Sorry, Charlie, They’re Fishing with the Wrong Bait

How Technology Can Get in the Way of Finding Great Sales Talent

by Jim Sander, VP of Sales, ACA Talent

I received a call from my friend (let’s call him Charlie) last week. He recently lost his sales position after his former company announced their latest round of layoffs. He’s actually been on the market for a few months now, but he was hoping to keep it under wraps and find something new quick.

The rationale for his optimism, although flawed, seemed sound enough at the time. Charlie thought he was a sales stud at his old company. He made their Champion’s Club for six of the last seven years…who wouldn’t want him? Well, there’s the rub. I think everyone would want him if they knew about him, but no one does, and that’s the problem—not just for Charlie, but for all of us.

Let me explain.

In a recent CareerBuilder mid-year job market forecast, they found that in the second quarter of 2012, versus the same quarter in 2011, 17% more employers are to adding full-time, permanent positions to their rosters. They’re forecasting a similar rise in the next quarter, so things are finally picking up. They also noted that 27% of employees are starting to feel a little better about their prospects outside of their current position, which will add to the competition for the better opportunities. Oh, and sales positions will make up just over a fifth of all new hires (ranking third among new hires, just behind customer service and IT). So buck up, Chuck. It looks like clear sailing ahead, right?

Not so fast—

Our friends over at Manpower conducted their own survey recently, and determined that for 2012, sales rep positions are the fourth most difficult position to fill, right behind IT, engineers and some nebulous category referred to as “skilled trades.” How can anything be difficult to fill with an ocean full of Charlies out there, swept out to sea by the latest round of corporate cuts? While I’m writing this, Motorola Mobility (recently acquired by Google), just announced that they’ll be cutting 20% of their workforce—another 4,000 qualified souls soon to be on the market. So, the ocean of talent continues to grow, which means the water is looking a little murky for Charlie after all.

One half of the nation is touting job creation, while the other talks about unemployment.

Companies are hiring more sales resources, but they’re having a harder time finding them, and the competition for these jobs is continuing to heat up. With this many mixed messages, it’s no wonder Charlie thought he might be able to land something quickly. He looked at the positive half of the story, but didn’t know it was just that—half the story. One half of the nation is touting job creation, while the other talks about unemployment. Meanwhile, there’s Charlie, with his stellar service record, wondering why he hasn’t landed a bite yet.

And here’s the really sad part. Charlie’s still looking for a job because the technology that companies use to search for new talent isn’t finding him. And these same companies are struggling to find sales talent. How did this happen?

In the name of efficiency, consultants came up with these complex algorithms to find the best resources, sold it to our nation’s top employers, and told them they could make the old way of recruiting obsolete (the old way, refers to human contact, logic, intuition, and a little hard work). I’m not blaming the companies that incorporated it.

Heck, I applaud them for making the effort. But, if it was working, why is it so hard to find quality sales talent when masses of Charlies are out there? Recruiting has to include exploring the intangibles, investigating the traits the hiring managers are looking for that didn’t make it into the job description (that was probably written by HR, not sales), and then searching for just the right candidates. These intangibles rarely make it into standard keyword searches that lean heavily on technology, and so the Charlies of the world remain undiscovered.

Recruiting has to include exploring the intangibles.

How can Charlie really portray his success to a program that was written to search for keywords that he doesn’t know? Keywords that might resonate in one end of the country, but are rarely used in another? Charlie’s very proud of his accomplishments, as well he should be, but the perfect job for him was just coded to search out the word “President’s” club instead of “Champion’s”, and Charlie’s resume didn’t make it through.

In this scenario, the hiring manager just interviewed six candidates for this position, and none of them were really what he wanted. He would have hired Charlie in a minute, but they never met, so he settled on what he had to work with.

So how do we pull the reins on technology when the stagecoach has already left the station?

We’ll tackle that subject in our next edition.

Read Part 2: Harnessing the Power of Recruitment Technology for Good