January 24, 2014
special report | Human Resources Issues in Logistics

The great talent hunt

The great talent hunt

Having trouble finding the right people to fill logistics and supply chain positions? You might be going about it wrong. Here's how to find what you're looking for.

By Toby Gooley

Every year, at the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' (CSCMP) Annual Global Conference, there are one or two concerns that seem to be on every attendee's mind. At the 2013 conference, the hot-button issue was talent. At educational sessions, in hallway conversations, even over breakfast and lunch, complete strangers engaged in discussions about how to recruit, train, develop, and retain both new and experienced logistics and supply chain professionals.

All of those topics are interrelated, and each deserves a lengthy article of its own. But let's start at the beginning, with the first step in the employment lifecycle: finding appropriate job candidates. According to SCM Talent Development: The Acquire Process, a new research report published by CSCMP and written by Brian Gibson of Auburn University along with Zac Williams, Sean Goffnet, and Robert Cook of Central Michigan University, this requires a two-step approach:

  • Assessing the position's responsibilities and, accurately and realistically, identifying the skills required to carry them out
  • Crafting effective communications about the position and employing appropriate recruiting methods.

That may sound straightforward, even obvious, but relatively few employers actually follow that process. Here's a look at what many companies are getting wrong, along with some recommendations on better ways to find qualified candidates.

IN SEARCH OF "THE PURPLE SQUIRREL"
Peruse a selection of logistics and supply chain job listings, particularly those for managerial and higher-level positions, and one thing will quickly stand out: Many companies are asking for the moon. Or, as Don Jacobson, president of Optimum Supply Chain Recruiters, puts it, "They're looking for what in my company we call the 'purple squirrel'—something that doesn't exist." These days, it's common to see job postings with excruciatingly specific descriptions of "must have" functional experience and expertise, personal characteristics, "soft" skills, product knowledge, educational experience, technical skills, and more, Jacobson says. The likely consequence of setting such exacting criteria is that very few people could possibly meet them.

A more realistic approach is to clarify which skills and experience are truly a "must have" and which could be classified as "desirable" or "preferred." Jacobson suggests considering candidates who have had exposure to, but not direct responsibility for, "desirable" or "preferred" areas, which are relevant to but not crucial for the job.

Pinpointing the necessary skills and experience should be a group exercise, say Gibson, Cook, et al. A best practice identified by their survey of more than 900 supply chain and human resources (HR) professionals: Assign specific HR people to supply chain management (SCM) and logistics, and have them work directly with hiring managers to develop job descriptions and postings. "This bolsters recruiters' knowledge of SCM talent requirements and ensures that candidates are recruited by people who can speak the language of SCM," the authors write.

Many companies make industry- or product-specific experience a "must have." But Jacobson advises being open-minded about a candidate from another industry who has all the right management skills, functional knowledge, and personal characteristics. He or she could not only be a perfect fit for the job but also bring valuable new perspectives and ideas to the table.

Finally, when it comes to figuring out what is really necessary to fill a position, don't limit your thinking to the individual job opening. "Assess your team's current skills and identify gaps, and use that to help determine what you need, not just for the specific position but for the organization or group," urged one respondent to the CSCMP survey. "Who do we have and what do we need, not just now but in the future?"

GETTING THE WORD OUT
Once you've come up with a realistic, accurate picture of the skills and experience required, the question then becomes how to let qualified candidates know about the job opening. Employers today use a variety of methods: Some rely on electronic platforms, such as companies' own websites, general career websites, specialized supply chain and logistics career websites, and social media. Others use more traditional, face-to-face communication through such means as executive recruiters, professional networking, internship and co-op programs, and collaborating with academic institutions.

Online job postings are often the first, and possibly only, place many job seekers today look for open positions. Each of the platforms mentioned above has its advantages. For example, companies can design the careers section of their own websites however they like, and they have free rein to promote the company and its culture. General job boards like Monster.com and Careerbuilder.com are household names and attract large volumes of both postings and site traffic. Social media can be a good way to reach a young, entry-level audience. Specialized job boards have an advantage because they specifically target a logistics and supply chain audience.

