Guest Editorial

Finding the best talent

By Robert W. Knopik

Robert W. Knopik, president of The Leadership Search Group, discusses the changing job market

guesteditApril 2012 MM: How has the job market changed in the last few months?

RK: In both the metals and manufacturing markets, the fourth quarter of 2011 was pretty slow, but January and February 2012 were very strong. I’ve been in this business for 12 years, and it’s the strongest period I’ve ever experienced. That’s a good sign there’s pent-up demand for talent in the market.

During the recession, employers became risk averse. People who had jobs weren’t leaving their positions, and companies weren’t hiring new employees. A lot of individuals were taken out of organizations, and their work was spread among the remaining employees. However, the job was still there and the work was still there. These positions are coming back, so that’s positive.

As they entered the new year, businesses took a look at their business plans and realized they will not meet their goals with the current organizational gap. They will have to upgrade or add staff.

MM:Is it harder to find people to fill positions today?

RK: Absolutely. Because it’s harder, you have to talk to many more people. If a person has a job, is relatively happy in that job and is making a suitable income, the chances of him or her thinking the grass is greener in another position is less today than it is in a more robust market.

LeadershipSearch-140pxAs a result, a company has to sell itself much more so than in the past. Some steel companies I work with feel it’s a buyer’s market, meaning that companies are able to access a huge amount of talent in the marketplace. They’re totally wrong; it’s just the opposite. There are a lot of people out of work, but in a broad sense, there were a lot of people taken out because they weren’t A players. It’s the C players that are filling the job boards with their résumés.

MM: What can employers do to ensure they’re sourcing the best candidates for an open position?

RK: The most-important driver of organizational performance and individual management is talent. Hiring and promoting the best people is what distinguishes premier companies from mediocre companies and successful careers from ordinary careers.

However, companies need to know how to interview and recognize A players. For most companies, the primary assessment method is interviewing. There are not a lot of managers that are good at it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to a candidate after they’ve interviewed with a company and asked them how the meeting went and they’ll say, ‘Well, they talked a lot, but they didn’t really ask any questions.’ That’s not an interview. Companies need to have a focus when hiring and get trained in the proper interviewing techniques.

They also should use a reputable search firm that actually does the interviewing and doesn’t just shuffle résumés from a database of functional expertise. When we interview, we’ll do a self-administered assessment that the candidate takes. And then we do competency-based interviewing, which looks at a whole host of interpersonal, management and motivational competencies. These could be things such as judgment, decision making, creativity, risk taking, resourcefulness, listening ability, assertiveness, coaching, goal setting, energy and passion.

MM: Which metals industry positions are most in demand?

RK: Sales, general management and operations management positions always have solid demand. The industry did not do recruiting for a lot of years. They basically stopped looking for new talent. That’s all changed, but you have a desert of individuals in the 40- to 50-year range. As companies are starting to do more recruiting, you’re starting to see more talent coming in. Manufacturing is becoming more of a focus, especially as more manufacturing jobs come back from overseas. You’re starting to have more interest on the college campus level. But again, you’ve got the senior managers who were recruited back when the industry was doing recruiting, and then you have the young employees. There aren’t as many people in the middle.

MM: In your opinion, are today’s job seekers qualified for available positions?

RK: Most companies look through job boards, and most recruiters look through job boards. I always have found the success rate of finding résumés on job boards is pretty low—if you want an A player. There are fewer A players available for any one position. You can find individuals to hire, but are they going to be the top talent that you want? I would argue they probably won’t be. MM

Robert W. Knopik was a former senior executive at Inland Steel Industries and founded The Leadership Search Group ( in 2000. LSG is an executive recruiting and placement firm that specializes in job opportunities in the general manufacturing and metals distribution and manufacturing industries. Clients include domestic and international businesses that focus on steel, aluminum, specialty metals, raw materials, forging, metals scrap and general manufacturing, among others.

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