October 2018 Newsletter

Filed in HIRING ARTICLES, MUNICIPALITY by on September 30, 2018

When Tom Goulden initially asked me to make this presentation, for the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, he suggested a few topics… I thought perhaps his best was:

But, in the end, WHAT A SEARCH FIRM CAN DO FOR YOU, seemed best …I added the GOOD Search Firm …  Full disclosure, I was the recruiter who brought Tom to Stony Plain 8 years ago, rescuing him from Saskatchewan…. For those of you who know him, I hope you think that was a good thing!

Over the next couple of hours … over the next few minutes, my job is to share some thoughts about recruiting a CAO … a subject about which I know a thing or two having recruited dozens and written 1000s of words about in the AB Mun Rec Report

As I am certain many of you know we are living in a time where there is a REAL shortage of Top Talent people to fill these roles … heck there’s even a shortage of No Talent people!

So, WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT to find good staff?   And more to the point, why is it so difficult when it’s your turn to look   …. to find A Good CAO? It’s a question best answered …through a quick review of Canadian demographics …

In the interest of time and context, I am going to play a very short video that my firm made several years ago … it addresses the subject demographics.

                    PLAY VIDEO…

David Foot is the Canadian author who made demographics famous back in the 90s when he wrote the book Boom Bust and Echo.

Professor Foot, who is an acknowledged expert on the subject of demographics, has said that,

“Generally speaking, demographics can explain just about two-thirds of everything”.

As outlined in the War for Talent video: … today, in Canada, there are 1000 people turning 65 everyday … that’s 1000 a day, 30,000 every month and 365,000 each and every year – and it’s going to continue like that for another 11 years until the last Boomer reaches the semi-official retirement age of 65


You may have noticed that the video said there are 15 years left till the last boomer turns 65 – the fact that we are down to 11 years may help to illustrate the point – because in just the past 4 years, since that video first played, more than 1,000,000 Canadian boomers have turned 65

Some of you may be asking So, What’s the BIG deal?

…haven’t there have always been people retiring?

… and anyway, what about the next generation? Aren’t there plenty of young people who need and want a chance to prove what they can do?

Here’s the challenge … Gen X those are the ones born between 1965 and 1980 it’s the generation that follows the boomers BUT… there just aren’t enough of them.

So, what that means in REAL TERMS is that even if EVERY Gen-Xer took a Baby Boomer’s job there would still be a 40% SHORTAGE.

 To make matters worse … according to OMERS research  TYPICALLY municipal administration retires younger …on average age 57

So the  CLOCK is DEFINITELY ticking

Sure we all know people who have defied gravity and who have worked well past 57 –but, it’s not going to continue forever,

So, that’s the background … a REAL shortage of Talent and Not enough TOP TALENT to go around …

Since there really isn’t time to go into all of it – let’s just say we all agree…

With this growing shortage of TOP TALENT – what will you do ? … it ALL comes down to this – whatever you choose to do about the shortage of “Top Talent” – even if you choose to do nothing – will likely make ALL the difference to your municipality …

Are you willing to be a Settler, or do you want the RIGHT person for the job?

Most of you are facing a VERY fundamental question when it comes to who you will hire to run your town – are you willing to be a Settler … settling for the easy to find candidates or would you be willing to make an investment in your town’s future? Are you okay just taking what you can get, or do you want to have more certainty that you are getting the “best ‘person for the job? Just how important is it to YOU to have the ‘right’ person in the CAO’s chair in your community?

When you boil it all down you are essentially left with 2 Basic Choices

You can just buy into the idea that this is the way it is and simply ACCEPT the BEST AVAILABLE candidate … – that’s Settling for – it’s a sort of “cross your fingers close your eyes and hope for the best approach”

…You would be choosing candidates from the people in your office, in your community or perhaps you’ll pick the VERY best person who APPLIES for the job?

or perhaps the best person who RESPONDS to an ad or a posting … and to be fair that could work …

The other choice YOU HAVE is to FIND the BEST QUALIFIED Candidate … this would include someone with the right education, some actual experience, the right people skills, and perhaps most importantly someone who is the right ‘FIT”  for your municipality– when you get the right person for the job you also need to make certain they fit in to your organization too  … I’ll have more to say about ‘FIT’ in a few minutes.

So, at this point its important to stress that since the choice is yours … you can either accept the Best Available or you can figure out a way to find the Best Qualified candidate.

One way of increasing your odds of finding TOP TALENT is to find a good recruiter … just remember ALL recruiters are not created equal and you’ll need to choose a good one …  one with proven experience a good track record and a number of other attributes… probably that’s for another day …

In the meantime, here are 3 ½ Things a “Good” Recruiter has to offer … (there are more I’m just limited in time.)

