Are You Hiring the Best Candidates or the Best Employees?

Are you hiring the best candidates, or the best employees? There is a difference, you know. The best employees aren’t typically the best candidates. This simple fact could profoundly change the way your bring top employees into your company in the future. Here’s what most people would consider the traits of the best candidates. The best candidates:

  • Make good first impressions
  • Are prepared and on-time
  • Are very interested in what you have to offer
  • Are friendly and outgoing
  • Give full and complete responses
  • Have many, if not all, of the skills and experience you’re looking for
  • Seem quite assertive and confident during the interview
  • Ask good questions
  • Are well-groomed
  • Have the appropriate degrees from the “right” schools
  • Seem like a good fit

Now consider the best employees. Their list of traits are a bit different. The best employees

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  • Achieve, and often exceed, expected results on a regular basis
  • Are committed and won’t give up regardless of the challenges
  • Always prepare fully for whatever the task at hand is in order to ensure success
  • Work hard at their jobs, frequently staying late
  • Consistently go out of their way to help others, often on their own time
  • Take the initiative to improve things related to the job
  • Plan, organize, anticipate, and stay on top of everything related to their job
  • Fight for the resources necessary to meet the job requirements
  • Take the initiative to learn whatever it takes to do their jobs better
  • Are back at it in a day or two after setbacks and disappointments
  • Work well with others, helping the team achieve success even if they don’t always get their own way
  • Are creative, good at planning, or good at coming up with new stuff to think about
  • Solve problems related to the job to make processes better
  • Take feedback, are coachable, and change things when they don’t work right
  • Continue to do other stuff like this that is truly amazing

Now, comparing both lists, who would you rather hire the best candidates or the best employees? Unfortunately, most hiring systems are designed around the needs of hiring the best candidates, not the best employees. So you shouldn’t be too disappointed with yourself; you’ve achieved what you’ve set out to do, which is itself a trait of the best employees. Now consider this: When the best employees go out looking for a new job, they’re not very good at it. The best employees don’t work too hard at being a “best candidate,” unless, of course, they’re out of a job. But this is infrequent, so except for a small minority, this means your hiring systems are designed around the needs of the wrong audience. So let’s consider all of the other best employees who do want another job, but are not desperate to become very good at looking for a new job. These non-desperate best employees:

  • Don’t respond to boring ads, unless they’re for a “name” company, but will apply to highly visible and compelling advertising that describes opportunities rather than just listing requirements
  • Won’t bother spending any time on an opening unless the job sounds great, but will spend extra time to explore situations that describe the challenges
  • Won’t spend more than a few minutes at a company’s career site looking for jobs, unless these jobs tie to the strategic vision of the company
  • Won’t spend the time applying for a job unless it’s easy and the job is worth it
  • Won’t take online tests unless there’s a real inducement
  • Are not always the best interviewees, since they don’t usually have the time to prepare fully for the interview
  • Want to be stretched in their new job, so typically don’t have all of the skills and experience you’re looking for
  • Sometimes make a good first impression ó and sometimes don’t ó but still make the best employees
  • Frequently are nervous during the first part of the interview, and as a result might sound uninterested, slow, or less confident and exhibit other short-lived (30 minutes or less) and misleading attributes
  • Have more choices than the best candidates, so tend to show less interest and need to be convinced, but not sold
  • Like professional interviewers who really drill deep into their backgrounds and give them a chance to talk about their accomplishments (this is what makes them best employees)
  • Sometimes make a good first impression, and sometimes don’t. But even those who don’t somehow make a good enough first impression with their customers, since they are the best employees
  • Don’t want to be sold, but do want to be stretched

This is enough of list for now, but you get the point. The best employees are different than the best candidates in two fundamental ways: first, in how they perform on the job, and second in how they look for a new job. So if you’re not hiring enough of the best employees, it may very well be that you’re going after the wrong group. Unfortunately, there’s very little overlap. So don’t use the cop-out excuse, “I don’t want to hire anyone who’s not first interested in our job.” This only works if you’re a name company, and even then it’s a bit pompous. I can safely predict you won’t be one for long (a name company, that is) with that attitude. Now it’s time to review every step of your hiring process with a discerning eye. How many best employees have you inadvertently excluded because your systems were designed around the needs of the best candidates, not the best employees? Here’s a quick test you can take to see which group you’re targeting: How many resumes are you getting from non-active candidates? If you’re not getting enough, you probably have a problem. Here’s the final question: How many of the active candidates’ resumes you receive would you also qualify as best employees? If the answer is just a few, you do have a problem. Now take some action. One suggestion: Stop doing what you’re now doing, because it’s not working. Hopefully your metrics are telling you’re not now seeing enough best employees. You don’t have to be too scientific to set this one up. Everyday, just ask your recruiters and hiring managers. If the answer is no, start doing something different. (The bold letters indicate a loud voice spoken emphatically.) Your goal should be to hire the best person you possibly can for every open position, even if you have to work harder to do it. That’s what’s required when hiring the best people is the most important thing you need to do to be successful. It doesn’t mean hiring the best candidates, it means hiring the best employees. It does take more time. It does take more effort. It is inconvenient. It is also worth it. (Note: As many of you know, I host a series of monthly online discussion groups on corporate metrics and developing new recruiting techniques. As you can tell from my articles these tend to be free-wheeling discussions that cover the gamut from strategies to practical advice. The Corporate Metrics Group is restricted to those in corporate recruiting management. The Recruiting Techniques is open to everyone. Email me at if you’d like to join one of these groups. If you’ve already joined you’ll be getting the next agenda shortly.)

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


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