A client recently asked us to search for someone for a position that was more than the usual “hard to fill” role we typically recruit for. The job responsibilities and requirements made sense to them internally – they had a particular-shaped hole that needed filling – but the problem was that nobody else has a job quite like that. They took a “regular” job, the kind that has a title everyone recognizes and understands, and stuck some extra stuff on it that just didn’t belong there.
During the course of the search, we discussed several times with the client that if they could lose that one extra thing that didn’t belong, and give it to someone else whose existing responsibility was closer to it already, there would be a great talent pool available for the position, with better choices and lower cost for them in terms of salary. As a growing company, they face enough pressures already to keep growth going, and delays in filling key roles are the last thing they need. But nope, that unicorn had to stay.
Because we are very good at what we do, we were able to find not one but TWO unicorns who actually had the required combination of skills from different jobs they had done in the past. However, I can guarantee that those were the ONLY two people within commuting distance, as we called literally every remotely relevant company within an hour and more. One of those unicorns wanted too much money, the other one backed out at the end because the commute was too long. We all came up empty.
Standing over the smoldering ruins of the project, a moment of intervention became possible. Could we… maybe… revisit that one requirement? Was there perhaps someone internally with similar skills and experience who could take on that piece and create the desired connection internally? Yes! Not only was that person there, but they were glad to take on the additional role because they had already been doing half of it, and this would effectively give them a real promotion. To our client’s great credit, they eagerly went this route and gave the internal person a two-month trial to see if they continue to enjoy the new role. Now we have a space to fill that is much more conventional. It’s still not an easy search, for a variety of reasons, but it does map well to the available talent in the local market and won’t hold up the forward momentum of the company any more.
The moral of the story is that if some position in your organization is always a pain to fill, it is really worth investigating whether the specs are representative of the market. Yes, some things are hard to find – but persistent difficulty is a symptom of a deeper disconnect and it is problematic because it can become a major drag on the organization’s ability to meet its goals.
To keep up the morale of the troops and drive forward for growth, avoid populating the org chart with unicorns and look for other ways to assign those responsibilities.
To connect this directly to a great recent story in the world of coatings, check out this article on how a team of researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a radically new approach to superhydrophobic coatings. Much has been made of the potential to transform the water repellent coatings space with a more effective and durable surface; but there’s another side to the story, which is the totally different approach the team took to solve the problem. Instead of looking for raw materials that possess ultimate durability, they looked for ways that the overall surface would be durable – which allowed them to assign the properties of the finished product differently between the raw materials, and discover that partial miscibility of the ingredients combined with a slightly pliable surface yielded a better result.
As lead author and U-M doctoral student Kevin Golovin explains, the team used a process that was radically different from previous research in the field.
“Most materials science researchers have focused on identifying one specific chemical system that’s as durable and water-repellent as possible,” he said. “We approached the problem differently, by measuring and mapping out the basic chemical properties that make a water-repellent coating durable. And some of the results surprised us.”
People often observe that baseball is life, and life is baseball, but personally I think hiring is coatings, and coatings is (are?) hiring. If you see those unicorns in your org chart, it’s time to deconstruct the spec a little bit and see if a solution is in fact within reach. This is one of the ways we solve persistent hiring problems for clients and smooth out their future hiring, and it is often a major difference maker, turning a chronic frustration and morale sapper into an opportunity.