Creating a workplace where great people are banging down the door to work, should be the goal of any hiring manager. Anyone who has worked with an incredible person on their team will attest the transformational effect of bagging one of these “unicorns”. Incredible staff members not only continually redefine their own already exceptionally high standards, but lift the standard of the everyone around them — so naturally, everyone wants as many of them as they can attract on their team.
The reality though, is that finding great people is a pain in the unicorn’s grey coloured, dehorned cousin. Any manager or leader who has hired their fair share of people will shudder at the time wasted sifting through the unfit, the unwilling and the uncouth in order to uncover some flecks of gold in the process.
There are generally two prevailing philosophies of hiring managers in companies who are not attracting inbound “A player” candidates.
The first are the hiring managers that believe attracting top-notch inbound recruits is confined to the rarified air of the “Apples” and the “Nordstroms” of the world and that one should stick to the predictable institutionalised drudgery of casting a wide net and hoping for the best. Simply, this is the “we’re not worthy” approach.
The second and contrarian view is one where hiring managers believe great people should simply present forthwith given the “cornucopia” of reasons laid out in their job advertisement. “Exciting workplace!”, “Immense opportunity”, “Discounted parking” — how could one not be positively giddy at such promises of transcendent experiences.
In many ways, its easier to edit what we already have than starting an entirely blank slate, so lets dissect some of the common pitfalls with the approaches above to find areas we can tighten up. The good news is that paring back what types of activities you do probably means less work for you — and probably on more fulfilling things!
The things we do, that we probably shouldn’t.
Of course we’re unique
Mission statements, vision manifestos, ancient parchments with prophecies from our evangelisation team — check! Every company has these, and over time, most (not all) have been tainted by the hands of successive management teams trying to put their own spin on the company’s purpose. Unfortunately, these artefacts of “company culture” are often the first interactions prospective candidates have with your company. If they are dripping homogeneity, so will the opportunity. Don’t use them, or make a specific one for hiring that really cuts to the soul, the raison d’être of your company (and if possible, specifically the position). A strong, distinguishable mission or overriding purpose has been shown to be the primary attractor of high-quality people to a company in the first instance, thus, this has to be in order just to be in the game.
Just this once…
Hiring one average employee to fill a void is a common trap. Everyone has demands — orders to fill, customers to serve, tills to be rung and conventional wisdom suggests that its better to have somebody rather than nobody. Wrong. Putting even one average staff member into the mix is like letting one child with head lice loose into the playground — everything looks alright initially, but soon enough everyone starts to itch. Estimates put the amount of supervisor time spent managing sub-optimal staff at 17 hours per week, research also shows bad employees are the leading cause of top employees leaving. Find systems for automating manual tasks, educate staff how to better handle multiple customer interactions, but just don’t hire “average” … ever.
Cast a wide net
Casting a wide net is great, especially if your company makes money from selling an assortment of sea creatures to restaurants and fish mongers — if not, leave this approach on the wharf. Brilliant employees know when they’re getting thrown in to the mix with every other “Tom, Dick and Harry”. Pardon the liberal use of fish metaphors, but to top performers the whole stinks like a bucket of day old cod that’s been left in the sun. Great employees will always have their pick of positions, so why would you even get a look in if they feel like they’re going to be treated like a cog in a machine. Instead of casting a wide net, select a handful of channels and strategies to pursue that show potential candidates that they’re not only special, but also that you get them. For instance, a job ad with boilerplate copy on Monster is probably not going to cut it. Thats not to say don’t use Monster or any other online job board, but is it the best medium for articulating why you’re different? See here for an entertaining example of how a “well worn” channel can be used effectively.
Enough of what not to do, what additional measures should we be taking to help attract more impressive candidates?
