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Cast a Wider Net for Talent

Published Friday Nov 30, 2018

Author Kelley Small

Cast a Wider Net for Talent

It’s a hot topic – we’re all scrambling to find qualified people with the right skills, training and personality who can help take grow and change our companies. Unemployment rates are consistently low, causing the local talent pool to become more and more shallow. But is that the whole story? From an executive recruiting perspective, I challenge the assumption that there aren’t enough qualified leaders out there, and invite you to dip your toe into different talent pools and shift your mindset to consider more creative approaches to attracting that important next hire. Think of it like this: Lake Winnipesaukee is well-known, highly-regarded, clean, clear, accessible, and full of many, many edible creatures, but if you’re looking for lobsters there, you’ll always be disappointed. Let’s cast a net in a few different directions and see how it could impact your recruitment strategy.

The web may not be the best net

Online job search platforms are at the center of many companies’ hiring approaches. The process usually looks something like this: Write a job description (or reuse one you already have that belonged to the person you’re trying to replace), post it online, pay a few hundred dollars so it gets nice placement, and wait for the talent to take the bait. Sift through the dozens – maybe hundreds – of resumes belonging to applicants who are mediocre applicants and bring in the people whose skills align most closely with your immediate need, hiring the one who may get the job done, but isn’t a great fit. You’ve settled for nice lake trout when what you really wanted was a lobster.

Politely pursue passive prospects

If you’re fishing for lobsters, this is easy: look in salt water. If you’re recruiting, find the people who are not actively looking for a job but may bite if the right opportunity catches their eye. If you look at the overall talent pool, 70% of qualified candidates are not actively looking for a change. That means you’re only pulling from the 30% of candidates – the active job seekers, or those currently unemployed. It’s essential to focus on the whole picture and develop strategies to also connect with the 70% – those in roles similar to the one for which you are searching, and then creating and nurturing those relationships. Making connections with people you can see yourself working with is a creative approach. If your opportunity aligns with your new prospect’s career aspirations, you both have every right and reason to have a conversation.

Is this net working?

Chamber of commerce mixers, new business launches, nonprofit committee meetings, and cultural events are all good places to get to know a person’s skill set, personality and overall understanding of how they could fit into your existing team. These people tend to be engaged, conscientious and talented who also care about their communities and are eager to make professional connections. Exchanging business cards is a great start, but after the small talk winds down, be direct. You are recruiting new talent based on his or her ability to achieve business goals rather than how well the resume maps to that job description or title. The need to plug the hole in the boat prompts many organizations to make hasty decisions and hire someone who isn’t a good fit for the long term. A little networking can go a long way, especially when you’re open and appreciative when your new contacts also start sending candidate leads your way.

Think like a lobster

What barriers might be preventing an ideal candidate from uprooting his or her life, disrupting a career path and taking the risk of applying for your open position?

Consider paying relocation costs to get the right candidate for the position. A small investment up front should translate to a smooth transition into your candidate’s dream career, where you’re already building a relationship based on understanding and loyalty.

Use your current talent pool to help spread the word. An internal audience of even 10 people can reach thousands of like-minded people through casual conversations, social media outreach, or making an announcement at their next CEO retreat or networking event.

Stop talking about how tight the hiring picture is. Nobody wants to feel like they are from the bottom-of-the-barrel. Sure, it’s a competitive market, but rest assured there are qualified candidates out there for your business. Plus, it’s easy for your current team to misinterpret your frustration as encouragement to them that it’s a job seeker’s market where better opportunities may await them. 

Making sure the incumbent team is happy, productive and challenged is the best thing you can do to protect yourself from being in an urgent hiring mode in the first place. Retention should be addressed as emphatically as recruiting. Make sure the two are aligned to help avoid frantic, urgent recruitments in the first place.

Kelley Small is a principal at Standish Executive Search, a New England-based firm that works with business owners and leaders seeking accelerated growth, change or succession. Learn more by contacting Kelley Small at, or 774.261.0143.

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