Is Finding and Recruiting Top Talent Really Your #1 Priority?

Do these quotes sound familiar?

  • “People are our greatest asset.”
  • “The only real sustainable competitive advantage of any company is the recruitment and retention of great people.”
  • “Talent is our #1 priority as a company.”
  • “Your technologies, products and structures can be copied by competitors, but your people can’t be.”
  • “No matter what kind of business you are in, having the right people determines your company’s success or failure.”
  • “The ability to find and hire the right people can make or break your business. It is as plain as that. No matter where you are in the life cycle of your business, bringing in great talent should always be a top priority.” – Michael Dell

How many times have you read or heard something similar?

The ubiquitous “people are our greatest asset” sentiment sounds good, and no doubt feels good to say, but whenever I hear or read it, the first question that comes to my mind is “What are you doing to ensure that you are identifying and acquiring the right people?”

If you believe that finding and acquiring top talent is your #1 priority, then I have a few questions for you.

Critical Questions for Sourcers and Recruiters

  • What do you do on a consistent basis to ensure that you are finding and recruiting top talent – the best people that can be found?
  • Do you have a strategy to find the best candidates?
  • Once you have identified a candidate who is a match for the need you are sourcing and/or recruiting for, how do you know they are a good candidate beyond the skills and experience match?
  • Are the people you find the best people you can find, or the first people you could find, or the easiest people for you to find?
  • Do you think that the people who apply to your jobs posted online are the best candidates available? How would you know?
  • What is your strategy to find great people that your competitors can’t and don’t find?

Critical Questions for Companies

  • If talent is your #1 priority, where does your investment in talent identification and acquisition rank compared to all other corporate expenditures? (Payroll doesn’t count)
  • How much does your company spend on business intelligence applications and data warehousing? (Ballpark estimate will do)
  • Do you think that acquiring and analyzing customer, product, sales, etc., data in order to make better business decisions is more important to your company’s long term success than acquiring and analyzing human capital data to make better hiring decisions?
  • How much does your company spend on applications and technologies that enable your company to discover and identify great people? (Most ATS’s and CRM’s don’t count)
  • Do you have a budget for sourcing and recruiting technology and process R&D?
  • What is your talent identification and acquisition strategy? (Posting jobs and soliciting referrals doesn’t count – more on this in a bit)

Talent Attraction & Referrals vs. Talent Discovery and Identification

Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, has said that many companies think that a cunning strategy or great performance will attract the right applicants, but that’s backward – people must come first.

I could not agree more.

Talent attraction, whether it be in the form of employer branding efforts, posting jobs online or social recruiting via social media, is not a method of discovering and identifying talent that involves any assurance of or control over candidate quality.

Soliciting referrals from current employees is generally accepted as a sound talent discovery strategy, and many companies publish data that suggests that referrals do tend to be “higher quality” and have a higher retention rate. I think this is mostly due to the fact that people typically avoid referring others that would reflect poorly upon themselves, so the selection process does have a bit of built-in candidate quality control.

However, while we all know that referrals are a great source of hires, are referrals really the best people you or your organization are capable of finding?

Soliciting employees for referrals is one of the easiest and lowest cost methods of talent discovery, so it’s no wonder it’s so popular as a method of talent discovery. However, referral recruiting isn’t guaranteed to net you the best people available to be found if you really tried.

Referral recruiting can only yield you people that someone in your organization knows, and the right or best people are not always already known to someone in your company.

Talent attraction efforts and soliciting referrals have their place – I’m not challenging that. However, companies that claim that talent is their #1 priority need to incorporate a strategy of talent discovery and identification that involves actively researching and hunting for top talent – specifically those great people who:

  1. Are not already known to someone in your company and cannot be referred to you
  2. Are doing an excellent job for their current employer and won’t ever “see” employer branding or a job posting even if it was placed directly in front of them

Investing in Talent Discovery and Identification

Jim Collins has said, “People are not your most important asset. The right people are.”

Practically all technologies, products and services can be copied and rarely remain a company’s competitive advantage for long. Being able to consistently find and hire the right people is truly the only means by which a company can attain a sustainable competitive advantage, regardless of industry.

Spending time and money on posting jobs, social recruiting efforts, and executing a sound referral recruiting strategy will always yield candidates, but they are not enough to ensure that you are discovering the best people that can be found and identified.

While many companies think it’s logical and necessary to invest large sums of money and effort into business intelligence applications to analyze product, customer, sales and all other kinds of data, too few companies invest anything beyond trivial amounts of money and effort into technologies, applications and research that can help them actively acquire and analyze human capital data to make better hiring decisions and create a sustainable competitive advantage.

So what are you doing to ensure that you are identifying and acquiring the best people for your company?

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  • Glen,

    I like your parallel between “acquiring and analyzing customer, product, sales, etc., data in order to make better business decisions” and “acquiring and analyzing human capital data to make better hiring decisions.” Most companies don’t realize the long-term success that comes from strategic hiring. The tricky task is developing a strategy to actively search and hunt for top talent – without breaking the bank.

    But there is a lot of valuable, candidate quality control with referrals. Even within social networks (like LinkedIn) and talent communities (like Cachinko), I’ve noticed that candidates are cautious of who they add simply because of a “you are who you network with” image. We not only have the opportunity to review the capital data of the candidate and their friends, but we’re also able to make comparisons between other candidates in that industry.

    Thanks for the great post!

  • Glen, you could even go a step further and talk about retaining that top talent – what are companies doing to keep their people up to speed on their industries, competitors, and new technology (some of which you hinted at with CI)? Continual learning seems to be one of those things that, like good recruiting and hiring practices, takes a back seat in tough times. Keeping people’s skills sharp I think is an important indicator of a company’s true stance on “people first.” Companies that don’t invest in their most costly “asset”, IMHO, don’t truly put people first.

  • Chris Lowe

    You completely missed one VERY big critical question: “How much money does your company have budgeted to relocate new hires?”

    To me this is the REAL indicator of how committed a company is to finding the best talent. Does it really matter if you can find the best talent but the company is unwilling to spend $150k to relocate the person? I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been told to go out and hire the “best and brightest” and then been told in the very next breath that there’s no money available for relocation! This doesn’t just happen at small companies and start-ups, it also happens at Fortune 500 companies. I’ve had several searches where I had no problem identifying top talent – the problem is they were out of market and the company was unwilling to pay for them relocate.

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  • Josh the IT Recruiter

    Very informative as are all of Glen Cathey’s posts here on “Boolean Blackbelt”. In my 10 years as an IT Recruiter, he is one of the few that I’ve come across who continues to captivate my attention.

    I would like to add something else to this string of questions. How do you define “a great employee / candidate”? That’s the first and biggest question. Secondly, what is your interview process and candidate experience typically like?

    Saying that you want a “great candidate” is kind of like telling someone that a movie you saw was “great”. We can easily fall into the pitfall of assuming that everyone else thinks like we do. That is to say that others also find Akira Kurasawa to be a genius or that Wong Kar Wai is one of the greatest Hong Kong Directors of all time. We need to quantify and calibrate on a scale of 1-10 for instance the importance of each skill set required for the job and agree on the importance on other qualities such as culture fit and what that means. Generic adjectives like “great” requires a frame of reference.

    Once that’s down on paper, the second step is to ensure you actually have an effective interview process that is geared towards finding this “great” person. If culture fit is the most important thing on the list then there should be various opportunities in the interview process to “test” and observe the candidates’ ability to navigate in your unique envronment. It’s sort of like throwing a foreign species into your ecosystem and seeing if he thrives or dies out.

    Anyway, litterally my two bits. :)

    Thanks GC for another great article!