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Recruiting According to Steve Jobs

by Sep 29, 2011, 5:01 am ET

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog I came across this quote attributed to Steve Jobs (this has been paraphrased for the ERE audience):

Screw the channel.

Manage the present for optimum performance.

Reinvent the future.

The equivalent for recruiting goes something like this:

Screw sourcing.

Maximize quality of hire.

Become a great recruiter.

The point: hiring great talent is not about great sourcing; it’s about great recruiting. And if you continue to chase the next sourcing silver bullet you’ll wind upexactly where you are today in 5-10 years from now. In fact, those of you who have followed the “chase-the-sourcing-silver-bullet” strategy have not improved quality of hire in the past 5-10 years. The only companies who have shattered this fundamental truth in the war for talent have been those who have a great employer brand. For everyone else, improving quality of hire requires great recruiters.

In a nutshell, here’s my secret formula for hiring great talent:

Great Hires = Good Sourcing plus Great Recruiting

If you follow this formula you’ll be seeing and hiring far better people. Here are some ideas on how to reinvent the future of recruiting:

  1. Don’t post job descriptions. These only work for those who have an economic need to apply. A great ad that leads with the EVP and emphasizes the impact of the actual work involved will increase your response rate at least 5X. There is no law, even the OFCCP’s, that says your postings have to be boring. Here’s an article for more on this important topic, but the key is to attract as many good people at the top of your sourcing funnel and then making sure you keep the best ones engaged from beginning to end.
  2. Bridge the gap. The criteria top people initially use to engage with a recruiter is not the same as that used for deciding to accept an offer. Most people, especially if they’re fully employed, always ask about the compensation, the company, the job, and location when first contacted by a recruiter. These are very short-term tactical issues. When these same people decide to accept an offer, they consider different things, typically the growth opportunity; the impact the job can make; what they can learn, do, and become; the compensation and work-life balance issues; and the company and the mission. These are long-term and career strategy issues. Good recruiters know how to finesse the conversation to shift the discussion away from the short-term to the long-term in the first five minutes. As a result, they increase their opt-in rate on every call and contact. If you don’t know how to bridge this gap, you’re then forced to find more candidates. That’s why recruiters who can’t pull this off look for more new sourcing techniques to find more candidates rather than recruit the ones they already have.
  3. Follow the 80/20 rule for passive candidate sourcing. Passive candidate sourcing is all about networking, not name generation. You need to get 1-2 pre-qualified referrals on every call to anyone on LinkedIn, then spend 80% of your time calling the best of these people. The payoff: they’ll call you back and they’ve been prequalified. That’s why bridging the gap is such a critical technique. Developing a relationship with a top person takes about 10 minutes, at least. If the person is not appropriate for the job then the process of networking can begin. As a minimum this consists of connecting with the person and then asking about their first-degree connections by cherry picking the best of them.
  4. PERP your ERP. The new big thing in sourcing is auto-connecting your company’s open jobs with your employees’ LinkedIn and Facebook connections. LinkedIn, Jobvite, and Jobs2Web (among others) are now offering this important capability. This auto-connecting ability is getting smarter day by day and will represent a huge opportunity for those who know how to take advantage of this and target passive candidates. One way is to proactively seek out your employees’ best connections using the cherry picking mentioned above. This is the P in PERP: proactive. To turbo-charge your PERP and to lead the effort for reinventing the future, get your employees to connect with the best people they’ve worked with in the past. Then, sometime in the future, when you open a new requisition, the best people will be immediately identified through your employees’ LinkedIn network.
  5. Minimize your opt-out ratio: aka, plug the leaks in your sourcing bucket. Top people don’t look for new jobs the same way average people do. They have different needs, they use different criteria for applying and accepting, and they move at a far different pace. Designing your sourcing processes around the needs of top active and passive candidates, rather than average candidates, will maximize the percent of top performers who ultimately apply. To get started on this, conduct a complete process review of your entire sourcing, interviewing, and hiring process. At each step, ask yourself if this is the best way to engage with a top-person who is not looking. After about an hour, you’ll have figured out the 4-5 things you need to do immediately to increase your end-to-end yield.
  6. Defend your candidate from dumb decisions. If you do all of the above well, you’ll have 2-3X as many top candidates without having to do much else. Even better, you’ll have gotten out of the trap of “chasing the next silver sourcing bullet” mentally. However, if your hiring managers tend to overemphasize skills and/or aren’t very good at assessing candidate ability and/or aren’t very good at recruiting the best people to work for them, then you’ll need to coach them every step along the way. One way to do this is become a better interviewer than your hiring managers. You’ll never be able to out-yell a hiring manager, but you can out-fact them. Providing specific in-depth details about the candidate’s past performance can often override a biased or superficial assessment. If you do this often enough, find stronger candidates whom you’ve recruited and can close more top people without giving away the farm, you’ll soon be recognized as a true co-equal partner in the process.

Stop chasing the next sourcing silver bullet. Instead become a great recruiter, design your hiring processes around the needs of top people, offer careers instead of jobs, and partner with your hiring manager clients. As Steve Jobs would say if you asked him about recruiting:

Screw sourcing.

Maximize quality of hire.

Become a great recruiter.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • Edwin Glas

    Nice article. I see and experience the power of utilizing the network every day. I also dont believe in putting job ads on and offline.

    I am also very interested hearing the thoughts and views from others on this topic, if you want please take our survey:

    Edwin Glas
    Executives Online

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  • Stephanie McDonald

    OK Lou – I’m glad I slowed down and read more before jumping off a cliff. Screw Sourcing? Nope, never gonna do it, but I get your point. It’s not the be-all/end-all that we all want it to be and it’s about relationships. I think it’s more appropriate to change your mindset about it than to “screw” it, which I took to mean stop doing it.

    I’ve been a big fan of your job description ideas for many years. Here’s to real “job descriptions” rather than skills descriptions or people descriptions!

  • Robert Dromgoole

    I love you Lou, keep up the great posts. I find it interesting to see how our industry has at least in the short term evolved into this sourcing — recruiting paradigm. I still contend as technology continues to evolve the sourcing function will go back to the good ‘ole fashioned recruiting techniques Lou writes about above. However, what I have noticed is that many of these Sourcing Departments do WAY more than just find people. They’re engaging candidates, getting people excited about the role, qualifying them etc. They do all BUT close the deal. Heck, maybe as the industry evolves, we should teach the sourcers how to better close and the other recruiters will go away … who knows? But I think Jobs is right. Great recruiting is about hiring the best people, and that requires what Lou writes about. However, there’s no reason why sourcing can’t be part of that process, a strong partner. Nicely done Lou. I love a great heated topic.

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  • Donna Svei

    Hi Lou,

    Thank you for banging the “Quality of Hire” drum. Until companies measure quality of hire, measuring cost of hire and time to hire yields minimal useful information.

    When companies know how long it takes, and how much it costs, to hire varying levels of results, then they’ll have some actionable information!

    Donna Svei

  • Ken Schmitt

    Excellent article! Quality! Quality! Quality! You nailed it. Your suggestions for achieving the quality hire are excellent as well. I really like #1: posting the ways in which the job will have impact… great idea and well said!
    Ken C. Schmitt

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