Readers who know this expression lived in the era of the peseta before the arrival of the Euro, nearly 20 years ago now. By the same rule of time, it is quite likely that those born in the 1990s have never held a peseta or a duro (5 peseta coin).

This is the big difference between generations; those of us who, coming from the traditional Spain, had to learn the conversion of 1 Euro to 166,386 pesetas and spent all day calculating back and forth (I remember that the banks gave us small calculators with two screens to help us), and those who grew up with the Euro and never knew the peseta.

Duros a cuatro pesetas (literally translated it means: Duros – 5 peseta coins – for sale for 4 pesetas) is, even today, an expression used to refer to an item that is bought at a low price – cheaper than the rest – but whose quality and performance is far from what would be reasonable and desirable for its buyer to expect, so generating the subsequent need to buy another of better quality (and always at a higher price). Thus honouring the saying that with 4 pesetas you cannot buy items that are really worth more (in this case a duro or 5 pesetas).

Having said that, I would now like to apply this saying to talent management and human development in the professional world. There is currently an excess of professionals looking for work but facing a lower demand for candidates on the part of companies who take advantage of the situation to pay lower wages.  When recruiting personnel, these companies are lowering the salaries they offer in order to save money, thus paying 4 when the value is 5.

It is said that in the last 5/6 years, some salaries have fallen by 20-30% at different levels motivated by this search for short-term financial savings, with the companies that do it assuming a loss of potential to attract and retain talented professionals and so entering a negative spiral.

The negative circle for these companies begins when the best candidates, who know their own differential value, do not accept low offers and companies, instead of paying what they should to obtain the right talented professionals for their needs, opt to recruit less prepared candidates, paying less money and making short-term financial savings but failing to attract the talented professionals that they need.

However, companies that have not entered into this short-term dynamic focussing purely on economic cost have been better able to retain the talented professionals they already had and attract new ones, a fact that undoubtedly brings them considerably greater value in the medium and long term thanks to the contributions made by this available human capital.

In short, saving money on talented professionals is a monumental mistake. Although in the short term it may mean immediate savings, in the medium and long term it is shown to lead to a scenario that is much worse than the original one and with worse results overall.

Those who really have value are worth it, and for their talents we must pay what they deserve for their contributions in the short, medium and long term, without discounts. Saving on a hypothetical recruitment, at a price lower than its value, can never be considered good practice by a recruitment company, nor by any final company, because then we are applying the saying duros a cuatro pesetas, and history has shown us that in practice it does not work.

On reflection, I would add what Warren Buffet once said: “Hire the best people and let them do what they do best, and if not, hire the cheapest people and let them do what you tell them to do”. Obviously, the results will be very different in each case.

To see how competitive the market is, I would like to point out that in terms of ‘hard’ skills (technical skills), there are many candidates with good experience, a good education (university degree, Masters, etc.) and skills that, although they were differentiators a few years ago, have now become essential and without them, they would be eliminated in the initial filters of the processes. Among these are two that I consider basic for the vast majority of positions in office environments: knowing how to use a spreadsheet (Excel or similar) with ease and having a good level of English, both spoken and written.

Nowadays, companies eliminate candidates who do not have the required technical (‘hard’) skills, and in the final personal interviews what they value in professionals are their ‘soft’ skills and competencies, such as communication skills, learning skills, teamwork skills, ability to adapt to complex situations and crises, among many others.

I would like to end with what I think each of us can do to increase our employability and our chances of finding a new job and other opportunities.

So, allow me to share my three final pieces of advice:

  1. Find our ‘differential value’ as professionals and as people and know how to explain it in two minutes.
  2. Create, maintain, and nurture a good network of professional contacts that will allow us to open doors that are closed to other candidates.
  3. Train in technical skills that are essential for the positions for which you are applying. In any case, learn English and know how to use spreadsheets.

And if you have any doubts about where to start, asking for advice is the best advice I can give you.