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Talent Selection and Careers - the last thought?

"We'll often spend more time deciding on where we'll live, what car we'll buy, or the clothes we wear, rather than on our job or career direction. And we'll tolerate jobs we don't like, whereas if we don't like our house, we move."

It's funny - the area of our life that affects us the most and the place we probably will spend most of our life, only figures when things go pear-shaped. I'm talking about your career, your job, the place where you spend time to earn a living to survive. Yet we'll often spend more time deciding on where we'll live, what car we'll buy, or the clothes we wear, rather than on our job or career direction. And we'll tolerate jobs we don't like, whereas if we don't like our house, we move. We're funny creatures.

That also goes for companies. They spend exhaustive amounts of time researching purchasing capital equipment, finding suitable premises, bringing in expensive expertise for all areas of their business, yet often take a DIY approach to their biggest expense - employing their most valuable asset, their staff. Like many DIY's, some work well, but many end up disasters and cost a company plenty, sometimes the company. We're seeing a few high profile examples of bad decision-making in hiring staff, especially at the top.

But one thing a decent recession does is sober people up in all areas - because they have to. The last 12-18 months has seen the job market shrink. Some say by around 50%, some say more. That means organisations have reduced their "churn" of talent markedly, and taken stock of what to do going forward once the prognosis for business looks like improving - which it seems to be doing now in most areas. Before throwing the sharp unemployment rise in the December quarter at me, remember this is an historic figure and where we are at now will be reported in April. We love looking back, and making decisions on what was, not what is!

So what the best thing to do going forward. Firstly employ talent. It might sound simple, but many organisations remain gun-shy. Today's new environment presents a different set of challenges for companies. Most talk about lower margins, which means either getting used to lower returns, or thinking differently and engaging people who will help you think differently. We are seeing real examples of that with the innovation coming out of the likes of Air New Zealand and our software sector which is developing some world-leading products. But if it's all a bit too risky, then you need to rethink your strategy of how you engage talent. Not just the type of talent, or the style of talent, but the basis on which you engage that talent. A predominantly permanently employed workforce gives you no flexibility to manage your costs, or engage different expertise to meet changing market demands. A healthy balance of permanent, fixed term, contract, and temporary staff can be your greatest asset today because it allows you to control and manage your business operations in the best way to meet this market - which at the best is fragile. And engage the best talent available without necessarily increasing fixed overheads.

And on the other side of the coin, the message is the same. People seeking work have to think differently as well. And candidates have never had it better to "tout their wares", but they don't. Poorly executed CV's or "prime selling documents" are common, often plagued by mistakes, and often at the highest level. It's a bit like selling your house in an unkempt state or your car with one flat tyre and the door open. You just don't. Yet the effort put into the preliminary "promotional product" is often terrible. There is an old adage "Hire for attitude, train for expertise" Restated in terms of the 21st Century, this means thinking past the pure technical skills and competencies you have, and promoting who you are and what you are capable of doing, and relating it to today, not the past.

There are fantastic new channels for people to promote themselves, yet they are little used. We still defer to the inefficient CV which is a singular dimensional description of what has been, and someone's generic self-evaluation of what they think they can do for the recipient's organisation. The scary thing is that initial decisions are often made on this document by people who really don't understand how to interpret this into today's much changed environment. And this is probably singularly why there are so many bad decisions made.

In spite of the recession, we are still faced with extreme talent shortages in key areas that could have huge impact on our economic growth. Successful companies have already figured it out and secure and hang on to the best talent. The challenge for most is how to find that talent and get hold of it. And it takes talent to do that.

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