The Search For Joan: When Recruiting For Fit Becomes Expensive

I'm working on a job order for a retained client right now. This will back-fill a position within their organization that I like to call their "Joan". Joan - like on Mad Men, you know? I love that series. If you watch it, you can probably identify that person in your own organization, right?

She is absolutely, positively, irreplaceable. Or maybe she is a he; John. Maybe you have a John.  I'm sticking with Joan just because this is my post and I don't have a good example of a John.

So, by my definition the office "Joan" is someone in the office one considers practically irreplaceable. Let's face it, she's the one that knows everything there is to know about the company and the people that work there. She knows all the secrets. She knows where the company has been (because she was there) and where it says it is going because you are pretty sure she is sort-of psychic. She wears a lot of hats -A LOT. She probably has had her hand in every department at one time or another and she takes up the slack for almost anyone that is out of the office unexpectedly and makes sure that the world, which is your office, keeps right on turning. She is the glue.

Whoa! Now wait a minute. We are recruiters, are we not? NO ONE is irreplaceable, right? It is all about who is brave enough to take on finding the replacement! This client just needs a brave little soldier to take on the search! You are just the person to do it! Before you do, I'd like to offer some advice.

The company thinks Joan is irreplaceable because she defines the "fit" of their organization. She has the perfect amount of business acumen, accountability, exceptional communication skills, pride in what she does and impeccable style in her professional appearance. Oh, by the way, everyone loves her too. Those that don't won't survive in the organization anyway. She has drive! She has passion! That's a Joan...or a John. They are the position that has become personalized. It is no longer a position, it is a person they are trying to replace. Many times, no one even knows the job title. She or he doesn't have a job description. They just make it happen.

The past month (or so), that brave little soldier, ahem...recruiter, has been me. I am currently engaged on a retained search for a Joan. I have worked with this client for a while, and I really understand the fit they are seeking. In fact, I found her replacement in a week.  Yep. Three calls and I found her! The managing partner loved my candidate. The supervisor loved my candidate. Heck, even the current "Joan" loved this new Joan I found for them. She couldn't wait to start training the new Joan for the position! I was already picking out a very brightly colored feather to insert right in to my favorite recruiter hat. The offer was made. The offer was accepted.

Okay,okay.That probably sounded a little "braggy", but wait. Let me finish the story.

The day she was to start I got the email. The new Joan's life had been impacted by a fatal disease. She would NOT be starting today. In fact. She might not be able to start at all. What? No! I went immediately in to crisis mode. I had to figure out how this candidate could in fact start because she was perfect. There were not going to be many more perfect fit candidates. There were only so many "Joans" in that city after all.

As a recruiter, recruiting a position that depends heavily on fit, can be risky. We might as well just admit that a recruiter never reallycompletely, controls their candidate. My perfect candidate, or so I thought was not perfect at all. no one is. There are situations in life to which none of us have control and this was the case here. The candidate hated it as much as I did, because the position was perfect for her as well but sometimes there are things more important than career.

Look for the signs that your job order is the office "Joan" or "John".  A Joan "wears a lot of hats". Her "background is not typical". She is "almost irreplaceable". She was "perfect for the position". She's "been here forever." You need to recognize that you are recruiting for fit early in the process because it can be expensive. If I were a contingent recruiter, I might moved on to another job order because finding this particular fit twice in a month is pretty rare.  In this case, I'm retained by a client who wants to see the best of their options, so fortunately that doesn't have to happen. I can continue to bring them value by submitting the best of what is out there so they can determine when and if there is another "perfect fit" out there, and when it is time to hire outside of fit.

There are a lot of studies to support both sides of the argument about hiring a candidate that is qualified but not a good fit. Barry Schuler says it is baloney to hire someone for fit. I'm not so sure. Fit can be very important to success for both the job seeker and the client. Ultimately you need to look at the cost for finding someone that has an exceptionally unique "fit". 

Ultimately, when you find yourself in this type of situation, it is my recommendation that you give the client (or hiring manager) indemnity to choose the criteria that is most important to their bottom line. That's because every day that the position is open costs them money. They need to determine how much it is worth to have a longer time-to-fill. The recruiter needs to determine how long this type of job order could take to fill. If you are a contingent recruiter, you may want to limit the time you will focus on this type of job order, because it can be expensive. John Zappe had a great article on ERE last week about time-to-fill. Did you know that it is at its longest duration since 2001? My theory is that this has a lot to do with recruiting for fit. Recruiting for fit is great, until the fit is hard to find. Then it is expensive because the time-to-fill is longer. I'm not saying it is not worth it. For some positions, I really believe it is.

Do you recruit for fit or submit just otherwise qualified candidates? How important is fit to the hiring process in your organization?

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Tags: Agency Recruiting, Corporate Recruiting, Human Resources

Comment by Matt Charney on August 19, 2014 at 1:16pm

Awesome post, Amy...really appreciate you sharing your insights and expertise with our readers. You're like the recruiting version of Don Draper.

Comment by Amy McDonald on August 19, 2014 at 1:24pm

Thanks Matt! I will take that compliment. I may change all my social media usernames to an alias like  "Dawn Draper- Mad Recruiter"hahaha. I love it. Coming soon to a web page near you! 

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