Talent Perspectives

Finding talent in a flood of resumes

Ross Statham, Editor, www.talentperspectives.org

October 14, 2019


    Need talent?  In this article, I am first going to try to talk you out of doing it yourself, for reasons that others have already discovered (and that I will outline).  But if you do wish to continue to do a search on your own and are looking for insights, read on.



    The firm I founded and lead (Dogwood) provides talent across a wide range of industries (including the Fortune 10), non-profits and even government.  Typically we are called in by those who have had previous experience with trying to do their own talent search and found it was much more efficient to use us, or by those who tried to do their own search but realized that it was more than they could effectively take on.

   First, let's discuss the three biggest reasons that organizations use outside search firms:

  • The best talent rarely responds to job openings

  • Your H/R department may be not equipped to help with this

  • Not enough hours in the workday


Challenge #1: The best talent rarely responds to job openings

    You're probably heard it before, and it's true.  The top talent is careful and circumspect as to making career moves.  The best talent rarely goes looking for new opportunities-- but they will listen when the right opportunity presents itself.

    Many years ago this happened to me.  I received one of those calls out of the blue, which turned into a great new job well suited to my own talents in the tech field.  I loved my new job and never looked back. 

    Your best talent will usually need to be recruited (reached out to) by someone outside your organization.  Executive recruiters use their own databases, can dig and find the right talent and pitch your organization's strengths to the very best prospective talent.


Challenge #2: Your H/R Department may not be fully equipped to help

    My general observation is that most HR departments may not be fully equipped to find talent, because it's not their primary responsibility.  Even at the company I lead (a talent acquisition company, no less), our own HR folks are concerned with administering to employees, ensuring that benefits are being properly managed, paperwork is up to date, regulatory compliance is being fully met and in dealing with the myriad of payroll, benefits, vendor, personnel and other HR issues that arise every day.

    Most HR departments have stated goals to include talent acquisition in their responsibilities, but even the best HR departments have difficulty in doing so.  However, my opinion is that most do an excellent job of supporting the process once candidates are identified and interviewed.


Challenge #3: Not enough hours in the workday

   If you're like most people, you are constantly adjusting your daily priorities in order to get things done on time and under budget.

   Do you have time for this?  Probably not.  Our past experience has shown that those searching for talent need to allocate between 1-3 hours per day per job opening to pore through resumes, screen out those who are completely unqualified, second screen those who may be of interest, conduct basic phone screens and perform some basic information searches on potential candidates.


Free up your time by using an outside expert

    By now you are learning why successful executives use outside executive search firms.

    First, find someone who already understands your industry (so you don't have to educate them) and who already knows where some of the best talent can be found.  Make sure they're reputable, well established and have a track record of success.  (Yes, it's ok to ask for references!)  Ideally, they're large enough to be well established, but not so large that your needs can get lost in the shuffle. 

    You can use a contingency based firm (where you only pay for success), or use a retained search firm, where you pay a fee (in advance) and they exclusively represent you to candidates.  Either way works, but I generally recommend you select an experienced contingency based firm that you're comfortable with and give them an exclusive for 30 days.  That way they're focused on you, you have a definite time frame in front of them, and you're only paying for results.  If they don't work out, you can add someone else to the mix as needed without additional cost.


Allocating time to your expert

    One of the best executive recruiters on our team tells his new clients that he's their sharpshooter, and they're his spotter (to tell him how he's doing with the people he sends them, or in military terms, to tell him where his shots are falling).  Because the hiring manager he's working with has a need for specific talent, they form a "partnership" for a relatively short time while he finds, filters, screens and interviews talent for the client.  Keep that in mind-- these outside experts need your input for this to work in a timely manner.

    During your initial call (which should only take about 15 minutes), tell them what you're looking for, what you're trying to accomplish and details about the job as you see it.  Perhaps refer them to a subordinate for additional details and discuss compensation and benefits.  Good executive recruiters know what kind of questions to ask and will guide you through areas you may not have even thought about.

    Once you've started the process, turn them loose and let them do their jobs.  You should start to see real results within two to five business days, depending upon the complexity of your needs.  But remember-- they need you to communicate where their shots are falling.  Just five minutes per day allocated to your executive recruiter during the search can yield stellar results.


The basics of the posting and filtration process:

    Still want to tackle this yourself?  Here are some suggestions for how to proceed:

  • If you do your own posting, allow two or more hours per day (minimum) for 2-3 weeks.

  • Recognize that this won't help you find the top talent.  They rarely respond to job postings.

  • Determine the salary range, daily duties, and a brief overview of desired qualifications.

  • Ask for help.  This could be from your HR department, from subordinates, or from others on your team.  They could help you write a good job description, help you better communicate with candidates and help you to find and select better talent.

  • Setup someone you trust (HR, a member of your team or subordinate) to do some of the heavy resume filtering before handing them over to you.

  • Post your job opening.  But as noted above, don't have the resumes come to your work email (which can be overwhelming), have them go elsewhere for filtration. 

  • As the resumes arrive to you, toss out those who obviously won't make your cut.  Those who are a "maybe" can be sent a (form email) note thanking them for their interest, and spelling out some details of what you are looking for and painting a realistic picture of the job.  Many people can be filtered out this way, saving you additional looking.

  • If you need to perform a software "scan" for key words again (perhaps using a Boolean search), now's probably a good time to do so.  This is particularly helpful with technical positions, when you're looking for details of what they've done and when.

  • At this point you're starting to see where some resumes are starting to meet your needs by putting eyeballs on the ones that get your attention.  Save these; if you think it appropriate, you can put their names on a spreadsheet (such as Google Sheets) with notes.

  • As your eyeballs scan resumes, look at their last three jobs.  How long were they there?  What did they accomplish?  What were their daily duties?

  • If they continue to hold your interest, drill down from "scanning" to reading.  Look for obvious negative and positives.  Red flags may include employment gaps, evidence of decreasing responsibility, a career that has flattened or is moving in the wrong direction, short-term employment at several jobs, and multiple shifts in their career path.

  • Continue to review your selected resumes against your criteria and each other.

  • Found someone you like?  Look them up on LinkedIn and Google them and see what you can learn about them.

  • Telephone screen potential candidates.

  • Bring in strong candidates for a face to face.

    Again, you need to ask yourself if you really have the time.  If so, then have at it!  But if you're like most busy executives, using an experienced outside expert will tremendously shortcut the process which will save both time and money.  Most importantly, it will help you find those harder to find talented people who rarely respond to job openings.


Final thoughts:

  • The best talent rarely responds to ads or postings. 

  • Be willing to think outside the box.

  • Read between the lines on resumes with a skeptical eye.

  • Be open to fresh ideas from an experienced outside expert.

  • Team with an experienced outside expert who knows your industry and who their own database of talent.  Five minutes per day can yield stellar results.

  • Once they are starting to line up interviews for you, have them do as much of the heavy lifting as possible, including phone screens, pre-interviews, interview prep and after the interview, do the reference checks and work with your HR department.  This will free you up to take care of the thousand other things that need to be done in the course of your day.



If you found this article to be helpful, please let us know, and share with others. All the best!

Ross Statham, Editor


Talent Perspectives: Insights for Busy Professions is a series of brief articles that help build winning teams, provide insight on talent and provide organizational development ideas. 

The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are 2019 Dogwood Services Inc.


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