Is compromise ever acceptable in recruitment?

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The following comes from many years of recruiting staff into a variety of roles and recruiting specifically into posts where there were always few candidates that could do the role, let alone candidates who were ideal. It answers a simple question – is compromise ever acceptable in recruitment?

The Issue

The issue is this.  Under norms of recruitment, the employer goes into the market to recruit an employee, either through a recruitment consultant who sources candidates or via an advertisement in a journal or paper.  The result is over-subscription.  There are hundreds of candidates for every job advertised.  This is certainly the case where general skills, non-specific knowledge and modest qualifications are sought.

As soon as the skills, knowledge and the qualifications tighten, the candidates fade away until, for a job such as as a telecommunications network modeller say, we perhaps get four viable applicants.

So there’s a very apparent trade off between skills, knowledge and qualifications and the number of viable candidates applying.  The state is exacerbated by candidates’ reluctance to move house meaning either home working or a search restricted to the local area alone.

So how does the manager progress?  With only four candidates, it’s unlikely that one of them is going to be a good fit.  There’s going to have to be compromise.  And is this acceptable to the firm?  Should the manager re-think?  Should the process begin again?  Or should the manager simply compromise and accept a poor candidate?  This blog looks at this conundrum and gives guidance on how to proceed.

The Ideal Candidate

TimelessTime teaches that the recruitment process begins with a study into the competences needed in the firm and the effort needed to make given change in the business position – changes to the P&L of the firm.  That done we teach that the manager then has the competences needed and with help, can produce the job description and person specification.  So in a top-down fashion, the vision is set for the ideal candidate.  This is all right and proper.

In other blogs and in the white paper The Recruitment Game we discuss the idea of opening the scope of requirements to maximise the number of candidates.  Nonetheless, certain jobs demand certain attributes.  An electrician must be qualified and time-served.  There’s no way round that.  And so for many jobs, the field narrows.  The trick at this stage is to ask “is that really needed, or could we accept…”.  An example in the electrician case is compromise that the candidates should have at least completed an apprenticeship and be starting their working career.  This avoids stating specific years of experience and it opens the field.  Each time a compromise is accepted, there are however obligations and we’ll discuss these next.

Obligations on the Manager

In accepting compromise the manager must accept increased obligation.  If the ideal candidate comes in and can pick up the job quickly, the manager need only a) provide suitable induction and b) provide ongoing facilitation.  This state is every manager’s dream.  A word of caution though.  If a candidate is that good, what says he or she will stay?  All candidates should be chosen because they aspire to the role – not because they can do it!  So the manager is mentor and responsible for the growth of the new recruit into the role.

So what happens under compromise?  The manager must determine his red-underlined competences – those on which he or she will not compromise.  We’d suggest that these include the basic skills of the job such as the ability to solder or the ability to develop a spreadsheet model or… These skills and perhaps some associated knowledge are a ‘must have’.  By previous argument, the more basic these skills, the more likely it is that a good number of candidates will apply.

After that the gap between the ideal and the red-underlined are the manager’s responsibility.  If the manager elects to recruit at the basic skill level, he or she must elect to develop the competence from there to something acceptable.  The higher up the skills/knowledge/qualifications ladder, the nearer the ideal and the smaller the gap.  But so too the smaller the field.


So what should the manager do?  Recruit an enthusiastic beginner or choose a higher operating point.  Here comes the balance.  The bigger the gap, the more the development obligation on the manager.

So managers, make your choice!  If you are lucky enough to be recruiting generalists, seek enthusiasm, train in the basics of the role and do the normal manager stuff to motivate and control  If you’re recruiting specialists, choose your operating point and accept the obligation to develop the candidate in the early days.  To fail to accept those obligations means dismissal in the probationary period and that costs everyone concerned.

For more on this see our White Paper.

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