The needle in the haystack

Apr 27, 2015

Niche positions sometimes require out-of-the-box thinking, increased diligence, and willingness to pivot in order to fill them.

Finding the best and brightest people to work at your firm may require you to think outside the box and even move outside of your comfort zone. Lately, I’ve become all too familiar with the expression, “Finding that type of – fill in the blank with an engineer or architect – is going to be tough.” I heard that sentiment this past fall, when a client contacted Zweig Group to find a specialized structural engineer with a background in a type of engineering that is the exception rather than the norm. I’m being somewhat vague to protect the innocent, but you know the type of positions that I’m talking about: a clean room design mechanical engineer or a higher education architect with 10 years’ experience. These can be very, very, tough positions to fill. Good People are hard to find. When you have an important and exclusive engineering or architectural need, you only want the best for those positions. Most of the people that you are looking for are usually well established in their current firm, properly compensated, and satisfied with the amount and kind of work that they are doing. These are the “good” people, and it may be tough to pull them away from their current employer. This is all the more reason why you should work hard to get these people aboard as quickly as possible. What do I mean by that? Well, for starters, don’t sit around hoping that you can review three or four candidates for an extremely difficult-to-fill open position. If you find a great fit for your opening, hire them! Don’t tell you HR manager or recruiter: “So-and-So is great, but we’d like to see other people before we make up our mind.” I get it! We all like variety and options, but, in our industry, that doesn’t always happen, which means you should be ready to pull the trigger on a good candidate soon after you meet with them and determine that they are a fit for your needs, work-wise and cultural. You have to try different avenues to achieve your objectives. Sometimes finding that perfect niche-discipline candidate may prove somewhat elusive, and this is when you have to put your “thinking cap” on and figure out creative ways to find the person you are looking for. I know … I know: It would be great to just go post a job on Monster or on LinkedIn and tap a few keys and voila, but, alas, it doesn’t work that way. Recently, while working on a difficult search, I attended an industry event for the position I was working on. Mind you, this is a very niche area of engineering, but being at this meeting really helped me to see how challenging the position was to fill. The great thing about attending this event was that I made several contacts that could benefit my client, both now and in the future. You may have to go to specialized industry events to find the person you are looking for. Organizations such as ASHRAE, IEEE, Woodworks, Land/Water Sustainability Forum, among many others, hold events several times a year. A lot of these organizations can be found online, and almost all have meetings, both regionally and nationally. These niche engineering and architecture groups can be a great place to start when looking for that hard-to-find candidate. Grab as many cards and make as many contacts as you can; you never know who you may talk to at these events that may be a fit now or in the future or know someone who is. Maintain an open line of communication. When you have a difficult need to fill, besides looking under every rock that you can and attending events that may hold the key to finding that missing piece to the puzzle, you need to make sure that you keep an open line of communication with your team. Keep everyone involved with the search, including, HR, the hiring manager, the recruiter – if there is one, and anyone else, up-to-date on how things are going and what the next steps should be, so that you don’t allow a lack of candidates to become discouraging. This especially holds true when dealing with a recruiter: You need to let them know if you decide to change the search. Talk to them before you make any drastic decisions, because a good recruiter can provide insights that maybe you never thought of. You have to be willing to pivot when a position or positions cannot be filled. Figure out the best scenario and go with it. Of course, if all else fails, you can decide to pivot on the need and come up with another option or a closely related position that you might have an easier time filling. In this instance, conversations with a recruiter and others in your firm may prove invaluable. The more proactive you are, the quicker you can get things done and figure out ways to react to a difficult-to-fill search that may be going nowhere fast. The firms that can change direction the quickest and focus on another need will end up faring better than those who dig their heels in and decide to wait until you-know-what freezes over before they modify the position they want to fill. It’s a tough call, but difficult recruiting times call for difficult recruiting measures. As always, if I can be of help in any way, in regards to brainstorming a challenging recruiting issue, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I can be found on Twitter @randywilburn and @ZGRecruiting, in addition to my email. Randy Wilburn is executive search director of Zweig Group. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.