Source on Wants, Not Needs

I have personally been involved in over 500 mid- and senior-level hiring decisions in the past 20 years. Not all of them were successful. The mistakes can be broadly classified into three major categories:

  1. Hiring the partially competent. These people can do some of the job, but not all of it. This is the most common error. It’s caused by an incomplete interview and an inadequate understanding of the job.
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  3. Competent, but weak interpersonal fit. These people can do the job, but don’t get along too well with others. Overvaluing interviewing personality is the primary cause. Real personality is better measured outside of the interview.
  4. Competent, but unmotivated. These people are perfectly qualified to do the work, but would rather not. They appear to be highly motivated during the interview – but once they land the job, motivation declines.

I created POWER Hiring to minimize these mistakes, anticipating each possible problem before it occurs. In recent articles, I’ve described how you can eliminate the first two problems. In this article we’ll get at the third. I believe most company sourcing plans are flawed. They do not take into account the different motivational needs of top candidates. The best have different underlying motivational needs than everyone else. The best don’t need another job. They want a better job, and will only consider these. If your primary source of candidates are those people simply looking for a job, you’ll inadvertently preclude the best candidates from consideration. Your pool will be candidates motivated by need for another job, not those motivated by desire for a better job. Needs versus wants is a big issue. It has to do with motivation. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from Psych 101? Once a lower order need is met, motivation declines. That’s why we hire so many competent but unmotivated, people. You need to change your sourcing methods to attract both the highly motivated and the competent candidate. The best people accept jobs based on what they’ll be doing, learning, and becoming. They are open to exploring jobs that provide this opportunity for personal growth. You need to adapt your sourcing plans to take this factor into account. The challenge of the job is the driver, not the job itself. Ads need to include this message. If you want to gain the attention of these high-potential, talented people, describe the challenge and the opportunity in your ads. Minimize the skills, experience, and academic parts. Describe what the person will learn, do and become. Describe the future. Don’t dwell on the past. While the best have many of the skills and experiences necessary to do the job, they don’t usually have them all. This is a problem you’ll need to overcome. This gap in skills and experience is what makes the job better. Most sourcing plans are designed to go after people who have all the necessary skills. Therefore, only those that need another job are likely to apply. The ads are also negative or neutral in tone, requiring the candidate to jump through hoops to gain the audition. Just read the ads on and on most company web sites for proof. They are poorly written. The focus is on skills and experiences, and they treat candidates as commodities, not potential assets. Although these ads eliminate the weakest bottom-third of all potential candidates, they unfortunately eliminate the top-third as well. Some skills are essential, but for better results describe what the person will do with those skills. For example, for a product manager, don’t say the person must have an MBA, and five years of experience in construction and engineering marketing. You’ll attract a bigger pool of top candidates if you say something in your ad like, “While an MBA is nice, we really need you to use your C&E product marketing background to energize the launch of our new line of electrical generating equipment.” You need to combine this with an outrageous title to make sure your compelling ad gets read by enough people. Maintaining the theme, something on the order of, “Create a Charge as Our Product Marketing Manager,” will outdraw the standard “Product Marketing” headline. Ads that are fun, compelling, and interesting will be read by more people. A top person glancing through, after a particularly long day, will more likely respond to this type of upbeat ad than the more traditional variety. I just looked for construction and engineering marketing jobs on and found 363 – all with boring titles. People see the title first, and if this is not compelling you’ll lose the best before the ad is ever read. The only people interested enough to spend the time reading each ad are those that need a job. If fact, most people don’t even read these ads. They just use an agent to automatically send you a resume if a few key words are present. This is why you receive so many unqualified candidates. A great title will get read by more people. Combine this with a description of a job that challenges candidates to perform at peak levels. Ask these candidates to submit a half-page summary of their most significant accomplishment along with their resumes. This process will reduce the candidate pool to a more manageable group of competent, interested and motivated candidates. Treat candidates as customers, not subordinates. Focus on people who want a better job, not those that need another job. Sometimes they’re the same, but even then the best will have multiple opportunities. Go after the best. The best have different needs than the average employee. Why they choose to look at all is different. Why they accept a job is also different. If you know these differences, you can attract a different and better pool of candidates. You’ll have to change some of your subsequent hiring methods to ensure you can hire this group of talented stars, but building the pool is a good start.

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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