A “GOOD” Recruiter …

  1. Knows people NOT looking for a job – and can keep confidences
  2. Will sell YOUR opportunity
  3. Provides the ‘tools’ to get the job done ‘right’

A GOOD RECRUITER knows people who are NOT looking

… I am aware that when it comes to hiring most people AUTOMATICALLY think in terms of finding someone who is looking for a job.  In our industry we call these “active candidates” … they are actively looking for work for one reason or another. I guess this comes from the old-fashioned idea that since you have a job opening, people who need or want the job should apply –

… THIS IS WHY almost everyone I know who wants to hire someone posts jobs on their town website, on job board or puts ads in the paper – Even municipalities that pay the big bucks to hire a recruiter think in terms of advertising to find candidates… when some of the biggest cities put out a Request for Proposals they almost always ask how we will handle the advertising.

… if that’s your idea of recruiting then you should definitely save your money and place the ads yourself. Paying a recruiter to place ads for you is a very expensive way to hire.

Let me repeat that … unless you want to deliberately attract some other towns problems – advertising should be at the bottom of the list in your recruiting strategies!  That’s not to say that every candidate who comes from a job ad is a bad one – many are quite good – it’s just riskier.

Much better to find people who have their heads down, who are working hard and who really have no thought of changing jobs now.

There is a statistic that I like to quote …10% of all working people would at least consider a job change IF one were presented to them BUT they are NOT looking”

10% … not a very big piece of the market!

… a REAL recruiter actually finds people who are NOT looking for work …

So, who do you think is watching the job ads?

I can probably best illustrate how this concept of Active vs Passive candidates works with an informal survey … so, let me ask you …

… may I have a show of hands… how many in this room have recently purchased a car or a truck? Say within the last 30 days?

okay – did you check out the car and truck ads. Were you watching for a sale on the vehicle you purchased?

If you are like most people – me included, your interest in advertising is always heightened when you need or want something

Okay … now put your hands down

… FOR THE REST OF YOU those who were NOT looking for a car a truck what was your interest in the car and truck advertising?

… beyond having a passing interest, were you putting out “feelers” checking with friends – were you following the ads in AUTO TRADER?

Of course, not – after all why would you … okay maybe out of general interest… well, it’s the same with job ads and job postings – it is most often unemployed unhappy people … THOSE ARE THE ONES WHO ARE LOOKING at advertising!

It’s not a hard and fast rule and I’m NOT saying that everyone who is looking for a job should be avoided BUT, why would you want to take the chance of bringing some other town’s unhappiness to your town?

A Good Recruiter can keep confidences … even going to a lot of trouble to make certain candidates don’t bump into one another during an interview process.

Now I know what some of you may be thinking (what if there’s some really good candidate who wants to apply directly to the town, why would I need a recruiter?) … so just remember that a first-class TOP TALENT well-employed person would not likely respond to your advertising or send in a resume to a posting … and that’s because they wouldn’t or couldn’t be certain who would be opening the mail… imagine the scene in your office when one clerk opens the mail and says to the other” I didn’t know Jim was looking for a job???” So, one of the best things a recruiter has to offer is a reputation for keeping confidences.

In the past advertising has worked to some extent but more and more today the odds of hiring the wrong person go up exponentially…

Of Course, driving all this is that tremendous shortage of TOP TALENT we already spoke about … and the sheer number of talented people being lost to retirement or even other opportunities.

This only increases the odds that you could quite easily hire the WRONG person

Many towns and cities have paid a dear price for a Hiring Mistake … there are pressures on you like never before.

The true cost of hiring the wrong person is a much-debated subject. Here is a short video about the TRUE COST of a Hiring Mistake.    PLAY VIDEO…

Who could even begin to count the cost of the lasting damage caused to a team, department or even an entire municipality? Aside from the immediate and real cost of the hiring mistake and the resulting dismissal, there’s the expense of having to do it all over again.  A hiring mistake can affect morale, service attitude, service delivery, and, of course, elections. And when you make a mistake hiring a CAO the costs are multiplied. Then there are nearly always unintended consequences.

Next …A Good Recruiter knows how to “sell” your opportunity

… in fact, I like to say A Good Recruiter is an Ambassador … let’s face it, Canada is a unique country, with its more than 3700 municipalities. Yet, there are only a handful of VERY large places to live.

If you look at a list of the top 100 municipalities in Canada by population.  You’ll find Toronto at the top with over 2.5 million and number 100 is Mirabel Quebec at something around 48,000 … that leaves way more than 3600 municipalities – the vast majority of municipalities in Canada are way under 10,000.

The rest- the clear majority of the country – is made up of places like your town – places that are quite small by Edmonton, Calgary, and Red Deer standards.

As you already know Alberta is made up of mostly small towns and villages… Yet there is ONLY one Stony Plain, one Chestermere, one Didsbury, one Innisfail and one Provost … just to shamelessly mention a few of our clients.

