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Lesson 1: Chaye Sara: “Let her be the one”–Headhunting and scouting for talent acquisition
At the end of the day, you bet on people, not on strategies.” – Lawrence Bossidy
“Let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’—let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby shall I know that You have dealt graciously with my master” Genesis 24:14.
Abraham seemed desperate to find a match for his son Isaac and charged his servant (likely, Eliezer) with this endeavor. Abraham’s wife Sarah had died, and Abraham was left to deal with this critical task. He sent his servant on his ‘headhunting’ way with only minimal instruction. He did stress that Isaac’s future bride should by no means come from the neighboring Canaanite population, and under no circumstances should Isaac be expected to relocate. Rather, his servant should journey to Abraham’s hometown––Aram Naharayim––to find Isaac a bride. Aside from these geographical constraints, Abraham offered no criteria for what kind of woman would be desirable for Isaac. He trusted his loyal servant to know what those qualities would be. Most likely, these qualities would be consistent with the values of the ‘Abraham family brand’ of prioritizing acts of loving kindness.
Abraham’s servant set out with a caravan of 10 of Abraham’s camels and loaded himself with attractive gifts to dispense. The servant saw fit to apply Abraham’s values as criteria for selecting the bride, even devising a selection scenario: If the ‘candidate’ followed a sort of ‘kindness script,’ that would be God’s sign that he had found her. Indeed, upon arriving at a spring and noticing a beautiful maiden carrying a jar of water, Abraham’s servant requested to “sip a little water from your jar.” Her response: “‘Drink, my lord,’ lowering her jar to let him drink. When he finished, she continued, ‘I will also draw for your camels until they finish drinking.'” This was followed by her making numerous trips to the spring to refill the jar and pour the water into the drinking trough, enough to satisfy 10 thirsty camels(!), the ‘ships of the desert.’
The beautiful maiden matching Abraham’s servant’s scenario turned out to be Rebecca, Abraham’s niece. Having observed Rebecca’s generous and charitable actions in accommodating a stranger and his 10 camels, Abraham’s servant seemed convinced that God had led him to the ideal match for Isaac. He then plied her with gold and silver bracelets.
Once Rebecca offered him lodging for the night, his remaining task was to convince her and her family that she accompany him on the journey back to Isaac’s home. To this end, he proudly disclosed information of Abraham’s having been blessed by God, including his wealth and his general good fortune, as evidenced by the sizable caravan and gifts of silver and gold objects and garments. He also noted that Isaac was to be Abraham’s sole heir. After some hedging, Rebecca’s family asked her explicitly if she would agree to go with this man; her simple reply was: “I will go.” Once this was settled, the entire entourage took up their journey to relocate to Isaac’s home. Bride recruited. Mission accomplished.
Talent acquisition (TA) and recruitment can take many forms, both overt and covert. As there are no fool-proof recruitment methods, the field remains open to innovation, with many firms marketing software packages claiming effectiveness and efficiency. Recruitment can be carried out internally (promotions or lateral assignments in an organization) or externally (seeking outside candidates). Recruitment methodology can be technology-grounded (e.g., utilizing artificial intelligence, online testing, and remote interviewing) or the traditional procedure of reviewing resumes, followed by face-to-face interviewing. All methods have their shortcomings.
The assessment center process sought to overcome some of these shortcomings by targeting multiple criteria and devising simulations of anticipated job situations (online or in-person), such as individual in-basket decisions and group problem-solving tasks, with candidate performance evaluated by multiple observers. Shortcomings remain, however, including candidate performance anxiety, inaccuracy of first impressions, candidates’ concealing information, variability in self-marketing skills, lack of uniformity, and especially the inherent subjectivity of traditional interviews.
In the sports domain, scouts are trained to observe outstanding high school athletes to determine if they would fit into a particular college’s sports program. At the next level, college athletes are scouted to evaluate their potential for filling specific positions on major league teams. These scouts observe on-field performance in game situations.
Similarly, organizations often hire TA companies to locate the appropriate candidate to fill their short-term or long-term needs, including evaluating their fit to the company’s culture. For instance, a successful salesperson in a flat organizational structure may not integrate well in a hierarchical organization; a successful hands-on people-person manager may not transition well into a remotely managed global enterprise.
