How to Recruit for “Unfillable Vacancies”

unfillable vacancies what to do mandy johnson

By Mandy Johnson | People and Culture Expert

Recruiting for unfillable vacancies is a killer scenario faced by many companies. They might have made significant improvements to many of their attraction and hiring processes but, for some positions, they still struggle to find good people. The recruiter gives up and the organisation is forced to adjust its business objectives, like the global retailing CEO who told me he’d put all his expansion plans on hold because his company was simply unable to get good staff.

Good Applicants Come In All Shapes and Sizes

As Confucius says, the problem is not the goals, but the action steps used to reach them. There is a way forward from this point. Often the reason why organisations can’t attract good candidates is that their conventional target market is too limited, that is, the type of people they are looking for is too small or non-existent. As well as changing their attractors, then, organisations may also need to modify their thinking as to who are the most suitable applicants to fill their vacancies.

Take the fibre-glassing supervisor who was struggling to fill positions who realised that females, with their smaller hands, were perfect recruits for the new resin infusion technique that had just been developed. He filled all his vacancies with women and had no competition as other businesses had never even thought about this possibility.

The Australian Defence Force had a similar experience. They made the decision to allow mild asthmatics to join up and increased their potential recruiting pool by 400,000, after years of banning these applicants.

Considering other candidate pools, takes hiring out of a small box, opens up a whole new world of applicants, and gives a company a real competitive edge. Whilst other businesses are still vying for conventional recruits, an organisation can fill all its positions with applicants its rivals have never even considered. Even better, because these people have been given a new and unlooked-for opportunity in their lives they tend to be grateful, positive, loyal and committed to excellence to justify this uncommon belief in them.

Other Potential Candidate Pools

Here are some examples of demographics that an organisation could target to help fill their unfillable vacancies…

In a tight labor market an organisation needs to ask itself whether it really needs to employ a person for that particular position. For hard-to-fill roles there are often parts of the job that can be performed by other recruits. In America, a lack of teaching staff prompted the development of a lesser skilled Teacher’s Assistant position that took on all the administration and reduced the number of actual teachers required.

Outsourcing is good for project work or for businesses that don’t have specialised skills in-house. It’s best used judiciously though as some contractors have little emotional engagement with an organisation, and set goals based on their own project income, not client results.

Other gender or ethnic groups:
Many organisations have restrictive rules that preclude some candidates. For instance, when the Victorian state police changed their fitness test from 6 mins to 6.5 mins, they increased their female recruits from 26% to 41%.

Mature workers:
Many older people are now more interested in flexible work hours and whether the role/company is a good fit with their personal values, rather than massive salaries. The Australian state of Victoria has just bolstered police ranks by employing retired officers to work part-time on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Home Depot in the US did a deal with the AARP, an over 50s association with 36 million members, and now sources most of the staff for its new shops from this pool.

School and college graduates:
Graduates can fill entry-level positions, and be trained in the skills required. For instance the auditing firm, Price Waterhouse announced in late 2007 that they were headhunting high-performing 16 year old school children because they could no longer fill their accountancy vacancies from university graduates. The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has also introduced a ‘gap year’ for school leavers to come and work for them in the hope that many will stay on. With a multitude of exciting roles to choose from, a $40,000 salary and only one year’s commitment, this has proved a compelling proposition for lots of young school leavers.

Overseas applicants:
These are good candidates in times of extreme need. I have sourced engineers from the UK and boatbuilders from NZ. At the time, the cost of living in Australia was favourable and wages were higher so it was an attractive proposition for them.

Employees who have left an organisation and then return make great recruits because they already have knowledge of and share the corporation’s vision and values. Professional service firm, Deloittes & Touche recruits as many as one third of all its new hires from boomerangs and saves the company millions of dollars in hiring and training costs.

People already within the company:
Often there is someone within your organization who can be trained into a position you are trying to fill. One of my most successful recruits was Brian, a nineteen year old who I employed as a CAD draftsperson, after transferring him from his previous position in the IT department. He had no CAD skills but was positive, an excellent communicator and offered to share the cost of the course to bring him up to speed on the desired technology. We decided to give him a go. Not only was he fully qualified in the CAD skills within six months but he eventually became one of the company’s most successful project managers, because of his great attitude and interpersonal abilities.


Final word…

By targeting these kind of unconventional candidate pools, not only can organisations fill all their vacancies with the cream of the crop, but they also avoid bidding wars as others simply won’t be competing in the same territory.


If you want to learn more about Finding and Recruiting staff for your business, join Mandy at the People & Culture Masterclasses. The People and Culture Masterclasses have been designed to give leaders in People/ HR, operations and business owners in private businesses practical skills and tools to transform finding, hiring and retaining staff.



**This article was originally posted on Mandy Johnson’s Blog as “Unfillable Vacancies” – What can you do about them?

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