How companies discourage top talent from applying for their jobs

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Jun 02

In this competitive job environment, companies would seem to have the upper hand when it comes to selecting candidates with the best qualifications and results. After all, every job posting brings about hundreds or thousands of resumes. Plus, recruiters are constantly surveying resumes looking for candidates and then sending out e-mails soliciting the latest candidate resume to submit for the job opening.

But the truth of the matter is that while job candidates are plentiful, the top talent out there is a lot more selective about what they apply for and where they decide to work. Top talent – Cubicle Warriors – recognize they need to work in an environment that supports getting results and brings out their best work.

Companies think any job description will do

Companies, and recruiters, do a poor job of putting out job descriptions that match up to the work that needs doing. This is a real example from an e-mail I received last week from a recruiter. This is the job description provided for a Project Manager position:

This position will be working with managers and their staffs to develop high level project plans and the associated staffing/resource needs to support the project plan. This resource plan will be presented to resource management for staffing. Strong, experienced project manager of medium to large software development projects is needed.

The top project managers out there will take one look at this job description and conclude that the work here is much ado about not much. We’ll develop a plan that becomes a plan that might become a project. Maybe.

Companies provide generic job skills instead of critical skills for the work

Perhaps the job description isn’t the best place to find out if you qualify for a particular job. So let’s move to the job skills area. Here, at least, the potential candidate can check the skills needed with those in their resume to see if they line up.

Top talent then sees this real list of job skills needed for the position above:

Required skills

1. Strong experience with estimating projects and resources
2. Ability to quickly scope projects
3. Experience creating Work Breakdown Structures (WBSs)
4. Proactive and forward thinking
5. Effective at managing conflict
6. Excellent Communication Skills – verbal and written
7. Independent Worker
8. Organizational Skills
9. Self-starter with good work ethic
10.Quick Learner

Well, the first three represent the most basic project manager job skills imaginable. And if you don’t have the 4-10 job skills, you won’t make it in the business world.

If companies are serious about getting the best talent

The best people out there are serious about the work they take on. They are picky about where they work and the work they do. The reason is they know that results are what drive careers and they want to be in a position where they can add to their skills by producing great results. Top talent wants challenges in the work they do because the challenge keeps them engaged.

If you, as a company, are concerned about getting the top talent out there to work on your stuff, build the skills you need and the job description you have around what it takes to attract the very best talent to the job. Otherwise, any person will do just fine. Then you will complain about how there just aren’t any really well-qualified candidates out there to do your work.

You’ll be correct, too: no strong candidates would want to work for a company that so poorly describes a job. It is a perfect symbol of what awaits them inside the company once they are hired.

The kicker about this position? When sent to me, the position had already been filled by the company.

Puts a whole new meaning to the phrase “passion for the work,” doesn’t it?

  • Anne C says:

    Good article however I would add something to “Top talent wants challenges in the work they do because the challenge keeps them engaged.” I would argue that this is what is desired by most working people. I know many high quality people who have been laid off and have to take ‘survival jobs’ just to pay the bills but that doesn’t mean they don’t want challenges. The problem is that after a while of being continually being ‘beaten down’ by not getting interviews or opportunities at the levels that they have proven they can do, a certain discouragement sets in that is often misinterpreted by working corporate types as the potential employee not being engaged enough.

    • I agree, Anne. One can only get laid off, passed over for promotion, or not get jobs through interviews for so long before one’s confidence just goes away. Without the confidence, engagement is difficult. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  • If the better candidates even apply…and I don't think most will.

  • Rick Saia says:

    Nice post Scot! Regarding the list of required skills, anything after the third item is inviting many resumes with a lot of “empty phrases.” Who would admit they're not a quick learner, for instance, that they can't work independently or have a lack of organizational skills?

    Anyone who writes such a job description deserves to get swamped with a couple of hundred resumes that will suck up a lot of time and possibly cause you to overlook the resume of a candidate who is more qualified than the one who winds up getting the job.

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