No amount of art or magic will help you consistently hire top people. A bit of science, however, might just do the trick. By this I mean a series of steps that if everyone in your company follows will allow you to hire more top people on a consistent and repeatable basis.
Over the past 30+ years I've been involved in thousands of searches, worked with hundreds of different hiring managers, trained 3,000 to 4,000 recruiters, and worked closely with dozens of major companies. Following are the common threads among the best techniques, processes, and tools I've seen and used. Collectively, they add up to a business process for hiring top people. While Performance-based Hiring provides a simplified high-level summary of these, it's the details and execution that will ultimately determine success.
As you review these ten steps, evaluate your company's hiring processes to see where you stand. Although the steps by themselves aren't overly complex, getting everyone to do them all for every job represents the difference between consistent success and maintaining the status quo.
Underlying this hiring process is the idea that hiring a top person requires a company to consistently reinforce the message that it's offering career opportunities, not just jobs. At every step, including every ad, interview, and conversation, this must be clearly communicated. You'll clearly see this theme in the steps below, as well as the idea that consumer marketing, the latest Web 2.0 advertising techniques, and consultative selling are essential tools to get this message out.
10 Steps for Hiring the Best People Every Time
- Offer WOW! jobs.
Traditional job descriptions listing skills, qualifications, and experience are not marketing tools, nor are they predictors of job success. These lists must be diminished in importance. In their place job descriptions must emphasize what the person will do, learn, and become. As part of this, clearly describe the impact the person can make. From a marketing standpoint eliminate internal, non-descriptive titles. "Not-for-Profit CEO – Back to the Future" was a title we used to find the head of a major charity. In the ad we described the five-year impact the person would have on the inner city. For bank tellers to fill a mid-day shift we added the tagline "Are You a Desperate Housewife?"
- Get everyone on the hiring team to agree to real job needs.
Before you can offer WOW! jobs you need to get the hiring manager to clearly describe what the person will be doing and what needs to be accomplished on the job. By forcing the hiring manager to convert skills and qualifications into the real performance objectives of the job, you increase both ownership and understanding. Start by asking the hiring manager how he/she will respond to a candidate who asks "What am I going to be doing on this job and how will my performance by measured?" Top people ask this question every time, so everyone on the hiring team, including the recruiter, must understand the performance objectives of the real job. When you don't know real job needs, the interviewing process is less accurate, everyone substitutes their own assessment criteria, and top candidates get confused and turned off.
- Make it about careers, not compensation.
The ad copy must clearly emphasize the challenges in the job, the impact the person can make on the company, and some of the growth opportunities. For example, "Help us launch a new Blue Tooth headset line" is far more compelling than, "Must have five years of RF product marketing experience." When recruiters first contact candidates – whether they're active or passive – the emphasis must clearly be on influencing the candidate to evaluate your opportunities as career moves, not just as another job for more money or one closer to home. This will help ease the negotiating process and minimize the threat of counter-offers and competitive offers.
- Implement an "early bird" sourcing strategy.
At a basic level it's essential to write compelling job ads that are easily found. This requires complete knowledge of search engine marketing techniques to position ads high in any type of search, whether it's Google, an aggregator, or on job boards. From a more advanced perspective, it's important to recognize that top performers don't enter the job-hunting market ready to hunt and peck for a job that matches their skills and experience. Instead, they tip-toe into the market, first contacting former associates and doing some top-down industry and company research. If this is fruitless they'll then expand their search efforts through aggressive networking and Googling for jobs. Sourcing programs need to target these early entrants by positioning ads in the right places and proactively expanding employee referral programs to ensure that the best people contact your employees first.
- Allow candidates to "just look" rather than buy.
Most company hiring processes and career websites are designed based on the premise that candidates are ready to apply for a specific job. This is a fundamentally flawed concept. The best people, especially the early entrants, are just looking and comparing options. To accommodate these people, recruiters must not push the process too fast, and managers must be willing to talk or meet with candidates on an exploratory basis. Career websites need to allow candidates to chat with a recruiter in real time and look at groups of jobs, rather than specific requisitions. The focus of all of this must be based on the idea that while early entrants start by just looking, they are willing to move forward in a logical sequence as long as they obtain the proper information at each step. Ensuring they get the proper information is key to managing this pipeline of top performers.
- Use consultative selling techniques to develop a candidate/recruiter partnership.
