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Recruiting Supermodels and a Tool to Help You Do It

by Feb 15, 2013, 5:13 am ET

Screen Shot 2013-02-10 at 9.12.31 PMAs a recruiter, one of the main problems I face with prospective and actual clients is unrealistic expectations of who they can really hire. For a variety of reasons (which have been gone over many times before), there seems to be a sense of entitlement that the facts don’t bear out … “The very best of the best should beat a path to our door and be dying to work for us.”

I can think of one particularly relevant example of this.

Some months ago, my then-current contract was winding down so I was interviewing for a new one. I was meeting with a VP of HR with a well-established San Francisco Bay startup. The VP told me how their CEO was very technically astute, and actively involved in the recruitment process (that’s another problem, but one I won’t get into here). The VP said that the CEO didn’t want to hire the top 10% or the top 5%, but the top 1% of candidates.

I asked: “Does your company pay in the top 1%? The VP answered, “No, our Radford survey shows that we’re in around the 50th percentile of pay.”

KH: “What about benefits; do you have exceptional benefits?”

VP: “No, decent but not exceptional.”

KH: “What about opportunities for advancement?

VP: “About average, I think.”

KH: “How about work/life balance, or quality of work life, or stock options, etc.”

VP: “We’re about par for startups with those.”

KH: “Well then: you’ve got a bit of a problem …”

Here’s an analogy I make for companies and those who recruit for them:

Let’s say you are a single, available (wo)man looking to date, and on an overall evaluation scale, you’re an 8/10. You and 300,000 other single, available (wo)men have complete backgrounds and direct contact information for all the supermodels in the world. You’re an 8/10, but what do you think the chances are that ANY of the supermodels would:

  1. Ever talk with you,
  2. Ever go out with you, if they did talk to you, no matter how quickly, frequently, carefully, thoughtfully, or pleasantly you contacted them?

There’s a way around this, but it isn’t pleasant and probably won’t be done (it’s the point of this piece): Telling the hiring managers that you, your company and your jobs just aren’t special enough to get the supermodels.” And instead of going after the people you want who won’t work for you, you figure out who you reasonably can get and go after them, because they’ll do well enough to get the job done.

All right, so you and I know it, but they (founders, CEOs, hiring managers, etc.) don’t. How can you present this to them in such a way that those who aren’t too deeply caught up in the delusions of their own/own company’s grandeur might actually accept the reality of their situation? I recently came up with a simple tool: the Corporate Desirability Score. You take a number of things that people want and companies provide (like, pay, benefits, etc.) and rate them on a 1-100 score relative to other companies. It’s like a Radford Survey with additional factors:

Basics (what every company has to some degree or another)
Benefits
Commutability
Compensation
Growth/promotion/raise potential
Interesting work/type of technology
Overall importance of what the company does
People (staff & management)
Recognition (personal and/or group)
Reporting Structure (reporting to CXO- versus manager-level)
Stability
Work environment and corporate culture
Work/life balance
……………………………………………..

Bonuses (typical of  some startups and a few others)
Free food & refreshments
Pre-IPO stock
Misc.
=============================

To use the CDS, get the most accurate and objective information you can (maybe from HR, maybe from other sources). Be suspicious of very high or very low numbers, and if you get these very high or low numbers, you should probe for the basis of them. If no one knows: guess. You add up all the numbers, and divide by 12 (you could have higher score than a 100). That ‘s your CDS.

Let’s give a made-up example for a large, established firm:

Basics (what every company has to some degree or another)
Benefits 70
Commutability 85
Compensation 65
Growth/promotion/raise potential 45
Interesting work/type of technology 50
Overall importance of what the company does 60
People (staff & management) 70
Recognition (personal and/or group) 85
Reporting Structure (reporting to CXO versus manager-level) 30
Stability 85
Work environment & corporate culture 90
Work/life balance 70
……………………………………………………………………
Bonuses (typical of some startups and a few others)
Free food & refreshments 50
Pre-IPO stock 0
Misc. 50
Rounding down, you get a a CDS of 75.

