Top 10 Ways to Recruit by Moving the Company Toward the Candidates

I don’t think anyone would ever mistake me for someone who was focused on technical recruiting.

No, that’s not what I’m about, or how I roll. But if I have learned anything from a lifetime of attending conferences with all manner of speakers and presenters, it’s that like with so many things in this world, what you expect is not always what you get.

So it was with the keynote speaker on Day 2 of the 2012 Spring ERE Expo in San Diego  — Joel Spolsky, the co-founder and CEO of the Stack Exchange, a network of 85 technical question & answer sites. His talk — Standing Out and Attracting Top Talent — simply wasn’t what I expected. And, that’s a good thing.

Top 10 ways to move toward candidates

Since the ERE Expo is focused on recruiters and recruiting, Spolsky’s talk was naturally targeted toward that same audience. His general premise was simple: as a recruiter, you need to “either bring the candidates to you, or move the company toward the candidates.” Then he listed, in reverse order, the Top 10 ways to move recruiters toward the candidates.

His list is worth repeating, so here it is in the order he gave it.

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  • No. 10 — Physical workspace: He pointed out that a survey of 2000 plus programmers found that 75 percent rated high quality office space as important to their work, but leases only come up every 5-10 years, and recruiters are rarely involved in the process. His point: A nice workspace makes it easier to recruit, and is a sign to employees (and potential employees) that you care about them.
  • No. 9 — Location: 79 percent of the programmers surveyed rated the office location as an important factor in taking a new job. And, it’s not just about moving to the suburbs, because many employees appreciate good transit and proximity of the author to other amenities.
  • No. 8 — Creative work: 86 percent said it was important to identify with the company and its goals. And, there is a need for your workforce to have new work to stimulate creativity, not just maintain what has already been done and is up and running.
  • No. 7 — Identification with the company goals. If you don’t identify with the mission of the organization, you won’t be happy — or motivated — in your job.
  • No. 6 — Great tools and hardware: – 87 percent of the programmers surveyed rated the quality of their computer work station as important, but this isn’t unique to programmers or technical workers. Spolsky pointed out that ALL employees want good tools to help them to do their job, and it isn’t really that expensive to invest a little money to show that you are about them having whatever they need to be successful.
  • No. 5 — Caring about the company’s products: Do you find that candidates get excited about your products during the hiring process? If not, then they probably aren’t right for your organization. It sounds simple, but Spolsky said that you really need to hire people who are excited and enthusiastic about your products – and you may need to work a little to find them.
  • No. 4 — Independence: A whopping 96 percent of the programmers surveyed rated the amount of control they have over their work as very important. And it makes sense, because people are happier when they control things around them, no matter how small. Joel Spolsky’s advice was simple — give people as much independence as you can and make them happier, but to really give them that you need to make sure you have hired have people who are smart and motivated and able to handle the independence you give them.
  • No. 3 — Good management: It may sound simple, but 93 percent in the survey said it was important to have good management and no bureaucracy. It’s critical if you want to keep good people in your employ.
  • No. 2 — A high caliber team: Smart people attract smart people, Spolsky noted, and high-quality people really want to work around others like themselves.
  • No. 1 — Growth: A near unanimous 98 percent of the programmers surveyed said that they preferred a company that offered room for growth in their skills and career. They want learning opportunities as well as the ability to work on new and different things (getting outside the box).

Good candidates want the same things

What jumped out me at this list, even though it was a survey of programmers, was pretty simple: the best candidates — the people you want to recruit and get on your team — all want the same things. It doesn’t matter if they are techies or other kinds of workers; they all want the same things in their work, and their job, and their career.

More importantly, if you find anything on this list (or the list itself) to be surprising, well, you probably need to step back and take a closer look at how you’re recruiting people to come work for your organization.

Joel Spolsky’s presentation surprised me a little, and that is usually a good thing, because it generally means that I’m getting something unexpected and that I haven’t gotten all that much of before. He gave pretty basic advice, but it is advice we all need to hear and hear more often because all too many organizations still don’t get it.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


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