I guess the first thing we need to ask is “Does the war for talent really exist?” My answer is “yes”, but it requires some definitions. People ask how can there be a war for talent when so many people are unemployed, though unemployment in the US is down to 4.9% or so. The answer is in the definition of talent.

What is talent?

A review of dictionaries shows a common definition of talent as “a natural aptitude or skill” or “a marked innate ability.” It is, for the most part, something special. Unfortunately in the talent acquisition world we have come to use that term almost interchangeably with “labor”, or at least some people have. You can see that in the change from using the term “recruiting” to the newer term “talent acquisition.” It is the difference between hiring “A” players and hiring “B” players. I hesitate to use sports analogies, but there is a big difference in talent from the starting line-up to the practice squad.

Given that definition there definitely is a war for talent, but not so much for the rest of the squad. We want good players to do the day-to-day, but companies (and teams) want talent to catapult them into the limelight, and those people are harder to find. Why is that?

The “battlefield” has changed

Finding employees is no longer a process of hanging a “help wanted” sign on the door and hoping people walk in and fill out an application. That was the baby boomer way of doing things. The demographics of the pool of talent have changed. Applicants today are younger and have more education. They are more diverse. They have different expectations, and higher technical capabilities. They are looking for different work than has been offered in the past.

For the “older” recruiters this is creating a challenge of matching jobs with candidates that has not quite been mastered yet by many. At the same time employers are dealing with existing demographic groups who also want work, yet may not have the skill sets new positions require. It is not an easy job to explain to a hiring manager that candidates don’t exist that have the skill sets they desire, and that you have to pay more money to get the “talent” needed.

The “approach” has changed

Another area that has created a challenge for talent acquisition professionals is in the expectations that upper management has of hiring professionals. According to Arthur Mazor from Deloitte, there is increasing pressure to tie talent acquisition more closely to the overall corporate strategy. Scott Macfarlane (Korn Ferry Futurestep) says that recruitment is no longer being driven through the lens of lowest cost, but is being seen as an investment, and what it will bring to the business. Mazor thinks that a “quality per hire” approach, rather than a “cost per hire” approach pays dividends, resulting in positions being filled 20% faster and turnover reduced by 40% in companies with a process more closely tied to strategy, despite spending more per hire.

Technology and sophistication

These changes have required talent acquisition professionals to adapt to a new set of metrics, new technology, and a new level of talent need in the HR professional. Jonathan F. Kestenbaum, Executive Director at Talent Tech Labs, sees technology changing significantly and rapidly. He has identified five trends that are changing talent acquisition.

Trend #1- Matching systems that work

There can be said there are some significant factors in this, the first of which is mobile technology. With a generation that uses primarily mobile devices to manage their lives, companies have to be able to allow candidates to contact them through mobile. This is because this generation also expects convenience. They want the job to come to them. They also want transparency, which means they want to be able to determine if there is a match with the job before they apply.

Trend #2- Games

Candidates for jobs today don’t want to fill out long questionnaires. So using psychometric assessments to determine a fit will have to be present in the form of a game the candidate can play.

Trend #3- Embracing the freelancing labor market

In a world where 40% of the labor force is supposed to be freelancing by the year 2020, someone, most likely staffing agencies, is going to have to facilitate matching what companies need to this huge pool of freelancers.

Trend #4- Candidate relationships matter

It is all about candidate experience and the candidate being treated like a customer. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems will be used to track candidates rather that an Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

Trend #5- Analytics-as-a-Service

This cloud-based software will be used by companies who analyze and visualize a company’s data for them. This goes with Macfarlane’s statement that companies are going to need to leverage predictive analytics to a much greater extent than is currently done.

What does the future hold?

It should be no surprise that the people that acquire talent are going to have a different skill set in the future. According to Macfarlane, HR talent will have to be greatly improved. They will need to be much more capable in technology and analytics. They will have to be more of a business analyst. Macfarlane says HR departments need to hire for this skill set. Also, they will have to be more comfortable with strategy and quality metrics.

In a previous post titled Five Skills Necessary to Be Great in Talent Acquisition, I offered additional information on what will be necessary to be an effective TA professional. I hope this information serves you well. Let us know your opinions in the comment sections.


  • Monica S. says:

    I know that at Google, they used to be very prestige based and they cared about SAT scores and where you went to school. But they introduced predictive analytics, and those metrics told them that’s not what correlates with success. They’ve changed some of those practices in response and they don’t spend time using those as screening criteria anymore.

  • Henry M. says:

    We’ve implemented a tool in our company that tells us whether the employee logged into their employer center in the last two months or changed their job title on LinkedIn. It is especially good because I can see if I “won the war” for talent, and my employee is completely immersed in the organizational culture.

  • Candice L. says:

    There’s definitely a war for talent, especially for data-driven people. Just think of Silicon Valley and how the workforce is moving there. Measuring if you won the war is probably more art than science. Every time we’ve looked at all the data and we’ve tried to predict whether a person’s going be successful or not, what we’ve generally found is that there is a sense of passion that is hard to measure.

  • Robert Gately says:

    Hi Monica,

    “…Google…cared about SAT scores and where you went to school.”

    Neither the school nor SAT scores predict job success. Had Google bothered to research “job success predictors” using Google they could have known that decades ago. They are not alone, but at last they know it now. What they are doing to predict job success I don’t know. Employers that hire for job competence, cultural fit and job talent have already won the talent war.

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