I’ve been in the recruiting industry for almost 35 years and counting. Before that, I had a pretty good run at two major Fortune 500 companies. Over the years I learned some big lessons and some great tactics about hiring top talent. All of the best ones are included here, or by reference to my earlier book,(©2007, Third Edition, John Wiley and Sons, Inc.). was written for hiring managers and recruiters with the focus on finding great candidates, interviewing and assessing them, and negotiating offers on fair and equitable terms. This book has been written for anyone involved in any aspect of the hiring process. This includes candidates, people who aren’t looking but will be or should be, anyone who needs to interview anyone else, and of course hiring managers, recruiters, and company executives who care about hiring great people.
Since the first edition of Hire With Your Head was written in 1997, much has changed, but not as much as you might think. The job boards have come and gone and come again. Social networks have emerged as the new standard for finding people and finding jobs. The workforce has been globalized. Corporate recruiters have become an industry force and external search firms now play a different, but still critical role. New analytical tools have emerged, including supply vs. demand analysis and real-time recruiter dashboards tracking every measure of ongoing performance.
Yet not much is really different. Few hiring managers are fully engaged in what is often called their most important task. Companies still post boring job descriptions hoping to find a person who has both an economic need to apply and is also a top performer. We still use indirect measures to assess candidates. Few recruiters are considered true partners and coaches by their hiring manager clients, just as they were pre-Internet. Most surprising of all is that most companies still spend most of their resources and efforts targeting the 17% of candidates who are actively looking, yet all want to hire the 83% who aren’t.1
Here’s my take on why not much has changed:
All of these issues will be addressed, dissected, understood, and reworked in a hands-on, practical way. There is not one idea in this book that has not been tried out multiple times, often hundreds, and in some cases thousands of times, by myself and many others. However, since the book has been written to appeal to multiple perspectives, here are some suggestions on how to get the most value from the ideas and solutions presented:
Everyone intuitively knows that hiring top talent should be one of the primary focuses of hiring managers. Surprisingly few managers are measured on how well they do, and most do it any way they want. Most make excuses of the “have to get the work done” variety as to why it’s more talk and hope than reality.
Understanding why people perform at peak levels or underperform is not unknown science. What’s surprising is that companies don’t take this into account when hiring someone. Instead, they decide to fix the problem after the fact.
For example, in 2011 Google presented the results of an internal study referred to as. The idea was to find out what it took to be a great manager at Google. Based on extensive employee reviews and satisfaction surveys it was clear that the importance of the job and the quality of the manager were critical drivers of performance. The New York Times interviewed Laszlo Bock, their Chief People Officer, about this study, which focused on what it took to be a great manager at Google. This minor quote says quite a lot:
But Mr. Bock’s group found that technical expertise — the ability, say, to write computer code in your sleep — ranked dead last among Google’s big eight. What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.
“In the Google context, we’d always believed that to be a manager, particularly on the engineering side, you need to be as deep or deeper a technical expert than the people who work for you,” Mr. Bock says. “It turns out that that’s absolutely the least important thing. It’s important, but pales in comparison. Much more important is just making that connection and being accessible.”2
In 1999 Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman of the Gallup Group wrote. This is where they first introduced their Q12 list of criteria that employees require in order to maximize their performance and on-the-job satisfaction. At the top of the list were: clarifying expectations up front, providing people with the right tools and resources to do the job properly, having managers that support them, and being assigned work they enjoy and are good at. As part of the study, Buckingham and Coffman described four keys to becoming an excellent manager. These involved defining the results, finding people who could deliver these results, leveraging their employees’ strengths, and selecting staff for talent, not raw knowledge or skills.
What’s most surprising is that hiring managers, HR leaders, and company executives ignore all of this obvious stuff. The solution does not take a PhD or rocket science. Most hiring problems can be eliminated by making one fundamental and simple change – replacing job descriptions with a list of performance objectives the new hire is expected to achieve. Not knowing any better, I started doing this on the first day I became a recruiter. Over the next 20 years, and 1,500 placements later, less than five percent of these people were let go in the first year. Even more impressive, just about every one got promoted quickly. (, this is more legally sound than using traditional job descriptions.)