This means that all else being equal, a company could reasonably expect to hire the 75th percentile of employees, across the board. For some low-demand areas, you could reasonably expect to hire higher, and for high-demand areas, lower. (However, I expect that the CDS function might be some sort of exponential curve, so that it might be a lot easier for  a 40th percentile company to hire 50th percentile people than it would be for an 87th percentile company to hire 97th percentile people.)

A decent recruiter should expect, all else being equal, to get employees in to the 80th percentile (or a little better), but it isn’t realistic to expect them to be able to attract the “Fabulous 5%” or 95th percentile. If you want to hire people who wouldn’t talk to your recruiters and are willing to accept offers far lower than their value (or CDS) would indicate, you should bring in the 30% fee third-party recruiters. (I think that’s one of the very few things you should use a third-party recruiter for, and if it works, it’s worth every penny.)

The CDS is not a perfect tool. Add or subtract factors, or weigh them as you see fit. But be aware that you may have biases to your weighting. However limited and flawed it may be, the CDS will help you establish with those founders, CXOs, and hiring managers who aren’t too caught up in their own hype to pay attention to facts. IMHO, it’s also more useful than the advice of a bunch of folks constantly telling you how to try for much better people than you’ll realistically ever be able to get.

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.

  • http://www.shakercg.com Joseph Murphy

    Keith – Great way to ask the company to step into the candidate’s shoes. And thoughtful calibration model for comparing yourself to the market your candidates may be evaluating. Candidates do indeed have a point of view on the recruiting process. Read what candidates say about their recruiting experience here http://bit.ly/CandE2012Rpt

  • Ty Chartwell

    Excellent article Keith

  • http://www.techtrak.com Maureen Sharib

    The VP said that the CEO didn’t want to hire the top 10% or the top 5%, but the top 1% of candidates.

    I asked: “Does your company pay in the top 1%? The VP answered, “No, our Radford survey shows that we’re in around the 50th percentile of pay.”

    This was the best part. Why, why why is there such a disconnect for these people?

  • http://betterweekdays.com Chris Motley

    Great article Keith and love how you framed it with the supermodel analogy.

  • http://www.employeeinsightsllc.com/ Jay Fritzke

    Keith,

    Thanks for writing this as a full article. I certainly didn’t do it justice during our interview. I’m going to keep this piece and reference it often. I’m also tweeting it out to all of my followers. Keep you the great articles.

    Jay

  • Keith Halperin

    @ Joseph. Thank you. I hope the CDS may be useful.
    Also, I appreciate the link to the Candidate Experience Awards site- I may have an article on that soon. A question: Has anyone over there compiled the overall responses from the winning companies into a “Candidate Experience Best Practices” that could be used as a guide for companies to adopt?

    @ Ty: Thank you.

    @ Mighty Mo: “Why, why why is there such a disconnect for these people?” I think it’s because they haven’t been made to accept “no” for an answer enough as adults; they think they and what they do are better and apart from the rest of us, and they’re entitled to have whatever they want. I often see it here on ERE too, with all the emphasis on obtaining the top people (I think “talent” is a pretentious term) feeding right into it.

    @ Chris: Thank you.

    @ Jay: You’re very kind.

    Happy Friday, ‘Cruitaz!

    Keith

  • http://www.talenttalks.com Kelly Blokdijk, SPHR

    Great concept, Keith. Very practical way to inject a reality check in an objective manner.

    I think it also makes sense to consider what career-stage a prospective hire may be at as well, since priorities may shift and vary based personal or professional circumstances at each life phase or career level.

    Reading this reminded me of a particularly unreasonable, inconsiderate and unrealistic CXO that always responded poorly to my attempts to help them understand the candidate perspective and competitive landscape. No matter what the issue or topic at hand was, their comment was always: “well how bad do they want a job, then?”

