How to Fill 'Unfillable' Vacancies: What to Do When You've Tried Absolutely Everything

Thursday, May 1, 2014 - 10:31

Guest post by Mandy Johnson

This is the killer scenario faced by many companies. They might have made significant improvements to many of their hiring processes, but they still struggle to find good people. The recruiter gives up and the organisation is forced to adjust its business objectives, like the global retailing CEO who told me he’d put all his expansion plans on hold because his company was simply unable to get good staff.

Good applicants come in all shapes and sizes

As Confucius says, the problem is not the goals, but the action steps used to reach them. Often the reason why organisations can’t attract good candidates is that their conventional target market is too limited – that is, the type of people they are looking for is too small or non-existent. By modifying their thinking as to who are the most suitable applicants, they can often fill their vacancies.

Take the fibre-glassing supervisor struggling to fill positions, who realised that females, with their smaller hands, were perfect recruits for the new resin infusion technique that had just been developed. He filled all his vacancies with women and had no competition as other businesses had never even thought about this possibility.

Other candidate pools

The Australian Defence Force had a similar experience. They made the decision to allow mild asthmatics to join up and increased their potential recruiting pool by 400,000, after years of banning these applicants. Home Depot in the US did a deal with the AARP, an over 50s association with 36 million members, and now sources most of the staff for its new shops from this pool.

Considering other candidate pools takes hiring out of a small box, opens up a whole new world of applicants and gives a company a real competitive edge. Whilst other businesses are still vying for conventional recruits, an organisation can fill all its positions with applicants its rivals have never considered.

Even better, because these people have been given a new and unlooked-for opportunity in their lives, they tend to be positive, loyal and committed to excellence to justify this uncommon belief in them.

What if you still can’t fill your vacancies?

Ok, you’ve opened up your candidate pool but you still can’t fill your vacancies. Here’s another hidden reason for hiring failure: lack of speed.  Great applicants are like good houses – they don’t stay on the market for long. While it’s essential that organisations spend time preparing great hiring tools and strategies, these need to be applied at speed when it counts, that is, from the minute applicants apply. If you take four weeks to interview and your competitor only one week, then the applicant will be gone before you even get to see them.

The need for speed

I measured my recruits for a year, and all the best ones applied within a few days of advertising. This is why speed works. When I applied the strategy to my hiring in the UK, not only did I fill all my vacancies, but I hired much better candidates and avoided costly bidding wars as well. The Ritz-Carlton group reduced their time to process new hires from 21 days to less than a week and cut their staff turnover from 77 per cent to 30 per cent.

When organisations say that there are no suitable candidates, it’s often because they have moved too slowly in the recruitment process. They’ve taken weeks to read CVs, or their interview process is too long and arduous and the applicants have dropped out before they’ve even contacted them. Because most organisations don’t measure candidate drop-out they are unaware that this is happening, blaming skills shortages, Generation Y or competitors with higher salaries for what is really their own poor practice.

I’ve outlined more secret weapons to hiring in my book Winning the War for Talent – How to Attract and Keep the People Who Make Your Business Profitable. As French novelist Marcel Proust said – ‘The only real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes but of having new eyes.’ Let’s now look at the whole business of recruitment in a different light.

Mandy Johnson is the author of newly released Winning the War for Talent and bestseller Family, Village Tribe; a former UK director and Australian HR head at Flight Centre Limited; and an active speaker and advisor to both public and private organisations. Mandy’s unconventional business ideas have been profiled on Sky News, ABC Radio, The Australian Financial Review, and BRW amongst others and her first book is now a set text in many Australian MBA courses. For more information and free chapter downloads go