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Poised for Success

In 1965, Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed sparked the modern consumer movement. American car buyers were outraged to learn that Detroit’s manufacturers deliberately marketed defective and unsafe cars. Since then, every business has had to respond to the legacy of consumer skepticism (or even cynicism).

Tobacco, food, household products, financial services, airlines, media, technology, mining, health care, funeral services, pharmaceuticals . . . every industry has endured its stories of deception and cover-up. Consumers stopped buying and demanded better treatment. Those companies that embraced accountability, honesty, and forthrightness did well. Those that actually listened to consumers prospered.

Beginning in the 1980s, employees experienced similar shocks to their belief in the great postwar bargain between business and employees (“work hard, be honest, and we’ll take care of you”). Layoffs, reengineering, and the death of mutual loyalty created a different employee point of view. “Lifetime employment” was replaced by a lifetime employment search because people learned the hard way that all job positions are temporary. Even the government joined in: The military’s “force reduction” in the early 1990s effectively brought layoffs to the army, and even when civilian government hiring expanded, rapid change meant less job security.

We’ve studied this consumer mindset in talented candidates seeking employment from a number of perspectives, and it is manifest in an intriguing set of demands. Now that candidates have more choices, what (other than the right job) do they want from you? They want the same things a consumer wants: respect for their time, candor, professional attention during the hiring process, prepared interviewers, truthful job advertisements, an efficient system, feedback all along the way (especially online), multiple ways to reach them, a clear message about what you want, tangible and intangible benefits at work, a fair deal, respect for their effort and their intelligence and talent, and much more. All of them flow from this new mindset that we call “poised.”

Not Active, Not Passive, but Poised
Recruiters and hiring managers have long labeled potential employees by behavior—either they are “active” (that is, looking for a job) or “passive” (that is, employed and not looking). This bipolar model leads to pigeonholing candidates with a broad and inaccurate set of assumptions. For example, active candidates are supposedly less desirable than passive candidates because they’re out of work or troubled at their jobs. This leads to ignoring highly qualified actives and focusing energy on recruiting passives, who are harder to interest, and who, in fact, are not necessarily more qualified than active candidates.

Managers, both in and out of recruiting, have bought into an 80/20 guesstimate; assuming 80% of the workforce is made up of those “passive” employees. In fact, the surprising truth is not an 80/20 division but a profile consisting of three distinct states of mind.

In 2006, Monster studied workers to assess these attitudes and help create a composite picture of employee loyalty. We discovered that the key factor is not whether someone is looking for a new job, but her level of attachment (or loyalty) to her current situation. Our understanding of workers’ openness to switching jobs reveals a much larger group of potential candidates than the few who are actively looking for work. The largest segment of potential candidates—about 70% of them—consists of workers who are employed but much less attached to their current employer than workers historically have been.We found this segment across demographic categories, and it’s especially true of the Generation X and Generation Y segments, the very ones who will be hired in greatest numbers in the coming decade.

The research finds these qualities among the three groups:
1. Settled Loyalists (30%). These workers claim allegiance to their current job and employer. They are settled for a variety of personal and professional reasons. They are difficult to recruit, and they have high personal barriers to leaving their current position.

2. Poised Loyalists (11%). These are loyalists who claim allegiance to their current job and company but have a lower personal barrier to switching. A familiar example is the person who loves her work but has nowhere to go in a company or who dislikes the boss. This segment of the employed represents a vulnerability to their employers and an opportunity for recruiters.

3. Poised Opportunists (59%). These workers are clearly open to the next opportunity to change. They are open to approaches; they post their résumés online, reply to recruiting calls, or both. Many employed opportunists are actively looking for another job.

Today’s poised workers—70% of the workforce—think of a job as a contract: they give their irreplaceable time, talent, and energy in return for tangible and intangible benefits: money, prestige, lifestyle benefits, and so forth. The arrangement lasts as long as both sides are satisfied. These workers tend to be less trusting of current employers, and they believe that better pay and benefits await them at other companies. As candidates, however, they have also learned to be skeptical of potential employers’ claims. They have learned to question whether a job description reflects the reality of working day to day.

They will not tolerate bad bosses. They will make strong connections with good ones.

Poised workers are not disgruntled or mediocre—in fact, they are generally optimistic and see switching employers as a path to advancement. They don’t seek job security from their current employer. They view security as a product of their own attractiveness to employers. Don’t call them job-hoppers; most poised workers value stability and fewer transitions. They pay attention to the marketplace—building great résumés and posting them online, acquiring a broad range of skills and experiences, and networking. Their job changes tend to be moving up . . . on their terms, whether that’s pay, job satisfaction, or fulfilling a lifelong dream. They’re willing to change; research shows that among employed job seekers, 61% have had more than one full-time job in the past five years and 10% have had four or more jobs during this time.

The 11% who characterize themselves as poised loyalists are positive about their jobs and bosses, but just because they feel loyal doesn’t mean that they’ll stay. For example, if a great boss leaves, the poised loyalists reporting to that boss might quickly lose their attachment to the company. Think of them as loyal to their individual situation, not to their employer in general.

Settled loyalists know the dynamics of the job market, and express their consumer mentality much as satisfied customers stay with trusted brands. They value their current compensation, work satisfaction, or personal situation, and those are high barriers to change. For loyalists, the risks of switching outweigh the benefits. It is possible to attract settled loyalists, but hiring them requires more incentives and persuasion than hiring similarly qualified poised workers. Drop the model of active and passive and the old cutoff that says “if she’s looking, something’s wrong.” It’s misleading. Instead, seek poised workers where they are to be found, and determine each candidate’s degree of attachment to his or her current situation.

The question someone on the hunt for talent should ask is not “who is looking (or not looking) today?” but “where can I find the best fit for this job and company today and tomorrow?” This question is always asked at the high levels of executive search, where few candidates are unemployed or looking, but many are open to change. Poised workers are in demand and have choices. The best outcome is to find a talented, poised candidate, bring her on, and over time convert her to a loyalist or even a de facto loyalist, that is, someone with a poised mindset but a situation so personally satisfying that other jobs suffer by comparison—what you might call “psychological golden handcuffs.” Imagine filling your critical positions with people like that.

Reprinted by permission of McGraw-Hill Companies. Excerpt from Finders Keepers by Steve Pogorzelski and Jesse Harriott, Ph.D., with Doug Hardy. Copyright 2007 Steve Pogorzelski and Jesse Harriott. All rights reserved.