Hiring Great Talent

Art or Science?

To be a world leader, organizations must have great talent. At least this is what we are all taught. People are our #1 asset. If true, why aren’t more employers better at attracting, and for that matter, retaining great talent? An important part of the answer is “it’s not their core competency”. They are in the business of delivering service or manufacturing widgets, but not talent acquisition.

If employers are to hire great talent, they require a well-defined target and then, need to be prepared to make timely decisions. In general, great talent is relentless; they have high energy; possess a great attitude; their life’s purpose is in alignment with the company mission; and they share the company vision. Since great talent is in demand, they have multiple career options. In other words, they are not standing in line waiting to come to work for you.

In hiring great talent, one needs to start with an in-depth process to define assignment scope and its related value proposition. Ideally this will include both the hiring manager and HR. Again, it is all about the definition of “great talent”. We need to know what “great talent” looks like. We need to be in complete alignment and calibrated in regards to the role. What makes an individual a top performer? Why candidates would be attracted to this job? What is the work environment? What are the specifications and expectations for this role? What should the new hire be able to accomplish? Are there firms or people we wish to target? What prior accomplishments will make the right individual successful in this role? Remember the old saying, “past performance is a predictor of future performance”. Lastly, we need to have a thorough understanding of the compensation package and how it aligns with the marketplace.

A myth exists which proposes it is easier to hire “great talent” in a down economy.  There is a perceived abundance of great candidates. It is true, there tends to be more candidates, however many will not fit your opportunity.  Additionally, it may require significant time to assess a larger pool. Based on the amount of candidate traffic, it is easy to over look great talent. Keep in mind, great talent tends to be more hesitant about making a career change in a down market. They fear if it doesn’t work out at the new employer they may have fewer career options if they leave. I guess it is better to stay with the devil you know.

Organizations must also recognize recruiting is like a courtship. Too often organizations immediately start by screening and assessing the candidate’s skills prior to creating a relationship. They act as though people are lining up on the street to become their employee leaving one with the impression there is an abundance of great talent. This approach will never work with great talent. They change jobs based on the opportunity and the challenge. One needs to establish trust and a rapport first and foremost. Recruitment is much like match making. These candidates need to be courted. Otherwise, you are attempting to put a marriage together prior to the love affair. It rarely works and often times leads to offers being turned down, candidates exiting the interview process, or the candidate accepting the job, but leaving the organization a short time later.

Your employer brand is also critical. It is important your brand not be an advertisement. It needs to accurately depict “the day in the life” of working at your organization. The recruitment process must be in alignment with your brand. If you are telling great talent this is a wonderful place to work and people are important, then you need to invest the appropriate time in your recruitment process in order to send a like message. If your recruitment process is long and candidates continuously wait long periods of time for feedback, what signal are you sending to your candidate pool? Time kills all deals. Again, great talent has options.

Based on the definition of great talent, it is best to hire for fit and train for skill. Organizations are too caught up on the specific experience. Even-though important, great talent tend to either leave firms or be let go based on a bad cultural fit and not because they are unable to perform the work. Assessment instruments and behavioral based interviews will help with your identification of great fit talent. Hiring manager involvement is also a critical step to this process.

Lastly, organizations are able to cast a wider net through the use of technology in order to touch the greatest number of talented people. Jobs are posted on Indeed, Monster, Career Builder, Craig’s List, Simplyhired, Glass Door, LinkedIn, as well as many others. You have to almost be a scientist in order to know which ones to use by skill set and by market. Their effectiveness varies dramatically. One cannot fall in love with a generic candidate sourcing strategy. To be effective, one must track and capture results by candidate source and then modify the strategy based on the data. This is a continuous improvement process.

Social media is also becoming an important component to an effective talent acquisition process. For example, LinkedIn has over 200 million worldwide members. It is estimated that 80% of their membership is not actively looking. However, they could be interested if the right opportunity was presented. Face it, great talent for the most part, is not actively seeking a career change. They have to be directly recruited for the opportunity.

Let’s end where we started…why more organizations are not better at attracting and retaining great talent? For one they lack the resources and in many instances the skills to do this well. There are a number of sophisticated research and recruiting tools deployed which require specialized skills. Secondly, hiring needs are not a constant. How can organizations appropriately staff to effectively meet these variables especially when they are attempting to avoid fixed expenses? Because of this dynamic, they simply lack the time. Also, in many instances, the recruitment process is broken. The approach needs to be re-engineered in order to be efficient and effective. Keep in mind, change management is difficult to accomplish on your own. 

How many of us have struggled with our recruiting process? We all have had hiring managers not be available for candidates. They don’t always provide timely feedback or make timely decisions. We have all had hiring managers come back and say they want to hire the candidate which was interviewed 6 to 8 weeks ago. Then they don’t understand why the candidate is no longer available or not interested. We also have had recruiting specifications which are out of alignment with our targeted compensation package. Recruiting is like buying a car. You can only get so much for the budget. At times, we also struggle in driving adequate candidate traffic or experience high new hire turnover.     

So what is the answer? Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) is one alternative, but still considered extreme by many organizations. Culturally, many firms are not ready to give the keys of the talent acquisition shop to a third party provider. A more popular alternative today is staff augmentation designed to compliment the existing hiring process on an on-demand basis based on real time hiring requirements. This can be turned on and off or scaled up and down upon the real-time need. This approach is considered less offensive and allows the employer to maintain more control. However, on demand services tend to be higher priced than RPO. The price difference is the nature of the beast. On demand is less predictable and has a lower client commitment. Either approach (with stakeholder service level agreements) when done well can be extremely effective and efficient…and help resolve many of the earlier stated struggles.

Whether you seek third party assistance or plan to do it on your own, you now are aware of the fundamentals required for hiring great talent. In order to accomplish this, you need to change your mindset, gain internal support, and modify your recruitment approach. Hiring great talent is “more science and less art”. It is both