The New War for Talent


We're entering an increasingly competitive landscape for companies looking to recruit new talent and retain existing talent.


The War for Talent was a book published in 1997 by McKinsey & Company to illustrate the fight for talent in the 1990s during the dotcom era. The book was published at the time of an increasingly competitive landscape for companies looking to recruit new talent and retain existing talent. Today this war has been reignited, but this time the issue is not a lack of available talent. The real problem that companies face is finding the right talent for their organisations. It is around this fight that the battle lines have been drawn.

There are a number of reasons why this war has become so intense. Firstly, we live in a world where there are fewer boundaries and companies are increasingly geographically spread. We live in a global business community and there is an increasingly mobile workforce who will follow the best opportunities amongst the world’s leading companies. From a recruitment perspective, this means you are up against other national FTSE 350 growth companies and hyper growth start-ups, fighting a war on a global scale.

In today’s market there are a lot of young, dynamic businesses that want to unearth talent at an earlier stage. People don’t think of having a forty, fifty year career arc within one company anymore. Many businesses are truly meritocratic, and the ability to accelerate your career at an earlier stage and move faster through the rungs is only capped by your own hunger, desire and ability. Obviously you should get better and learn from your mistakes, but there is a huge shift in the number of people having the opportunity to move into higher level positions, at a much earlier stage than our forefathers would have done.

In this battle ground, the biggest challenge companies now face is finding true talent or spotting emerging talent.

When businesses are looking to recruit someone in a ‘like for like’ role, the best candidates can easily stand out. The real challenge comes in unearthing the hidden gems. You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the person you are looking for.

A lot of people can interview extremely well or appear to have the right skill set, but it’s now more important than ever to consider how an individual will fit within a particular business environment. Do they fit the company culture? Will they work well within the team? Can they bring fresh ideas to the table? There is also the challenge of spotting potential talent, which is by definition much harder to do as it’s assessing the potential rather than the track record.

For CEO’s desperately searching for talent, the most important consideration for them is to think ahead and aim to future proof their business. In the scheme of all the decisions a CEO has to make on a daily basis, it’s fundamental to have a forward thinking plan in recruitment to ensure your business is not missing out on the best talent available to push your company forward.

Of course, it’s much easier to grow your own talent than it is to parachute in someone at the C level. Ideally, businesses need to hire and home grow talent at an earlier stage. So, if you’re a big institution set up a high flyer leadership programme, and if you’re a smaller institution have a think about at least hiring graduates in and then investing in and training them.  The costs for business is slightly higher up front and it does require effort, but the long term returns, if you get it right, will be truly invaluable.

To maintain a competitive advantage in the global talent war, business leaders need to think about how they can keep talent in their organisation. Good pay, career progression and ensuring you’ve found the right job for the right person are all key components. It’s about investing in these people, having a clear goal and strategy for the company and having distinct plans of how they fit in is always part of the challenge.

Twelve months ago as the economy was recovering, we were in a situation where graduates were coming out with either overinflated expectations or the number of available roles was much lower. One year later, there’s still a slight over supply of graduates but in terms of the best people coming into the market, our view is that these people are highly sought after and will pick up multiple offers, so the battle for true talent is even more intense.

In looking ahead, the war for talent will only continue. It will get hotter and hotter, so the competition for good people will only increase. Businesses need to be prepared to go to battle and continue to fight for the best people to fill their skill gaps, or otherwise be caught left behind in the trenches with candidates who simply fulfil a function rather than add value to their organisation. To win the war you must pick the right team.

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