Invisible Candidates

By Ted Dieck | Employers Intelligence - Pick - Search | Apr 9, 2011

Job Seekers want to look like your next hire. If you’re not hiring, they’ll begin to look like somebody else’s next hire.

Recently, I was talking to an incoming client. A slightly frustrated Hiring Authority explained that he couldn’t find good candidates. In particular, he said, key word searches on the internet don’t seem to be effective.

At the time, I didn’t delve into what kind of search strategies he was actually using. Let’s assume he was doing everything right, and amazingly, all the good candidates had disappeared.

What’s up?

The incredible vanishing candidate effect happens, in some form, after every recession. It’s a little worse this time around, because there are a lot of old baby boomers packing it in. I’m going to skip over the demographics, this time, and let’s get right to the vanishing part.

Here’s What Happens

Imagine a candidate with a perfectly good career path: Increasing levels of responsibility, all the right skills, and gobs of key words to amuse my new client.

The candidate gets fired. He trots his resume around. No luck. Not even a bite. Employers and recruiters serve up massive rejection for, say, three years.

Guess what? Somewhere in that time, the candidate gets the message. Nobody was hiring a U.S. Army demolitions expert, fresh back from Afghanistan. Nobody was hiring a UAW auto worker. Nobody was hiring a homebuilder.

Whatever it was that nobody was hiring, the candidate gets the message. And he starts deleting the offending description from his resume.

The skill set and history starts emphasizing a profile he believes might result in a job offer.

Eventually a job offer does come along. Even if the employment period is short, the candidate goes back to the well for another try. He further refines the winning resume to have even less of the bad stuff, and he adds in even more from the recent position that his next employer might want to see.

Bingo! The Vanishing Candidate Syndrome.

Two Points Of View

So, how does the typical employer react to the idea that candidates morph into the unknown? Well, not a lot of them are full of sympathy. Here’s the perfect job, and now the candidate doesn’t even have enough sense to make himself available? How nuts is that?

Here’s the candidate’s perspective: The job doesn’t even exist.

He’ll say, “I’ve actually talked to that employer, and they haven’t hired anybody like me in years.”


Revealing Hidden Candidates

Before we discuss how to find these this missing talent, it’s worth asking if the reward will be worth the trouble. The answer: A definite maybe.

In time, a candidate’s skills will get stale. His interest may be totally gone. Once an individual has mentally and emotionally left the industry, you may not even want him back.

There is, however, a little group that does keep fresh and on top of the industry. Maybe not in the way you might expect, but they have found a way to stay engaged. Some of the job seekers in that group might not be presenting themselves exactly the same way they used to.

Which leaves us with the question: How do you find them?

I have had success with two paths: Follow the winners. And find their friends.

First, when I notice that several candidates are having luck in a new area, I stay in touch to see if I need to be working that area, as well. I’m not sure that’s something an employer can do easily, but I can assure you that recruiters pay attention to that kind of thing all the time.

Next, when I find a high performer who made a break out of a company or an industry, I know I’ve found a Center of Influence who knows others in a similar situation. If I can be trusted, sometimes I can do a lot of good for these folks who are still looking.

Same Product, Different Wrapper

Strangely, I sometimes have to go through an extensive repair session, helping a strong candidate unvanish himself. Over time, we discover and restore important career information back into the resume and into his presentation.

For a recruiter, this is a discovery process. There is no benefit to forcing a candidate to look like someone he’s not.

For candidates, there’s some frustration, revisiting a career path that went dry.

But when a core industry comes back to life, key candidates have to consider revealing who they really are.

Reclaiming Authority

It’s not just skill sets or past accomplishments that fall off the page. I’ve seen many candidates dumb down their level of responsibility, as well.

With an upswing in business, employers show more interest in adding leaders. These would be the upper level managers who might have been thrown over the rail a few years ago, while companies were fighting for their lives. Now those candidates may describe themselves as really good engineers, instead of excellent leaders. Other candidates form one man companies and bill themselves as consultants. The famous middle ground, of course, is high priced contract work.

In all three examples, I regularly find potential employees who are working in ways contrary to their values and self-image. How many employees, after all, really want to hold less responsibility? How many want to go from steady employment to a constant search for the next project?

Visibility Starts With Offering More

Given improving employment numbers, and given the support to reassess their next move, some candidates will evolve back to their greater offering.

Granted, not all will regain their full career trajectory. But, to me, a critical part of career recovery includes offering more to the marketplace.

For employers, it’s the discovery of the Incredible Missing Candidate.