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10 ways to optimise your recruitment process to attract top talent

Want to grow your business this year?  Then you’re going to need good people.  Hiring top talent is the single most important difference you can make. Yes, strategy is essential.  And your execution plan needs to be sector-beating. But without A-Players to carry this out, you may as well pack up now.  Blackpool donkeys are never going to win the National.  Loveable, they might be.  Race winners, they’re not.

So why do so few companies give recruitment the focus it needs?  Job ads are sloppy and unfocused; interviewers are untrained, recruitment procedures are excruciatingly long and drawn out.  You might blame the ‘war on talent’ for your inability to recruit talented staff, but I don’t buy this.  Does this even exist?  The labour market’s always been tight for A-Players (the top 10% of available talent for a given job, salary and location).  If you’ve committed to recruiting only the best and decided to screen out B and C-Players, there’s always going to be stiff competition.  You’ve made your life hard, but you know the rewards are worth it.

So how do you make sure your recruitment process attracts top talent?

1. Speed things up

This is number 1 on the list for a reason.  You have to move fast to recruit the best people.  They’re not going to wait around whilst your bureaucratic process grinds on for weeks.  Get all your touchpoints done in a week. Yes – that’s right.  7 days.  No more.  All the interviews, testing and offers should be made in this timeframe, allowing you to strike whilst the iron’s hot.    

Because next week, things might be different. There might be a change in their current role.  Your talented candidate may think again about moving, or one of your competitors might snap them up.  If I talk to our larger, more bureaucratic clients, they often lose out because they’re too slow. If you have someone senior involved in the process, this will give you some flex on salary (something that often holds things up). 

And in the same way as creating theatre around sales, make sure you create some recruitment theatre.   Moving companies is an emotional purchase.  How can you make the candidate think and feel differently towards you versus your competitors?

2. Get clarity on expectations and requirements

Way before you start writing job ads, get total clarity on what you’re expecting from the job roles you want to recruit.  Quality on your role expectations is your starting point. The tool we use with clients is a job scorecard which helps them see what an A-Player looks like in their organisation and can be used to guide interviews.

What are the three to five things you’re going to measure that this role impacts?  And what is the level at which excellence would be attained a year after this person has arrived?  Then you can work out the salary level you’re prepared to invest in.  So if you were hiring a salesperson, for example, you might say that they need to close £1 million gross profit, building a £4 million pipeline in twelve months. 

Too often, this isn’t clear. Someone’s hired to do one thing, and they end up doing something completely different.  There’s no clarity over the purpose of the job. 

3. Write engaging and exciting ads that sell the role

You need to sell the job through an engaging advert to differentiate you from your competition.  If you’ve done the work on the job scorecard, you can be crystal clear about the expectations of the role and the salary.  People will self-select as they read your ad, and the field of applicants is narrowed down to the people who will do the role for the money you’re offering.

Take the sales example I mentioned above.  A-Players will be attracted to your specificity and ambition.  They can work out whether it fits with their parameters of success.  They’re more likely to apply because they can see how they can use their technical skills or capabilities to the scope of the role.  B and C-Players will be put off because it’s clear that the job requires accountability.

Tip: Do some research.  Google your company’s adverts versus your competitors’.  Do they stand out in any way?  If they don’t, you’re unlikely to attract top talent.  

4. Widen search criteria

Historically, you may have said you’re only going to hire graduates who’ve worked in your sector for five years.  My experience is that these types of heuristics are unnecessarily restrictive. Consider broadening your search criteria as you may be missing some great candidates, particularly in more junior roles.

Try to move towards recruiting for attitude and culture fit rather than fixed ideas of experience needed.  I’ve found some fantastic people who may not have been in the ‘traditional mould’ for the role when I’ve done this.  Far better to find someone with the right outlook and fill in the gaps with training rather than recruiting a dyed-in-the-wool, toxic A-Player who will quietly poison your business.

5. Use ‘Working Genius’ and ‘Ideal Team Player’ to assess fit

I can hear you thinking, ‘We always hire for attitude’.  Do you?  In reality, how do you codify this to make sure it’s effective? Let me introduce you to two nifty tools that can help, designed by Patrick Lencioni. 

The first is ‘Working Genius’, which, through a simple assessment, will give an accurate profile of a candidate’s talents. You can also use this to profile the strengths you need for specific roles.  I often wish I’d come across this earlier in my career.  There are jobs that people shouldn’t have hired me for.  I have ‘Invention’ and ‘Discernment’ as my two geniuses (not unlike many of the CEO clients we coach).  I’m comfortable at 30,000 feet, thinking strategically.  Some of my past jobs have required execution skills such as ‘Enablement’ and ‘Tenacity’, which are my working frustrations. I’m a fish out of water in these roles.  They didn’t bring me any joy or much success!

