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8 Critical Steps to Effective Recruiting

In my 25 years as chief human resources officer at Wynn Resorts, we received more than 3.5 million job applications and hired 125,000 new employees. We were very successful, but none of that came easy. It required hard work, creativity, perseverance, teamwork and focus, all while trying to get the work done and jobs filled.

In an effort to summarize what worked best, here are eight critical steps to help you recruit more effectively.

Know what you’re looking for. I’m a firm believer in hiring for attitude and training for skills. Most of the skills your employees need can be learned, so my first recommendation is to focus your recruiting efforts on finding people who will come to work every day on time, smile, be flexible and optimistic, work hard, and care a lot. There are lots of ways to test for these characteristics; the key is to find the ways that work for you.

I’m a big fan of the handshake test. Candidates are sent down a hall, and when they turn the corner, I’m standing there with my hand out, ready to shake theirs and introduce myself. This test mirrors the type of interruption that’s common in the service sector, and the employees we hired all responded appropriately: They shook my hand and were happy to meet me.

The handshake test measures for general optimism and identifies people who see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. The people who scored highly on it were generally happier, more flexible and team-oriented. The results of hiring this kind of employee included high retention, productivity and performance scores.

Optimism is an innate quality, one that can’t be taught. We were only interested in applicants who had this quality, and you’d be surprised at how many candidates recoiled when they saw me around that corner.

What are the qualities and attitudes you want in all of your employees? Once you decide, focus on finding applicants who have them—unlike the technical skills they’ll need, these cannot be taught.

Fill your talent pipeline like your life depends on it. HR is primarily responsible for sourcing qualified applicants and making sure they’re immediately available when an opening occurs. That means:

  • Projecting turnover and proactively recruiting applicants. If you wait until there’s an opening, then you’re too late.
  • Scouring the market continually for people who are ready, willing and able to work. Advertise the benefits of working for your organization, not the specifics of a particular job.
  • Looking for great employees outside your workplace and giving your card to those who catch your eye.
  • Recruiting internally. Your current employees are often the best source of talent. They might want the job, or know friends and relatives who would be good in your organization.
  • Rating and ranking applicants. Develop a process for giving everyone you meet with and interview a simple and objective rating (numerical or color-coded) so you can easily remember what you thought about them. Then consider the best ones first.

Keep in touch. One of the greatest challenges is keeping applicants interested so that they’ll be available when you are.

The best applicants usually have lots of choices, and they respond best to those companies and hiring managers who communicate effectively. We created a “Mother Hen” program (think of a hen sitting on and keeping her eggs warm until they’re ready to hatch). It had multiple strategies for keeping in touch, letting applicants know we were still there and interested, and that we were available to answer any questions or react to possible changes in their status. This was not just for HR’s use; hiring managers also have to develop and nurture relationships with their potential employees. If the manager and applicant click, then the applicant may be willing to engage on another opening with that manager.

Train your hiring managers. HR people are trained to interview and adhere to best practices and legal requirements. They do it often enough to get good at these skills over time. But what about your hiring managers? Look for these warning signs that they may need additional training:

  • They interview only when needed, and may not be aware of or remember best practices and legal issues.
  • Left on their own, they often talk more than listen, and might not know the best kinds of questions to ask.
  • Most look for the first available person rather than understand the benefit of utilizing objective and behavioral formats to find the best people available.

Conduct regular classes that train and certify managers to interview effectively. These classes should include lots of role-playing, coaching and feedback. Make sure your interview process is simple and well-documented.

Look for different sources. There are state agencies in every town that help connect people in need of jobs with potential employers. They’re called One-Stop Career Centers and they represent people who are unemployed or underemployed—such as veterans and people with disabilities—and can be a great source for your talent pool.Here’s a TEDx Talk I gave on the issue.

Trust your gut. I’ve asked thousands of hiring managers how long it takes to know whether they want to hire someone or not; they often tell me “less than a minute.”

Managers begin to assess an applicant’s demeanor and overall presentation the moment they’re introduced. Encourage them to trust those instincts. Try these methods of getting to know an applicant:

  • Make that initial introduction part of the interview process. You can learn a lot about each applicant from the very first greeting, how the person interacts on the walk to the interview location, and the way the person sits and answers the questions during the interview. Maintain eye contact with the applicant and see if he or she does the same. Be animated and use lots of gestures; again, see if the applicant does this, too. These types of behaviors offer an indication as to whether applicants are and can remain focused, have personality, show enthusiasm and passion, and can thoughtfully answer questions.
  • Develop pre-set questions that hiring managers can use to either affirm or overrule that first impression of a candidate. Make these questions unique. Ask behavioral-based questions and elicit examples. While the applicant is answering, the hiring manager should be observing his or her passion, thoughtfulness, creativity and overall presentation. It’s not so much the answer but how it’s delivered that tells the most about each applicant.
  • Create a process that encourages managers to make a simple yes or no decision. Forget about a 1-5 rating scheme or about having the option to choose “maybe.” If managers like the applicant, then they should go for it; if they’re ambivalent, encourage them to pass.

Make it a big deal. Chances are you will have to motivate applicants to want to work for you.

  • Again, they may have lots of opportunities, so be prepared to impress them. Your enthusiasm can be infectious and motivating.
  • Other times applicants may be wary of change. Create an environment where they will want to take a chance on you and your company.
  • Celebrate the job offer: When applicants (after their interview) go home, they’re invariably asked: “How was it?” Make sure you give them every reason to sing your praises and promote your company’s reputation.

Treat applicants like customers. Whether there’s a war for talent or not, follow the Golden Rule and treat them the way you would like to be treated. Far too often, the application and interviewing experience is less than a great experience. It doesn’t take much more planning and effort to make it warm and personal, sensitive to applicants’ needs and anxieties, and reflective of some of the best service you experience elsewhere. It’s a matter of commitment and focus, and this can pay large dividends to your organization. Applicants talk to others and the stories they tell can help build up, or destroy, your brand. Make sure the story they tell about your company is a good one. Doing this right lets applicants know what will be expected of them once they’re hired. Don’t lose the opportunity to make this point.

People often tell me there aren’t enough good applicants. I respond by saying they probably don’t know where to look, how to spot the good ones, or how to motivate applicants to want to work at their company versus all the other opportunities available to them. Like with anything else, being successful in recruiting takes planning, creativity and flawless execution.

Arte Nathan served as chief human resources officer for Golden Nugget and its successor companies, Mirage Resorts and Wynn Resorts. He currently teaches, writes and consults. You can reach him at and


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