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Lay Down Your Arms: There Is No War For Talent


The war for talent is over. I don’t know if it ever began but it certainly hasn’t existed for years. And every time I hear the phrase, I bite my tongue just a little bit.

It’s not just that war as we know the word to mean is a ridiculous oversimplification of the complexities of the labor market. But I’ll be honest with you, that is definitely part of my frustration. We have a multi-faceted economy and we’re breaking it down to the idea of war? War assumes conflict. War assumes winners and losers. War often implies black and white problems and solutions. Thousands of companies have already conquered the war for talent. They have the talent they need and if they need more, they know how to identify them and bring them on board.

That doesn’t sound like any war I’ve ever heard of. There are competitors in the same industry, going after the same talent, that both hire good talent, produce goods and make money. What kind of war is this?

There is no ground more sacred than the war for engineering talent in the Bay area. If you ask Jon Marcus, a tech recruiter in the Bay area, the problem goes beyond the supposed talent mismatch (via VentureBeat):

“It’s the fear of the unknown,” he says. ”Everyone is afraid of hiring the wrong person, and if they would just trust that they know how to ask the right questions, then everyone wouldn’t be complaining as much about recruiting.”

But instead of asking the right questions and hiring a candidate who’s qualified, Marcus says that startup founders will take a candidate in based on a personal recommendation or an impressive company name on a resume, usually branching outside the original specification they wrote and usually regretting the decision in the long run.

Marcus acknowledges that engineering talent is difficult to find and that more will continue to be needed. But he doesn’t sound like a soldier ready to go to battle. In fact, he seems more willing to turn it around on a hiring manager and tell them we’ve focused on the wrong thing. We’ve let perfect be the enemy of great when it comes to talent. We’ve let unrelated factors earn a place in our perfect hiring decisions.


While you were busy trying to find the perfect purple unicorn with rainbow colored wings, smarter companies just bought a horse, a bird and some purple paint. They also upgraded and added glitter.

Everyone loves glitter.

Recruiting’s war for talent has become a lot like HR’s seat at the table. It’s a mode of justifying your existence as a part of an organization. And if I never have to hear about either one of them ever again, it will be far too soon.

If you are in talent acquisition, your role is clear without the war that doesn’t exist: be smart, do things other people aren’t doing, network, and get in your prospect’s head to figure out what they want. Maybe most importantly, though? Push back on the purple squirrel searches. Push back on the A+ talent requests. Push back on the fear that organizations have when they can only check 8 of the 10 boxes on their ultimate candidate search form.

Are there difficult searches out there? Certainly. But let’s push back on the idea that finding truly one-of-a-kind talent is the only important differentiator in business success.

Your goal should be to deliver great talent within this decade. And if your client or company is sending you on wild goose chases rather than making and closing on offers to candidates that actually exist in this world, it might be time to push back or disengage.

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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