What Leaders Need to Know About Hiring Great Talent

Hiring Great Talent

By Daniel Chait and Jon Stross

Great talent propels a company’s success. It sets businesses apart and drives innovation. Yet far too often leaders relegate hiring to their recruiters, paying scant attention to the various techniques needed to attract the right people for the right positions. If you want your company to be great at hiring, then you as a leader must get involved.

Start by educating yourself about the techniques that can be tapped as part of a structured hiring process that will set your company apart from your competitors. Remember, the competition is searching for great talent too. If they’re willing to invest, cultivate candidates, and try multiple techniques, then that level of effort becomes the price of admission – and an important reason why leaders need to be involved in this critical process. 

Beyond Job Boards and Career Sites

Most companies use job boards and their career site as low-cost ways to search for talent. But that’s not nearly enough. Following is an in-depth discussion of the sourcing techniques, that when used strategically, will yield the best results. For companies focusing on excellent DEI outcomes, implementing a strong mix of techniques is critical.

  • Job boards

All job boards are not created equal. Some will allow you to post jobs for free, because their goal is to be able to list the largest number of jobs. Other boards will charge, for example, $300 per month or $1 per click. When you’re willing to pay, you’ll get a lot more candidates. Boards also vary widely from super-broad ones that want every job listing everywhere, to super-niched ones for specialized roles. For example, CEO Jobs in the UK has the most coveted positions for individuals experienced in running a company.

  • Career site

The volume of applications coming to your career site is to some extent a function of the visibility of your brand. If you’ve worked hard on your brand, you can reap some of the rewards here. Some organizations really put an effort into creating elaborate career pages, explaining why an individual would want to work there and how great the culture is, and they work to make each job sound interesting. You should consider doing the same.

  • Referrals

Referral systems vary widely in organizations. Some provide simple instructions about how employees can refer friends. Others are highly elaborate productions that talk about how one of the coolest things you can do at the company is to refer your friends. Having a strong referral process with clear incentives is a great way to distinguish your company and improve your hiring in short order.

  • Agencies

Agencies can play a very useful role in hiring. The good news is they typically take the financial risk because you pay nothing up front. The not-so-good news is that if you hire a candidate they delivered, you’ll pay around 20 percent of the annual salary of that person. With agencies that focus on executive search, you’ll pay them up front whether they find the right candidate or not.

  • Specialized sourcing software

Some organizations have used technology in creative ways to access discreet candidate pools. They can be excellent sources for candidates when diversity goals are not being met and you need more applicants at the top of the funnel. You’re welcome to look at our sourcing partners on our website. You can contact them directly. Visit: https://www.greenhouse.io/integrations.

  • Cold outreach outbound sourcing

This is where you start from scratch and hit the phones, email, and any other communication method to contact strangers and ask if they’re interested in working at your company. It’s like what business development reps do in the sales and marketing world. The key is to personalize! Emphasize quality and building individual connections over “spray and pray” bulk emails.

  • Sourcing from database

If your company has been doing the most basic relationship management, you’ll have a database of people who have applied for jobs, and candidates whom you interviewed but who didn’t get an offer. You’ll also have lists of people you met at career events, meetups, reunions, and so on. It is worth staying in touch with them. Over time this list can become a tremendous asset. Growing and nurturing a strong candidate database can help companies attract more talent and fill positions quicker.

  • Social media

This is another case of tuning your sourcing efforts to match your target audience and job profile. Certain jobs are much more likely than others to have large numbers of potential candidates on social media all day long. Don’t think transactionally when posting to social media. If you post a job and tweet, “I’m hiring an engineer; click here,” no one will click. The proper way to use social media for hiring is to build a community. Post interesting stuff, contribute to the community, and eventually your online business relationships can lead to qualified candidates.

  • Prequalified Talent Pools

Prequalified candidate pools involve several tactics that relate to situations where you know something about potential employees, and they know something about you. Employee referrals fall into this category, as does your existing database of applicants, candidates, and contacts. This category can be problematic from a diversity perspective: If you’re hiring from your existing employee base, and if the existing base isn’t that diverse, then the candidates you get may not help matters.

That may not be a problem if the prequalified pools are just one of your sourcing techniques. Also, you can use timing to your advantage. Let’s say you’re looking to hire female engineers, and you know your internal database has a lower percentage of them than you’d like. In that case, you can post the position first in other channels that tend to have higher proportions of women, and only post it to your internal database later, if necessary. 

  • Advertising

With this strategy you recruit in specific pools, on a pay-to-play basis. This is a popular approach because you have a lot of control: you can dial up or down the exposure, as well as focus on distinct groups like diversity job boards. Obviously, the downside is that it costs money. Also, you mostly get people who are out looking for jobs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, given how often people switch jobs. However, there are plenty of great people who are not looking for a job but who would consider yours, if they knew about it. If you only advertise, you miss this large segment.

