The 3 Dimensions to Recruiting Top Performers

Sep 22, 2009

crl_mastheadRecruiting the best candidates – something I’m writing a book about, and have a much longer version of this article in the November Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership about — starts with a few basics.

The most important aspect is to understand who you are targeting. I’m not talking about recognizing the technical skills or requirements you want to see in the candidate. Temporarily, throw the job description out the window. Then conduct an early reference check. This is a performance check you can cash.

If the results confirm a prized candidate, think of him or her as a pearl. The Encarta Dictionary defines a pearl as “somebody or something highly esteemed or valued.” The gems themselves take years to develop and the art of pearl cultivation is a long and delicate process. As it relates to candidates, we all recognize the best as valuable. But we often overlook what it took for them to become who they are and therefore do not treat them accordingly. In many cases, we are talking about years of dedication and hard work to perfect their craft. Those who rise to the top of their profession are a select bunch. They are select but not scarce and are very much open to being recruited. But unlike any other, it takes a dedicated, specific plan to successfully recruit them.

Another thing to keep in mind in the initial approach is that many of the finest desire a certain amount of recognition that comes with their achievements. They take great pride in their accomplishments and want you, the recruiting or hiring entity, to pay attention to it. Still, there is a fine line between preferential treatment and the acknowledgement of greatness. The latter commands the stage without demanding that it be so. Those are the most sought after “pearls.”

However, there may be friction if the top candidates are required to follow a set of routine guidelines without explanation. A greater amount of latitude should be given when scheduling interviews, for example, as their time is of the essence. It will be difficult to control the process if a certain amount of patience and flexibility are not demonstrated.

Selling must be at the foundation of any strategy designed to capture the best. Why do so many fail to recruit top talent with any consistency? The lack of sales skills and persuasive techniques are the bane of otherwise successful organizations. Essentially, they are unable to convincingly sell the talent on the opportunity or the company. At best, they produce a half-hearted effort expecting a job description or the company bio to suffice. Or they rely on a formulaic hiring process to do the trick. This does not work. Each candidate should be individually courted. Studies suggest that there are staggering numbers of top performers who are not recruited because they are not “sold” on the recruiter or the position.

There are three important dimensions to selling as it pertains to recruiting top performers:

  1. Selling one’s own credentials as a recruiter or hiring authority (Why should I listen to you?)
  2. Selling the position or opportunity (Why should I be interested in the opportunity?)
  3. Selling your company or the organization to which you desire to connect the candidate (Why would I want to work there?)

Think of the candidate as asking the questions in parentheses. Sometimes they are expressed aloud; other times they are not. However, the questions are typically key in their own decision-making process. You should be able to make a compelling argument as you engage the candidates. So, having a thorough understanding about what you offer from your side of the fence is a necessity; the ability to present that information in a saleable, attractive package is even more important.

For the most part, great candidates have options so they need to be sold on you and yours. I would suggest that if you or anyone on the interviewing or hiring team is uncomfortable selling, that you address it immediately. There are a good number of professionals who can be called in to assist with training and providing classes, courses, etc.

Every successful recruit should make the next one just that little bit easier to onboard. Be reminded that recruiting does not occur within a vacuum. The goal should always be to build a vital network. I’ve seen companies get so excited by a great hire that they forget that they’ll have to do it all again before too long. They shelve their recruiting hat only putting it back on when an opening needs to be filled. This is a big mistake. As can be intoned from the foregoing, recruiting the best is a major time commitment. There are few shortcuts, but the process can be made much more expedient if it is viewed as collaborative and proactive rather than a singularly reactive activity.

Call a brainstorming meeting with all the new top hires. Ask them to provide at least two names and some background on people that they know or have worked with who they consider to be outstanding contributors.

Soon you will have created a database of top prospects and be able to tap into them as needed. This will allow a quick jump into the process and save a considerable amount of time.

There can be no substitute for professional dedication to this endeavor. It takes total immersion with repetition to master the top talent recruitment process. Keep abreast of new material on the subject and customize it to your own needs. It is a continual learning journey. The combination of the appropriate education and practical application will produce some measure of success. As Julius Caesar once said, “Experience is the teacher of all things.”

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