The One That Got Away: Why Some Companies Just Can’t Land Top Talent

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“We need to win the war for talent!” “People are our most important asset!” “The only capital we have is human capital!”

Blah, blah, blah.

Insert CEO’s name here and these statements could come from the leader of any Fortune 500 company. Ask one of these leaders what their top five priorities are and invariably a talent related issue will be in that group.

So, if talent is so important, why are so many companies so bad at recruiting the cream of the crop to their companies?

Why companies stumble recruiting top talent

Mostly, they can’t get out of their own way. Their recruitment processes aren’t designed to differentiate themselves from the crowd and often end up frustrating high performing, high potential candidates who could be difference makers in their organizations.

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Listed below are some of the major stumbling blocks:

  • You can’t recruit a 100 mph candidate with a 55 mph recruiting process. Great talent is always in demand and, more importantly, always in play. If it takes you two weeks to get a candidate on the interview calendar, another week to get that candidate feedback on her interviews and three more weeks to schedule second round interviews, don’t be surprised if she calls you up in week five of this marathon to tell you she has taken another position. Many companies, particularly large companies, just can’t make the wheels turn fast enough for a superstar candidate, even when they really want to bring her on board.
  • Stars are always asking the question “What’s in it for me? It really is better to love than to be loved, especially when it comes to recruiting top level candidates. Too often interviewers focus exclusively on evaluating a candidate for organizational and positional fit, which is by no means unimportant. However, companies must understand that they are concurrently being evaluated by candidates, particularly by in-demand candidates. Stars need to understand your employment value proposition; not only as expressed in your marketing materials, but as demonstrated by company representatives in an interview.
  • Why are you surprised that a BMW costs more than a Ford? When getting down to the brass tacks of putting an offer on the table, I too often hear from companies that they don’t want to create internal equity problems by offering a superstar candidate more than what his peers already inside the company make. It’s a short-sighted argument. Also, please throw out those compensation studies that you pay an ungodly sum for because they are rarely relevant as applied to recruiting top talent. In the world of talent, you really do get what you pay for.
  • There is no consensus on what success looks like. Guess what? High performers are smart. They see an interview as an opportunity to conduct their own due diligence on a potential employer. If a star candidate asks the same question of three interviewers and gets three different answers, he is most likely writing off your company as he leaves the building. High performers are accustomed to success and want to continue to be successful in their next job. If they hear conflicting viewpoints on what the goals of a position are, they frequently, and rightly, project that the chance of achieving the same level of success with your company is slim.
  • Too much reaction; not enough proaction. Companies need to do a better job of tracking external high potential candidates over the longer term, before they actually need to hire successors. Charting high performers in this manner gives companies better access to external talent and decreases the risk associated with bringing in senior executives from the outside. Ask yourself, who would be a better chief financial officer for your organization – someone whose progress you have been following for two years or someone you interviewed for just two hours?

It’s not rocket science, is it? But it’s often not done well and a company’s ability to attract the best talent out there is hindered by the issues outlined above.

In a fast-paced digital world, you need to have a quick and nimble talent acquisition strategy that focuses much more on the needs of the candidate, particularly the star candidate, than it has in the past. Otherwise, you are limiting yourself to candidates who have few job options while those who do have opted out of your pool.

John Touey is a Principal at Salveson Stetson Group , a retained executive search firm based in Philadelphia. He has nearly 20 years of experience providing executive search, human resources and management consulting services to a broad range of organizations and industries, including health care, financial services, utilities, manufacturing and pharmaceuticals. Connect with John on Twitter at @JohnTouey.


4 Comments on “The One That Got Away: Why Some Companies Just Can’t Land Top Talent

  1. So true – especially for some of the huge corporations. But probably this phenomena has a certain use – many of the 100mph people wouldn’t be happy in a 55mph company anyway.
    Thank you for this article

  2. Isn’t it in the best interest of a company to always strive to hire only top performers regardless of the role (e.g., not just sales)? If yes, then I’d like to add to this list. Companies’ hiring managers don’t know or can’t agree on what they want or need. While so many companies may appear to have open requisitions for months on end, once I’ve gained the interview I hear a different job description from each individual I interview with. I’ve surmised that the majority of companies don’t really know what they want and need in a resource, and do not want to bring on someone who can be part of framing the solution. It’s virtually impossible for a candidate to be everyone’s ‘purple squirrel’ because each executive is seeking a different color squirrel.

  3. Spot on article! Seems too many companies havent put their innovative hats on when it comes to recruiting. Going through multiple rounds of interviews, mixed messages and poor feedback seem to be pretty common practice. Interviewing is a skill. Dont let someone without training represent your company vision. Also, how about finding out why you cant land top talent. Sometimes it helps to have a creative evaluation of the process. Dont be surprised if the problem might be staring at you in the mirror.

  4. I wanted to pass along a comment that Beth Albright, Vice President, Human Resources at Day & Zimmermann emailed to me:

    “I would add one more item that’s a sub-element to the 55mph point – Hiring Managers still want to comparison shop even after finding a high talent, especially if the high talent is the first one through the door. This is an interesting dynamic to me that if the recruiting organization does their job really well and presents a superstar out of gate, the Hiring Managers think there’s many more out there that might be a ‘more perfect fit’ thus delaying the process and losing the superstar.”

    I completely agree with Beth’as assessment.

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