Before your dream employee joins your company, they have likely proved themselves a standout candidate in your hiring process. On your end, it all just seems to match, and with each interview you become increasingly excited about this person. On their end, they enjoy discovering whether their values are in line with yours, and demonstrating throughout the process that they get who you are and what you do, and are excited about the idea of working with you. Next step? You decide to extend the offer, the candidate is thrilled about it and becomes your employee, seamlessly navigates the new company culture, and adds value from day one. This is the dream scenario. It’s efficient, positive and exciting for everyone involved. The question I often get is, how do you build an effective hiring process to maximise the chances of this perfect match? And how do you get talent excited about your company?
Over the years, I’ve seen many different approaches to hiring talent. As companies seek new ways of recruiting and engaging employees, the focus has turned to people. The times in which the company was in the driver’s seat when it came to hand-picking talent has passed. Sayings like “a company is built by people, not by products” have become more relevant, and the trend for investors to devote resources to building great teams prevails. In regards to hiring, focussing on people means making candidates the centre of attention and providing them with an amazing journey. “But,” you think, “shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t the candidate be grateful for the opportunity to speak with the company?” Sure – they should, and they are. At the same time though, this outstanding candidate is most likely being pursued by many other companies hungry for the best talent. Everyone wants to play with these A-players, since those will be true game changers for your business. Hiring should be a two-way process examining whether it’s the right choice for the candidate and the right choice for the company. Over time, I have noticed that companies with the most success in hiring the talent go one step further: they acknowledge the importance of the candidate’s experience in the hiring process. Let that resonate for a second. Now, ask yourself, as a founder, decision-maker, or recruiter: are you genuinely interested in your candidates? Is your hiring process designed to meet their needs or mostly yours? It seems simple, but I have found again and again that it’s not. Short timeframes and other high-priority topics can stand in the way of approaching your hiring process in a careful and empathic way.
There’s lots of evidence to show that making your candidates the centre of attention in the hiring process will pay off. Companies that invest in an amazing candidate experience improve the quality of their hires by 70%1. It results in better matches and more satisfied employees. Not only does it lead to a higher level of satisfaction, but ultimately in more customers. Boosting employee satisfaction by only one Glassdoor rating point raises the market value of a company by 7.9%2. To benefit from these results, you must build an effective hiring process.
FIVE WAYS OF GETTING CLOSER TO YOUR HIRING GOALS
1. Create an amazing experience every step of the way
From the first contact with the candidate to the last, you need to create an unique experience. As Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon, put it, “We see our customers as guests at our party. We are the host, and it is our job to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little better every day.” The journey starts as early as when your talents reads about your company, or when you reach out to them. Your tone of voice, your Glassdoor ratings, everything you say or do, verbally or non-verbally, gives the candidate an impression of who you are. A-players only want to play with other A-players, and they are looking for the best experience possible.
The difference between a good experience and great experience is in the details. Have a thorough look at your hiring process, and define all these touchpoints with your candidate. Do you have the right framework set up for this talent to be drawn to your company? And does it reflect who you are as a company? If one of your values is to be innovative or fast, does your hiring process indicate this? Do you have innovative tools, or ways of engaging with candidates? Or, when it’s related to speed, what is your KPI with regards to time-to-hire? Even if you reach a point at which you decide that the candidate isn’t the right fit, being respectful of their time and providing them with constructive feedback, will mean that they can walk out the door feeling positive about their experience. Furthermore, they’re also far more likely to spread the word amongst A-players that your company cares about its people. Word of mouth is very powerful.
2. Talents are unique, so treat them uniquely
Understanding your candidates is key to building an effective hiring process. Once you truly know them, you immediately notice that they need to be approached and treated differently. A software developer will look at different aspects of a job than, say, an online marketing director. Similarly, you’ll need to use different channels to reach a business development manager than when approaching a UX designer. When marketing a product, it’s common practice to define personas and roll out a specific strategy that’s compelling to that customer. Why not apply this to recruitment, and profile your talent? In-depth knowledge about your potential candidates results in the right approach for hiring them. Define your key segments, and learn what makes them tick. Engage with these different talent groups within your organisation, and ask the A-players of these groups where they can be found, on what channels they’re active, what motivates them and why they chose your company. Use that as the base for your hiring process. Talent profiling ensures a higher success rate in the hiring funnel. Your candidates will better understand what the job and your company are about and if there is a match between their own values and those of your company. A great side effect of this is that candidates show their true version of themselves, which makes it easier for you to assess whether or not they are a good fit.
