Hunting for Zombies

How companies are failing to attract passionate professionals

A natural aspect of our professional lives is to always keep an eye open to new career opportunities. This helps us not only stay aware of career trends where certain skills become more relevant than others, but also to climb up the professional ladder by getting a promotion, more pay, etc.

Chances are, even if you’re not looking to make a career move and given that you have a fair amount of skills and experience, company recruiters will approach you about a “great” opportunity they think you could be a perfect fit for.

Two roles play a part in this interaction:

  • The Recruiter: A person that represents a company directly or indirectly.
  • The Prospect: A person identified by the recruiter as a potential new hire.

Being approached by a recruiter is not a bad thing. It certainly feels good when a recruiter emails you about how “good you look” for a role. In a way, it’s like a compliment, a sign of recognition, knowing that someone values your skills and experience.

Unfortunately, this compliment quickly becomes very disappointing once you realize how little thought and effort the recruiters placed in creating their messages and/or job descriptions in the first place.

This is me when I read a poorly crafted recruiter message

Quite often, I get recruiters reaching out to me saying how good a prospect I am based on my experience, skills, etc. The problem I have with this starts when I begin to understand they’re only focusing on what they want, which is basically to find a person to fill a position, rather than finding the right person, a passionate professional. At least that’s how the initial approach feels to me most of the time. What I’m saying becomes evident when I read their messages and am immediately transported to the horrible “cold calling” days we used to live in not so long ago. I bet many of you reading this have felt the same way at some point in your careers.

The biggest problem I find with this failing recruitment effort (because I don’t think there’s enough in it to call it a strategy) is that they fail to connect with the prospects at an intelligent and emotional level, which should be the most important aspect of the entire recruiting activity.

This (real) recruiter message fails at providing crucial information that any seasoned professional would expect to know at first.

Let’s see. Providing me with information about what skills I need to do the job or the “up to” some dollar amount the position could pay is not enough. Actually, it’s kind of lame. In fact, that’s probably the quickest way for recruiters to immediately look bad, because they implicitly are saying they just don’t get it, or perhaps, they’re in it just for the money.

Instead, a good recruitment strategy will be thoughtful enough to establish a relationship between the prospect’s passion and the mission he’ll be contributing through his work. One way to establish that connection would be to share the most relevant, honest, and compelling project information with the prospect.

For example, any serious professional would like to receive information about:

  • Who will I be working for?
  • What sets me apart from the rest?
  • What good is my future team trying to create?
  • What is the exact compensation they are willing to pay me?

Sharing this kind of information at the initial contact is probably the most efficient tactic a recruiter could use to get a prospect (a serious one) to be interested in what they have to offer, especially if they are trying to snatch good talent from another company.

Shooting themselves in the foot

As a seasoned, passionate professional, providing me with a list of all the characteristics I should have for the job doesn’t really help me because, if in fact I’m a good professional in my field, I already know what knowledge I must possess in order to be good at what I do and to do good work. Any good professional would already know that. So, why waste time telling me what I already know I need in order to do a good job?

For example, if a band is in need to recruit a lead guitarist, do they really need to explain the following to potential candidates?:

  • You’re expected to play the guitar.
  • You must always be in tune.
  • You must use both hands and fingers to play the guitar.
  • You might be required to play a solo between 10 to 25 seconds long.
  • You will need to learn how to handle yourself inside of a recording studio.
  • You may be required to play as a right handed- but also left-handed person.

Or even worse:

As you can see, the list gets really ridiculous very fast, and the bad news for companies/recruiters that send this kind of message to their prospects, is that no serious, talented, and passionate guitarist will even bother to read the whole job description. In fact, I can pretty much assure you that he will not be joining your band period. He will simply think, “These people don’t get it; this is not what I want.” He’ll be long gone before they realize it.

So why is it that job ads/messages get constructed in such a poor way? Here are a few reasons why I think this happens:

Wrong people writing the job descriptions. I’ve come to the conclusion that no HR or business person should be writing these messages and/or job descriptions. Instead, they’re best written by professionals with similar characteristics to those they expect to find in a prospect. Doing this will help make a meaningful connection and attract the right person, which will help to build good team chemistry from the start.

