Talent Acquisition Workplace

What is “The Perfect Fit”?

WANTED: Single / divorced woman, age 25-29; must have long blonde hair past their shoulder but no longer than mid-back, with tight natural ringlets; blue eyes, figure 36-24-36 (plus or minus one inch only on each); 5’3” – 5’6” and 100 – 125 pounds, politically liberal but loves target shooting and the outdoors. IQ above 130. No children but willing to have at least three; demure outside but wildcat in bed; certified disease-free; no criminal history. Must be practicing Eastern Orthodox. Must enjoy reading, museums, and the theater. Financially stable with high credit score from a good family with at least a Bachelor’s degree – and only had relationships longer than two years. No long-term unattached people.*

Are you rolling your eyes? Can you imagine someone actually writing such a multi-point singles ad… and complaining nobody answered? You’d laugh.

Serious people know that such idealized perfection is for fictional romance novels – there is no factory cranking out fantasy mates to specifications. People arrive at dates with the physical features they’re born with, and personalities and histories that are as much random-walk as intentional development.

Yet companies regularly post job ads with similar levels of detail. And when “Ms. Perfect” doesn’t appear they don’t rethink what they’re asking for – they blame the candidate pool, throwing out terms like “skills shortage”. They’re willing to wait, without considering that waiting for perfection has a cost too: a DeVry University survey had some interesting tidbits about the attitudes and expectations of both job seekers and hiring managers. I shake my head at this one:

“Sixty-seven percent of hiring managers don’t feel like they have to settle for a candidate without the perfect qualifications for the job.”

In search of candidate factories:

A few months ago a job posting appeared in my inbox; at the bottom: “Only apply if you meet all the requirements.” All eight of them. The perfect fit mentality in practice. I had seven with no problem.

On the last, I have over double the time-experience required in doing CAD modeling; I just have that experience with different CAD software packages. Learning a new CAD software, given my background, would be a snap, so off went my resume to what I would call a solid 90%+ fit. And nothing; the job is still listed as open.

As with the dating scene, candidates arrive at job postings with the experience and education they have, which is more often than not a result of a semi-planned progression (at best) punctuated by involuntary job shifts and the need to take jobs for an income’s sake. Just as there is no fantasy date factory, there is no fantasy candidate factory.

The economics of hiring:

Companies claim there is a shortage, and have been claiming so for almost a decade. Yet if there were a true shortage, what should be happening?

If there is a demand exceeding supply, then wages should be rising. Are they? In a few, very specific fields, I am given to understand there are – but more broadly, I don’t see it. In my own job search I have been told that finding a position at a salary even equal to my last is unlikely. This does not square with a “shortage” of people, particularly in STEM fields where the clamor about a shortage is most shrill.

If there is shortage there should also be Elasticity of Substitution; i.e., a willingness to be flexible and consider people from different industries or who didn’t match every requirement perfectly. After all, people from other fields bring fresh eyes perspectives. Returning to the dating analogy – my wife, one day, wanted to go to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Understand that I hadn’t been there since elementary school field trips, and art-loving was not even on my dating radar screen as a hint of a requirement in a mate; I was skeptical, but it was a wonder. We routinely go there and other art museums in the area too – thanks to an interest of my wife that I had never considered important.

And one last thing about shortages: if there were a shortage, when a candidate fit or was close, companies would act. Yet positions stay open for month after quarter (after year), with no action taken. People in a crisis act like there’s a crisis.

The need for leadership:

In Who’s to Blame for the Perfect Fit Syndrome? Ira Wolfe states:

“If raw materials or supplies are in short supply, the COO, plant manager, and general manager are held accountable for developing a strategy to correct the problem — at least that’s how it works in top performing companies. Rarely does senior management just give up, chuck the strategic plan, and contract the business. If they can’t find another source, they re-write the rules and do whatever it takes to divert resources from competitors.

His comment rhymes with something I’d written too (emphasis added):

“…where are the hiring manager’s managers? Nobody expects a VP or director to tell a hiring manager whom to hire. But observing that the perfect fit has not appeared for months — and with their greater perspective seeing that not hiring also carries risks that must be weighed against hiring the “wrong” person — one should reasonably expect a company leader to give explicit permission to hire “outside the box,” and yet allow for a learning curve that may be steeper and longer and risks that are higher. That perspective may also recognize that today’s hyper-competitive world demands continually examining the business with fresh eyes for improvement opportunities.”

What can be done?

  1. First, there are no counterbalancing forces to the ability of a hiring manager to extend searches to infinity hoping for a candidate with a red cape and “S” on their chest. There need to be opposing forces to create an equilibrium.
  2. Second, recruiting professionals, as good service providers, need to push back. For example, when a specific software is called out, ask: is it the software or the competency behind it that matters? Are all eight criteria truly must haves, or are there 3-4 must haves, and the rest are negotiable?
  3. Third, if the perfect fit isn’t showing up, work with the hiring manager with their boss’ involvement to determine what requirements can be relaxed, and what training would be required to bring someone up to snuff on each relaxed requirement.
  4. Fourth, actively solicit people from networking groups of people looking for work. Develop relationships with people whose backgrounds indicate they might be a good fit, and then develop a customized training program to propose to the hiring manager as they are presented. (E.g., David’s has 7 of 8 points you’ve requested – see here – and knows CAD very well; he’d just need two courses in XYZ software and he’d be good to go.)

Without people in the recruiting business taking an active role, there will continue to be positions open for long periods, resulting in damage to the bottom line… and people without jobs for long periods. I think it’s possible to solve both problems simultaneously.

(*I made these up, and added a little sarcasm – especially on the last requirement.)

Author: David Hunt, PE, is a Mechanical Engineer “in transition” and searching for a product development / project management role in southern New Hampshire / northern Massachusetts. More than just another pretty engineering face, he blogs at, including on engineering topics like design, plastics, and problem-solving, but also HR and recruiting issues, economics, and whatever else moves him – thus demonstrating a wide-ranging intellect and intellectual curiosity.

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