Don’t Diss the Best: The #1 Rule for Finding More Top Candidates

Treat candidates as customers, not commodities. This should be the mission statement for every recruiting department and hiring manager. Unfortunately, the hiring processes used by many companies ignore this basic truth: the best are different than the rest. The problem is that most hiring processes were not built around the idea of hiring top candidates. Instead, they were designed to fill positions and manage data. The underlying assumption must have been that with so many candidates looking, a good person is bound to show up. These systems were not deliberately designed to disrespect the best candidates, but this unfortunately is the result. For example, 95% of the ads on company websites and job boards are boring. They demand skills and experiences; they don’t offer careers. They’re not compelling, they’re too general, and they’re designed to eliminate unqualified candidates from applying ó not to attract top performers. When surfing open job listings, the best candidates won’t spend the time even reading an ad unless it stands out and grabs them. Bad ads are the number one reason companies aren’t seeing enough top candidates. The navigation systems at most company’s career sites are another example of how the hiring process disrespects the best. From login screens to pull-down menus, too many hurdles are put in the way before a top candidate can even find an appropriate opening. When the job description is finally read, it’s even more boring than the dull ad. If you keep track of your web stats, you’ll see the huge dropout rates at every step. Unfortunately, most of those opting out are the best. Only the desperate will endure those trials and tribulations. Writing compelling ads and exciting job descriptions and then making them impossible to miss are simple ways to increase the number of top candidates who find and apply for your open positions. If you want to hire the best, it’s vitally important to think about their needs every step of the way. Consider the following; it’s a pretty good list of how the best candidates differ from the rest:

  • The best won’t spend much time applying for a job unless they quickly see that it’s worth their while.
  • They won’t respond to an ad that is boring or demeaning ó as 95% of ads are.
  • They will respond to an ad that describes what the person will do, learn, and become. Only 5% of all ads actually do this.
  • They’ll spend little time on an individual company’s website ó unless it’s compelling.
  • They view a new job as the first step of a new career, not as the end of job search.
  • They won’t talk to or work with recruiters who are unprofessional.
  • They won’t work for hiring managers who can’t interview, don’t know the job, or are unprofessional.
  • They take longer to decide when accepting a job.
  • They consider more variables when accepting a new job.
  • They have more job opportunities to consider.
  • They consult with more advisors when considering a new job.
  • They balance the long-term opportunity against short-term issues.
  • They require more one-on-one discussions with recruiters and hiring managers to close.

This is only a partial list, but it accurately reflects the decision-making process of top candidates. Your company’s hiring process needs to address these issues at every step. You might want to consider some of these ideas on how to quickly improve your company’s ability to hire the best.

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  1. Streamline the online application processing. Make it as easy as possible to apply. Forget the tests entirely, or make them fun. Don’t ask any questions that a top person would consider demeaning or silly. Let candidates see the job before they apply for it. If you make candidates go through hoops to find and read the job description, they’ll drop out before they ever get there. If the job is compelling enough, the best candidates will spend the time necessary to apply ó so put this first. This is the old carrot-and-stick concept. My suggestion: get bigger carrots, and minimize the sticks. Make the process of applying worth it by supplying information about the company vision and the compelling nature of the job. If you’re not getting enough top candidates to apply, check out this area first. You could be losing them before they even get started.
  2. Add job branding to your career site job listings. If finding the individual job description takes some searching effort, make it more worthwhile to the candidate by adding job branding. For example, on the company-wide listing for software developers, include a description of typical projects and challenges the person would face. Make sure these tie to the company vision and strategy. I call this concept job branding. By branding a class of jobs (like software developers) under one heading, and presenting it in compelling terms, you’re providing the top candidate reasons to spend time looking for this type of job. This is also the same information your recruiters and hiring managers will use to position the job as a career opportunity. Job branding covers about three or four of the points described above.
  3. Upgrade the quality of your recruiting team. No matter how big or small your budget, it’s important to hire the best recruiters you can. These are the front-liners who among other things need to find good candidates when all the web stuff fails. They also need to personally convince candidates to join your company; and they must coach untrained hiring managers through the interviewing and closing process. Unless you have a great company with outstanding, competitive jobs, the quality of the people you hire will be no better than the quality of your recruiting team.
  4. Improve the professionalism of your hiring managers. Top candidates will opt out of the hiring process if the hiring manager talks too much, oversells the job, doesn’t know how to interview, or doesn’t have a vision of the job. While good recruiters can offset some of this through coaching, they can’t do it all unless hiring managers personally commit the time and effort to hiring the best.

There are other obvious areas to consider: the prominence of the career site, how interviews are arranged, how interviews are conducted, how offers are made, and even what you do after an offer is accepted but before the candidate starts. Everything is important. Whether you’re hiring one top engineer or 50 customer service representatives, consider the needs of the best people at every step. The systems you use, how you find these people, how they view your company and how they perceive the job are critical to hiring the best. One-on-one skills are equally as critical. Lack of professionalism, a silly comment or a rush to sell too soon can quickly minimize the effectiveness of a great front-end recruiting process. Everyone talks about the importance of hiring top talent, but at the workaday level very little is being done. It’s important to design your processes and systems respecting their motivational needs and their decision-making process. The best are really different than the rest. Treat them as you would a valued customer.

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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