them to do what they don’t want to do: change (from their employer to yours). Luckily, the average commercial recruitment site will permit you to post up to 1,400 words in a job ad; that’s the equivalent of two typed pages of text. Use every word.

    Comprehensive career sites. “A” level candidates don’t visit a career site to look at jobs, they visit it to look at the employer-its culture, values, mission and career advancement opportunity. In short, they want to know whether they’ll fit in and move up in their profession, craft or trade. They’ll look at the job postings, but only if they first find the employer’s value proposition appealing. To optimize the impact of that message, (a) tailor it to the specific cohorts of the workforce that you are trying to recruit and (b) use their vocabulary, not internal corporate jargon or the language of formal business communications. Remember, your career site isn’t a memo to the boss; it’s a sales pitch to some pretty tough customers.

    Conversation. “A” level candidates hate soliloquies. They much prefer dialogues. To recruit them, therefore, we must supplement the “talking at them” we do in our job postings and on our career sites with some listening and “talking with them.” For example, you might (a) launch a blog on your corporate career site where you can offer a personal perspective on the culture and potential of your employer and respond to candidate comments and questions and/or (b) e-network with prospects by participating in online discussion boards and forums on sites that cater to your target demographic (e.g., commercial career portals, professional associations, alumni organizations, affinity groups).

    Continuity. “A” level candidates want to be wooed. They want an employer to invest in developing a relationship with them, to care enough about recruiting them to spend the time and effort they need to build familiarity with and trust in your organization. To do that, you can (a) invite those who read your job postings to opt-in to a periodic e-mail communication that both provides additional information about your employer and offers tips and insights to help them advance their career and (b) promote your organization’s employment brand-its special attributes for “A” level performers-where the candidates you want to hire hang out online.

    Corrected commentary. American consumers (to include “A” level candidates) do not judge a product (whether it’s a new car or a new employer) based solely on their own observations of its merits. Instead, they are strongly influenced by the opinions of others around them. As a case in point, consider the U.S. automobile industry. Their product is now arguably as good as that produced by foreign manufacturers, but in many cases, our neighbors don’t think much of it. Your friends next door will probably gasp when a new BMW pulls into the driveway, but they’re likely to have a very different reaction when you pull up in a Pontiac. And that reality influences what consumers ultimately buy and what they don’t. It’s imperative, therefore, that employers do whatever they can to ensure accuracy in the opinions expressed about them online. The goal is not to get into a debate, but rather, to offer the employer’s side of the story whenever inaccurate or negative comments are posted online about the employer on blogs and at sites such as’s Electronic Watercooler.

    Today, out-selling the competition for “A” level performers is a core competency of business success. That’s not hyperbole; it’s reality. It is the only way we recruiters can win the War for the Best Talent, and our victory is the only way our employers can win the War for a Big Bottom Line.

    Thanks for reading,


    P.S. Remember what you learned in kindergarten: It’s nice to share. Don’t keep WEDDLE’s to yourself. If you like our newsletter, please tell your friends and colleagues about it. They’ll appreciate your thinking of them. And, we will too!

    Section 3: News You Can Use

    Jobster announced that it is now offering free unlimited job posting and candidate matching for employers. The only exclusions are for:

  • Barter or volunteer positions,
  • Deferred pay positions, and
  • Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) jobs or positions that require a monetary investment by the jobseeker.
  • The Jobster service enables you to post a description of your opening(s) and tag select skills as keywords that the Jobster system will then use to pinpoint matching candidates.

    The U.S. Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs posted updated FAQs on its Web-site. Among the key points, the agency now specifically approves search protocols that can limit the number of potential candidates on which an organization must store data. Historically, Federal contract employers have always had to store the resume of and collect EEO/AA data on every applicant who submits a paper resume. On the Internet, the requirement is actually less rigorous, because employers need only store the resume of and collect data on qualified applicants. That’s easier said than done, however. You can assess a lot of prospects before you find a legitimate candidate, especially in the large resume databases of job boards. How can you protect yourself from having the agency consider some or all of those prospects qualified? Remove them from the zone of consideration. Increase the specificity of the search criteria in the first iteration of your search, using keywords to specify all of the required qualifications a person must have in order to be considered for the position. Yes, I realize that restricts your ability to apply judgment in the process, but it also protects you from having to store data on candidates in which you ultimately have no interest. Even better, it also ensures that the judgment you do apply is focused on differentiating between qualified applicants. That’s the most effective use of your talent.

    WEDDLE’s recently received the following note from a reader: “I just bought your new edition of WEDDLE’s Guide to Employment Sites (I buy the new one each time it comes out). As always, you’ve done a great job helping your readers make smart choices among job boards. Keep up the good work!” We at WEDDLE’s cherish these notes as we realize what they represent-the willingness of someone to take time out from their busy day to write and tell us that they appreciate our work. It doesn’t get any better than that! We just wish more people knew about what we’re doing, so at the risk of overstepping, we’d like to ask a favor: If you like our books, please tell others … as well as us. How? By writing a “review” at We’d certainly appreciate it, and we think those who read your comments would too.

    Please Support Our Sponsor: RES

    This issue of WEDDLE’s newsletter is brought to you through the generous support of RES.

    Request Your Complimentary Staffing Scorecard

    Do you have a World Class Staffing Function?

    There are five (5) cornerstones of Human Resources and Staffing that when fully optimized will create a world class staffing organization.

    RES has developed a unique scorecard that will enable you to see where your strengths and areas of opportunities exist.

    By analyzing the results from this scorecard, you will see what areas your company performs well and where initial focus is needed to drive the organization towards becoming world class.

    To request your complimentary staffing scorecard, click on RES.