3. Create and live your story
If you want to attract A-players, you need to know your story. As put by Simon Sinek, a British-American author and consultant, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. Having a clear story for your candidates and demonstrating a strong employer brand throughout your hiring process increases your chances of making that quality hire. Companies that invest in their employer brand are three times more likely to make a quality hire3. Additionally, companies with strong employer brands also have amazing customer brands. They are highly interlinked, just as a compelling business strategy has to be at the root of a compelling talent strategy. Assuming that the values of transparency, integrity and innovation are shared by the most successful and enduring brands, why should there be a difference in dealing with candidates or customers? You have to be authentic and consistent though; once you’re not, candidates will see right through you. It may not happen during the hiring process, but there is no doubt that within months you’ll be back to square one. By being open and honest about your values at every stage of the hiring process from the get-go, both the candidates and hiring managers will know in advance of working together whether or not they’ll make a perfect match. So what do you want to tell candidates about your company? What should become apparent to them through the series of touchpoints? And is everyone involved aware of the story you’d like to portray.
4. Pick the right battles
“Doing more with less”. Does this sound familiar? It is something I hear at companies quite regularly. There’s always this pressure to channel your efforts and maximise the return on investment. You are most likely busy managing your talents to maximise quality, speed, innovation and customer delivery. When engaging with managers or founders, especially in times of hyper-growth, companies sometimes have the tendency to start hiring right away and to the tune of large sums. However, hiring candidates is a time-consuming process, especially if you are aiming for the perfect match. Picking the right battles isn’t easy. Knowing who your talent is just part one. The next step (and your potential secret weapon in the war for talent) is to understand the true economics of value creation in specific roles. Which roles contribute the most to your revenue? Where do you need the most capable people within your organisation? To do this, you need to challenge your hiring needs. Less is indeed more here: focus on fewer positions with great business impact, instead of many positions without the adequate resources to hire these A-players. A high performer in a business-critical role can be a gamechanger as they deliver 400% more productivity than the average performer4. Make it a priority to deliver for that talent, where the most value is created.
5. Don’t compromise quality for speed
This is a tricky one. For you to build a unique culture that A-players want to be a part of, you can’t make any exceptions if you feel that someone isn’t the right fit. Compromising on quality will always backfire, and it only takes one bad apple to spoil a barrel. If you’re in hyper-growth mode, then leaving a role open for a longer period of time might feel like a dangerous move. But hiring someone whose values are not in line with your company’s will be even more dangerous. When I speak with decision-makers from different companies, they recall having doubts about certain hires, and wish they’d paid attention to those feelings. You need to trust your hunches and ask yourself whether the candidate honestly have what it takes to be the perfect hire? What will improve your decision making is examining the distinction between functional capabilities and cultural capabilities. Functional capabilities differ role by role, whereas everyone needs the same cultural skills. Separate the two when assessing a candidate, and make sure that they have both. A-players can only reach an exceptional level of performance by operating in an environment that fits them. Engage different employees in the hiring process, and distribute functional “skill” assessments and cultural fit, across a range of interviewers. This way you will increase your chances of hiring the perfect match – someone who can hit the ground running.
We have been at war for talent since the ’90s, and there’s no sign of the feud cooling down. Finding great talent that fit your company’s culture and will stay loyal to the organisation is among a CEO’s greatest worries5. Large corporations struggle to keep up with the exciting culture that startups promise, and startups, in their right, lack the resources and sometimes the knowledge base to retain talent. Good talent, in turn, is always open to positive change. They don’t see their employers as their life partner. They are continuously in search of meaningful work, and want to explore the opportunities that lie ahead. Ask any founder what they would have done differently, and they are most likely to say that they would have invested more in their people right from the start – either in their customers, employees or candidates. The focus worldwide has shifted to people while hiring and engaging with employees. This, for me, is an incredibly positive development.
Above all, remember to treat your potential employees as if they were prospective customers. It will completely change your approach to hiring. The great catch is that the scenario of the perfect match becomes the rule rather than exception. And with those A-players, you will change the impact of your business.
1. Brandon Hall, The True Cost of a Bad Hire, September 2015
2. Journal of Corporate Finance, 2015
3. Brandon Hall, The True Cost of a Bad Hire, September 2015
4. O’Boyle Jr & Aguinis, The Best and the rest: revisiting the norm of normality of individual performance, February 2012
5. 72% of CEOs are concerned about the availability of key skills.(PwC, 19th Annual Global CEO Survey, 2016)