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Happy Valentine’s Day. Your Perfect Candidate Doesn’t Exist.

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Ah, Valentine’s Day. Today is a day to beware of lofty expectations – because let’s be honest, unless you’re eagerly anticipating a lot of booked-up restaurants and an eye-numbing amount of pink paper hearts strewn carelessly across supermarket aisles, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Constantly pining over “the perfect person” that doesn’t exist coupled with unrealistic expectations about one’s significant other have foiled many a promising relationship, and as we recently found out…recruiting efforts?

Bullhorn recently released its annual North American Recruiting Trends Report: “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back.” We felt there were certain findings from the survey that warranted special consideration, and a deeper dive. One such finding was in regards to recruiters’ biggest challenges for 2013. Thirty-three percent of recruiters listed their biggest challenge for 2013 as “a lack of skilled candidates.” And 76.1% of respondents in a separate question claimed to have a “shortage of skilled candidates” in their respective recruiting sectors. With more than half of all North American respondents recruiting for industries including information technology, this lack and/or shortage of “skilled candidates” quandary painted a picture of a continually-escalating war for talent.

With Northeastern University researchers reporting in April 2012 that 53.6% of all Bachelor’s degree-holders under age 25 are unemployed or underemployed, and with our own research shedding light on the tremendous discrimination faced by the long-term unemployed of every age group, the idea of a “lack of skilled candidates” is problematic. Some technology pundits have courted controversy by stating that non-STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) college majors are essentially unimportant, pointing to the demand for engineers and developers and to the earning potential of such fields. However, the real challenge may be less about the candidates themselves, and more about hiring companies and their expectations.

Tellingly, the second most cited major challenge of 2013 was “unrealistic client expectations” (26.5%). In evaluating the data, we wondered if this answer option was under-selected by respondents, either because they were reluctant to criticize their clients or because they may have become so accustomed to “unrealistic” expectations that they now seem realistic. Nonetheless, a lack of training opportunities for college graduates and long-term unemployed people who would be willing to learn a new skill to get a job could be far more damaging to hiring companies than a shortage of formally STEM-educated candidates.  And with the benefits of social recruiting including finding passive candidates and filling jobs more quickly, identifying candidates who have an interest in growing their careers through skills acquisition is easier than ever before.

One of the recruiters in our study extrapolated on the primary challenge for 2013, arguing that “candidate compensation requirements are not in line with client expectations,” a symptom of unrealistic client expectations in general. Given that skilled software developers can, at least in certain U.S. markets, claim higher salaries than ever before due to sheer demand and given that client companies may not be prepared to furnish such salaries points to the problems associated with “chasing a purple squirrel.”

As a result, in pursuing the idea of a perfect candidate, clients are ignoring the much cheaper alternative of hiring fresh, smart grads and eager, challenge-seeking unemployed professionals and training them to take on new careers in information technology – a strategy that could quickly ameliorate the shortage of industry-specific talent, save money, and foster employee loyalty.

Maybe it’s time to give up on perfect and settle for “willing and able.”