Winning the labor wars calls for creativity and courage. Check off both with this growing trend.
A position finally opens up in that company you really like. You’ve got great advice on how to nail that interview and you’re feeling confident. The stars have finally aligned–good for you.
For many others, they’re still stuck at that first part.
But the universe is opening up for many high-skilled workers, no longer requiring so many stars to line up.
USA Today recently reported on a growing phenomenon that caught my attention. According to staffing experts, more and more companies are hiring people in highly-skilled, highly-desired roles like data scientists, software developers, digital media experts, artificial intelligence designers and certain accounting and engineering professionals–even if they have no job position to offer them.
Companies have been getting hammered as searches for great candidates linger (in a tight labor market) while associated costs skyrocket and revenue from unfilled jobs goes unrealized.
Jacob Zabkowicz, global vice president of the recruiting firm Korn Ferry, told USA Today that employers are saying, “There’s no immediate opening but we’re going to bring you on anyway. Then the person helps build their job description.”
I was astonished to discover that this is no outlier move of desperation. A late 2018 survey from Korn Ferry showed that a whopping 57 percent of recruiters have hired for a specific skill set even if there was no specific job opening for the candidate.
Why This Trend Is So Smart
I know several HR executives that lament what one of them calls the “Prospect Paradox”: when a role comes open you’re scrambling to find talent, when talent is available, you’re hard-pressed to find a role.
The trend of stockpiling coveted workers solves that–grab them now because you might struggle to find them later. I’ve heard many stories of important jobs that have gone unfilled for as much as a year or more. Nobody wins in that scenario.
But there’s another critical point. What do these people do if you don’t have a job for them? It can mean parsing out bits of work to the new hire from other employees, which can be tricky (as I’ll talk below). More often it means hiring the person, then co-creating a role with him/her. This taps into a deep psychological need for meaningful work that leverages one’s strengths and embraces the reality that people want to be able to shape and mold their job, what scholars call “job crafting”.
Research from The University of Michigan shows that allowing people to craft their jobs, to have a hand in designing the job responsibilities, rewards, and expectations, can dramatically drive engagement, job satisfaction, resilience, and thriving in that job.
An energetic administrator once worked for me that also had a passion for meeting planning. We co-crafted a redesigned role for her where she maintained her core administrative duties, dropped some other, less “mission critical” tasks, and then added in meeting planning for some organizations around the company. She was soon sought after for meeting planning, had elevated her performance on her core administrator’s job, and was more fulfilled than she’d ever been.
There has to be a few things true to make this work, though.
The trend of hiring even though there’s no position to fill begs some questions.
Would the talent want to be hired when there’s no job?
Presumably, the candidate is quite interested in the company, but even with that, wouldn’t you hesitate if you were asked to come on board with no specific position for you?
The recruiter has to do a great job of selling the company, selling their belief in the person, and painting a clear career path for the candidate. If it’s a bridge role, be honest about it and have a plan for migration to the ultimate role you had in mind. If you’re creating a net new role, truly be open to co-creation with the candidate, and investing the time to do so.
How do you avoid inadvertently driving labor costs through the roof?
This trend is a bad idea only if the “interim” work or newly created role truly doesn’t add substantive value. Stockpile to the pace of expected increased revenue so that labor as a percent of total costs doesn’t get too far out of whack.
What message does it send to other employees?
Would you like giving up some of your responsibilities to a placeholder newcomer? Maybe not. So in this scenario, or where a job is created out of thin air for the new hire, it’s important to have a clear, transparent message track for existing employees–or resentment will follow.
Explaining the context of the growing labor shortage for highly-skilled talent and the importance of solving it for the long-term health of the company is a good place to start.
No job opening? No problem, if you consider these factors.
Maia Aziz says
Love to read about how companies are recognizing the links between job design, engagement and profitability and are actively taking steps to leverage this! This is a key application of positive psychology in the workplace. I’d love to see how this could be spread in the public sector.
Scott Mautz, author of Make It Matter says
Hi Maia! Hope you are well and thanks for your comment!