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A Different Perspective on How to Hire Top People

In the opinion of hiring guru Lou Adler, the selection process in many companies is dysfunctional, and the “axis of evil”--job boards and applicant-tracking systems--has only made it worse.

October 3, 2003
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Why isn’t there a systematic business process for hiring top people? Accounting has a formal business system. So does customer service. Engineering design has one, as do manufacturing and distribution. If hiring top people is supposedly the most important thing a company should do, why can’t it have its own official system?

Candidates vs. employees
Most companies aren’t really expending their efforts on hiring top people at all. What they’re really doing is spending most of their resources on not hiring weak people. They then get excited when a new technique becomes available that enables them to eliminate unqualified candidates more quickly. The trouble is that the solutions being offered are solving the wrong problem. We shouldn’t be trying to hire better candidates; we should be trying to hire better employees. There’s a big difference.

    Top employees are those who are talented, work hard, cooperate with their team members, make things happen, initiate projects and solve problems. Top candidates, on the other hand, have great résumés. They’re enthusiastic, prepared and on time, and they make good first impressions.

    What I’ve discovered after 2,000-plus interviews is that top candidates and top employees aren’t the same. Top employees often aren’t generally the best interviewees. Sometimes they stumble, sometimes they’re nervous and sometimes they’re not as prepared as they could be. If you judge them as candidates, you’ll be disappointed. However, if you judge them as top employees, you’ll find some real stars behind the presentation.

Aggravating the problem
In my opinion, job boards and applicant-tracking systems form a true axis of evil, requiring too much effort to manage unimportant information.

    Job boards are a perfect example of a bad solution. While they’re great for posting ads and getting tons of résumés, they’re not great for finding top talent. For one thing, too many unqualified people apply. For another, the best candidates don’t. There are many reasons for this. Most ads are boring and hard to find, and the application process is cumbersome. What if we paid job boards on the basis of quality rather than quantity? Why can’t job boards pre-qualify candidates before they even apply? This way, companies wouldn’t have to spend all their time throwing away the same résumés.

"We shouldn't be trying to hire
better candidates; we should be
trying to hire better employees.
There's a big difference."

    Applicant-tracking systems aggravate the problem, too. They take valuable time away from the recruiter’s primary role--finding better people. Applicant-tracking systems should automatically push hot candidates to the recruiter’s desktop, while doing the process work in the background.

    Here are some short-term ideas that can move the focus to finding and hiring top candidates rather than just candidates.

  1. Prepare success profiles rather than using job descriptions. Success profiles define what the person in the job needs to do to be successful, rather than what the person must have. Put these profiles on your Web site and into your ads. Top candidates are more likely to respond to jobs that are challenging and different.

  2. Stop listing requirements in your ads. Instead, describe opportunities. Make these ads highly visible, with long, compelling titles. You’ll attract a different class of person if your ad stands out. A pet-food company hired a great customer-service manager with the title This Job Is for the Dogs.

  3. Move fast. Make sure your systems push the best people to the top of the list. Then call these people immediately, before someone else gets to them first.

  4. Use networking and referral programs to find the top people. These can be your best resource and should represent 50 to 60 percent of all your hiring. Proactively ask your employees, vendors and top candidates for the names of the best people they know. Don’t wait for them to give you these names. Pre-qualify these candidates before you talk with them. No one has time to talk to unqualified candidates.

  5. Train your recruiters to work with top people. The best people take longer to decide. They want more information, and they need convincing and hand-holding. Your recruiters must be able to handle these needs. The quality of the people you hire will directly reflect the quality of your recruiting team.

    I just took a tour of a world-class manufacturing plant. I asked the VP of operations what would happen if a vendor delivered 99 bad parts out of every 100. I can’t repeat his response. I then asked if the company was using job boards to find candidates. When I asked what the difference was, I got stone silence.

    The hiring process for finding the best employees is completely different from the one used to eliminate bad candidates. Spend your limited resources solving the right problem--hiring top people. It will make all the difference in the world.

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