It’s Not Like We’re Google: Competing for Talent With the World’s Biggest Brands

How do you compete with companies that are more well-known and pay more?

Article main image
Apr 24, 2023
This article is part of a series called ERE Recruiting Conference Spring 2023.

How do you compete with employers that are more well-known and pay more? It’s perhaps the most common challenge playing the vast majority of businesses. It’s certainly a challenge that we must address at QTS Data Centers, a data-solutions company that — let’s face it — you’ve probably not heard of.

Neither have most candidates. Yet it’s many of those same candidates for whom we must compete.

At the ERE Recruiting Conference, May 22-24, in San Diego (and online), I’ll be presenting a session called “It’s Not Like We’re Google: How to Fill Roles When Competing With the World’s Biggest Brands and Their Massive Budgets.” I’ll be going into depth about how QTS hones in on certain job requirements to broaden our talent pools, how we prioritize hiring for potential, ways that we use assessments to hire for skills, as well as measure what success looks like when hiring for culture. In the meantime, below is a preview of the session.

It’s Not About Us

The reality is that most businesses are like ours — relatively unknown. But, of course, like all companies, we must effectively attract candidates and meet hiring demands.

For starters, we strive to ensure that our outbound efforts are personalized to candidates. When we are sourcing people, we make sure that they have a reason to open the emails we send, so we personalize them. We don’t cast wide nets or do mass emailing. For the most part, we’re engaged in one-to-one recruiting. That means spending more time on LinkedIn profiles, finding information about people on Facebook, anything that enables our recruiters to connect with people more personally.

For example, I might notice that someone graduated from South Dakota State University, and maybe their team lost a recent game, so the email might reference the tough loss before more broadly explaining why we are reaching out. Or maybe I’m sending an email to someone who was recently laid off from Amazon. Basically something that shows that we are interested in the person.

In doing so, however, I make sure that I’m not yet pitching a job. I’m more focused on pitching myself. I want the person to be interested in talking to me — because that’s more likely to engage someone than pitching a role. Moreover, this approach sets up a dynamic whereby the goal is to talk to candidates about what’s important to them first — not to start off with what’s important to us as a company initially. Part of the reason we do this is because we want to define what someone’s motivating factors are before we consider whether that individual may be right for certain roles.

Identifying Job Requirements

Speaking of roles, aside from spending time getting to know candidates, we spend a lot of time understanding the positions for which we hire. We’re always asking: Why was this role created? What is the business initiative behind it? What are we trying to accomplish with the role? What are absolute must-haves vs nice-to-haves?

The process of doing this focuses less on crafting the job description and more on defining the purpose of the role. Because we are so deliberate about this, it really enables us to broaden our talent pool.

At other companies, too often talent acquisition becomes an administrative task, whereby a hiring manager creates a dream sheet of qualifications for the perfect candidate. However, by leveraging the information that we learn during the role analysis — as well as knowledge of the talent market — our recruiters can have better conversations with hiring managers to explain why certain criteria aren’t as necessary as hiring managers may think they are.

For instance, a hiring manager might want someone to have three years of experience, but what if I find a rock star from a similar industry who has fewer years?

The Power of Potential

This is where hiring for potential comes in. To compete for talent with more well-known employers, it’s important for us not just to look at experience but also to gauge potential, which entails hiring for attitude and aptitude. We are really adamant about this.

Hiring for potential starts with hiring for culture. As an organization, we take a culture-first mentality. From our CEO down, that is our charge as a TA team. At every level of the organization, if needed, we will sacrifice on skill sets to make sure we hire the right person for our culture. By hiring for attitude and aptitude, we can then help people build needed skills.

One way we do that is through our data center academy, which is exactly as it sounds, a learning and development initiative that helps us address skills shortages.

Additionally, we tend to hire a lot of former military members — about 27% of our staff comes from the military. We find that this group of candidates comes with the right mindset, one that is committed to learning and doing what it takes to succeed and make decisions to overcome challenges. Indeed, inherent in our culture is to trust people to make the best decisions they can.

To hire for culture, like many companies, we have built some assessments. But we also typically conduct three to four, sometimes five interviews with people. By spending a tremendous amount of time on this part of the process — which includes candidates meeting not just with managers but with teammates — we are more apt to make great hires.

I know that this many interviews is definitely more than the industry standard, and there will be critics who will argue this is overkill, but it’s worked for us. And we an overall retention rate to support this — about 87%. Additionally, we have a strong referral rate, positive Glassdoor reviews, as well as other data to suggest that our approach is working well for the company.

Ultimately, no, we’re not Google — but our approach helps ensure that we are still able to attract and hire top talent.

This article is based on an interview, with answers as told to ERE editor Vadim Liberman.

Interested in learning more about what Steven Stewart and QTS Data Centers are doing to elevate talent acquisition? Register for the ERE Recruiting Conference, May 22-24, in San Diego (and online).

This article is part of a series called ERE Recruiting Conference Spring 2023.
Get articles like this
in your inbox
The longest running and most trusted source of information serving talent acquisition professionals.