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The Official Rules for Hiring Top Talent by Lou Adler

Every sport has rules, even pickup games. We even have rules for our kids - when they can watch TV, play video games, go to bed, etc. Business has rules for just about everything - important things like capital expenditures, accounting, SEC reporting, and product design and testing; or less important things like how to dress, when to come to work, how to earn vacation, and how to fill in expense reports. What's surprising is there aren't any rules for what's supposedly the most important thing a company needs to do - hire and retain top talent.

The Condensed Version of The Official Rules for Hiring Top Talent
  1. Clarify expectations before you start looking. Make sure everyone on the hiring team knows what the person taking the job needs to do. It's more important to focus on what the person must accomplish, rather than the skills the person needs to have. This way you have a better chance to find someone both competent and interested in doing the work.

  2. Create an Employee Value Proposition. Before you start looking ask the hiring manager "Why would a top person want this job?" If you can't come up with at least six credible and down-to-earth reasons, you won't be able to hire a top person, so you might as well stop looking.

  3. Implement top talent-centric sourcing programs. Make sure your active and passive candidate sourcing plans are based on how top people in these groups look for work, not on how average people look. If you have boring ads that are hard to find, you won't find any good people. If you have compelling ads that top people can find using Google, you're playing the game correctly. If you're calling a top passive person on the phone, make sure you leave a powerful message to ensure the person will call you back. You need to score a 75% callback rate to be in the game.

  4. Everybody on the hiring team must know real job needs. Top people will opt out of the process if they meet members of the interviewing team who don't really understand the job or are weak interviewers. Not knowing the job is equivalent to taking the ball away from your own team.

  5. Be prepared and on time for all interviews. Not only is this common courtesy, it's also common sense. Aside from turning off a potential star, unprepared interviewers also tend to vote "No" more than "Yes," since it's a safer decision. Unfortunately, one "No" vote can offset two "Yes" votes.

  6. Use the official scorecard for assessing the full range of job success factors. More research has been done around assessing leadership, job fit, potential, and the ability to achieve results. Competency modeling isn't it. Here's The Official Scorecard to use that measures the 10 best predictors of on-the-job success in a balanced way.

  7. No one interviewer has a Yes/No vote. Use the interview to collect information, not make a Yes/No decision. The best way to do this is to assign each interviewer a few factors on The Official Scorecard to evaluate during the interview. Interviewers tend to do a better job when they're assigned a narrow range of factors to evaluate.

  8. Use facts to reach consensus, not intuition, emotions or feelings. All of the interviewers need to share their information on each of the 10 factors. If there is more than a one point disagreement on any factor, additional interviews must be conducted.

  9. No 2s! A Level 2 grade is a person who is competent in one of the factors, but not motivated or requires too much supervision. While they sound good in the interview, managers need to exert extra energy to achieve average results. Hiring Levels 2s is the quickest way to lose the hiring game since there's no time to develop your best people.

  10. Foster disagreement and discussion. Start the debriefing session talking about positives and start with the lower ranking members of the hiring team. Discussions about negatives or high level managers pontificating about strengths or weaknesses prevent open and meaningful dialogue.

  11. Use an official scorekeeper. Accredited recruiters need to lead the formal debriefing session. This keeps everyone honest.

  12. Sell on opportunity, not compensation. Top people are more interested in the growth opportunity as long as the compensation is competitive. If you can't present your opportunity as a great career move, instead using money as the primary lure, you've already lost the game.

  13. Use The Official Multi-factor Close Scorecard to eliminate the competition and minimize counter-offers. The best people consider multiple factors when comparing opportunities. This includes things like job stretch, career growth opportunity, the impact the person can make, the hiring manager as mentor and leader, the quality of the team, the company culture, the company's strategic vision, its growth prospects and work/life balance, as well as the comp and benefit package. Make sure you develop a table comparing all opportunities across these factors before formalizing the offer.

  14. Don't make any offer formal until the candidate has it accepted first. If you make your offer too soon you won't hear about the candidate's concerns. This is a surefire way to lose a candidate to another offer. By gaining agreement on each of the factors involved in closing, you'll be able to better match the candidate's real job needs and profoundly increase your close rate.

  15. Don't sell, buy. Don't use the interview to sell the job. Make the candidate earn the job instead. It has more value this way. During the interview describe one of the performance objectives and ask the candidate to describe comparable accomplishments. During this process listen four times more than you talk. Here are some performance-based interviewing tips to help you better appreciate the critical importance of this rule.

  16. The hiring manager must be involved and open-minded. One of the top three reasons top people select one job over another relates to the quality of the hiring manager. Part of this is the relationship developed between the manager and candidate during the process. Great managers who are heavily involved in the recruiting process have a far greater percentage of candidates accepting offers than those that aren't involved.

  17. The recruiter is a partner in the process and a core member of the cross-function hiring team. Basically this means the recruiter has a starting position on the team and should act as the on-field coach. The recruiter needs to earn the right to become a starter because of competency, not job title.

  18. Conduct all necessary due diligence. All offers must be conditional based on completion of in-depth reference checks, a comprehensive background verification, drug testing, and behavioral and cognitive testing.

  19. Everyone who is involved in the hiring process must follow the rules. This is the most important rule of them all.

  20. The winner is the company and/or recruiter with the highest ratio of top hires to total hires. Start keeping score and you'll discover that the team that follows these rules has the highest batting average.

While this isn't a complete list, the real question is: "Are rules like this required to hire top talent, and are these the right ones?" As part of this, don't overlook the underlying premise that these are rules for hiring top talent, not for hiring average people. One problem that too many executives, managers, and recruiters encounter is that everyone has their own "pet" rules, and unfortunately many contradict each other. Breaking this log jam is the first step in making hiring top talent a rule-based scalable business process. In the process it will also eliminate just about every stupid hiring mistake a company is likely to make. In the long run this might be the biggest win of them all.

Author: Lou Adler 


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