The Competition We Neglect

In the gym at 5:00am, I look around and wonder about people’s sense of competition.  Is it me or did that guy with the red trunks and shaved head add an extra 10 pounds to the barbell the other guy just finished lifting in order to outlift his competition?  Did that woman with the iPod strapped to her arm increase her pace on the elliptical now that another equally fit woman got on the machine next to her?  It is a natural part of the human condition to compare oneself to others.  But to what extent and at what cost?

For a hiring manager in this rapidly changing talent market, I can assure you that it’s wise to remain acutely aware of your competition.  That goes without saying.  Sure, there are those head-to-head competitors that play in your space.  But I’m referring to the many other companies that aim to hire the same kinds of individuals you seek.

Granted, you may be a high growth company that’s taking on more new customers than you can count.  And your environment fosters a “do what it takes” mentality, embracing perpetual change (mainly because you haven’t had the time to enact a tangible plan).  The entire management team consists of straight-shooters and they don’t care how long employees work each day, as long as the job gets done.  Then again, each individual is taking on a workload big enough for two.  Candidates are lucky just to gain an interview with you, waiting endlessly for you to come up for air long enough to move forward with a delay-ridden hiring cycle.  Do you really think you can outlift (read outhire) your competitors?

Meanwhile, your most formidable competition boasts of a high growth track as well, but has a balanced, committed plan to help mentor new employees as they get ramped up.  They execute their hiring process with responsiveness, clear communications, and minimal delays – ready to attract and move quickly to hire talented candidates.  They offer a distinct and time-bound career advancement path.  They offer strong benefits combined with a compensation plan that is truly commensurate with the market demands.  They haven’t deluded themselves into believing they’re the only enticing high growth game in town.

In this portrayal, you are your own worst competition.  To be fair, you will attract some candidates.  If you’re lucky, you may even hire a few in spite of yourself.  But what can you do to outhire competing companies?  First, let’s get introspective and think about the candidate experience with your company.  They may see a high flying company, but it’s coming in the context of a scatterbrain dysfunctional hiring process that doesn’t seem to prioritize candidates first…or even pretend to!  And this is just the interviewing phase.  It doesn’t take much forethought for a candidate to extrapolate this out to their potential life as a full-time employee.

When you finally manage to interview a candidate, are you selling them on the opportunity or are you taking a holier-than-thou attitude, in which candidates are expected do all the selling on why they should have the privilege to work for your esteemed company?  A little humility and self-actualization can go a long way to make your company more competitive in a tight hiring market.

Second, let’s compare your offering with that of other companies seeking similar talent.  How does your compensation plan stack up?  Benefits?  Culture?  Advancement opportunities?  Understandably, you may not have your finger on the pulse.  Yet, there are resources available to help gain insight, including recruiters, peer groups, trusted networking contacts, and perhaps your own recent hires.

Candidates are certainly no exception to this competition blind spot.  I’m amazed by the number of candidates that ask me questions ad nauseum about the other candidates interviewing for the same position.  In my book, they don’t lose points for asking such questions.  But if these same candidates put as much concern into the health and well-being of their resumes, grammar in their follow-up thank you emails, quality of their references, and knowledge of interviewing best practices (along with the desire to improve), they wouldn’t need to be so obsessed with other candidates.

My competition at the gym comes in the form of a worn out rotator cuff, bone chips in the elbow, and lifelong asthma.  It reminds me of an adage:  “You’ll never find a better sparring partner than adversity.”  I’ll take it one step further.  Since we tend to be our own worst enemies, there’s no better sparring partner than ourselves.  Whether a hiring executive or candidate, the next time you experience an unfavorable interview result, take a closer look at your most nightmarish competitor.  Hold up a mirror.

Action Items:

1.  We are our own worst enemies.  This applies to companies as well – in particular their challenge to attract and hire top talent.  Improvement starts by looking inward and seeking counsel from those who have their finger on the talent market pulse.

2.  Competition comes in many forms.  Become aware of them all.

3.  Don’t start by trying to outdo others at the gym.  After all, there will always be someone who is stronger or faster.  Sure, you can become aware of those around you for comparative purposes.  But focus on yourself first.  You are your own best sparring partner.


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