The company ego gets in the way. While reading these job ads, you can tell they were written from the perspective of what the company wants. Although that’s somewhat reasonable, the problem is that they are forgetting about what a prospect may be looking for. Recruiting talent is a lot like dating. It’s about creating a two-way relationship. So recruiters should make it very clear that they care about what the prospect may want or feel.

Leaving out the important details. The recruiters approach is often vague. They leave out very important information that should be shared up front. Instead, it’s almost as if they’re throwing bait to their “prey” in hopes many will fall for it. Of course, this is wrong and foolish.

For example, how can you be interested in a job if you don’t know:

  • who you’ll be going to be working for?
  • the project’s mission?
  • if the work is meaningful; or
  • the exact compensation/pay?

Confusing, conflicting & redundant requirement descriptions:

  • Proficiency with such and such tools like, but not limited to, this tool, that tool, another tool, etc. — What does “not limited” mean?
  • Advanced knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite for Mac — What if someone is an advanced Adobe CS user but on MS Windows?
  • Create high fidelity wireframes and design artifacts using Adobe Photoshop. — Haven’t you learned that’s not the right tool to do that?
  • Proficiency in word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation creation tools, as well as Internet research tools — Spreadsheets and lots of tools? Can you please be more specific. Which tools are you referring?

Use of buzzwords. This is something I see all the time, especially in the tech industry. These ads often use words like: Rock Star, Guru, Ninja, Superstar, Unicorn, etc. Usually, when I see these words being used in that context, a voice in my head screams, “Run, Forrest! Run!”. Recruiters should be very careful using these words, as it is usually a sign that they don’t really know what they’re looking for. Using these words simply makes them look very bad.

The writing style is too impersonal. This kind of language makes the job description unnecessarily complex:

  • Assess the operational and functional baseline of an organization and its organizational components, and help to define the direction and strategy for an engagement while ensuring the organizational needs are being addressed” — I’m sorry, what? Can someone translate this to plain English please?

Making recruiting efforts meaningful

There’s a very important reason why these failing recruitment efforts need to be redesigned: to avoid the risk of unintentionally hiring “mercenaries”, people who are only interested in securing a paycheck instead of professionals who are passionate about what they do and look forward to do meaningful work. If the recruitment goal is just to fill a position, it is likely that it will attract those people just looking for a position to fill. These people are what I call professional Zombies, and there are a lot of them out there.

If the recruitment goal is just to fill a position, it is likely that it will attract those people just looking for a position to fill.

If I could give a piece of advice to companies trying to recruit talented professionals, I would tell them first to involve their best professionals (those already working in their teams) and to connect with their peers, those they know that have the characteristics and qualities that will benefit their teams. Perhaps this will require the company to re-think their entire recruitment strategy to involve their own talent to benefit from their insight.

Then I would also tell recruiters that they must cut the crap and provide meaningful information straight up front. If they want to find successful, talented professionals they must connect with them at a meaningful level, avoiding the obvious, and instead aligning the prospect’s passion with their company mission, philosophy, goals, etc.

Most of these emails from recruiters and job descriptions I see, are making the exact same mistakes. To avoid them, smart companies should provide more direct information in their job descriptions. Things like:

  • Provide the name of the hiring company.
  • Describe the company culture, mission, achievements.
  • Stop using inaccurate descriptions— Do your homework, the other day I saw a requirement description saying “A designer should be proficient in Adobe Sketch” — Really?! Adobe and Sketch are actually competitors.
  • Say how much you will pay —Providing a range from X to up to some X dollar amount , doesn’t really sit well.
  • Be specific; avoid too broad job descriptions —Broad descriptions send a message to the prospect that they don’t know exactly what they want, or that they need more than one person but perhaps can’t afford it. Like in the band example I’ve used earlier: lead guitarist that also plays the harp and can also assist with concert security when necessary.
The company’s mission here is placed at the front; this could help to connect with the prospect’s at an emotional level.

Making simple changes like these to their messages can help recruiters attract passionate professionals by making it easier for the prospect to relate to their cause.

Recruiters should always keep in mind that this is not a numbers game. If you don’t change your recruitment strategy, you simply will not be in the hunt for talent; if your recruitment focus is just filling up positions, then you will always be hunting for zombies.

Thanks for reading!

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