Rethinking Your Talent Sourcing Strategy

Acquiring and retaining talent has become extremely difficult. Here are some novel approaches to finding the talent you need to execute your technology vision.
June 9, 2022
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One of the biggest challenges for leaders of all stripes is finding talent. An unprecedented combination of people leaving the workforce, record job changes, and inflationary salaries has made it hard to find, let alone hire, the right people.

However, the old quip that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result” often applies to tech leaders and their partners in HR. Recruiting full-time talent using the tools and incentives that didn’t work last month results in renewing the same old job postings and trying the same old channels, perhaps with a minor bump in the pay package.

Rather than waiting and hoping that the talent market will normalize, if that’s even possible, consider rethinking how and where you acquire your tech talent. Here are a few ideas for rethinking your talent strategy.

Rent a Capability versus an Individual

Engaging outside talent in the form of consultants or “technicians for hire” is nothing new to most tech leaders. However, these resources are usually engaged in one of two relationships. The first is hiring a temporary staff member, with the expectation that the individual will work for your organization on a full-time basis until the role is no longer needed.

Engaging an individual in this capacity can fill a gap on your team but is subject to similar constraints as a full-time hire. These “hired guns” are in equally short supply, and while they don’t require many of the HR onboarding processes of a full-time employee, they do require the same level of vetting and ramp up as an external hire.

The second approach most companies use to engage outside consulting is hiring a team for a well-defined project. This project might be a software development effort or training and implementing a new methodology or tool. The key is to focus on a (hopefully) well-defined outcome, and the team disbands once that’s been delivered.

Consider adding a third approach: renting a capability. Companies like BairesDev can provide entire teams that deliver a capability rather than a particular number of bodies. For example, if you’re building a new customer-facing app, understanding the skills required, and hiring the right individuals to fill those skill gaps can take weeks or even months. Renting the capability puts the burden of selecting individuals, developing leadership relationships, and onboarding onto your partner.

Academic Partnerships

Academic institutions, ranging from local universities to technical colleges, have a problem aligned with yours: they are often searching for ways to get job experience for their students. You may even find schools with adult education programs with experienced workers looking for a career change who already have experience with customer service, meeting management, and the dozens of other skills we take for granted.

However, filling your talent gaps with students isn’t as simple as ringing up a local university and waiting for dozens of competent and low-cost individuals to show up the next day. You’ll need to think through a strategy tailored to the type of students you’re engaging.

For undergraduates, channeling a great deal of energy and enthusiasm paired with limited work experience and technical knowledge will be the primary challenge. For adults or graduates, you may need to carefully design a project or discrete outcome that they’ll “own” during their tenure.

You’ll also likely need to deal with scheduling complexities and the pluses and minuses that come with someone entering a field for the first time. Done well, engaging students and fostering academic partnerships can be highly rewarding and provide low-cost talent. Done poorly, a single “class” of students can sour a relationship with academia that takes years to repair.

Creative Working Arrangements

The fact that many workers simply left the workforce during the pandemic is well-known. Yet, few companies have effectively engaged this population of experienced individuals that may no longer want a conventional full-time job.

Whether focused on child or elder care or simply looking for a life that’s less oriented towards work, nearly 2.5M more people left the workforce during the pandemic than if pre-pandemic trends had continued, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. While there are varying theories on whether these individuals will return to full-time work, why not offer ways to engage that talent?

With the rise of remote working and flexible workplace tools, it’s likely that you can easily access these workers wherever they reside without worrying about logistical complexities like issuing and tracking devices.

Like working with academia, engaging this population requires some forethought, especially since these people have explicitly opted out of full-time work. Resist the temptation to set schedules, demand time tracking, or expect attendance at every meeting. Instead, seek projects or routine activities that are outcome-oriented and have minimal dependencies on scheduled activities.

There are likely dozens of projects and routine activities that could be passed to someone with an outcome and due date and left to complete on their schedule. If your company has worked with offshore firms in distant time zones or specialist consulting firms, you likely have some experience packaging work and “throwing it over the wall” to be completed without real-time interaction. Apply this same thinking, combined with payment for the completion of discrete projects, and you’ll create a “win-win” that allows you to access high-quality resources with minimal overhead.

You may already have several people who left your team without selecting a new job. Resist the temptation to ask if they want to come back “part-time,” and instead suggest offering discrete projects and allowing them to choose which ones (if any) they wish to complete.

Avoid the “Perfect”

Most tech leaders are just as flummoxed as you are in dealing with the new talent environment. However, difficulty usually is accompanied by opportunity, and you may find that unconventional talent sourcing allows you to work differently and more effectively in the long run.

Resist the urge to select the “perfect” vendor or academic partner or build an elaborate program before calling on a few early retirees. You’ll likely find that “good enough” is often precisely that, and engaging unconventional talent with a few hiccups today is far more beneficial than a perfect strategy that’s never executed.

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