The War Against Talent

Did you say War for Talent?

The other day, Pablo, a data scientist with international experience, an impressive cv, and a passion and capacity for learning, posted on LinkedIn. He had had an awkward but unfortunately commonplace experience with a recruiter.

Many organizations and recruiters go around screaming terms like ‘skills gap’ and ‘fighting the war for talent’ from the rooftops, but for starters, they aren’t even capable of acquiring it. They wouldn’t recognize talent even if it fell on their heads.

Today, it looks as if recruitment has effectively embattled itself in a war against talent.


The phone conversation

Here is the call between Pablo A. Rosado and the recruiter:

HR: Hello, I’m calling you from [company name] regarding your application for a data scientist position (…). Do you have experience with Hadoop, Spark, R, or Tableau?

Pablo: No, I don’t, but I would be happy to learn those tools, and I believe it would not take me long to get used to them.

HR: Then what do you know about data science?

Pablo: Well… Since I started my Ph.D. in 2010 I have been doing research in gravitational waves and radio astronomy, fields in which data science is crucial (…). I am fluent in mathematical modeling, Bayesian statistics, signal processing, analysis and visualization of big data sets, I have some experience using machine learning (…). I use Python (and libraries like Numpy, Scipy, Matplotlib, Scikit-learn…), Mathematica, Matlab/Octave, SQL, Fortran, Unix shell, Git (…). I have attended a dozen international schools and courses on data analysis applied to astrophysics. I have experience working in big, international collaborations including LIGO, which has recently been awarded important awards, including the Princess of Asturias, for the discovery of tiny signals buried in long, noisy time series, using sophisticated matched-filtering techniques (…).

HR: [Silence]

Pablo: Hello?

HR: So you don’t know Hive?

Pablo: … ( ‘-_-)


So, what went on in that conversation? – The translation

The recruiter is calling about a position in data science and is asking about Hadoop, Spark, R, and Tableau. These are software tools typically used by data scientists. Pablo happily admits he doesn’t have any experience with them, but then goes on to list a huge number of similar tools, some of which are much more complex than anything the recruiter was referring to.

Pablo also cheerfully mentions that he is an astrophysicist who has worked on several international collaborations, all of them requiring a deep understanding of data science. This is very relevant because academia is, in fact, the birthplace of data science.

But all of this goes completely over the head of the recruiter, who stubbornly continues going through his keyword list, triumphantly ending with Hive, a much simpler tool than anything our data scientist holds in his toolbox.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a time machine so we could see Pablo’s face when the recruiter asked about Hive…What?!?! Did you just listen to anything I said?


There is a gap

Can you imagine Jamie Oliver not getting a job as a chef at the Cheesecake Factory because he never made a cheesecake before? No. You’ll want to hire him because not only do you know that he will make great cheesecakes (or anything else for that matter) but because you are also looking forward to seeing how his extensive experience with cooking will contribute to the unique cheesecakes he will make for you!

Yet, being overlooked is what happens all the time to many of today’s brilliant employees.

Contrary to what recruitment wants the world to believe, there is no skills gap, that is unless we speak about recruitment itself lacking the skill of understanding what is available and what is needed.

There are brilliant and capable people everywhere you look. Get real in your hiring, stop blaming imaginary talent shortages for your problems, and start talking to the amazing, living, breathing job-seekers around you right now.
– Liz Ryan, CEO Human Workplace

Besides, now more than ever, in a volatile world of ever changing variables and requirements, employers need the sorts of employees who can confidently dive into messy business situations (a messed-up database migration, an overloaded tech-support function, or an ever-slipping product launch) and sort it out. If you don’t want employees who are capable of solving these kinds of problems, you probably shouldn’t lead a business in the first place, because business is all about solving problems.


How to talk to a recruiter: Be a Diane Lockhart 

If you find yourself in Pablo’s shoes, here is what you can do.

In The Good Fight’s episode Requiem for an Airdate, ballistics expert and Diane Lockhart’s love interest Kurt McVeigh has to give a talk about the future of ballistics. According to him, the subject of the talk is the impact of interferometers on 3D renderings. According to Diane, who is helping him prepare for the big day, the subject is 3D technology in ballistics. Watch here the dialogue between the two so you too can get ready for your next ‘talk’ to a recruiter.


Here is a list of things you can consider:

  1. Go through your regular vocabulary and do a narrative makeover just like Kurt McVeigh did. Watch him on the stage HERE
  2. Reverse think. You want recruiters to understand you. Make it you who wants to understand recruiters. Why is a recruiter naming certain tools? What does that say about the job? What does it say about what the recruiter is looking for? If a recruiter insists on Hive, is that recruiter seeing you? Would you want to put your future in that person’s hands anyway?
  3. Help your recruiter talk to his or her customer by becoming proficient at putting yourself in other’s shoes, in all directions
  4. Don’t talk to a recruiter the way you talk to your buddies. You can tell your buddies that you don’t know a certain tool because they know you, but when you are talking to a recruiter, don’t happily admit what you don’t know until you understand what the recruiter needs
  5. Use keywords, by all means, you want to be found. Just make sure you adjust them to the position or at least industry you are interested in

Practice, practice, practice. And if none of that ends up landing you your dream position, at least you will have learned a new way of communicating that could help you not only professionally, but in all of your social interactions.

It can be very helpful to talk to a career advisor. Larry Cornett can help you get ready for your own war against recruiters! He has helped many people in situations similar to yours. Join his Facebook Group Brilliant Forge to find out more.

You can also consider moving away from traditional recruitment altogether and approaching your job hunting in a design thinking kind of way, having prototyping interviews with real people with real problems in real businesses of your interest. Drop me a note if you’d like to know more about that.


Recruiters, this is how you talk to candidates!

  1. Understand the purpose of the tools/keywords you are working with, and put them into context. What do they do? How do they serve the need of your customer? Could the tools in your candidate’s toolbox serve your customer’s need?
  2. Stay curious and mindful. You have others’ future in your hands. Handle with care
  3. Be a facilitator between offer and demand, continuously translating back and forth between what both candidate and client tell you. Be a Diane Lockhart too!
  4. Don’t hire for skills, hire for attitude. Skills can always be taught. Or you hire the likes of the Pablos, who teach themselves, the only thing being needed is for you to give them a problem to solve
  5. And since we are at it, revitalizing our current market would enormously benefit from enterprises hiring employees with different experiences from different industries

If you want to renew and re-energize an industry, don’t hire people from that industry.
– Arkadi Kuhlmann, CEO ING Direct USA


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Sonsoles Alonso – I help CxOs and Founders Build Highly Efficient Happy Teams in 6 Months or Less with the Right Hires, using Systemic Tools and Serious Games.

Are you in tech? I recently teamed up with top-rated instructor Mark Farragher for our online course ‘6 Tools To Improve Your Tech and Leadership Communication’.

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