Waiting for a job to be advertised may be a career-limiting move as employers increasingly grab people with the skills they want - even if it means creating a new position or keeping them on stand-by until the perfect role opens up. Gina Jardine, general manager of human resources at the technical and innovation arm of Rio Tinto, says a number of recruits to her global team are "opportunistic" hires, taken on despite there being no obvious job opening.
"I'd never turn down someone who had really great skills and was hard to get in the marketplace," she says.
The trend is not limited to the booming mining industry. Andrew Staite, managing director of executive recruitment firm Staite Henningsen Klein says: "Everyone from major banks to professional services firms and telcos are taking part in what we call the 'gold market' for recruits."
The trend started at the senior end of the market because companies were in trouble if they were down a senior employee, but has spread to low-level roles in some areas such as sales, Staite says.
Law firms have also caught on as they struggle with international competition for talent.
"We sometimes hire people who have high potential even if we don't know precisely where that potential might best be used," Michael Rose, managing partner at top-tier law firm Allens Arthur Robinson, says.
"When you get someone who has talent, energy and shares the firm's values, you can usually find a role - or create one."
He cites the example of a former corporate services employee who is thinking of returning to Australia after some years in London. "We have made it clear to her that we want her back, even though we don't yet know what role she would fill. We asked her to let us know what her role might be - the best role for her and us."
He adds that a number of lawyers, who were not partners at the time, have created new roles, new practice areas and even begun new international offices "in a way, creating the perfect jobs for themselves".
Danielle Motton, human resources director at Herbert Geer & Rundle Lawyers, estimates 2 per cent of new staff at her law firm come via the gold market.
"We've used this approach for years, but it's become more critical in the current climate," she says. "It's driven by the market: people know that it's hard for firms to attract people so they pick and choose who they want to target."
Likewise, UXC director of corporate engagement and human capital Karen Hayes says her business-solutions company takes on senior people even when there is no job opening.
"You can't afford to let really outstanding people walk away, so we bring them on board and find something for them."
But there are risks involved - such as the new recruit lacking direction while sitting on the bench - and several companies contacted by the AFR said they did not engage in the practice.
Jardine agrees there are risks, but says: "It's much less of a danger in a large organisation, where people can be moved around."
She adds that she has recruited about 10 people in the opportunistic market over the past 12 months and all have been a success.
Motton says the gold-market recruit "isn't just sitting there twiddling their thumbs".
"You bring them on and have work in mind, or they might be lawyers focusing on business development opportunities," she says. "Some firms are very focused on just filling their roles and keeping a tight rein on people being busy. That's short-sighted because you are missing out on great candidates that are available at different times.
"That's shifting the focus from having the right people to just getting the people that can do the job and are available at the time."
Hayes says: "It is a bit of a gamble, but if they are that good they are going to bring in revenue really quickly. I can't think of a time when it hasn't worked."
Another advantage of the gold-market recruits doing an interim role is there is a ready supply of senior talent within the organisation when a job opens up, Staite argues.
"It's an extension on the concept of talent mapping whereby organisations track key executives working beyond their organisation in case employment opportunities arise." Creating a role also improves goodwill, he adds. "You are actually securing a person at a time when it's their preference to join you. That sends a very powerful message."
He suggests companies make room for the gold-market recruits by restructuring, reducing contractors or redistributing territories or going for a new market for sales roles.
There are also advantages for the employee in taking the risk of being a bench-warmer, he says. "We say to candidates 'go for gold' because if you do, you will be driving your own career, rather than being reactive waiting for companies to have opportunities," Staite says.
While Staite sees the gold-market trend most in sales and strategy roles, UXC often uses gold-market recruits to develop new business opportunities through their own networks. Herbert Geer & Rundle and Rio Tinto are also open to gold-market recruits in more technical roles. Jardine says those most likely to be taken on as gold-market recruits are mining engineers and asset management and utilisation specialists.
But it's not all gold. Those without highly sought-after skills are better off waiting for a job advertisement.
"It's a very select group of skills and senior level people where the opportunistic recruitment style works," Jardine says.
"There's a myth in the marketplace that if you want a job in mining, you apply and get a job with heaps of money, but not everyone gets the role. The ones we recruit opportunistically are usually at a senior level in an organisation, highly demanded in their field and eminently employable."
Staite concurs: "Organisations will only create a position for someone if that person is high calibre and in an area where skills are in constant demand."
© Fairfax Business Media
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