The fact is, though, researchers tell us that people in smaller places are quite often happier … and for lots of reasons. In a recent survey researchers at 2 Canadian Universities took responses from 400,000 Canadians and found that” life is significantly less happy in big city areas,”

Experts have indicated that people in larger centers are:

  • more likely to have moved recently,
  • lack a sense of belonging,
  • feel the pain of higher housing prices.

Everyone believes that THEIR town is THE greatest and so would just naturally be VERY attractive to anyone checking it out … But, – believe me, the opportunity HAS to be SOLD … the opportunity for family, for lifestyle and for all the TRULY great things about your community can’t be picked up in an ad or a posting alone.

It will take a good recruiter to sell YOUR opportunity. Don’t lose sight of the fact that a good recruiter can be a REALLY GREAT Ambassador and THAT can make all the difference to your CAO search.

Yes, we need to source outstanding, well-qualified people, but almost as important is our assignment to “sell the opportunity”YOUR OPPORTUNITY

We believe that once ‘Top Talent’ people understand:

  • the Quality of Life available to them in your town –
  • the history of the place
  • the Outdoor Recreation
  • the lower cost of living
  • and myriad other unique things about your town …ALL these will make it much easier to persuade the ‘RIGHT’ FUTURE CAO to make a move, to Your municipality.

Finally, a Good Recruiter provides the tools to get the job done ‘right’

A Good Recruiter will start by asking you and your hiring committee, lots of questions. If that isn’t the case you have probably chosen the wrong firm.

A Good Recruiter will go to some trouble to gather information about you, your council and your municipality before launching a search … I can’t speak for all recruiters, however, in our own case, we always begin with a what we call a “Getting Started” memo it helps us to know what you want.

We also include a Corporate Culture Questionnaire … a survey of council and staff that helps to establish the benchmarks for “Fit” 

Here is a very interesting statistic according to Forbes magazine

…89% of hiring failures are as a result of poor Corporate Culture ‘fit”.

Not long ago, one of our new clients complained that, before they came to us, they had gone to a lot of trouble to make certain they were hiring the person whom they believed was best for the job. They found the best-educated, most highly-skilled, HIGHLY qualified and capable person … only to have their new hire fail miserably. “He was a great guy,” they explained, “he just didn’t fit in.”

Corporate culture can be defined this way:

Patterns of accepted behavior, and the beliefs and values that promote and reinforce them. … Your town’s corporate culture cannot be underestimated in the hiring process

A Good Recruiter won’t just throw resumes at you  … but will use their expertise to provide you with the best top talent candidates for the job.

A Good Recruiter will first establish a “long-list” – of as many as 8-10 candidates that have most, if not all of the ‘right’ qualifications.

A Good Recruiter’s job is to help you narrow things down according to your criteria to the best 3 or 4   for a “Short -List”

A Good Recruiter will be able to provide you with Screening tools … ways of gaining a better understanding of the candidate’s attitudes, skills and knowledge.

A Good Recruiter will provide a process that eliminates many of the dangers of gut-level decision-making.

A Good Recruiter will provide a professional interview process. In today’s high-tech environment potential CAOs can quite easily find interview questions on-line and practice them…  sometimes creating a false impression.

As I always warn my clients:

“be careful not to hire the best salesman- unless, of course, you are actually hiring a salesman”

A Good Recruiter will provide you with a non-traditional approach to interviewing and a formula to help Council score the candidates’ answers for easier evaluation.

A Good Recruiter will offer an aptitude test that provides an overview of an individual’s management style, strengths and weaknesses.

A Good Recruiter will offer Reference Checking: we like to say “past performance is often the best indicator of future performance” … so, only checking references will establish what a candidate has done.

A Good Recruiter will also provide a criminal Background Check and a credit report … there are some nightmare stories about recruiting gone wrong. And of course, if you are a Mayor or a Councillor it’s your neck if you hire a “bad apple”

In the days ahead, you’ll need every modern weapon possible if you intend to wage a successful War for Talent in your municipality, a succession plan strategy, a great HR department, new ways of thinking and finally a good relationship with a powerful recruiter.


By retaining the services of Ravenhill Group you’ll be getting an ally who specializes in finding TOP TALENT …we go to great lengths to ensure that you get the ‘right person’ for the job and a great ‘FIT’ for:

  • your unique team,
  • your unique municipality
  • your unique corporate culture
  • your unique taxpayer groups
  • your unique future




Bruce Malcolm

About the Author ()

Bruce's background includes 30+ years of human resource management experience covering all aspects of HR administration with a clear specialty in team building and recruiting. He created and developed the concept of “Ethical Head-Hunting™”. Bruce began his recruiting career in 1971 with Prudential Assurance.

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