12 Simple Actions That Could Dramatically Improve Your Recruiting Results

I’ve written many times about actions recruiting managers can take to improve the impact of recruiting, but with the ongoing pressure many recruiting functions feel to do more with less, now is a great time to review a short list practical, easily implemented actions appropriate for an individual recruiter or manager. These low-hanging fruit are capable of producing dramatic results and do not require significant resources.

12 Simple Actions Capable Of Improving Recruiting Results

Over the past decade I’ve engaged with several hundred organizations around the world. Based on my observations in dealing with each of them, the following 12 actions categorized by recruiting lifecycle stage are proven to produce results quickly.

Attracting Talent

  1. Make your job postings exciting — many recruiters pull job descriptions from internal systems that were written long ago for purposes other than marketing an opportunity and are to put it simply, dull. Recruiters should rewrite them so that they sell the exciting aspects of the job and give applicants an idea of how they will be able to influence the future. At the very least, they should be tested against competitors’ descriptions to ensure they are more compelling.
  2. Encourage referrals — it has been true for a number of years that the highest quality hires come from employee referrals, and the widespread growth of social media makes it even easier for employees to identify and build relationships with top talent. Unfortunately, employees are not trained recruiters, so if you want them to be effective at building/mining their networks, you will need to advise them of what practices work best. Also remember: nothing kills a referral program more than a slow response to referrals, so review and respond to each within 24-72 hours.
  3. Revisit previous high quality candidates — often times you can save tremendous resources by simply revisiting the stars that got away. Reach out to candidates who voluntarily dropped out of the process, turned down an offer, or who were finalists in a field where a super candidate ended up getting the job. Times change, and it’s not uncommon for candidates to regret decisions. Also look at bringing back former star employees who have left your firm.
  4. Ask references for referrals — in addition to harnessing the power of employee referrals, you should ask the references of top candidates and new hires to provide you with one or two additional names of top people who they know.
  5. Target innovators — innovators may contribute more to profitability than top performers, so tout in advertisements that you’re looking for innovators and then revisit your screening approach to ensure that potential innovators are not screened out by overly rigid and antiquated competency profiles that do little more than maintain the status quo. Make sure ample time is allocated in the interview process to both sell your organization’s ability to innovate and probe the candidates’ ability to be innovative. Because innovators can be vocally intolerant of outdated practices, educate your hiring managers to expect a degree of different behavior from them during the interview.

Assessing Talent

  1. Add real problems to interviews — although there is some value in talking about the past, interviews can be dramatically more valuable when they focus on real problems new hires will face if they join the organization. Don’t give them a puzzle or a theoretical situation. Give them a real difficult problem that only the best could solve. Remember, even if you don’t hire them, you can take advantage of the ideas candidates supplied (consider it free consulting).
  2. Make interviews more feasible — people who are currently working have difficulty scheduling and attending multiple interviews, without placing their existing job in jeopardy. Make it more feasible by making changes to accommodate their schedule. Consider dedicating at least one night or weekend day a month to allow individuals with scheduling issues to interview outside of work hours or using video interviews that don’t require travel. Second, consider instituting a policy where all interviews are completed in a single day.

Engaging/Selling Talent

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  1. Ask candidates for their job acceptance criteria — selling top-quality candidates is always difficult, but you can make it much easier if you start out by asking candidates to identify the key factors they will consider when evaluating an offer. In addition, have them outline deal-breaking factors that would cause them to drop out of the process or not consider an offer. Tailor your assessment/selling approach around these factors.
  2. Use mobile — effective communication is an important part of recruiting, so you want to identify and use the communication channels that are favored by top candidates. The very best these days rely heavily on smart mobile devices, so you need to learn how to effectively communicate on channels that are commonly used on such devices, including texting, micro-blogging, and social networking applications. Videos can be more powerful than words, so consider making and sharing a personalized video that actually shows the exciting aspects of your firm that can be viewed on a mobile device.
  3. Help managers sell your firm — unfortunately, most managers do a poor job selling the company to potential recruits. Rather than trying to build up their sales skills, survey your key employees to identify the specific factors that make your firm superior to competitors and compile a list hiring managers can use to better position the opportunity.


  1. Reduce spend on low-impact actions — although you may have a tradition of using newspaper ads, job fairs, and large job boards, they often produce only mediocre candidates and have a relatively high cost. More effective tools to consider as alternatives include referrals that you proactively seek out from your top performers, using LinkedIn, and recruiting at the monthly events of local professional organizations and clubs.
  2. Target key individuals for retention — high turnover puts a strain on recruiting resources, so lighten your future load by proactively identifying a handful of high impact employees who might be at risk of leaving and who would be very difficult to replace. Work with their managers to identify the job elements and factors that excite them and keep them happy, as well as the factors that might cause them to consider leaving. Then work with their manager to ensure that they are continually provided with an ideal job, following a retention plan that is tailored to each individual.

