The Essential Elements of Every Great Hire

As I get ready for another great ER Expo in Boston (September 28-29, 2005) and a chance to meet old friends and make new ones, some big recruiting questions come to mind. Here’s probably the biggest: While it’s now easier than ever to find the names of highly qualified people, why is it just as difficult as ever to get them hired? Names of top passive people are now quite easy to get. Shally Steckerl and Maureen Sharib know how to do it using every Internet trick imaginable. Even I can do it without too much effort using ZoomInfo, LinkedIn, Jobster and SearchExpo. Name generation is a major technological advance that has shortened the search process by at least 50%. So why is it still so difficult to get top candidates hired on a consistent basis? Despite my early misgivings, some applicant tracking systems are really very good at increasing recruiting productivity. Some have great search engines that easily separate the best from the rest, and some even allow top candidates to apply to a job in a just a few minutes. But even companies with the latest technology and the ability to generate names of top candidates still have great difficulty to get top candidates hired on a consistent basis. Why? I think I have the answer, but for the sake of this analysis I want to eliminate companies that are considered employers of choice and those positions where supply exceeds demand. If a company is an employer of choice, it’s relatively easy to find enough good people. It’s equally easy when supply exceeds demand. In both cases, recruiting is just a matter of separating the good from the bad. In this situation, candidates can be treated in a cavalier manner. But in every other situation, the ability to hire top people on a consistent basis requires six conditions to be present after you’ve gotten the name of the great person:

  1. Corporate recruiters who are comfortable calling strangers on the phone. Recruiters must be comfortable calling and getting people on the phone. While there are techniques that can make recruiters better at this, hiring passive candidates starts by dialing the phone. Emails won’t do it. This is an excuse for call reluctance. Don’t mistake activity for progress. If you’re reluctant to pick up the phone and call complete strangers, you shouldn’t be a recruiter. At least you shouldn’t be a recruiter for a company that’s not an employer of choice.
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  3. A great job. Just because you can get someone on the phone, there is no chance you’ll be able to get the person’s interest if you don’t have a great job to offer. Of course you can’t tell them about it right away, but that’s a recruiting technique best left to another article. Without a great job, you don’t stand a chance of hiring top performing passive candidates. In most companies, the jobs being offered aren’t any different than those everybody else is offering. To start, you need to differentiate your jobs by making them more exciting, more challenging, and filled with more opportunity. Here’s an article to review for more on preparing these types of jobs.
  4. Committed hiring managers. This is probably the biggest missing link in the hiring process. While individual recruiters can have some influence on this, making this happen should be a corporate initiative. In my mind, managers should be assessed on how well they recruit, hire and develop their staff. Top people want to work for other top people. Managers who are unprepared, unprofessional, lacking in real insight into job needs, or unwilling to invest the effort into the hiring process shouldn’t be hiring managers. To get around this troublesome issue, I wouldn’t (and don’t) take search assignments where expectations are not clearly spelled out. I also lead the interviewing and debriefing process to ensure that all candidates are accurately assessed.
  5. Corporate recruiters who know how to use technology. Corporate recruiters should drop the excuse that they have too many reqs to handle ó at least at first. I’ve worked with over 300 corporate recruiters this year, and many do have lots of jobs to handle, but just as many aren’t very well organized. Good corporate recruiting requires:
    • Effective use of technology, including total understanding of the company’s applicant tracking system search engine
    • Writing compelling and well-placed ads using search engine optimization techniques
    • The use of web analytics to track ad performance
    • Minimizing sendouts to no more than three or four candidates per assignment
    • Automatic scheduling of interviews with managers

    Corporate recruiters who don’t do this on every assignment are wasting 30-50% of their time. In my mind, the excuse of “too many reqs” is really the same thing as saying, “I’m not as efficient as I could be.” There are some great tools now available that will help you be more efficient. Somehow, many recruiters don’t want to take the time to learn how to use them. As Bob Dylan said many years ago, “The times they are a changin’.” Unfortunately, too many corporate recruiters are stuck in a time warp. Technology has made great advances in increasing productivity. Recruiters need to jump on board. Of course, if a company doesn’t want to invest in the tools or training, you can retain the “too many reqs” excuse.

