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Departments - The Human Resource

How to expand your candidate pool.

I don’t know about you, but it’s getting old hearing the “it’s a candidate’s market” comments from everyone all over social media, in news articles, and far too many blogs to count. It’s one thing to call it out, but it’s entirely different to solve the problem. And while there are currently no silver bullets to take down this problem, there are some innovative and different ways of looking at the workforce that can give you the edge over your competition.

In the January 2019 edition of Nursery Management magazine, Denise Schreiber authored a terrific article titled, “Women in Horticulture: Angela Treadwell Palmer.” It walked us through how she got started in the industry, her background and expertise, recounted the obstacles she faced and how she changed with the times. Those last two — obstacles and changing with the times — are often missed by businesses in all industries, including horticulture.

The obstacle

Our industry is aging. It’s becoming harder to backfill roles when the talent pool seems to be shrinking at an alarming rate. Much of this issue is based on how we define the talent pool. Hiring managers tend to select candidates only if they have the exact pedigree, experience, and knowledge. Usually, this means they want a sales candidate’s “book of business” to come with them. For technical roles, they want candidates to make a parallel shift into the same role they are leaving. Unfortunately, this is not the 1980s. Candidates today are more career savvy and they have choices both in and outside horticulture.

To add another layer of complexity, many business leaders are stuck in two camps: clone the current aging employee population or hire the younger generation. In cloning the current aging employee population, hiring managers want someone who has done it before in their industry and, if possible, for their clients or clients’ competitors. This first camp leads to low or no innovation, a decreasing talent pool, and the challenges of pulling from competitors, which is the only place to find those who have done the exact same role you are trying to fill.

Hiring the younger generation appears to be a terrific alternative. Get them in early in their career and they will stay forever, just like the Baby Boomer generation or early Gen Xers, right? Wrong! Specifically targeting younger candidates over older candidates equally able, capable, and willing to perform the same job at the same rate of pay is a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Additionally, there are challenges that must be overcome such as client perceptions that they lack the knowledge, skills, and abilities to help them. There are also the challenges of keeping these early career professionals engaged in the business when they are hungry to grow their careers. So, how do we get around these issues?

Change with the times

The solution does not have to be an either/or situation. Age never has to be a factor at all, and legally it’s safer if it isn’t. Every role has certain behavior traits and competencies that lead to success no matter who is in the role. Traits provide us insight into each candidate around what motivates them, how they act or interact, and the thought process they engage in. Competencies that candidates bring are developed over time and can be seen through their innate and learned behaviors. Competencies might be core to the role or company, demonstrated leadership or individual contributions, and may even be unique based on the positions they have held.

In the context of a job, people must possess a particular set of competencies to be a good “fit” and achieve success. The three critical dimensions of job-related competencies are: Behavior traits that are required to accomplish the job; experience or job-related education and training that contribute to greater productivity; and chemistry or the personality that is compatible with the company and work group.

It is necessary to change our hiring thinking with the times by realizing the importance and specific identification of the behavior traits required in a role. This will open a wider, more qualified talent pool.

Experience, or hiring the exact same position from your competitor, is too often viewed as the most important dimension. However, it’s the least critical to success. Outside of highly technical roles, we can hire a lower level of specific experience because technical, product and industry knowledge can be trained.

If a professional has the right behaviors and experience but the chemistry is lacking, a person may still be successful if the company and person recognize, and choose to work through, their differences. The same is true for professionals with the right behaviors but little experience and poor chemistry.

The common hiring success denominator is the behaviors — not the experiences or chemistry. We are all looking to hire the ideal candidate with adequate levels of behaviors, experience and chemistry. Unfortunately, this is akin to looking for a purple squirrel – good luck finding that in today’s dynamic hiring market.

How do we identify these behaviors?

There are 25 specific professional behaviors that make up the behavior trait families. We define these four families as:

Motivations – The fundamental drive of an individual characterized by more than the simple desire to earn money. What provides the individual the personal fulfillment in their work?

Modes of acting – Functional behavioral traits that address the individual’s approach and skills for accomplishing work functions. These include organizational and time management skills, planning and prioritization, initiative, work focus and physical and mental stamina.

Modes of interacting – Addresses an individual’s interpersonal skills in how they influence, interact and get along with others.

Modes of thinking – An individual’s capacity to gather information and process it. These traits look at an individual’s ethical principles, creativity, flexibility and adaptability.

When determining the need for a new position or to backfill an existing role, collaborate with HR, the hiring manager, and those tangential to the role (internal/external clients, peers, and direct reports if any). Identify the behavior traits, competencies and personality desired in the ideal candidate. Within each behavior trait family are differing combinations of behaviors and competencies important to each role. It’s easy to say, “Well, all are important to one degree or another.” Take time to accurately identify the top six behaviors necessary for success in a position. Let them guide your search. You’ll be able to develop specific questions assessing how closely candidates embody these traits.

Don’t exclude a candidate who does not reflect a certain knowledge, skill, or experience if it can be trained. If they reflect the behavior traits and competencies aligned with what you have defined for the role, take a closer look.

Candidates with a diverse experience set, without the exact pedigree, experience, and knowledge of previous incumbents, but who demonstrate the desired combination of behavior traits and competencies, bring innovation and creativity to your business. It’s the difference between looking for reasons to hire someone rather than not to hire them. You will find a lot more candidates in your candidate pool who can excel in the role. And you may just find that growth and retention you were looking for.

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Todd Downing is a Partner at BEST Human Capital & Advisory Group, through which he provides retained executive recruiting and human resource advisory services including HR Auditing, Retention Strategies, Onboarding Development and Succession Planning for horticultural industry companies.

Michael Maggiotto Jr, PHR, SHRM-SCP is a Sr. Human Capital Advisor at BEST Human Capital & Advisory group and leads the human resources advisory services as well as providing retained executive search. He developed the firm’s WR2 HR Analysis designed to identify the Wins, Risks, and Remedies for horticulture and other niche industry companies.