Most people assume a hiring process goes like this: They submit an application and resume, get called for an interview, then entertain a job offer before accepting.
Top candidates, however, expect that potential new employers will do more than go through these ordinary motions.
To acquire the best talent, companies must focus on creating a process that communicates professional respect for each candidate’s abilities at every step.
Simplify the Application Process to Make a Good First Impression
Few candidates have the patience for an application process that feels impersonal. To attract the most talented candidates, companies need to ensure that their first points of contact start to build a relationship with that person, not merely gather data about them.
Engage Top Talent From the Start
Currently, it takes about 27 days to land a new hire, and it takes longer when job postings are generic and uninspiring, Paul Potratz writes at Forbes. To hire top candidates using this method can be next to impossible.
“In many cases, the job description is a candidate’s first impression of a company, and a stale one can instantly quash the company’s appeal,” says Chirag Kulkarni, CMO of prescription delivery pharmacy Medly. This effect is particularly strong for top candidates, who are looking for an exceptional employer to support their exceptional talents.
Instead of rehashing a generic job description, Kulkarni recommends creating a personalized want ad that engages the reader and generates interest while also providing relevant information about the company. When crafted as part of a company’s overall employment brand, personalized ads can serve both as a call to top talent specifically and as a magnet to draw in the candidates whose own approach to work resonates most strongly with the company’s culture.
Sometimes, hiring top talent means hiring today’s rockstars. More often, it means finding the rockstars of the future. Those are the candidates who “have the right soft skills that ensure success long-term — resilience, initiative, entrepreneurial spirit, integrity, and being able to adapt to change and new challenges,” says Marcel Schwantes, founder and chief human officer at Leadership From the Core.
The downside to hiring talent currently at the top of their game? Those people could be willing to join your company in search of greener pastures, but then may be willing to leave it for the same reason.
Communicate Often and Well
Communication is key to building relationships with top candidates and maintaining their interest throughout the hiring process, says Nate Masterson, human resources manager at Maple Holistics. Currently, 36 percent of candidates expect to receive updates about the status of their application throughout the process, and 41 percent expected to hear back from the company if they were out of consideration after the interview.
Despite these numbers, however, only 26 percent of employers currently meet these communication expectations, says Lavoie. Companies can start to bridge this gap by providing a timeline and giving candidates an estimate for how long they should expect to wait at each stage of the process. Including a contact email address in the application can also help candidates develop and maintain communication with the company.
Automated systems can help you identify better candidates, or they can drive candidates away. The secret to maximizing the first outcome while minimizing the second is to use automated tools that don’t feel automated.
For instance, while early chatbots often felt stilted and confusing, their AI-enabled successors can have conversations that feel almost human. When these chatbots are used as part of the application process, top candidates feel more comfortable. They may even find the process of submitting information enjoyable, improving their view of your company and making them more likely to accept an interview.
Some unconscious biases can cause hiring managers to skip over the best candidates. Certain AI-enabled tools can help hiring managers see these candidates’ abilities more clearly, says Ryan Pendell at Gallup.
For instance, thoughts like “well, this is the best person who applied” or “we’ve spent so long courting this candidate we have to hire them or that time is wasted” are easier to defeat when companies can compare each candidate to performance measurements, Pendell says. The data can help companies determine whether “the best person available” might turn out to be a disaster for the team.
The key is to choose automated tools carefully, says Liz Ryan, CEO and founder of Human Workplace. Companies that adopt tech tools simply for the sake of having them are more likely to overwhelm candidates. Top candidates in particular will back away, recognizing that the tools stand in the way of building a relationship with a company that supports their growth and achievement.
The In-Person Interview: Orient the Candidate Early
When a candidate arrives for an interview, begin by giving the candidate a brief tour of the workspace. Doing so allows them to envision themselves in that space, which can help build a positive first impression, says Twila Grissom, founder of Acorn Digital Strategy.
“If they are to feel comfortable working with you and the team, they should be able to see as much as possible and not just be ushered into a single room for the entire time,” Grissom writes. By introducing each candidate to the space, interviewers help candidates orient themselves, both in the moment and in the process of discussing how their skills fit into the work being done in that space.
To find outstanding talent, define the open position in terms of its top five or six key performance objectives (KPOs), says Lou Adler, CEO of The Adler Group. Screen candidates according to whether they’ve done work that meets these objectives.
Then, during the interview phase, focus on discussing each candidate’s past performance as it relates to those KPOs. Explore the candidate’s teamwork abilities, work ethic, reliability and growth potential in terms of the work they’ve done, its relationship to the KPOs, and realistic expectations for each candidate’s future.
As candidates discuss the job’s KPOs and their own work within that context, “don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper for specific examples when candidates offer up suggested talents,” says Matt Sunshine, managing partner for The Center for Sales Strategy. The more hiring managers seek specific examples, the easier it will be for them to identify people with the self-awareness, analytical thinking skills and insight to understand why they succeed.
Top candidates are aware of their own abilities and how these stack up to those of their peers. When a company communicates its awareness of these abilities, too, candidates see the company as a place where they can thrive.
Compensation Speaks Volumes
A competitive salary is essential to attract candidates’ notice in the early stages of the process. To maintain the interest of top talent, however, organizations need to offer a comprehensive and competitive total benefits package, says Stephanie Oberg, a senior advisor at manufacturing company Domtar.
To ensure that the total package interests top contenders, provide compensation that supports work-life balance, performance management and career development. Bonuses attached to signing or to performance communicate that your organization cares about retaining its best people and intends to pursue an active partnership in top performers’ career growth.
Offer an Experience
Experiential interviewing places the candidate in a real-life work situation and allows interviewers to see how they tackle an on-the-job problem in real time, says Arlene S. Hirsch at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). By using experiential interviews, companies communicate that they care deeply about the candidate’s ability to do the job, not merely their ability to perform well under questioning.
For candidates with outstanding abilities, an experiential interview can be more engaging and empowering than a conventional question-and-answer interview because it allows them to demonstrate the skills and traits that form the core of their confidence and competence.
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