How to Recruit Highly Ambitious Candidates

It begins with identifying the right leadership style.

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Oct 30, 2023

Recruiting pitches emphasizing company stability, robust benefits, remote working, and work-life balance are great (assuming they’re true for your organization). Those are benefits that appeal to a great many candidates.

But highly ambitious people are different. They’re on the lookout for opportunities to innovate, excel, and make real impacts. Rather than the stable and collegial organizations that many people seek, the highly ambitious often seek high-energy, challenging environments that promise the chance to make substantial contributions.

For instance, research on goal-setting has found that people who consider themselves highly ambitious are far more likely to pursue professional goals that others would consider audacious, love being challenged to extend the range of their abilities, and are energetically pursuing a big professional goal.

4 Leadership Styles

The highly ambitious personality also prefers to work for a different type of boss than most. Research also indicates that there are four fundamental leadership styles: Diplomats, Stewards, Idealists, and Pragmatists.

  1. Diplomats focus on interpersonal harmony and typically create a supportive work environment. While this style is comforting to many, the highly ambitious may feel it lacks the pace and challenge they crave.
  2. Stewards emphasize rules, processes, and teamwork. They’re consistent and reliable; that’s good for operational efficiency but potentially stifling for those who thrive on innovation and self-direction.
  3. Idealists prioritize learning, growth, and creativity. This style can appeal to ambitious employees, as it encourages new ideas and approaches. However, without clear direction, the lack of structure can be frustrating.
  4. Pragmatists, who often appeal most to the truly ambitious. are all about high standards and achieving goals. They’re competitive and driven, qualities that ambitious employees are likely to respect and be attracted to. This style is far less popular generally than the Diplomat or Idealist, but for ambitious employees, this style is incredibly appealing.

Appealing to High-Achievers

All of this is to say that not only are highly ambitious people wired a bit differently, you’ll likely need to tweak your approach if you’re going to successfully recruit these folks. Here’s how to help make your recruiting pitch more appealing to these striving high-achievers.

Emphasize the challenge. It sounds counterintuitive, but consider highlighting the challenges that the role presents and the opportunities for substantial impact. Ambitious candidates are drawn to roles that allow them to overcome significant challenges.

Showcase high standards. Ambitious individuals want to know they’ll be surrounded by colleagues who are just as committed to excellence as they are. They prefer environments where mediocrity is not the standard.

Focus on career growth. These go-getters are looking for roles that promise more than a static position. They want to see a clear trajectory for growth and advancement. Illustrate how the role will allow them to develop and advance.

Nurture a competitive environment. Ambitious candidates often thrive in competitive environments. They prefer a culture that recognizes and rewards performance (rather than something like tenure), as it often pushes them to achieve more.

Involve leadership. During the recruitment process, allowing candidates to meet potential managers and leaders can be a significant draw. When they meet a leader with Pragmatist qualities, they’re more likely to see the company as a place where they can thrive.

Share success stories. Relay stories of individuals who have excelled in your company, making sure to highlight their journey, the challenges they faced, and the results they achieved.

Offer direct feedback. In interviews, discuss how performance feedback is given. Ambitious individuals often appreciate direct, constructive criticism that helps them grow rather than vague, non-committal comments.

Emphasizing challenges, high standards, and competition won’t appeal to everyone. But remember, we’re talking about recruiting the highly ambitious. More than a few articles and books have been written about the toughness and abrasiveness of Steve Jobs’ leadership style; he was not a particularly warm and fuzzy boss. Yet he had people who loved working for him. His belief that the people at Apple were there to “make a little dent in the universe” didn’t appeal to everyone. But for someone with enough ambition, those words made for the perfect recruiting pitch.

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