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How to Win the Talent War: A Layman’s Guide

How to Win the Talent War: A Layman’s Guide

For nearly a decade people have talked about the ‘Talent War’. With vast amounts of open jobs, and a decline in available/ skilled candidates to meet the needs, this battle has waged year over year. As common as these battles have been, what has also been as steady is thought leaders from our industry who have spoken adamantly about ways to ‘win’ it. From the wildly innovative to the rudimentarily practical, we’ve been told what to do, and how to do it. And yet here we are years later, and for most the battle wages on.

Unemployment rates are at all-time lows. Most all skilled labor is currently employed. Companies are spending more and more year over year on salaries, employment branding, recruiting, etc., all to gain an upper hand. Still they struggle to attract and retain top talent in this market. So what went wrong? Did we just not listen to the experts when they told us how to win? Did we not attempt to apply what they told us we should do? Were their ideas too fanciful for a practical purpose in today’s market, or were they just a flat out bust?

I’m all for innovation, and agree that ways to attract talent will continue to shift, and morph over the next few years, but at some point company leaders want to know what’s in their control today. What action can be taken immediately to make a tangible impact, and start winning some of the daily battles for their organizations in the Talent War?

The answers are surprisingly simple, but companies struggle to ever put them in play.

Plan of Attack

Few battles are ever won without a solid plan of attack. The same goes for the war on talent. So many companies begin recruiting without an accurate job description, a realistic idea of who the players involved are, and without any expectations of what the overall process will look like. This is the point where every company begins to lose the talent war. From the word go.

To truly attract talent you need to understand your game plan to approach the market, and have that plan firmly in place. Timing is certainly important, and while you should keep this plan as expeditious as possible, just having a repeatable plan, sticking to it, and sharing it with each candidate on the front end will help keep candidates engaged throughout. Remember that part of this plan must include service level agreements with your internal staff to identify who will communicate feedback to the candidates and when it is happening. The fear of the unknown will send an ‘A player’ off to another opportunity in a heartbeat.

A streamlined, frontend recruiting process will lead to a better overall candidate experience, and higher retention rates for your organization. If you set the stage for the recruitment experience, and live up to that experience, you’re already winning.


Every day, in the interest of time, companies post outdated descriptions they have used for years to attract talent in an ever changing market. If you think you don’t have the time to write a thorough, up-to-date job description before you start recruiting, think again. The lack of a solid foundation for your recruiting process is costing you time, money, and crushing your ability to attract and retain the right talent for the job.

We’ve all seen firsthand companies get weeks into the recruiting process, interview many candidates, and then decide they posted the wrong description and are interviewing the wrong people. When this happens you have cost yourself time, money, productivity, and you’ve undoubtedly hurt your talent brand. So take the time to author a great description up front that gives you a competitive advantage. There are hundreds of ideas of how to do this, but one of my favorite overviews on this is by Erica Swallow. Here she gives a practical overview of how to write an impactful job description.

Identify Your Allies

Often times in recruiting, we make our lives so much more difficult because we don’t lean on our partnerships like we should. From other members of your team, to critical business units, to HR, to 3rd party agencies, it is in your best interest to understand who all will be involved in the hiring process, and leverage those relationships as you go. As with any relationship, communication is key, and will impact your ability to work effectively with the necessary parties.

Ask yourself a few key questions as you begin your process. Who is going to be involved in the hiring and selection for this individual? Are they necessary to the success of the recruiting process, decision, and the role? Is each party all on the same page for the expectations of what you anticipate out of the right fit for the job? Finally, how can you leverage each other’s strengths during the process?

Keep the recruiting team down to only the vital team members who are truly necessary. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Don’t Overlook the Best Soldiers

“We need the perfect fit for this role”. Of course, but what does that perfect fit look like? Many hiring managers and recruiters have a tendency to screen people out, rather than screening people in. In a market with unemployment at 4.9% (as of September 2nd 2016), looking for 100% perfection is not only difficult, it is misguided. Even in markets where there are a plethora of available candidates how often do you really find 100%?

For any role that you are recruiting for, you have to decide what you can live with, and what you can live without. The best practice I recommend to my partners is the old ‘80/20 rule’. Look for 80% of what you must have from the position, and decide what 20% you can be flexible with. Screening people out only narrows your candidate funnels, and you will miss out on some amazing talent that could help your company grow.

Of One Common Goal

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says that the result of turnover due to a poor culture fit can cost a company between 50% – 60% of an employee’s annual salary. Many say that this number is even higher. Most would agree that hiring for your company’s culture is the most critical aspect in recruiting. A perfect match will help your company soar, while a mismatch can send your teams in a spiral.

Part of the ‘80/20 rule’ is understanding how to identify those critical needs from someone as they match to the company, and team culture. That should weigh heavily in the 80% of the must-haves for the role. This is truly the area where you need to be ready to screen people out.

As an organization, every member of your team should be able to articulate what the top 3 behaviors that are critical for success within your business. Once you have defined this culture it is imperative to your success in the recruiting process to outline it within the job descriptions, your website, and in any handouts or tools you utilize. All members of your team must have a solid grasp of the culture, and be able to speak to it throughout the hiring process. Misalignment here is not an option if you want to be successful.

Speed, Simplicity and Boldness

General George S. Patton is arguably one of the greatest leadership minds in history. Patton led under the mantra “Speed, Simplicity, and Boldness”. Many leaders in business have adopted this overtime and applied it to their companies. It rings as true to the Talent War, as it does in combat.

Speed is critical to winning any recruitment battle. In a market this tight, wasting days due to a lack of urgency will undoubtedly hurt your chances hiring the best available talent. This doesn’t mean your process has to be rushed. It just means that you have to have your plan defined, make it as expeditious as possible, and communicate it clearly to all who are involved.

Simplicity is as vital as Speed. Keep the number of parties, and complexity of the process as minimal as possible. Ensure key decision makers are involved, but don’t waste the candidate’s time, your time, and your company’s money on an overworked process that doesn’t turn out a real result.

Boldness is defined by as ‘not hesitating to break the rules of propriety’. Truer words couldn’t be spoken of the recruiting process. Why continue to do things the same way, just because that’s the way they’ve always been done? At some point if you want to win the war on talent, you have to simply put yourself out there, and try something different.

So a decade later, and the War on Talent wages on. Apply even a few of these techniques, and your company will start winning it today.

Unsure of how to start your Plan of Attack? Need some additional guidance on How to Win the Talent War? We’re happy to help. Contact IDR at

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