A Checklist for Sourcing and Recruiting Top Talent

Dec 2, 2010
In his book Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande contends that good people underperform largely due to errors of ineptitude — not doing what we know needs to be done — rather than errors of ignorance or inability. With this as a backdrop, he goes on to demonstrate that the proper use of checklists can minimize ineptitude-related problems to maximize performance. Using doctors, pilots, and construction managers he shows how to use checklists to handle any complex procedure.

I’ve recently been involved in a number of major searches where not following the checklist had severe repercussions — sending out too many of the wrong candidates. When used properly, the checklist resulted in great success: three placements for three different positions with only five candidates presented.

Here’s a condensed version of the basic top performer recruiting checklist I’ve been using for the past 20 years, and what went right and wrong.

Surprisingly, other than how you source top people, the checklist hasn’t changed much over the years. (Note: this checklist is described fully in my book Hire With Your Head.)

The 2010 Performance-based Hiring Recruiting/Sourcing Checklist for Hiring Top Performers

Prioritize, organize, and manage multiple search projects
  • Use metrics and tools to stay on top of all assignments
  • Keep the ATS beast up-to-date

Define top performance when taking the assignment

  • Ask hiring team to define success using the big projects and tasks the person will handle and their expected performance
  • Develop the employee value proposition (EVP) by asking “why would a top person want this job?”

Prepare prioritized sourcing and channel plan

  • Develop 360° internal/external sourcing plan considering niche sites, social media opportunities, groups, societies, and conferences.
  • Create a network map of who would know the ideal person, including employees, customers, and vendors.

Prepare recruitment advertising messages for postings, banners, emails, and voice mails. (Note: this and Step 2 are the most important parts of this checklist approach if you want to hire top people or passive candidates.)

  • Lead with EVP, describe the challenges and tasks and their impact, and minimize skills and experiences
  • Develop multiple messages by channel that are targeted to the person’s job-seeking status

Build the prospect pool

  • Implement the sourcing plan and track metrics by channel
  • Build, nurture, expand, and search the pipeline of existing internal and external candidates

Develop the candidate slate

  • Screen and qualify on potential, job fit, career focus, and job-seeking status
  • Track metrics and quality of candidate by channel

Conduct the assessment

  • Separate the good from the weak using insight, not box-checking
  • Qualify the candidate, recruit, and/or network

Organize and manage interview and selection process

  • Conduct candidate prep and debriefing with each candidate
  • Lead a collective evidence-based assessment process with the hiring team addressing all job needs
  • Under no circumstances use a yes/no voting process

Recruit, negotiate, and close

  • Prepare offer and compensation package — optimize internally
  • Test and negotiate all components of the offer and get candidate’s 100% agreement before presenting it formally

Follow-up and onboarding

  • Review performance profile with new hire and manager before and upon starting
  • The recruiter and hiring manager need to maintain constant contact before the start date

This checklist actually works if you follow it completely every time. First, the right stuff. For two of the three placements, I worked closely with the hiring managers and the hiring teams involved in defining the job and making sure everyone involved knew what we were looking for. Since I was an outside recruiter this got a little bit away from me, but nonetheless we were pretty much on the same page with respect to job needs and the employee value proposition. All aspects of the offers were negotiated and agreed upon before a signed offer was extended. Both offers were verbally agreed upon instantly when received.

Defining what the person needed to do up front (preparing the performance profile in Step 1) was the critical step in all of this. One job was a division VP, the other a senior director, and the third a senior manager. Getting the employee value proposition correct was as important as understanding what the person needed to accomplish. We were pretty blunt with this part. We asked the hiring managers to describe why a top person who was fully-employed would want this job. We then upped the ante and asked what the EVP was for someone who was not looking or if the person had other strong opportunities. This was a critical step that hiring managers must be able to answer with specifics, not motherhood and apple pie statements.

The creative messaging incorporating the performance objectives and the EVP was the high leverage component in all of this. A compelling title leading off with the EVP is how you capture interest. A quick summary of the projects and challenges and their impact on the company, customer, or community keeps the candidate engaged. A minimalist approach is suggested when describing skills to ensure you attract the high-potentials without loading up on the clearly unqualified.

On the surface, none of the candidates we presented met the initial conditions of the basic job description, yet all were found to be top performers once we dug under the hood. More important, all indicated that the messaging got them intrigued enough to engage with our sourcing team.

From a sourcing standpoint, we used ZoomInfo, LinkedIn, and Google Boolean searches using eGrabber to extract email addresses. We also posted the jobs on niche sites getting some good leads this way. However, none would have been effective without the great messaging. (There are samples and videos of all of this on the Recruiter’s Wall.)

For one of these positions, I let the hiring team coordinate everything and make the offer, without following the checklist. This got a bit little loosey-goosey at the end, but it worked out okay, since the job represented a clear career move. The lesson learned: if you don’t have a formal process in place with rules everyone follows, you need to micromanage and follow-up more than necessary.

However, not everything went smoothly. On a fourth project for a global VP role, I didn’t meet the hiring manager and I guessed at the job requirements. The HR team thought this was right on, but it was too general and not good enough to use for sourcing, networking, and screening. Although the messaging worked well, it attracted the wrong candidates: four were seen, but all rejected due to lack of job fit.

The point of all this is to suggest that a process can be developed to find and hire top talent, rather than relying on platitudes, luck, and hope. However, once the process has been shown to work, you must follow it despite the short-term pressures to go rogue, take shortcuts, or the need to seem busy. Hiring top people is a team task and everyone must follow the checklist; otherwise errors of ineptitude are sure to cause havoc. We all contend we know how to do it the right way, but somehow we find excuses not to.

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