In his latest Harvard Business Review article, Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli shares that “the majority of people who took a new job last year weren’t searching for one: Somebody came and got them. Companies seek to fill their recruiting funnel with as many candidates as possible, especially ‘passive candidates’ who aren’t looking to move.” He cites Korn Ferry research that shows that about 40 percent of all U.S. companies have outsourced most of their hiring to subcontractors who scour LinkedIn and social media for potential candidates. The headhunters then contact those candidates to see if they can be persuaded to apply for the position.

A byproduct of this practice appears to be that the only way to get a job is to already be doing it. In my post “Why Don’t We Hire From Within?”, I shared that managers tend to hire someone who has already done the job. But founder and CEO John Roberts expressed a contrasting view on a panel at the Wharton Global Forum in London in June: “If we are giving a job to someone when they are ready for it, then we have waited far too long.”

How do we as hiring managers and as professionals interested in our own development respond to this trend and our own instincts? Consider these guiding perspectives when considering how—and who—to hire:

  1. Talent management needs to be a priority. Take the time to understand what motivates your people to come to work every day. Remain vigilant with the ones that cite motivations in line with their continuing development and career growth.
  2. Be open to discussing, and then potentially creating, a way for people to get exposure to areas they have expressed interest in, even if you don’t think they’re ready to take on the job. Otherwise, you risk sending a message that there is no future for them within their current organization.
  3. Commit to taking time before every job search to consider internal candidates first. All kinds of conversations can be had as you open your mind to the possibilities of where your current talent may grow. If you work in a Fortune 500 or a large institutional organization, why wouldn’t you scour your own ranks first?
  4. If you think ambition has a negative connotation, think again. For a number of complex reasons, it seems that we have a cultural problem with ambition. Even celebrated historical figures aren’t usually remembered as ambitious. What’s the first word you’d think of to describe Abraham Lincoln? “Ambitious” might not be in your top five, but Lincoln’s achievements are a testament to the value of drive and determination.

Great leaders intentionally put themselves in positions to do increasingly greater things. As developers of people and hiring managers, we should do the same for our employees before looking outside our organizations.


Katherine Primus is executive director of communications and stewardship for Wharton External Affairs.