Mavens & Misfits: The Haystack Got Bigger

In this video podcast, Heather Polivka and Chris Gustanski of Due North Search discuss how the haystack for the most in-demand talent just got bigger, and yet there are no additional needles to be found.

Listen to the podcast here:

Read the transcript here:


Welcome to the mavens and misfits podcast series. I’m Chris Gustanski. This is the third in our series. The title of today’s podcast is “The Haystack Just Got Bigger”. We are going to discuss perceptions versus reality when it comes to availability of talent particularly in MedTech and High-Tech industries. Once again, I am here with my good friend and partner in crime Heather Polivka founder and CEO of HeatherP Solutions. She helps businesses succeed by ensuring their employees are set up to succeed. By helping them close the gap between who they say they are and how they are experienced by their employees. Thus, ensuring that their employees can deliver what their brand promises to their customers.


Hello everyone! Great to be here with my friend Chris Gustanski! Chris is a marketer who became a recruiter after realizing that recruiters had no idea what marketers do. He is the founder and CEO of Due North Executive Search. For more than a decade, Chris has helped MedTech, and High-Tech leaders build world class marketing and product management teams across the US.


Thanks Heather. If you recall, about a year ago in what I have come to call the “Before times”, the economy looked pretty good. Employment was at an all time high. Top talent in many fields was in short supply, particularly in MedTech and High-Tech industries. Employers were desperate to fill roles across a variety of functions. Then in February 2020 the world changed.

Suddenly, we went into forced shutdowns. Millions of people lost their jobs.

It was during this time a MedTech client of mine was wondering why they were still having difficulty filling critical roles across their organization. He said to me “With the unemployment rate this high, why are we having difficulty finding qualified candidates for our managerial and technical positions?” I responded “The haystack just got bigger. That doesn’t mean that there are any more needles in it.”

After this conversation I penned an article called the haystack just got bigger. Did you happen to see it Heather and I’d be curious to know your thoughts at the time?


Yes, Chris….I saw that article! What is interesting is that while you posted it in May…so early in the pandemic, this is not a new conversation for those in the talent space. In fact, there was a US labor report that was released in Jan 2020 before the pandemic and the toughest jobs to fill…literally the top 10 toughest roles to fill…. were all technical or healthcare talent. When you talk about Med-Tech, it is like the perfect storm of where those two converge!

And remember, that was in Jan 2020, before the pandemic. Given how this economic slow down has been driven by the pandemic, health care needs grew while the available talent did not. Given how all of us…as individuals and organizations… have gotten thru this pandemic has been enabled by technology….those needs, also, only grew while available talent did not

So you are talking about talent pools that have a choice about where to apply their talents. And whether they choose to work at your organization is entirely dependent upon your employer brand, your reputation as a place to work, and how you best meet the needs of the in-demand talent. And that is usually the case with in-demand talent. It is a Buyers world, to borrow from our real estate friends!


Agreed Heather. (Like I’d ever disagree with you). Another trend that we noted is that there are many highly desirable candidates that have pulled from even passive consideration of new roles during the pandemic. This phenomenon has been dubbed “sheltering in role”. Meaning that because of the lingering economic uncertainty, Covid-19, and other issues, great candidates have chosen to stay with their current employer until the storm clouds have passed. According to a recent LinkedIn survey, 74% of employees are riding out the pandemic by sheltering in role.

And some candidates seem to have the same opinion as employers regarding the job market. They will say things like “With unemployment so high, the only opportunities out there must be bad ones”. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, but these perceptions exist.

As an employment branding guru, I bet you have come across issues similar to this. Right Heather?


For sure. Again, this talent has a choice….but that does not mean they are immune to the various factors that create some sense of trepidation for everyone. Even if you are in-demand, you don’t want to put yourself in a position to be let go! But just because the macro environment has challenges, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some golden opportunities within.

In this case, with my company clients, I recommend and help them develop two approaches: First, you have to create a sense of security and confidence in the performance of your company. Second, ask existing employees who are part of the in-demand talent pool to talk about why they joined and why they stay. Uncensored, unsupervised and as they see fit…. So have employees share the full scoop, the pros and the cons.

With in-demand talent, you do not want to be anything but 100% authentic about the work experience, otherwise you lose credibility. And once you lose credibility with an in-demand talent pool, word gets around and you’ve just made a tough talent challenge, an impossible one.

But I digress! I wanted to comment on the “more hay” aspect. What happens in an environment like this is there is more demand for talent that is already in short supply. At the same time, with high unemployment…people take a chance and apply for jobs they aren’t really qualified for. Cuz why not? Most people really believe that if they could just get a shot or talk to a human, they could do the job. And I get that sentiment.. I really do. Unfortunately, that is where the “more hay” comes in for recruiters and companies. Same amount of talent, or needles, but the hast stack is bigger because companies have greater needs and increased volume of resumes that don’t meet the requirements.


(I will work on the transition once I have your input). So, in addition to there being more hay and fewer needles in the haystack, there also are more companies looking for those needles. MedTech and High-Tech companies are some of those that continued to grow during the pandemic for a variety reasons. Now that vaccines are rolling out and economic uncertainty is declining, more of these companies will be looking to hire additional staff soon.

As a matter of fact, LSI (a leading MedTech Market research firm) forecasts a growth in hospital cases of 28% this year. On top of that there are brand new therapies being introduced and non-traditional competitors like digital health companies that are all vying for the same talent pool.


Right! The good news is that economic downturns like t