Hiring the Best: Step One — First Contact

Nov 14, 2001

The underlying theme of each of my ERE articles is the need to collectively consider all aspects of the hiring process when implementing changes. Everyone wants to hire top people, but piecemeal solutions, no matter how great they seem, often don’t provide the expected benefits. A new interviewing product isn’t going to help if you’re not increasing the quality of the candidates you’re sourcing. Conversely, a new sourcing program won’t result in any improvement in hiring if these new great candidates think your jobs are average, or if they demand excessive salaries. An applicant tracking system won’t help if your hiring managers keep on changing their job requirements. The biggest problem I see in all of these supposedly new solutions is this lack of internal consistency and professionalism at each step. The first step is finding the best candidates. In this article I’ll give you my perspective on what it takes to get the best to even consider an opportunity. In upcoming articles, I’ll describe how each subsequent step needs to move these top candidates forward in a professional manner until an offer is made and accepted. Before you write another ad or speak to another candidate, it’s important to note the distinction between top candidates and traditional candidates. Top candidates, whether they’re active or passive, are motivated by different things than traditional candidates. When accepting a job offer, compensation is not the primary consideration. The opportunity and challenges inherent in the job are. What the person will learn, what the person will do, and what the person can become are far more important than compensation. Understanding and managing candidate motivation is the key to successfully sourcing and hiring top candidates. Targeting Top Candidates Most advertising programs are ineffective because they are targeting the wrong audience: those who need another job, not those who want a better job. This is why you get too many unqualified candidates. Top people will respond to clever ads that are easy to find and describe challenges and opportunities to grow. Frequently, top candidates don’t have all of the skills a job requires. So if you filter on skills, you run the risk of eliminating the very candidates you want. If your ads focus more on skills than challenges, you worsen this problem, since the best candidates won’t even consider applying. If your ads have boring titles and are hard to find, only those desperate for another job will even look. I’d suggest you keep the skills component of the ad to the absolute minimum. It’s better, instead, to describe what the person will do with the skills. For example, don’t say, “Must have CPA, be willing to travel 50%, and have five years of international tax experience.” Try something like this instead: “Use your CPA to see the world. Expand your tax knowledge by setting up our new tax reporting system at our rapidly expanding international locations.” If you add a clever title like, “Tax Wizard with Global Perspective,” you’ll create a bigger pool of top people. If you’re finding candidates through direct sourcing instead of ads, you need to create instant interest when you first connect on the phone. Don’t describe the job first, or ask how the person is doing. Instead tell the person who you are, and then ask, “Would you be open to exploring a situation that’s clearly superior to what you’re doing today?” If the answer is yes, tell the candidate you’d like to obtain a quick overview of their background, and then you’ll give them a quick summary of the job. This way, you’ll be able to determine if the candidate is even a possibility before the person has a chance to say no. Getting the candidate to respond first establishes credibility and leaves the recruiter in the driver’s seat. Then, even if the candidate is unqualified or uninterested, the initial five to ten minute dialogue increases the likelihood of obtaining a good referral. A Different Kind of Motivation The best candidates always have multiple opportunities. For these people, accepting another job is a strategic decision based on opportunity and growth. It’s the beginning of a new career. For the typical candidate, on the other hand, accepting a job is a tactical decision based largely on job content, compensation and geography. For them, getting the job is the end of a difficult job search. But most sourcing programs ignore this fundamental distinction in motivation. The best are motivated by different things than the typical candidate. Even if a top person needs another job, they will always have the opportunity to compare various alternatives. They always consider the challenges and growth opportunities over the compensation, skills required, or location. Don’t ignore these motivators if you require candidates to take some type of online test. For one thing, don’t put up tactical eliminators (skills, years of experience, relocation, compensation) too soon. If the job is great, the best will consider a relocation or take a lesser salary. Make sure you constantly reinforce the opportunity in the job if you make the candidate go through hoops to even apply. This carrot and stick model is a good one to follow. The best won’t put the effort in unless the reward is great. If you’re not getting enough great candidates from your sourcing programs. you might be ignoring this vital aspect of motivation. Take these differences into account as you design and build sourcing programs. A great website with boring jobs won’t attract great people. A sophisticated applicant tracking system that filters out the best candidates is just an expensive reporting system. A referral program that eliminates high potential candidates lacking a few years experience is soon ignored. It takes a great job to hire a great person. Whether you’re hiring one person or a hundred, this fact must be advertised, discussed, understood, and paraded about by everyone involved in the hiring process, especially hiring managers. It needs to be built into every system, ad, process, letter, email and form. Hiring the best is hard enough. Make sure you’re not precluding them from even applying in the first place.

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