  6. Corporate recruiters who are viewed by their candidates as career counselors. The problem with passive candidates is that they’re passive. They don’t need another job. But they might consider a better job if it offers a true career opportunity. Recruiters must be the conduit for this information. This requires a complete understanding of job needs and a complete understanding of the candidate’s capabilities and personal circumstances. Whew! That’s a lot of work. To pull it off, recruiters need to understand human nature; be diplomatic, assertive, and insightful; be great at interviewing; understand and negotiate complex pay plans; and possess a good understanding of business.
  7. A rigorous assessment process that prevents hiring mistakes. I used to think that hiring was all about making accurate assessments. I’m not so sure any more. My sense now is that if interviewers go out of their to make sure they’re not making dumb hiring mistakes, they might actually get the right answer. There are two sides to this. One is not hiring someone who just talks a good game. This requires interviewers to peel the onion and dig deep to find out what the person has actually accomplished. (Here’s an article on fact-finding this way.) In the process of piercing the veneer of presentation skills, interviewers will discover some outstanding people who are both competent and motivated to do the work required. On the flip side, avoiding the mistake of eliminating a really good person who isn’t very good at interviewing is another challenge. If judgment about candidate competency can be delayed until the second half of the interview, many good candidates wouldn’t be incorrectly eliminated. I’ve found that when using this “delay and peel” approach to interviewing, about a third of candidates get better and a third get worse. This is a great way to eliminate all common hiring mistakes. In the process, you’ll be only hiring people who are at least fully competent to meet all job requirements.

Hiring great people requires great recruiters, great jobs, and great hiring managers. From what I’ve seen, it’s still very tough to make one great hire. It’s even tougher systematizing the process. But it’s worth it.

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).


3 Comments on “The Essential Elements of Every Great Hire

  1. ‘A rigorous assessment process that prevents hiring mistakes. – I used to think that hiring was all about making accurate assessments. I’m not so sure any more.’

    Nice article Lou- thats the line that got my attention- maybe an article in itself some day ?

  2. I enjoyed reading this article as many of the points rang true. Systematizing a great process is definitely one of the biggest challenges in recruitment. It’s been my experience that recruiters (I use to be one) tend to take the path of least resistance. Simple key steps in a systematic process are often skipped to get to the end game faster.

    I did have issue with this section of the article. ‘In most companies, the jobs being offered aren’t any different than those everybody else is offering. To start, you need to differentiate your jobs by making them more exciting, more challenging, and filled with more opportunity. Here’s an article to review for more on preparing these types of jobs. ‘

    I may have misinterpreted the meaning of this section and if so please clarify. I believe that every position is unique. The actual job will be exciting to the right person. The recruiter needs to highlight these unique attributes and should not have to make them more exciting, challenging or filled with more opportunity. Embellishing a position will get you the wrong person. Accurately and creatively describing the actual opportunity will attract the right fit for the position.

    Again, I may have misinterpreted this part of the article.


  3. Lou does a good job of starting the conversation on what it takes to hire highly qualified talent, but he stops short of identifing what it really takes to make those hires happen. To really populate an organization with the best external talent, it takes highly skilled recruiters and a company behind them that understands and will consistently do what it takes to land that high impact talent.

    Sure, a recruiter needs to be organized. But the emphasis is on organizational skills period, effective use of the technology is merely one example of that ability, not the end to the means. For instance, I’ll suggest that while the importance of spending time with your ATS decreases as the quality level of the candidate increases, the requirement for the recruiter to be organized and take care of the details actually increases in tandem with the increase in the quality level of the candidate. High quality candidates require high touch processes and a higher quality of servicing throughout the process. It takes a highly skilled recruiter to successfully make that happen.

    Almost anyone can use the tools available to identify high quality candidates (passive or active)…just ask any hiring authority about their opinions on that subject. Identifing potential candidates is one thing, the real key (and value added skill) is in actually being able to successfully attract them, manage both sides through the process, and negotiate an appropriate offer and it’s acceptance. That, my friends, is what true recuiting is about.

    Why are companies not more successful in acquiring top talent? I’ll suggest there are three main reasons.

    1) Of late, Corporate America hasn’t appropriately invested in their recruiting efforts. By and large, especially at this point in time, in-house recruiters are over worked, under paid, under skilled and under trained. It’s not that what the recruiters are being tasked with doing is so difficult, it’s that they’re not properly equipped to do so…and that’s in regards to professional skill levels rather than access to technology.

    2) In regards to developing recruiting skills, just as corporations haven’t invested directly in their Recruiting organizations, they also haven’t invested in their hiring authorities. Hiring managers/executives who are not trained in interviewing tend to do poor jobs of evaluating candidates, selling the opportunity, and can put the company at risk with their lack of knowledge of the legalities of interviewing. None of which is acceptable when attempting to recruit high quality talent.

    3) Per #1 above, if companies want to hire top talent, they will have to hire top talent recruiters to do that. Expecting a junior level recruiter to consistently find high quality talent, while potentially a stretch/growth opportunity for the recruiter, is most likely to be a recipe for failure – especially if not managed appropriately.

    In the bigger picture, companies tend to lose sight of the fact that how they conduct their recruiting efforts does have an impact on how they are viewed in the market place. High quality candidates tend to be individuals of influence and how they are treated in the interview process can have a wide impact on the perception of the company’s employment brand.

    Those companies who recognize that the war for talent is already on and who want to play competitively will be those who successfully address the fact that yes, high quality candidates most certainly are out there, they are identifiable, and it will take a highly skilled and integrated (by both recruiting and hiring authorities) recruiting effort to attract and land them.

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