Changing jobs is a big deal, and in today's high-pressure work environment, time is a precious commodity. Recruiters need to instantly engage, not take "No" for an answer, develop relationships, uncover the candidate's pressing career issues, obtain referrals, and offer career solutions. Too many recruiters ask the wrong questions, lack understanding of real job needs, come across as superficial, and dial for dollars to make their numbers. In a highly mobile and extensively competitive market, recruiters will take on an increasingly important role. Just like in sales, this requires extensive training, a complete understanding of the market, and a true partnership with their hiring leaders.
- Make the interview your secret weapon.
Most managers and executives think the primary purpose of the interview is to assess candidate competency. This is comparable to someone in sales thinking that the discovery process is used to determine if a client is qualified to own the product, instead of determining the client's primary needs. When the interview is viewed from this perspective, you realize that its real purpose is to look for voids and gaps in the candidate's background with the expectation that your job will fulfill them. For example, if the candidate hasn't managed as large a team, or handled a comparable project, or had the exposure your job provides, these voids become learning opportunities and more important than compensation as reasons to accept your position. Obviously, if the gaps are too big, the candidate is unqualified for the job, and if the gaps aren't sufficient, the job isn't a big enough move. In the process of conducting the interview with this focus, assessment accuracy will increase. A major side benefit: you'll have all of the information you need to defend the candidate from other interviewers who make superficial decisions.
- Implement a multi-factor evidence-based assessment process.
The idea of using a yes/no voting process to make the hiring decision is superficial, time-consuming, and prone to errors. While the interview is used to gather information, if not organized properly, the information gathered is redundant, narrow, and biased. Worse, since most managers don't consciously seek out non-confirming information, nor do they assess competency against real job needs, adding up the yes/no votes is comparable to making important investment decisions based on information in the marketing brochure. Assessment accuracy can increase when members of the hiring team understand real job needs and narrow their assessment to just a few core factors. The key here is to assess a candidate's competency and motivation to do the work required. A formal debriefing session allows each interviewer to share facts, details, and concrete information, rather than relying on feelings, intuition, or technical competency to make the hiring decision. (Here's a complete article on using our 10-Factor Candidate Assessment Scorecard to establish this type of evidence-based assessment process.)
- Use a multi-factor decision tool to negotiate the offer, fight off the competition, and prevent counter-offers.
Recruiting is not something done at the end of the interview, it starts with first contact. While it's important for companies to judge candidates across multiple factors, it's equally important for candidates to evaluate different job opportunities across multiple factors as well. Some of these include learning, growth opportunities, compensation, quality of the hiring manager and the team, job match, visibility, cultural fit, and work/life balance. This can be formalized by sending the candidate a multi-factor decision form comparing your job with all others he/she is considering, including his/her current position. Suggest that during the interviewing process, the candidate get specific information on each of these factors before reaching a final decision. As long as your situation represents a positive long-term career move, your job will often win out without compensation being the primary reason. While you'll need to persist in ensuring your candidate obtains the proper information, this is how you recruit candidates in today's highly competitive and highly mobile environment – with knowledge and insight, not heavy-handedness.
- Link the hiring process with your company's performance management system.
The use of job descriptions defining the real performance objectives offers a natural bridge to the performance management process used by most companies. This way, candidates are assessed against real job needs and they're accepting offers based on these same real job needs. This increases understanding and interest by clarifying job expectations every step of the way. This can be reinforced by establishing a formal pre-start (the time between offer acceptance and the start date) and on-boarding program where the new employee and the hiring manager clarify, agree on, and prioritize the performance objectives. Performance can then be closely tracked and measured at regular intervals during the first 3-6 months. This also offers a means to measure candidate quality using the same 10-Factor Candidate Assessment Scorecard used to initially assess the candidate. Retention and job satisfaction are sure to increase when hiring is based on matching real job needs with the candidate's abilities and motivating needs.
The problem with too many HR and recruiting leaders is that they view the hiring and recruiting process as a series of independent steps. Without the proper links, the end-to-end process is likely to fall apart. For example, combining a great sourcing program with a "make the candidate apply" philosophy, coupled with a clinical behavioral interview, is sure to yield very few top performers, even though many entered the pipeline.
The key to making the end-to-end process work is to step back and understand the unique needs of top performers. From this high-level strategic perspective the design of each step is fundamentally altered. This high-level view also allows the integration between the steps to be designed into the process at the front end rather than as an after-thought. While converting the hiring process into a scalable business process is no easy task, it's not nearly as hard as implementing other major companywide business initiatives. If hiring the best is a company's number one strategic objective, then there should be none more important, either.
Lou Adler, The Adler Group
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