One can find much anecdotal evidence supporting a scouting model for staff recruitment– observing a sensitive gas station attendant, supermarket cashier, or bank teller on the job and then offering them a position. Even large companies employ covert recruitment agencies who claim their headhunting techniques include interviewing the candidate before divulging the job specifics. This practice allows the recruiter to evaluate the candidate’s candid responses with respect to their fit to the firm’s culture and expectations.
In recent years, individuals in both low-paying and high-paying jobs seem to be more attentive to their own life needs and values, even to the extent of leaving their job for an often-uncertain future. Long before the era of the “Great Resignation” or the “Great Reshuffle,” many HR professionals acknowledged the “disengagement epidemic” that motivated many individuals to seek entrepreneurship and self-employment. Thus, in the continuous struggle to attract talent, “Companies will need to shift their mindset from a ‘war for talent‘ to a ‘seduction of talent.'”
The recruiter’s job, then, is two-fold: First, she needs to intimately understand the firm’s particular needs and identify the optimal candidate. Second, after identifying the prospect, the recruiter needs to convince the targeted person to view themselves as a candidate and entice them to the firm. Thus, the recruiter must be multi-talented: “part salesperson, part cheerleader, part coach, part therapist, and part strategist to both candidates and hiring managers.” Much like the skills Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, showcased for us in selecting Rebecca.
Points to Ponder:
As a manager: Managers are typically more captivated by sharp, insightful, and results-oriented candidates. They may be reluctant to defer to a less spectacular candidate who may fit more smoothly into the organization’s teams. Perhaps the optimal investment for a new hire is to pick someone who has demonstrated their ‘coachability’––being accountable for their actions, learning from mistakes, and being open to feedback.
Try this: To examine this inclination to turn the company around by hiring a star (e.g., in baseball, you might be attracted to a home run hitter for the cleanup spot), consider some of your current employees who were hired as stars. Have these all proven themselves with management as well as with their colleagues? Could some nasty clashes and conflicts have been avoided with less flashy recruits? What are the key attributes of the more successful recruits? How does this observation help you define your company’s culture?
As a candidate: Whether you work in a large or small geographical area, your reputation will likely follow you. The proliferation of social media channels precludes concealing information, making it difficult to be someone you’re not in the selection process. To be more like your natural self in this process, it would be wise to learn about the company’s selection process and rehearse possible responses with trusted colleagues. For instance, in most interviews today, especially the behavioral interview, you will likely be asked to give concrete examples of how you have demonstrated this or that quality: “Give me an example of how you responded to failure”; “how have you expressed your creativity”; “how have you worked effectively in teams?”
Try this: Storytelling. Prepping for a job interview requires, among other tasks, preparing (and rehearsing) brief stories using the C-A-R model (interviewers are more likely to remember stories than facts): Describe the context (or challenge or circumstances); then, the action you took in response (what was your input?); then, what were the results (the outcome of your actions)? An additional element, learning (what did you learn from the event), makes this a C-A-R-L model. Here’s an example:
(C): Our team was under time pressure to supply a shipment of freshly cut flowers to our foreign clients, and our regular shipper could not promise prompt delivery. (A): I found the name of a shipper new to our region who offered services over and above our standard shippers and laid out how they could meet our very tight deadline. After contacting some of their recent customers, we took the risk, and (R): the flowers arrived on schedule, allowing us to retain our clients abroad. (L): We learned that in today’s quickly changing shipping market, we need to be on constant alert for new suppliers.
 Genesis 24:3–10.  Genesis 24:17–19.  Genesis 24:49–58.  Genesis 24:58.  Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2017). The talent delusion: Why data, not intuition, is the key to unlocking human potential. Piatkus.  Burke, E. (2020). Best recruitment tips: How to scout top talent. Zyte.com. https://www.zyte.com/blog/recruitment-tips-to-find-top-talent/  Lyons, M. (2021). How to reach out to a recruiter. Harvard Business Review.  Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2017). The talent delusion: Why data, not intuition, is the key to unlocking human potential. Piatkus.  The University of Edinburgh (2018). The CARL framework of reflection. The Reflection Toolkit. The University of Edinburgh. https://www.ed.ac.uk/reflection/reflectors-toolkit/reflecting-on-experience/carl