Complicated or Complex?

Tech bubble or not, Silicon Valley and its offshoots are changing. Startups are slowing their burn; candidates are opting for more stable opportunities; recruiters aren’t seeing the number of positive responses they once did. It is an uncertain time in the talent and hiring space, which leaves many wondering how to keep up or what is next.

At Binc, and in almost all talent organizations, we focus a lot on the recruiting funnel, or how many people are converting through each stage of the interview process. It’s an image we’ve all seen plenty of times:

It’s pretty straightforward, right? 15 people go in and one person comes out after a series of ‘yes’s and ‘no’s. I’ve seen this same story from many recruiters over the years whether new or experienced, in a slump or knocking it out of the park.

In its simplest form, this story isn’t wrong; however, each candidate is different and you can’t always predict every ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ With the market evolving as it is, we’re seeing candidates evaluating new or slightly different factors in their decision making, which can lead to some unexpected variables in our trusty recruiting funnel. And even the best recruiters can get frustrated when the funnel isn’t thus converting as expected.

This type of frustration can bring down even the best recruiter. When this happens, it's good to take a step back and remember what we're working with. Reading Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal recently reminded me of an important distinction between complicated and complex, and how that relates to our very simple recruiting funnel.

Complicated = “Things that are complicated may have many parts, but those parts are joined, one to the next, in relatively simple ways: one cog turns, causing the next one to turn as well, and so on.” Pg. 57.

Complex = “Things that are complex—living organisms, ecosystems, national economies—have a diverse array of connected elements that interact frequently. Because of this density of linkages, complex systems fluctuate extremely and exhibit unpredictability.” Pg. 56.

In a complicated recruiting funnel, we would expect the same issue to impact a candidate or hiring manager in a similar manner each time it comes up. It exists in a relatively closed ecosystem where all of the potential influences on a candidate or hiring manager are known and somewhat consistent; e.g. 30+ minutes of commute time will likely lead a candidate to be disinterested in a position. Or when a hiring manager says a candidate needs 3+ years of experience, a candidate with 2.5 years of experience rarely gets interviewed.

In a complex recruiting funnel, on the other hand, a candidate may be a “no” today because they don’t want to commute more than 30 minutes, but a “yes” tomorrow when they understand the potential of a product and its impact, and back to a “no”  shortly after because they learn they are up for a promotion at their current company. The complex recruiting funnel recognizes that it isn’t a series of ‘yes’s and ‘no’s, but rather a large tangle of factors that need to be carefully balanced.

We can all agree that the complex recruiting funnel is a much more realistic picture of what happens daily. Conversations with candidates are full of “Yes, if . . .”, “No, but . . .”, or “Let’s revisit when . . .”. The number of factors every candidate has to weigh and their disparate motivations is overwhelming. Some will care deeply about the type of product they work on. Others will focus more on how long it will take them to get to and from work each day. Similarly, every hiring manager is looking for something different and that can vary with every candidate introduced or hire made. Today may be focused on finding someone with a perfect skill match. Tomorrow may be about bringing someone that can bring a team together. Next week may be about finding a new skill to push the team to the next level.

The recognition that this is complex system and not simply a “funnel” for things to fall through can ultimately be freeing. When you accept that there are a myriad of possible elements that go into the hiring process, you can move away from rigid checklists and adopt a flexible and strategic approach. This complexity necessitates uncovering as many factors as possible, understanding their value to the other party, and being a partner at each stage. There are fewer surprises or frustrating moments when you are an active participant versus an observer.

The best recruiters are those that understand this complex ecosystem and have developed the skills to work within it.

Don’t let the uncertainty of the current market, candidates, or hiring managers hinder you. Embrace the complexity of the recruiting funnel and your role in identifying the numerous factors involved: Take them as daily opportunities to learn and hone your recruiting skills. What candidates and hiring managers want will continue to evolve and change regardless of the market. As recruiters, it is our ability to listen to and understand both sides, which contributes to the magic that brings together incredible teams.