The COVID Talent Myth

We are watching city after city and state after state come back to life after the economic devastation of Covid-19. Numbers, statistics, and fears are still driving much of the data that we see and as such are dictating outcomes for us on the business front. Businesses have and continue to try and wrap their arms around what their new hiring and recruiting strategies and processes will look like from this point forward. One of the biggest hurdles that they are going to have to cross is the myth of highly available talent. 

While we are delving into this myth, it is probably a good time to look at the differences between human resources and recruiting. Human Resources is a support role in an organization. It’s a very necessary and integral support role but it is a support role none the less. Recruiting exists in most organizations underneath human resources but recruiting itself is a production role. Folks working in a recruiting function, be it as an in-house recruiter or externally as a third-party recruiter, are required to produce talent that is in alignment with the organization’s goals and growth plans. 

In almost every case, the passive candidate is the one who is going to make the organization the most successful. By passive candidate, we are referring to the candidate who is not actively looking for a new job or opportunity. Generally speaking, these passive candidates are currently employed, happy, productive, and highly valued by their current employer. Again, they are not looking for or applying to internet posts for new jobs. 

I cannot tell you how often I cringe when I hear professionals in human resources use the term “applicants”. By definition an applicant is someone actively applying for a role. With few exceptions, particularly with the exception of entry-level and very low skill roles, the person applying for these roles is likely not going to be able to make the impact that the organization needs them to make once on boarded. Hearing the term applicant in 2020 reminds me of hearing the word personnel like it is 1978. The difference here again is the vantage point of a recruiter and of a human resources professional. The recruiter will actively pursue and develop passive candidates for a role. Human Resources professional will take what applicants that come into the organization through any means and process them. 

This brings us to the myth I referred to earlier. With all of the millions of job losses as a result of this pandemic there is a perception amongst organizations as well as human resource departments that there is a glut of high-end talent available on the street. I have been recruiting for over 25 years and I have seen economic cycles come and go including the economic meltdown of 2008 /2009. Even then, when the underlying economy was falling apart, there was not a massive amount of high-end available talent on the street to easily cherry pick. In 2020 up until mid-March, we were going through one of the strongest economic periods by any available metric in history. Unemployment in every category was at 50 and 60 year lows. The underlying fundamentals of the economy have not changed as a result of this pandemic. 

Yes, tens of millions of people lost their jobs but the vast majority of those, especially those not working in the service industry or the industries related to it will be returning to work in the very near-term. The demographics looking forward to 2030 and beyond show massive talent shortages for as far as the eye can see. One may get lucky and have the right job posting catch the eye of a talented individual who is open to looking to make a move at this time but hope is not a strategy. Talent is still extremely hard to come by and will need to be unearthed and developed by an individual with the skills to do so. These roles are not going to fill themselves. The better organizations are looking to their recruiters to produce. These can be in-house recruiters or third-party recruiters but they still will need to be on their A-game now and in the foreseeable future to develop and attract top level talent. 

The discussion of how economic meltdowns effect the available talent for organizations is one I’ve summarized briefly. If you have more questions after reading this, please feel free to reach out to me.


Hugh Gallagher 

The Gallagher Search Group