The energy industry is always eager to uncover more top talent in the oil and gas candidate pool. By understanding a number of admirable changes and improved practices successfully used by energy companies as a model, the current recruitment landscape can underscore succession plans so that another 20-year talent gap does not occur any time soon.

With that said, the crux of filling open positions today is to: a) use resources that can tap the small pool of A-player talent while favorably and accurately representing a company, b) executing search processes that only deliver candidates in alignment with a company's culture, c) identifying and developing high-potential talent two to three levels down from the current gap, and d) putting a succession plan together or revisit the one a company already has.

Tapping experienced (and scarce) talent

Most corporations have determined that external retained search firms fill the executive seat and access that talent with great efficiency. Younger midsize companies with catapulting early growth that have had good luck hiring via word-of-mouth and referrals from friends of their leadership, however, have shown resistance to using outside recruiters. There's no argument that that this type of "soft referencing" can uncover quality talent and natural culture fits, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind to do more than fill the seat.

Do-it-yourself recruiting. Do-it-yourself in-house recruiters on a company payroll are assumed to have the best possible understanding of company culture and unspoken behaviors that are subtly valued but not usually advertised. Companies should consider having in-house teams and should ensure the teams feel 100% confident that every HR representative speaking to potential candidates in the marketplace can articulate the company subtleties to vet the talent and accurately match them with the opportunity.

With a dramatically different discovery process for company culture and values from the in-house team, external recruiters typically agree that, at the line-staff level, internal recruiters add the best value. An internal team's accessibility to reporting managers for regular dialogue and guidance makes for sound hiring. As such, there are some admirable recruitment strategies going on in the energy industry to solve the immediate crunch. For example:

Halliburton is purposefully changing the gender representation of its in-house recruitment teams. It would like to move more women with five to 15 years of experience to higher levels and realizes that when women are considering a job, they want to see other women who have been successful in the role; and

Many companies are transition-training military and other complex instrumentation industry personnel into the oil and gas sector. Outsourced recruiting. While the effectiveness of these recruitment strategies is assumed to be high, the volume of open engineering and related executive positions can be overwhelming to an in-house team. A good outsourced recruitment firm should offer 100- to 300-plus man-hours (depending on the impact and level of the role) dedicated to filling a position as quickly as possible, accessibility to the competition, transparent reference reports (this is particularly difficult to gather by an inhouse contact), and a steady process delivering daily and weekly results. While an external firm should offer much more, these are the most challenging tasks facing inhouse recruiters. Companies should consider outsourcing if a "nodding donkey" is needed to get production started. They need to identify search firms before their HR department burns through the company's friends and word-of-mouth sources.

Culture as the success coefficient

An important element in the in-house/outsource discussion is culture and community. Culture is the behavior of employees – how things get done – and community is people's sense of belonging to and caring for something larger than themselves. Because talent changes frequently and retention packages are paid, repaid by the competition to lure a talent away, and paid again by the latest hiring company, the new deciding variables are culture and community. In "Rebuilding Companies and Communities," Henry Mitzberg writes that a company without a compelling culture is like a person without a personality. That resonates because the contributions of middle management are getting serious results and retention. These rising stars can drive key changes in the organization, and they want to stay to see the job through.

Does seeing the job through sound familiar? A Harvard Business Review study reports that those retiring Baby Boomers have nearly everything in common with the Generation Y workforce. They both value "flexible work arrangements and the opportunity to give back to society" over compensation. These elements are shaping company culture.

With culture and community being essential elements, a search process that produces candidates that align with the company's culture and values is essential. It is critical to evaluate the character of candidates, their commitment to making a change, and the potential contribution of a candidate to the new company. Literally hundreds of questions must be asked (both in the form of a self-reporting questionnaire and through face-to-face interviewing), but most poignantly, the culture of the client company and what is desired by the candidate must be examined. A careful process can mitigate failed searches, which are roughly 45% in the industry. Companies should frequently take the time to define what their culture is and purposefully evaluate each candidate against it for the best "fit."

Good times and talent ahead

The data is optimistic: Harvard Business Review reports that 45% of the next round of leaders, "Generation Y," expect to work for their current employer for their entire career. In as little as five years, there will be a number (small but measurable) of early leadership-level engineering talent who represent the new generation with 15 years of experience. Several companies have role model practices to retain and develop these high-potential but currently under-experienced talent:

Shell has career stewards who meet regularly with emerging leaders, assess their level of engagement, help them set realistic career expectations, and make sure they're getting the right development opportunities;

A large manufacturer in China gives its rising stars privileged access to online discussion boards led by the CEO that are dedicated to the company's biggest challenges. Emerging leaders are encouraged to visit the boards daily to share ideas and opinions and to raise their hands for assignments; and

Johnson & Johnson's high-potential talent participates in a nine-month program called LeAD, receiving external coaching and regular assessments. They develop a growth project – a new product, service, or business model – intended to create value for their business unit. They also leave the program with a multiyear individual development plan.

Succession planning

Following the exercise of developing talent just below the current gap, companies should establish a written succession plan detailing who that talent is and what the leadership activities are to foster and retain them. This plan should include who has influence, when revisions and reviews to the plan are scheduled, actions to implement in the event of an emergency, etc.

So what about fixing today's immediate problem? A company must adjust its expectations for the number of talented candidates it will select from in the short term, push its recruiters to look globally, participate with top female talent in women-focused energy associations like Women's Energy Network, take time to assess culture and ensure a search process that includes a proper evaluation of fit, and identify and evaluate its potential succession talent quarterly.