Implementing a Talent-Driven Recruiting Function

By Lou Adler Apr 12, 2016
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Most small companies use either a follow-the-leader approach to building their sourcing and recruiting processes or one based on fixing the current problem. However, neither approach works very well since they’re both reactive.

With a follow-the-leader approach, you’re too late to make much of a difference since all of the good candidates have been hired by the leaders. A fix-the-problem approach is too short-term since by the time you correct the original problem, new ones have arisen. Alternatively, a proactive, market-driven talent strategy is a solution that addresses the right concern: improving quality of hire.

teardrop.jpgImplementing such a strategy starts by understanding the total talent market and how people in the top group change jobs. The talent market is divided into four tiers based on candidate quality, from top-tier candidates to the unqualified. The teardrop represents the mix of candidates a company typically attracts: a few good people, some qualified people, but mostly the less qualified and the unqualified. Turning the teardrop on its head is the key to better hiring. First you must understand what drives individual on-the-job performance—and then capture this in your recruiting messages to convince the best people to consider your job openings.

In 1997, Gallup first publicized its Q12 research describing the factors that maximize job satisfaction. Heading the list was having clarified job expectations upfront, followed by doing satisfying work and having a hiring manager who is fully supportive. Google’s Project Oxygen in 2012 produced similar results, adding the point that hiring managers need to be talent developers rather than technical experts. Harvard professor Todd Rose has added more clarity to this issue in his new book, The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness (HarperOne, 2016), contending that the context of the job is the primary determinant of individual performance. Rose says context consists of the work itself, the hiring manager’s leadership style, the resources available, the pace of the organization and the company culture.

Rose contacted me last year trying to understand how I developed my approach to Performance-based Hiring since this process mapped closely to his research on the circumstances required to maximize individual performance when it comes to hiring. My short answer was “20 years of trial and error.” It all boils down to common sense and these four recruiting rules:

If you want to attract and hire a great person, you need to offer a great job. That’s why recruitment advertising should emphasize what the person will be doing, not the skills needed to do it. There’s not a single top-talent person in the world who gets excited by a laundry list of “must-have skills.”

One recruiter at a Texas medical device manufacturer told me she sends e-mails about important engineering projects coming up in the next three to six months to people she’s identified as having all-star potential. In the e-mail, she invites them to have a short exploratory chat if they’re interested. Her response rate to the e-mails is close to 50 percent, since the discussions are nonthreatening because there is none of the hustle involved in filling a job as fast as possible. This is one way to turn the teardrop on its head.

The best people need to be attracted in, not weeded out. There is no law that job descriptions need to be boring nor that they should list every skill and competency. Instead, emphasize what the person will be doing and how this work ties in to an important project or is part of the company’s overall strategy or mission. As a top labor attorney at Littler told me, “Performance objectives are more objective than a list of skills subjectively determined.”

A recruiter in the health care industry now includes the primary purpose of the job as a tagline in the job title and in the first line of the job posting itself. For example, to attract nurses to work on medical evacuation emergency helicopters, she posted the job as “Flight Nurses—Saving Lives Every Day.” As a result of this description, she attracted 14 top people in a few days and hired four nurses within two weeks. The job was posted without the tagline for three months prior to this and not a single strong candidate applied.

A series of give-and-take exploratory interviews should be conducted during the hiring process. Forget the 30-minute series of panel interviews and the 90-minute inquisition shoved into one day. Instead, use a consultative recruiting process spread out over a few weeks to first engage the person and determine his or her interest and to demonstrate that your job offers a possible upward career move. Use subsequent interviews to share more insight about the job. During these more formal interviews, dig deep into all of the person’s major accomplishments related to the real-job needs to determine fit, motivation and ability. Top-tier candidates respect hiring managers who can describe the job as a series of performance objectives and who expect the candidate to prove that he or she is capable of handling them.

To get a sense of this performance-based, fact-finding approach, consider one of your own major accomplishments. While you can probably summarize it in a minute or two, consider the additional information that would be revealed if you also had to describe your role in the project, the other members of the team, the actual results achieved, any point where you took the initiative, the challenges you faced and how you overcame them, the problems you solved, and the process you used to make important decisions. This is how you embed behavioral interviewing techniques into the assessment process: by tying them to a series of major objectives that are comparable to actual job needs.

A board member of a high-tech Silicon Valley company told me he uses this approach but breaks the interview into multiple meetings spread out over different times and locations. He likes to meet with all final candidates in person at least three times after the first phone call to see how each candidate responds at different times of the day and in both formal and less formal sessions.

Negotiate a 30 percent nonmonetary increase to make it worthwhile for a candidate to accept your job offer. A career move is represented by the difference between what the person is doing now and what the person could be doing at your company. If there is not at least a 30 percent difference, you won’t be attracting many top-tier candidates. The 30 percent nonmonetary increase can be a combination of a bigger and more impactful job role, faster learning opportunity and increased job growth, and a richer mix of more satisfying work.

One tip I give to recruiters and hiring managers is to ask the final candidate this question before negotiating compensation: “Forget the salary for a moment. Do you really want this job, and if you do, can you please tell me why? Because if you’re taking it just for the money, we should both walk away now.” If the candidate can’t explain the 30 percent increase in his or her own terms, walk away.

As Rose contends, to maximize performance and job satisfaction, you need to modify the job to best fit the person, rather than force-fit the best person to some ill-defined job. In practice, this starts by attracting people who want to do this work and convincing them—in a few hours spread over a few weeks—that the job you’re offering represents an upward career move.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm based in Irvine, Calif., helping companies around the world improve quality of hire using Performance-based Hiring. Adler is the author of the Amazon top 10 best-seller Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007) and The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench Media, 2013).

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