The second tool designed by Patrick Lencioni is ‘Ideal Time Player’.  It’s a valuable lens that any hiring manager can use to interview for team fit. So helpful I’ll be devoting a whole blog to it next week.

6. Make interviewing a team sport

I’ve always felt interviewing should be a team sport.  The hiring team should interview together. Then they can debrief together afterwards.  This enables two or more perceptions of the same incident.  I might say I wasn’t sure about this characteristic, and the other person might have a different view. 

And whilst you’re at it, make sure all your hiring team have interview training.  It’s rare to find managers who know how to interview well. Too often, they’re unprepared and sloppy.  Interviewing needs to be taught like any other skill. 

7. Make sure senior-level A-Players interview A-Players

First impressions matter.  Make sure the people who are interviewing are also A-Players.  Once you’ve determined that a candidate is a good fit, you’ll need to switch from buying to selling the job.  Put a senior level person onto this. 

One of the things that motivate A-Players is influence.  If they have access to someone senior early on, it will make them feel like they have this – that their opinion is considered valuable and they’ll be listened to.  It might be something that’s causing frustration because it’s missing from their current job.  Demonstrate this in your culture, and it will be a powerful motivation for them to join you.

8. Offer feedback – to every applicant

It’s a small but essential thing.  Don’t be one of those organisations that tell candidates, ‘If you haven’t heard from us within four weeks, assume you were unsuccessful.’ That’s miserable! And wrecks your employer brand. Give every candidate that applies to your company feedback. 

OK – so your HR team will hate you for this.  But it will give a strong and positive message about how you value your people.  If you’ve written the job advert well, with clear specificity about your expectations, you shouldn’t need to spend too much time on this feedback.   And you’ll be able to pinpoint exactly why someone didn’t make the shortlist.

9. Get applicants to draw a picture

I interviewed Bobby Hererra, co-founder and president of Populous Group, for a forthcoming edition of our Melting Pot podcast last week.  He told me whenever he interviews someone, he turns over their CV and says, ‘Now tell me about what’s NOT on your CV’.  It reminded me of something we did at Peer 1, Rackspace and IT Lab that worked remarkably well.  We got candidates to draw a picture of something that motivates and inspires them.

Unconventional, I know and something that would surprise people.  But it’s incredible what we’d learn from this.  We gave people a blank sheet of paper, some coloured pencils and set a timer for 10 minutes.  Most would protest that they weren’t great at drawing.  It didn’t matter. I can only remember one picture that had any artistic merit.  But we were looking for the person behind the CV—their personality, aspirations, motivations and what gave them joy. 

I remember a young woman who drew three figures of herself shopping, on holiday and driving her car.  She’d only used the colour red and, when I asked her to explain, said these were the things she liked doing when she wasn’t at work.  My thoughts? This person was self-absorbed.  Me, me, me.  Teamy not! ‘Thank’s very much,’ I said. ‘But we won’t be hiring you.’

10. Probe for passion and drive

This picture exercise will tell you all you need to know about someone’s passion and drive.  The latter are tricky characteristics to measure.  They have to be teased out of people.  Sometimes people will draw mountains, sunshine, family and friends.  Young, single men have sat in front of me and drawn little houses with picket fences and a family.  This is their aspiration for their future life.  Their hope is that this job will lead to these things.

It’s not your job to motivate your people.  It needs to be innate.  If working at pace in a team and being in service of clients doesn’t give someone joy, they’re not going to fit into your fast-growing organisation.

Spend time getting under the skin of good candidates.  Take them to the pub or out to dinner.  If they make an unguarded comment, ask them to tell you more about it.  Talk to them in a way that no one who’s ever worked with them has done before (and certainly not their current boss).  This is how you build trust, rapport and connection. 

Such an unconventional approach can be helpful to diversity.  You’re not only interested in their qualifications and experience. You’re taking a much wider perspective. When I interview graduates, I’m not primarily interested in their academic performance.  I want to see what they did at uni outside their course.  Did they raise money for charity, hold down two part-time jobs, play in sports teams etc?  These are the shining stars that you need in your teams.


Written by business growth coach Dominic Monkhouse. Find out more about his work here. Read his book, ‘F**k Plan B’ here

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