There are potential disadvantages to electronic methods as well. It can be tedious for job seekers to scan a large number of company-specific websites; unless they are targeting specific companies as potential employers, good candidates may not check a corporate site regularly. Social media platforms are unlikely to reach the older candidates who would be qualified for higher-level positions. General job boards are highly automated, and keyword searches will pull up any listing with that word in the description, not just in the job title. A brief search on two of the largest such sites using the term "logistics" turned up hundreds of appropriate jobs as well as postings for such positions as "associate manager, surgical training and events" and "director, marine electronics—power propulsion" because the word "logistics" appeared somewhere in the job description.

Don Firth, president and co-founder of JobsInLogistics.com, the first and largest of the specialized job boards, points out another potential drawback of general listings. "If you advertise a logistics job on [a general career website], almost everyone will apply to it. But nobody goes to JobsInLogistics.com unless they're in logistics," he says. According to Firth, the site has more than 30,000 registered employers, who pay to list their open positions and have rights to search the résumé database. The company, which also owns the JobsInTrucks.com job board, has more than 900,000 résumés in its logistics database; more than 250,000 individual job seekers in the United States peruse the logistics listings each month.

Online posting may be popular, but many companies are not getting as much out of them as they could. To get the right candidates to respond to an online job posting, Firth says, employers should make sure the positions are correctly classified and that the descriptions include multiple key words that could apply to the position. "They should be aware that what one person might call a logistics position, someone coming out of distribution might call a different name and search with a different key word," he says. He also advises employers to limit job descriptions to a few specific, brief points rather than long, narrative paragraphs, so candidates can quickly tell whether the job would be appropriate for them; the "nice to know" details can be shared with applicants later. And be sure to include a brief "sales pitch" for the employer. "We suggest looking at it from the candidate's point of view. ... You want to indicate the benefits of working for you," he says.

While popular, online job postings are not as effective as some of the other methods employed by respondents to CSCMP's survey. When asked to rate the effectiveness of their recruiting methods, respondents ranked the method they used most often—job postings on their companies' own websites—next to last, just above newspaper ads. The most effective methods, they said, are those that require active pursuit of candidates and personal involvement, such as executive recruiters, internship and co-op programs, university faculty referrals, networking, and employee referral programs. (See Exhibit 1.)

Exhibit 1

Why are these "old-fashioned" methods so effective? Because they allow employers to get to know a candidate as a person, not just a résumé. Internships, for example, let employers observe and assess prospective employees' capabilities and "fit" with the company. Consistent engagement with university logistics and supply chain management programs gives employers an opportunity to "get your organization out in front of the emerging talent base," said one respondent to the CSCMP survey. Professors and college placement centers can also help match jobs with appropriate students and alumni.

Networking with peers and supply chain partners, encouraging employees to refer candidates, and working with recruiters can also be fruitful. Recruiters with a strong background in logistics and supply chain operations, for example, will understand a position's responsibilities and requirements, says Jacobson, who worked in the field before becoming a recruiter. The personal touch is important, he adds. "We know how to find and talk to those that are not actively seeking a new position, and we can introduce them to an opportunity that would be a good fit for them. We can make sure they are a good fit for the company, both in experience and personality."

The research findings and advice offered by Firth, Jacobson, and others involved in logistics and supply chain recruiting provide a useful guideline for managers worried about finding the right talent for increasingly complex and demanding jobs. A program that combines realistic requirements for candidates with both online and proactive recruiting efforts will lead to success in acquiring the best talent in today's marketplace.

Editor's note: SCM Talent Development: The Acquire Process is available from the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals for $29.95 ($19.95 for members). CSCMP has published two additional reports in its series on best practices in talent development: The Develop Process and The Advance Process. More information is available at cscmp.org under "Resources & Research."

About the Author

Toby Gooley
Senior Editor
Before joining DC VELOCITY and its sister publication, CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly, where she serves as Editor, Toby Gooley spent 20 years at Logistics Management covering international trade and transportation as Senior Editor and Managing Editor. Prior to that she was an export traffic manager for 10 years. She holds a B.A. in Asian Studies from Cornell University.

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