The success of guerrilla warfare is predicated on the idea of using superior tactics and strategies to out-smart and out-manoeuvre your enemy, rather than brute force or trying to mimic what the enemy is doing. Fact of the matter is that you are probably not going to be able to compete “head-to-head” with the deep war chests of public market behemoths such as Apple stores and Nordstrom for talent, and even if you could, wouldn’t you want to increase the efficacy of your efforts and save some budget whilst you’re at it? Viva La Revolucion!
Pick your battles
Lesson one in guerrilla warfare is that if you don’t have the resources to fight on every front, you have to be very picky about what clashes you choose to engage in. This step really belongs in “Marketing 101”, but essentially, its the same thing with a slightly different audience. Who are the small groups of people you reallywant to work with you? Where do they live? What are their interests? What sort of experience do they have? Once you have qualified the type of person you want, you can go about “finding” them. Where do they “live” online or offline — what websites do they subscribe to, what social influencers do they follow, what “Meetup” groups do they attend? If you want to hire for an electronics store, relevant data points might include a Facebook group belonging to “electrical engineering” students at a local university, commenters on a Youtube channel showcasing new tech products, an “Internet of things” Meetup group and so on. Try and organise each of these groups into a targeted “Persona” that defines the important attributes and characteristics of the types of people you’re trying to attract. HubSpot has created an excellent template here that is intended for customer personas, but it can be equally applied to hiring personas.
Guerrillas not only focus their resources on specific battles, but they also exploit very specific opportunities where they can get the greatest leverage from their efforts. In a military sense, this could involve attacking the food supply of your enemy — this weakens every enemy but you’ve not had to fight anywhere near the full contingent of their forces. In a hiring sense, arguably the greatest opportunity for leverage lies within the psyche of the candidate. Find an experience that connects at a deep level with your candidate personas and voila, you’ve created your own legion of cult-like followers. This is a no-brainer that a surprisingly large number of companies fail to inject into their hiring process. If you’re not familiar with “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” or its been a while, I’d suggest revisiting it. Basically, the framework suggests that humans aspire to have a defined set of needs met — atop those needs are “Esteem” and “Self-Actualisation”. Psycho-babble aside, basically those mean you’re using your skills and gifts to reach the heights of your human potential. Naturally, people want to feel like they’re using their finite precious moments on planet earth doing something that matters to them, so what are the things unique to your position that can help connect the dots between your jobs, your ideal candidates and their higher order needs? Continuing with our electronics store example, your research may conclude that your candidate personas have a pathological need to feel like they are ahead of the curve with understanding new technologies and that it is important for them to be perceived as “in the know” about such things amongst their peers. Awesome, now you have a set of facts that you can use to target the hearts and minds of the people you’re trying to attract.
Plan your attack and execute.
Once you’ve discovered what specific personas you want to target, how you want to target them and the message that articulates “why you?”, comes the really hard part — tying it all together. Weaving a narrative across several channels into an irresistible siren-like song for your ideal candidates is not for the faint hearted, but rewards those who are approach it intelligently and do the work.
Firstly, for each channel and channel strategy, define the key facts around who you’re targeting, the locations you’re going to seek them out and the overarching “higher order” drivers you want to target for prospective candidates.
Next, map out each step in the process for each of your chosen channels that you wish to pursue. The real art here, is for each step, you want to match up how you incorporate the most important “higher order” needs that could relate to that step in an innovative and authentic way. I’ve added a simplified example below of how you might want to plan out a given channel strategy.
Creating a “honeypot” effect that draws in incredible staff is one of the most valuable strategic elements a company can have in its arsenal. Creating a great one that suits your company is likely going to be a process of experimentation and refinement to discover the most effective emotive levers, channels and approaches — as such its certainly not an overnight fix and you should plan your efforts and resources on the assumption of being in it for the long haul. Sure, like most worthwhile things, its a lot of hard work, but would you rather be sifting through pile after pile of uninspiring resumes hoping for adroit applicants or have a constant stream of amazing, pre-qualified candidates banging down your door to join you on your mission?