  • Spearfishing

As the name implies, this is where you go after individual people. You can do this yourself, or hire an agency. The benefit is that you can target exactly the kind of person you want. It can work to fill both existing and new roles, and can of course help you to meet any diversity goals. You can get spearfishing going quickly as well. The downside is that it will cost you a lot of time, or money, or both, depending on how extensively you use it. 

Three Necessary Actions

As a leader in the organization, you need to make sure that three things (among others) get done if you want to be great at hiring:

  1. You need to invest appropriately across the continuum. The key words here are “across the continuum,” so make sure you don’t just have one or two pet methods. Have the discussion with the head of recruiting about which long-term and medium-term initiatives are being actively worked. There should be latitude about which techniques are chosen, but in our opinion it is risky and costly to live only in the short-term end of the continuum.
  2. Modulate your approaches, based on the job. It’s fine to be doing some things at no cost, like using job boards, your career site, and so on. But have a proactive conversation with your recruiting team about which jobs should get the budget, and which techniques may be underutilized.
  3. Rise and grind. To be great at hiring means that you’ll be doing some hard work, but also smart work in the sense of the more you grind and experiment, the better you perform.

How You Measure Success

There are four factors that combine to give you a handle on whether your sourcing efforts are paying off. If you as a leader can monitor these measurements, they’ll give you a good sense of the situation.

  1. Quality versus quantity. It’s not that helpful if you get 500 candidates for a job, nor if you only get three candidates. You should seek the sweet spot. What is that location, exactly? It depends on the job. For candidate-dense roles, which tend to require less experience and are more easily replaced, the number can be smaller. If you’re opening a new role or it’s a very specialized one, you may need many more candidates in order to find the right fit and you can conduct a Cognitive ability test too.
  2. Speed. How quickly are you finding qualified candidates? Is it within days of opening the job, or does it drag on for months? Depending on the role and how far you plan ahead for filling it, you may be fine with two months to fill it, or two months could put you out of business. Have the discussion, preferably before the role opens up, and now you’ll have a useful benchmark.
  3. Resources. Where do you spend your time and money? Less is not always better, if you’re investing in some efforts that may take some time to pay off, or if your competitors are willing to write the big checks to source the best talent.
  4. Diversity. What is the makeup of your candidate group? How does that compare to what you want it to be, both in the short term and longer term? If you haven’t met your goals, are you measuring to see if you’re on a trajectory to meet them within a reasonable time? If not, you should reevaluate your mix of sourcing techniques.

Internal Mobility

Many organizations have internal job boards that list all the available jobs. Employees can apply to those jobs and are usually treated separately from an external applicant. They’re given preferential treatment because they’re a known quantity.

Forward-thinking companies are creating what could be called an internal talent marketplace. They build a database of all employees by asking about and documenting their skills. They also note if employees say they’re willing to relocate, or what departments they would consider working in.

That way they can scan across the entire employee base and identify people who might be a potential match. Then they can contact them and make them aware of the positions available. It not only eliminates reliance on somebody happening to think of a friend as a possible candidate, but it also avoids the problem of internal applicants being viewed as disloyal to their current managers. After all, the company asked the employee if they might be interested in the other job.

This kind of program taps a talent pool that’s effectively unknown to recruiters. They may anecdotally know about the past histories and talents of some employees, but not across the board and especially not when the organization reaches 1,000 employees or more.

The Ultimate Measure of Success

It’s an amazing feeling to have the serene confidence that you can hire great people whenever you need them, quickly and reliably. You’re fully aware that great people won’t be content with swimming for their entire careers in one pond, so you know they’ll be moving on. That’s not a scary thought but an intriguing one: now you get to attract the next talented person who will help to make your goals a reality.

About the Authors

Daniel Chait

Daniel Chait is co-author of TALENT MAKERS: How the Best Organizations Win Through Structured and Inclusive Hiring, and CEO and co-founder of Greenhouse. Before Greenhouse, he co-founded Lab49, a global firm providing technology consulting solutions for investment banks. Chait is a frequent speaker on the topics of recruiting and entrepreneurship, and a guest-lecturer at business schools and conferences. Daniel graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Computer Engineering in 1995.

Jon Stross

Jon Stross is co-author of TALENT MAKERS: How the Best Organizations Win Through Structured and Inclusive Hiring, and President and co-founder of Greenhouse. He was General Manager of International at BabyCenter.com, the leading online resource for new and expectant mothers. Previously Jon was a member of the executive team at Merced Systems, an enterprise performance management software company. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Political Science in 1995.  


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