    Happy Friday & Happy Weekend!

    ~KB @TalentTalks

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jacobsmadsen Jacob Madsen

    Keith, while (stiil) waiting for Todd to introduce a ‘like button’ Well written and said :)

  • http://www.shakercg.com Joseph Murphy

    @Keith
    As CandE is still emerging, and run by volunteers on a shoestring budget, we have not done that analytical synthesis.
    We are adding some more structure, and resources.

    We continue extracting insights from last year’s data as we design a better survey for 2013. More articles will be written.

    Companies interested in participating can monitor this site for the 2013 survey. Our plan is to open the data collection in March. http://www.thecandidateexperienceawards.org/how-to-apply/

  • Keith Halperin

    @ Kelly: Thank you. Your CXO is a prime example of the the GAFI (Greed, Arrogance, Fear, amd Ignoance/Incompetence) Principles at work.

    @ Jacob: Thank you as well.

    @ Joseph: I look forward to further updates from you and CandE. If I may make a suggestion for CandE: compile and post a list of the companies with the WORST CEs, too. Before you do, please try contacting the companies and allow them to respond/explain.
    Just to clarify: is the CandE an across-the-board survey of companies, or is it a selection of companies which wish to compete for the best CE? If it’s the latter- my suggestion is inapplicable.

    @ Everybody: do you know if there is currently an extensive. objective analysis of candidate experience, i.e,. a Radford-like survey of CE?

    Cheers,

    Keith

  • http://www.viletinternational.com Jacque Vilet

    Hi Keith —- I really like your posts. Not to be a spoil-sport here but I think the compensation angle is a little over-played. FOR START-UPS most people are drawn to start-ups for reasons other than compensation —things like the ability to wear a lot of different hats in the company, be part of creating biz strategy, work to bring super ideas to life, etc. I have worked at 2 start-ups and have a close friend who is a VC working strictly high tech in the Bay area. That is what I have experienced and what my friend says.

    Now if you are interviewing at GE or Pillsbury then OK compensation is very important. This is a different ball-game entirely.

    Cheers.

  • http://www.viletinternational.com Jacque Vilet

    Hi Keith —- I really like your posts. Not to be a spoil-sport here but I think the compensation angle is a little over-played. FOR START-UPS most people are drawn to start-ups for reasons other than compensation —things like the ability to wear a lot of different hats in the company, be part of creating biz strategy, work to bring super ideas to life, etc. I have worked at 2 start-ups and have a close friend who is a VC working strictly high tech in the Bay area. That is what I have experienced and what my friend says.

    Now if you are interviewing at GE or Pillsbury then OK compensation is very important. This is a different ball-game entirely.

    Cheers.

  • Keith Halperin

    Hi, Jacque. You’re no spoil-sport, and you make a good point- it doesn’t have to be compensation, but it does have to be SOMETHING more than the typical overdone start-up “corpaganda”. Here’s another analogy: I really like the author Junot Diaz, and a few years ago he wrote a book called “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” where Diaz’s alter-ego Yunior was telling the story of his nerdy fellow-Dominican-American friend Oscar in the late ’80s- early ’90s. Here was his description of Oscar who really wanted to have a relationship:
    “He couldn’t dance, he didn’t have loot, he didn’t dress, he wasn’t confident, he wasn’t handsome, he wasn’t from Europe,…” That’s what a lot of these startups (and other companies) are like… In another part of the book, Oscar is described as a “pariguyao”. A pariguayo is Dominican slang for a guy that’s all talk and no action – a punk, poser, BSer, etc. So, a lot of the startups (and other companies) and their Founders, CXOs, hiring managers, etc. are “pariguayos”.

    Cheers,

    Keith

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  • Sefora Mack

    Hi
    I am high school graduate recently working as Recruiter for architectural and planning consultant. I want to grow myself in this career, what do you advice me to help advance or sharpen my work techniques and achieve better results? Thanks for ur time to read my question.