War?? What Is It Good For??

(It’s a Question of Appropriateness of Language)

There is no war for talent.

I’ll re-phrase that…

There is no war, for talent.

There is talent everywhere.

I was reading an article about how Accenture are going to hire up to 50,000 people this year, but that 40% of hires would be through social media (mainly Linked In and Twitter), and you may have thought that as a 3rd party recruiter I would be concerned by that. I should have been…but what really concerned me was the lame, gratuitous use of the word ‘War’.

Currently there is a War for Talent’ opined their head of recruitment.


In the UK alone we have 2.5 million unemployed (sorry, claiming jobseekers allowance…lord knows how many others aren’t) almost 2 million economic inactives, not forgetting about 1 million working part time who would like to work full time…there you are, abundant talent.

Sorry, maybe unemployed people aren’t talent. Those who have to take part time work to keep a roof over their families possess no talent. Clearly the 900,000+ under 25s who are desperately searching for a chance, any chance, to learn and prove themselves, have no potential.

Of course the original phrase ‘War for Talent’ sprang from a report by McKinsey, which really dealt with what companies need to do about the impending ‘talent’ shortfall to avoid ‘war’. (If you haven’t yet done so then I recommend you check out Gareth Jones’ excellent blog Talent Management : The Emperor’s (Not So) New Clothes)

Yet some of our biggest companies would rather see themselves at ‘war’ with one another. But do they know what war really is?

I propose that anyone who thinks that 2 or more companies trying to hire the same person/people is a war should be parachuted straight into Helmand for 72 hours and find out what war is…failing that, maybe some time spent with the bereaved families of servicemen who have actually fought in a war may provide a reality check.

Back in the day, in the masculinised world of 80s business, when lunch was for wimps and no self respecting executive would be caught without his copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, when companies saw themselves as armies fighting over consumer turf, military comparisons were seen as the only way to grow.

But not now, surely. Not when there are real wars being fought on the planet, when we are in the middle of a recession/depression that no-one really knows the end date of, when the misery, desolation and hopelessness of long term unemployment haunts so many.

How can NOW be a time to use the language of military triumphalism in such a glib, gratuitous way?

All of us in HR and Recruiting should try to ensure we use language that is considered and compassionate, appropriate to the situation. Not lazy and lame, misleading and mis-representative.

…and In My Very Humble Opinion, companies are not in a ‘war’ for talent…talent is in a ‘war’ for real opportunities… (but that is a different post)

11 thoughts on “War?? What Is It Good For??

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more. The “war for talent” is just another ridiculous HR strap line that should be firmly put in the drawer marked HR bollocks.

  2. Good post, Mervyn. I always found the term ‘War for talent’ a very overblown way of describing recruitment. Good to see this reality check.

  3. Just be grateful that England haven’t won the World Cup. Had that been the case, we’d have been subjected to years of “What managers can learn from Capello” articles. Leave war to the generals, football to the overpaid muppets masquerading as international stars. HR can then get on an concentrate at being Quite Good at Ensuring Compliance with Policy.

  4. Agree entirely. Just a ‘buzz phrase’, particularly in light of the news today that maybe as many as 1.3m will lose their jobs over the next five years http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/10457352.stm

    Perhaps it’s time to drop this silly, over-used, inaccurate and unnecessary phrase once and for all and for people wake up and realise that there are many good people out there who, through no fault of their own have lost their job. it;s only those who have never been made redundant or unemployed for long periods of time who fail to see the reality – and boy does it make me angry sometimes!

  5. I have always viewed “The war for talent” as a way of describing historical lack of people able to fulfil certain jobs. This will always be the case as technology moves forward. As a phrase it’s quite useful to describe certain areas of the job market.

    For instance: Finding web designers is not a problem, indeed for the most part they are like flies at a picnic. However, finding a web designer who also has marketing and sales skills with the ability to wordsmith on-line pages and who also understands the importance of list building, clickbank and Paypal options and … is difficult. Hence there is a shortage of web designers that can deliver a full package of talents.

    Recruiters and recruitment consultants will follow such talent in droves and as such there is a war for expertise and I trust there always will be. Using the football analogy. If you want to find someone who can play football then try the local park…if you want Wayne what’s his name then expect to fight for him!

  6. Good post and along with every cliche I’ve used including the “Perfect Storm” it’s just hype.

    BUT to me the really question is “Who Controls the Supply of Talent”. In the UK Recruitment Consultants and Media Owners (print and Web) have had huge control over the “talent pipeline.

    In the first 4 months of this year over 83% of jobs on job boards were from Recruitment Consultancies.

    Job Boards dominate Google search results.

    We have in the UK one of the highest %’s in the world of Candidates placed by third party recruiters.

    So yes “The War for Talent” is bull but “The War for Control of Talent” is very real.

    An old mans take.


  7. I agree the term “war” is over dramatic when compared to real war. You could apply that to a whole lot of phrases that get used in most blog posts. Perhaps a more realistic term would be the “competition for talent.”
    My biggest concern is the gap between the skills and experience wanted by employers and what is available in the market. What i’m seeing is that the jobs available are going to the employed rather than the unemployed. The number of reported jobs open continues to rise, as does the level of unemployment. The gap is where the “competition” takes place, and it is more a battle for other peoples talent rather than talent in general. The question for me, is what is being done on both sides to close the gap.

  8. Kick ass post Mervyn: My favorite song from back in the day had the lyric: War, huhhh, what is it good for? Absolutely NOTHING. Was your title a play on words? If it was, I LOVE it. Your points are compelling. Even though we are still in a recession, there are plenty of jobs to be had. The problem is, unless you are IT savvy, the road narrows.

    As always, I am your biggest fan. Keep cranking out the great content.

    Love you,

    Margo @HRMargo http://hrmargo.com

  9. Hi Mervyn

    I agree about the appropriateness. We are guilty of using ‘war for talent’ on-site but to be honest you don’t want to get me started as an international relations (which used to be called War Studies, then Peace Studies, and is now IR) graduate on the futility of war and the political gains of the ‘false wars’ i.e. ‘war on drugs’ and ‘war on terror’ and now, ‘war on talent’.

    It makes for som useful analogies sometimes but I will bear it in mind for the future that this has been raised.

    Many thanks


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