September 22, 2021

Career Advice

What HGTV Can Teach Us About the Market for Talent

By: Claire Kittle Dixon

A couple of years ago, I was home sick with a bad sinus infection and chose to spend that time in the most productive way possible – reading seminal novels I had never gotten around to. Just kidding. I binged watching HGTV. If you haven’t watched HGTV before, the basic format of every HGTV show involves the following:

Act 1: Couple wants to buy house and meets with realtor to tell them what they are looking for in that house. Their expectations are always wildly unrealistic for their budget. The realtor passive aggressively smiles and nods along and then shows up by herself on camera to politely explain that the couple clearly has no clue about the local real estate market.

Act 2: Realtor shows them different houses at various price levels so they can see how insane they are.

Act 3: As the reality that the house they want is at least $300,000 more than what they can afford dawns on the couple, we watch them slowly adjust their expectations with each viewing and then they ultimately pick a house that meets 50-70% of their original criteria after seeing the market for themselves.

Episode after episode, not a single buyer ended up purchasing a house that fulfilled 100% of the criteria they had specified at the beginning of the show.

And episode after episode, I’m reminded of how similar the real estate market is to the talent market.

When we work with an organization to create a job description, it is not unlike a relator working with a prospective buyer to come up with a list of what they want in their dream home. (Fortunately, the organizations we work with are much more realistic than the buyers on HGTV.) A job description is basically an organization creating a list of qualities they are looking for in their dream candidate. Rarely does the organization hire someone with every single requirement listed in the job description.

With this in mind, here are some key takeaways that HGTV can teach us about the market for talent.

First, two key lessons for candidates.

1. You don’t have to check off every box. If you are reading a job description you are really excited about but find that you only have 7/10 things they are looking for, go ahead and apply. It’s rare that an organization is going to find every single thing they are looking for. For instance, the organization seeking a talented development director who has extensive experience with DonorPerfect is akin to an HGTV couple’s desire for an amazing house with an infinity pool –  the latter is something they want in their absolute dream but will quickly jettison in favor of what they really need.

2. But you should check off most of the boxes! On that same point, if you only meet 3/10 of the criteria in the job description, you may not want to apply. If the organization wants 3-4 years of policy experience and you just graduated from college a few months ago and completed one communications internship, you’re a studio apartment when the organization wants a 5 bedroom house.

And here are three equally important lessons for hiring organizations.

1. A job description for the equivalent of a Beverly Hills mansion may scare candidates away. As you craft your job description, be sure to denote needs versus wants. If you are hiring for a communications officer, do they really need extensive social media experience and a Rolodex of media contacts in your city and a master’s degree in communications? If not, make sure to say “Preferred but not required” next to your dream house items. Don’t refuse to tour a 4 bedroom house that meets all of your must-haves just because it doesn’t have a pizza oven and firepit.

2. Be realistic about your budget. If you want a Beverly Hills mansion but only have the budget for a trailer in Tuscaloosa, you’ll need to adjust your expectations. For instance, maybe you don’t need a turnkey candidate with 10 years of experience in a similar position. Perhaps you can get by with someone more junior who needs training?

3. Don’t let your listing get stale. Has your job been posted for 6 months? Think of it like a house that has been listed for 6 months. What would you think? Something is wrong with that house, right? The sellers are asking too much for it, the plumbing is totally whack, someone got murdered in it, it is haunted, or all of the above. By the same token, if your job has been posted for a long time, candidates are going to think something is wrong with the role or the organization or both. Maybe you need to offer a higher salary to get someone with the experience you’re seeking or consider a virtual candidate. Maybe you need to tweak your requirements or stop looking for that perfect new build on a hill with a white picket fence. Or, maybe you just need a fresh start and should take the job posting down and relaunch the search later with adjusted expectations.

You don’t need an HGTV binge-watch session under your belt to understand the wisdom behind viewing a talent search like a house search. Consider what qualities are most important in the new hire, be willing to compromise, and if you are a candidate who meets the key criteria for the job posting, throw your hat in the ring!