In a previous article we talked with BlueSky’s Jeff Stout and Jeff Lombardo about how to win in a candidate-driven market. This aptly named “War for Talent” represents a significant challenge for any organization looking to hire the best and the brightest. Recently we circled back with the two Jeffs and revisited the issue in hopes of getting some additional insights. We hit pay dirt with a unique perspective that might just put a spring in your step.

Last year we talked with you both about the on-going “War for Talent,” which doesn’t seem to have any end in sight. As we close in on the mid-point of 2016, do you have any new insights or advice for recruiters in this ultra-competitive market?

Yes, we do. And it comes from an unexpected source. Sometimes the best way to confront a hiring challenge is to stop thinking like a recruiter. At BlueSky, we offer a wide range of services. From Professional Search to Business Consulting and Technology Delivery. It’s a unique blend of services and as such, it gives us a unique perspective. Our work on the Business Consulting and Technology Delivery fronts usually involves highly technical, enterprise-level initiatives. It’s intense change management and it’s the perfect environment to use the Agile development methodology.

What is Agile and how does it apply to recruiters on the front lines in the “War on Talent?”

Agile is a development methodology that traces its roots back to the late 1970s. It was initially applied to the development of software, however, in the intervening years its application has broadened to include web and mobile development. Agile is all about managing change and technology delivery with self-organized, cross-functional teams that are highly nimble, focused on continuous improvement and empowered to adapt and respond quickly in a constantly changing environment. It was developed in response to the more traditional, “Waterfall” development methodology which proved to be slow, cumbersome and incapable of efficiently handling the inevitable changes and curveballs that come with any development cycle. That fast-paced, constantly evolving environment is a fairly accurate description of the environment that recruiters and hiring teams face when looking for top-shelf candidates.

Interesting perspective. So what you are saying is that most recruiting efforts use a process that’s similar to the Waterfall development methodology?

Exactly. It’s the traditional method that recruiters have used for decades. It’s highly linear and follows a consistent pattern with very little variation. An increase in head count is authorized by all the necessary stakeholders. Then a job description is written and reviewed up and down the approval chain. Candidates are sourced and interviewed by several stakeholders sequentially. All of these steps typically require the involvement of a half-dozen or more internal stakeholders and decisions are passed up and down the approval ladder. In a 6 to 9 month period a hiring firm might conduct 10 interviews with a single candidate at the end of that period. Very slow. And to add insult to injury, often times the headcount authorization evaporates during the intervening period. It’s a very ponderous process and it amounts to trying to predict the future which is impossible.

Makes Sense. So how can Agile be applied to the recruiting and hiring process?

Like any good initiative, it starts with the creation of a purposeful process. One that all hiring and recruiting stakeholders understand. This ensures that the process can be accurately articulated to candidates during the interviews.

Here are three more recommendations to make your recruiting and hiring process more Agile-like:

  1. Keep Job Descriptions Well-Crafted But Simple: Most job descriptions we see nowadays are too complicated with hiring managers throwing in everything but the kitchen sink in terms of qualifications, skills and “nice to haves.” Don’t do that! Instead, focus on the following:
    1. Keep the description to half a dozen desired skills and maybe half a dozen desired behavioral attributes to get it as a tight and targeted as possible.
    2. Create the description using a collaborative process to get everyone who is a decision-maker in the hiring process on the same page. Ideally, the write up of the description would kick off with a brainstorm between the decision-makers.
    3. Anyone who will be invited to interview candidates should be part of the creation of the job description.
  2. Source Only the Most Targeted Candidates: You know that old adage “Quality trumps quantity?” Well, it definitely applies here! Three high-quality, focused candidates are better than a dozen less qualified candidates with deficiencies you might be willing to overlook. Don’t settle and don’t delay the process by making time and using valuable resources to interview candidates that only rate a “maybe.” Identify the rock stars and bring only those in to the interview process.
  3. Streamline the Interview Process: The process may still need to start with a screening interview done by someone in the company with mastery of the subject matter related to the role for which they’re hiring. The screening call could in fact be conducted by multiple people. But the overarching goal is to keep it quick and efficient. As you move deeper into the interview process keep the following pointers in mind:
    1. Where possible, shorten the cycle by eliminating a long series of 1:1 interviews in favor of one or two interviews conducted by teams.
    2. Plan a better interview approach. Allocate two hours of time for the interview team. Dedicate 1.5 hours to the actual interview and 30 minutes for the team to have an internal, follow-up discussion about the candidate they just interviewed. This ensures the internal discussion occurs when the interview and candidate are fresh in the minds of the interviewers. For bonus points, include an HR representative in the internal discussion immediately following the interview.
    3. Conclude the internal debrief with a group decision on the candidate: Go (present offer), Maybe (follow ups needed) or No Go (decline the candidate). This is critical in terms of ensuring that high-quality candidates aren’t lost due to delays in decision-making.

That’s great advice with practical recommendations on how to put some Agile-style thinking into the hiring process. What do you see as the potential benefits of adopting this approach?

The great thing about taking this approach is that the positive results are highly visible and easy to recognize. Expect to see:

  • A significant time savings for everyone involved in the recruiting and hiring process
  • A dramatic improvement in the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of the process overall
  • A marked reduction in the time it takes to go from interview to offer—this radically improves the organization’s ability to land the best candidates
  • Last but not least, it portrays the business as a collaborative, decisive, purposeful, thoughtful and action-oriented team—the exact qualities you want in the people you work with

The Bottom Line

The inspiration for improving your hiring and recruiting process can sometimes come from an approach that is completely outside the box. The Agile development methodology is one such approach that has much to offer in terms of mobilizing your organization to win the “War for Talent.” We hope that the insights provided by Jeff Stout and Jeff Lombardo got you thinking about how to make your own process more nimble and effective.

From all of us at BlueSky, we wish you luck out there on the front lines!