Sep 11, 2013

If you are sitting here reading this, you are probably a top performer — the best seek out challenges, look to expand their knowledge bank, and have a strong desire for excellence. What most top performers aren’t looking for is to be sold on something they haven’t had the chance to fully investigate for themselves. After all, most of us are a bit standoffish around salespeople or when facing offers that seem too good to be true.

I recently saw a top-caliber financial analyst leave a company because a headhunter recruited him, offering a 20 percent increase in pay. This offer got the analyst through the door, but the prize at the end of the road blinded his vision of the dust storm ahead.

He left after exactly five days into the new job and came back to a company that challenged him to use and develop his skills. After being with the company for even a short period of time, he realized the work would not sufficiently use his skills. Worse, he found his coworkers were less than pleasant people to work with. Even though he came back to a lower-paying job at his old company and some other unpleasant aspects of his job, he preferred being challenged at work every day as opposed to being underused in a company with a poor culture.

This story demonstrates the power employers have to attract and retain top talent without paying more. It also touches on two important, complementary issues: 1) people work for managers who challenge them appropriately; and 2) many companies don’t have the resources to buy off top talent, so they need to find more holistic approaches. With this in mind, how do you attract the best people?

It starts in the recruiting process. Once you have a good candidate pool, handle these people with skill and professionalism. The first step is not to sell them the job. Instead, you should speak to the benefits of working at your company; you should discuss pay considerations and the commute, but do not oversell it. To engage the top performer, you need to present the facts and engage him or her by asking smart, well-thought-out questions showing the candidate you don’t settle for mediocrity. Smart candidates sniff out weak interviews in a heartbeat within the first few questions. Imagine you were being interviewed and you began to suspect your interviewer was not that bright or professional. Would you be engaged and excited to have that person hire your future coworkers? And what does it say about the people who already work for this company?

By asking good, thoughtful questions, the candidate will do most of the talking, allowing the smart interviewer to ask even better, more insightful follow-up questions. More importantly in sales, the person doing all the talking is the one being sold — since this is a sales transaction, don’t be the one doing all the talking.

The second component of this equation is presenting the challenges and opportunities for growth through the individual’s work in a manner the candidate can perceive as interesting. Opportunities for growth are not necessarily increases in pay or title. The types of opportunities smart candidates look for are ones that will keep them challenged and engaged over long periods of time. This where a great manager comes into play. A manager who has clear goals and expectations can easily articulate these to a great candidate, allowing for a two-way conversation about the challenges of the job. Why not turn challenges into reasons to work for the company and not reasons to quit or pass on the job? Remember: Great candidates want a challenge and want to work for great managers who will help them develop their own skills.

Think of all the time and energy you spend just to get candidates through the door, only to see the best ones walk away because you were unprepared or lacked the ability to keep them interested. Think about it like fishing: You spend all day waiting for a bite from the big fish, and line snaps on your first long-awaited bite because the test was too small. These are delicate situations that require skill and thoughtful planning.

Do you have any experiences where you lost a great candidate because of a missing component in your selection process?

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