October 16, 2018

7 Secrets of Companies Who Are Unexpectedly Winning the Talent Fight

There are plenty of “obvious” candidates for companies who are doing amazing things to attract, hire and retain great talent within their business. They show up on the pages of HBR, Fast Company and Forbes, either filling our news feeds or staring at us from magazine covers on airport newsstands.

But what about “the rest of us”? If you aren’t a part of those obvious companies, are you relegated to always being a “runner up” in the race for quality talent?

The answer is “no”. Being a smaller, inconspicuous, or even a flat-out “boring” company may actually work to your advantage. Here are seven secrets that allow companies just like yours to compete with the “big dogs” for talent.

1. Walk away from transactional recruiting

The days of “reqs to fill” and “butts in seats” are gone. People have more choices in how they make a living than ever before, so they aren’t looking for a job, they are looking for a reason to join your company.

Providing a meaningful, compelling and believable “why” doesn’t happen in an email or an interview. It takes time - time you don’t have when it comes to hiring.

The solution is to give people the “why”, well before they ever start looking for a job. By developing relationships with great potential candidates before they start looking, you have an advantage over other companies. And the better you know these candidates, the better your pitch will be when you want to begin a conversation about an open role.

That means asking recruiting teams to stop looking at the number of reqs to fill (transactional mode) and focus more on connecting with people before you really need them (relationship-driven).

2. Let employees tell their own stories

At this stage, you should already know that word-of-mouth and referrals from actual “customers” are far more impactful than your marketing efforts. Most car commercials are indistinguishable but hearing someone you know rave about their Ford/Hyundai/Mazda will stick out in your mind.

Smart companies take advantage of this by focusing less on marketing stories and more on letting staff tell their own stories.

However, buying every employee a microphone and space in Times Square might be taking it too far. You need to build out the infrastructure that successfully asks employees for stories, maintains guide rails to keep those stories focused, and provides a means of distributing them.

Each story is a tiny gem that will likely appeal to people who look, act and sound like the storyteller. Data Scientists look for stories from fellow Data Scientists. Salespeople are interesting in stories from other Salespeople. Women like to hear the stories of other women. Building a library of niche stories allows you (and your recruiters) to micro-target your candidates with stories that feel like they were written just for them.

3. Make referrals work (finally)

You probably have a referral program. And whether or not you spend a lot of money on tools to make those referrals “easy,” do you think your referral program is successful? Rarely can companies honestly answer “yes”.

The likely culprit is the communication of the program. Most companies have a referral program launch, either as a party, or a big push from leadership. The problem is, most staff (the people necessary for a successful program) forget the program exists 20 seconds after the launch. It isn’t relevant information for them this second, so it falls off the mental map.

Instead, put the referral reminder where it will do the most good. Once the req is approved and posted, the recruiter should email the hiring manager and remind them that their own team probably knows of a great candidate, so would the hiring manager be willing to ask their team to think about who they could refer? This is the moment when you tell them about referral bonuses, because they are in a position to actually do something about it.

You can level-up here by writing a great “Hey, don’t forget to ask your team to refer someone” email in advance and delivering it to your recruiters (they love it when you make their lives a little easier) when the time is right.

4. Turn hiring managers into partners

Too many companies have deeply dysfunctional relationships between hiring managers and recruiters. This can come in many forms: either the hiring manager feels the recruiter is not working hard enough on their req, refuses to learn proper recruiting and interviewing practices, or sees the recruiter as someone to do all the work. On the flip side, recruiters can see the hiring manager as unsympathetic toward recruiting workloads, constantly changing their minds on what kind of candidate they are looking for, or unresponsive to requests for feedback and scheduling.

Either way, distrust in the relationship begets overly-structured and rigid processes which doesn’t help your company get better hires. 

Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet for this problem, short of a deep commitment to change the dynamics. This can take many forms. You can collaborate on a shared service level agreement, metrics and KPIs, or you can develop training so hiring managers can learn how to interview more effectively, just to name a few.

Perhaps the most effective way to change the dynamic is to find an example of an existing recruiter/manager pairing and have them break down their own processes for others, so that they can be an example of how every recruiter and hiring manager can partner together

The focus of all these tactics is to show how smoother working relationships are in everyone’s best interests. They support faster and better hiring, allowing hiring managers to get back to their “real” job of growing the business.

5. Tapping into dormant networks

People leaving your company is a natural part of the recruiting cycle and always will be. Does that mean you should forget about them completely? No.

People who leave your company still have networks, positive things to say about you (hopefully), and can help tell your story authentically. Ask them to share their experiences (how they grew, what they learned, where they went next) with the world, because that’s what you should be promising your candidates: great futures!

And what about people you didn’t hire? Second-place finishers, whether you interview them again or not, know great people. As part of your company’s extended family (because they spent a few hours interviewing with you), why wouldn’t you offer them a small referral bonus?

These two networks could double the size for your addressable audience. Don’t leave them out.

6. Get talent development involved (so you can focus on hiring people at the bottom)

What’s harder, hiring an entry-level Salesperson, or an experienced Sales Team Leader? Obviously, the higher up the ladder, the harder it is to find great talent, not to mention that upper level new employees take longer to onboard and learn your company’s processes. What if instead of hiring from outside, you prioritized promoting or reorging from within.

This isn’t easy, and requires that you commit to helping all your staff grow, which is where your talent development team steps in. Their mandate shouldn’t be in “training” people, but in helping staff reach the next level. Their KPI should be “number of promotions” and not “satisfaction.”

Commitment to growing your talent has any number of positive impacts (people stay longer because they see a chance to move up, people at upper levels truly understand the jobs being done below them, less onboarding, better internal networks, etc.), but the key is that it allows your recruiting team to optimize its efforts at the bottom of the ladder: hiring interns, recent graduates and people looking to change careers. These are the places where a deep investment (possible because you don’t have to spread your recruiting budget so thin or share it with agencies) can drive huge returns.

7. Get serious about your job postings 

There’s simply no excuse for a bad job posting. None. The single most important piece of external messaging cannot be treated like a mushy HR/Legal document that gets continually watered down to the point of meaninglessness.

A good job posting starts with a headline that gets attention. It defines the purpose of the company, shows how the team in question supports the company and how this role supports the team. It needs to establish an obvious connection between the role and its impact long before it demands a particular set of experiences. It needs to sell the company, team and role - not automatically assume that the candidate would consider it. 

Beyond that, we need to stop with long bullet lists of requirements. If you define the role and purpose properly, the experience set that leads to success should be obvious. If this person will manage a team of 11 Salespeople, all of whom have aggressive sales targets, someone with six months of experience supporting inbound Sales Leaders will know they aren’t a good fit. Leaning on these lists shows how little you know about what success in the role looks like, and acts as a red flag to the best candidates.


So there you are, seven secrets your business can steal right now to support your own hiring. If you are interested in hearing secret number eight, the one that turns the volume up and heightens the impact of what we’ve addressed above, just ask! We’d love to show you how your business can be a talent attraction machine, capable of competing with any company.

Leave a Comment
9 Reasons Why OnDemand Recruiting Beats Other Recruiting Models

9 Reasons Why OnDemand Recruiting Beats Other Recruiting Models

The Gatekeepers Part II: Why a Positive Recruiting Philosophy Matters

The Gatekeepers Part II: Why a Positive Recruiting Philosophy Matters


Want to work with us?

Contact Us