Since my early background was in engineering and manufacturing, the idea of converting raw material into something useful was always about yield. The less scrap and waste the better. The same is true in recruiting. Too many recruiters and the companies they work for think of hiring top talent as a numbers game with the objective of getting as many people to apply as possible so there will be a better chance of finding a good person. These concepts always seemed foreign to me. I always wanted to target as few great people as possible and make sure one of them gets hired. This was always more efficient, and with quality as the primary driver you always wound up with a great person hired in the shortest time possible, at some fair cost. Somehow this simple and straightforward concept got lost in the search for the next sourcing silver bullet or the beat of the big brass employer brand. I attribute much of this misguided thinking to some core misconceptions that have embedded themselves into the company culture:
Finding top people with tools like LinkedIn, Google+, and CareerBuilder’s Talent Network is actually not all that difficult. Unfortunately, changing strategies, thinking systematically, focusing on the real job, and requiring managers to take full responsibility for everyone they hire, needs to be the starting point.
The objective of this book is to provide a simple framework to jumpstart this effort. It starts by rethinking strategies, processes, and responsibilities.
At 20,000 feet hiring looks a lot different than looking at an open requisition or a candidate’s resume to see if there’s a match. Back in the early days, and after completing about 50-60 search projects, some obvious patterns began to emerge. These eventually became the foundation of the Performance-based Hiring process described in Hire With Your Head. Here’s what stood out:
The four-step Performance-based Hiring process as described throughout this book is a fully integrated business process and the facts speak for themselves:
Individually, recruiters or hiring managers can’t improve Quality of Hire very much no matter how capable they are. Together, they can do far better than working alone, but this is only one search at a time. Realistically, it seems foolhardy to delegate a company’s talent acquisition strategy to each hiring manager and recruiter team who use their own individual techniques, and then hope for an optimum in-the-best-interests-of-the-company decision. Functional VPs and department heads certainly impose hiring guidelines that will improve the quality of each hiring decision made within their group. This is a good start, and much of what’s presented in this book will help them get there or improve what they’re already doing. In fact, much of what’s presented in this book will allow any recruiter or any hiring manager do a better job filling one requisition at a time.
However, to make the process work companywide, a different talent acquisition strategy is required that underlies and drives each step in the process. Implementing an integrated system like Performance-based Hiring is a key part of this, since each step complements each other step, rather than compromising them. In this book I suggest the implementation of a talent scarcity hiring model as the core strategy. This is based on the assumption that the demand for top talent is far greater than the supply. In this situation, a company must offer career opportunities rather than lateral transfers; be open to flex the job somewhat to attract and hire more high achievers who might be light on experience and skills but high on potential; use an evidence-based interviewing and assessment process rather than generic behavioral interviewing; and make each hiring manager fully responsible for the people they hire.
Collectively, this is how you implement a Raising the Talent Bar strategy. In this approach, not only must candidates balance long-term opportunities with short-term rewards, but companies and hiring managers must do likewise. If hiring top talent is number one, hiring managers must be measured on how well they do it, and be trained to do it right. Without some intervention, most managers will emphasize their short-term business requirements and naturally overvalue experience for potential. They’ll also be less prepared, give short shrift to the entire hiring process, and make emotional instead of logical decisions. This is one sure way to maintain the status-quo talent level. No amount of training will help with this as a starting mindset. But when combined with appropriate tracking metrics, a Scarcity of Talent strategy plus a business process like Performance-based Hiring, minimal training will result in far better hires and fewer mistakes companywide.
This is an odd book. Not only does it describe what you need to do to find and hire a person, it also describes what you need to do if you’re the person being found and hired. Here’s some big advisory points as you consider hiring from the candidate’s side of the desk: 1) be prepared whether you’re looking or not, and 2) don’t be too hungry if you’re looking, and don’t be too hard to approach if you’re not. Perceptions have a lot to do with who gets hired, so striking the right balance of open-mindedness, long-term career focus, and selectivity is important.
Throughout this book suggestions are provided to the candidate on how to handle a specific technique, whether it’s answering a question or negotiating an offer. In some way these are countermeasures to use when the interviewer isn’t using the techniques described in the book. In this case, the idea is to ask appropriate questions to get the interviewer or recruiter to use the proper techniques. This will help improve your odds of getting a job you deserve. Note: you will be judged fairly and accurately when the interviewer(s) are using the techniques described in this book, as long as you’re prepared, open-minded, and appropriately interested.
Let me be perfectly clear on the purpose of this book regarding all of the candidate-facing advice: it is not intended to help you get a job you don’t deserve or are not qualified for. It only will help you get a job you deserve. This by itself is a tall order, which is why I, as a recruiter, never present an unqualified candidate to a hiring manager. Unfortunately, too many candidates who are perfectly qualified have fallen far short of the presentation skills necessary to land the opportunity presented to them. This book is specifically written to them, to all of the hiring managers who will be hiring them, and to all of the recruiters who will help them make the right career choice.