Final Thoughts

If you frequently listen to consultants and vendors, you could get the impression that the only way to dramatically improve recruiting results is by spending millions of dollars on sophisticated solutions. While most high-dollar solutions are valid in some cases, they aren’t in all. Simple actions taken by individual recruiters and hiring managers can also produce dramatic almost immediate results, without requiring a stratospheric budget.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



9 Comments on “12 Simple Actions That Could Dramatically Improve Your Recruiting Results

  1. @ Dr. Sullican: Thank you again.
    Before you (at your company) do anything:
    Ask the people actually doing the recruiting work what would make their jobs better, easier, more efficient. Then: implement what you can, and have their involvemnet doing it. In the process, try no-sourcing, through-sourcing, or out-sourcing activities you wouldn’t pay someone $50+/hr to do.

    @Brian Kevin:
    When someone talks about “passion” in recruiting or other jobs (unless it’s a very “particular” job): RUN (don’t walk) away…



  2. Some extensions to John’s list:

    1) Revisit high quality departures. It’s very common for people to leave because they don’t like her/his direct boss or the opportunity/position now avaiable wasn’t at a time when they needed. Why not get them back under different circumstances? I’m amazed at the number of times re-hires aren’t reconsidered when re-hires might be the absolute best candidates.

    2) Help employees with referrals by giving all employees business cards with referral information on the back. Sure, it might cost $20 per person to get this started, but take it directly out of your employment advertising expenses. Have some fanfare around new card distribution so employees know how to best use the referral cards.

    3) Start doing more video interviewing at work or home. The cost of setting up videoconferencing makes it feasible, and it reduces some of the problems John mentioned regarding time off with current employer and travel/schedule conflicts. Companies that don’t make it easy for the best to get to them don’t get the best. They get whoever can deal with interview schedule obstacles.

    4) Extend employee referral fees to candidates before they start. Pay the referrals once the person becomes an employee.

    There’s always a fear that recruiting costs may creep up, but that only happens when costs are ignored or carelessly incurred.

  3. This is a great article and really helps a lot of recruiters rethink their strategy. Times have changed and we definitely need to adapt accordingly! The first simple action you listed is what really impressed me. Putting together an exciting and compelling job posting is absolutely crucial these days. If your description is standard and boring, why shouldn’t others assume that is reflective of your organization? I’m a recruiter at OpenView Venture Partners and one incredible expansion stage tech start-up we’ve invested in is Kareo. Their job postings are mind-blowing and they receive so many applications as a result. If you jump on their Jobs page, you’ll find roles like “Kick Ass Software Developer” and “Web Developer Ninja” without looking twice. If someone is looking for a vibrant, energetic, outside-the-box company, wouldn’t they immediately click on something like this? I’d say so! Thanks for sharing your thoughts – I look forward to reading more!

  4. Great article – here is one more.

    “treat candidates as you would your clients”. Great candidates have jobs, they have limited time available and they may not be willing to go through the tedious application process many companies are using on their recruiting sites. Ask one of your recruiters to go through your company’s application process and view it through the eyes of a candidate. Is it simple and easy to use, how time consuming is the process, how many times does your site go down in the middle of an application, how much information are you asking them to transpose from their resume onto your on-line application forms. Would a highly sought after candidate be willing to go through this. Who is your site designed for?

  5. @ Kelly: You came up with a brilliant question:
    Who is your site/ATS designed for? (I added the “ATS” part.)
    Applicants? No, it takes too long/is too hard to apply for a job, lots of meaningless stuff, lacks complete, accurate, up-to-date position listings.
    Recruiters? No, it takes too long to do what needs to be done: finding candidates, opening reqs, processing hires, etc.
    Hiring & Recruiting Managers? No, they probably don’t use it, or if they do, it’s hard for them as well.

    What do you think, Folks?


  6. I couldn’t agree more. However, many of these points are “recruiting 101” basics. I have always been a strong proponent for revisiting basics from time to time to level the mind sets of my recruiters. A firm foundation in the behaviors that create value-adding actions lead to the types of results hiring managers can appreciate. Our customers expect that we are already doing many of these things, so doing them well is a must! These activites get up to the table. Yet it will take more to gain true credibility.

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