Recruiting Top Talent – Part II

I met last week with a friend who is the CEO of a billion plus dollar software company. We were discussing the challenges of finding great talent which lead to discussion on how to recruit this scarce resource when you do find it. We were primarily talking about recruiting people to fill mid to senior leadership roles and he was sharing stories of the great people that he has hired in the past year. This was a counterpoint to many CEO's that I have met who bemoan the lack of available talent and their inability to recruit successfully. I have written about recruiting top talent before but let me spend some more ink on it again.

At an event earlier that the week, a founder shared the recruiting process he used when he hired his replacement as CEO. The company had grown from a start-up to the point where it was planning an IPO.  When the Founder had shortlisted his candidates to one, he invited the final candidate to go skiing for three days. For those who ski, you know that there is a lot of time to talk on the chairlift ride up the mountain, at lunch, during breaks, at après-ski and during dinner in the evening. By the end of the three days, this founder was sure that he had his successor.

Another CEO told me that when he replaced the  #2 executive in his company, he spent six months finding the replacement. After he hired this person, he counted the number of hours that they had spent together over those six months. The total was 41 hours.

I recently assisted one of my clients to fill a key senior role. The successful candidate was referred by a colleague whose opinion I highly value and trust. They had worked for my friend for five years at two different companies. With this type of referral, many of the things that I normally validate during the recruiting process were able to be taken largely at face value. Even so, after we completed the hire, the company president totalled the time he spent with the candidate and it still was over 12 hours of conversations. This doesn't include the candidate's time spent with others in the company or the time spent internally discussing the candidate.

The point of the above is that recruiting top talent takes time, lots and lots of senior executive time. Top talent has many options, because they are top talent and they know it. Your due diligence of them is mirrored in their due diligence of you and your company. If you make the wrong choice, it is painful for the company, but rarely fatal. If they accept the wrong job, it can derail or sidetrack their career so often their need for due diligence is even greater yours.

Too many first time CEO's, especially in start-ups, don't understand the level of resources, commitment and time that they need to invest into recruiting and on-boarding top talent. In the face of other priorities of building products, managing sales, making customers successful and managing cash; recruiting often fails in grabbing its fair share of the CEO's time.

Not surprisingly, it is the executives that don't give recruiting enough of their time that most frequently complain about the lack of top talent available. I believe there is a correlation. If you don't make recruiting a top priority, great candidates will slip away. If you don't stay on top of your direct reports and their hiring managers, they will also let top talent slip away.

I recently saw this happen. A CEO discovered a great employee from a former company was looking to make a move. He connected this employee to his VP responsible for that area. They met and the candidate was impressed and interested in joining. The VP scheduled the candidate for a series of interviews with his team. During this process, the candidate became lukewarm on the people he was meeting and surprised when they did not crisply follow up with him. At the same time, another great opportunity came along. He pursued it and was hired. Later, the CEO was surprised to find out that the candidate was not joining his company.  

So if you want to be more effective at recruiting Top Talent, try the following:

Use mentors, advisors and Board members to identify candidates based on a referral that they trust. This has the potential not only to reduce time but these people can help the top talent to do their due diligence on you.
Use new top talent that you on-board to hire more top talent that they know. Most great people surround themselves with other great people so their networks are rich harvesting grounds for other great employees.
Commit blocks of time outside of work hours to meet with candidates. Use dinner meetings, Saturday and Sunday morning breakfast meetings, and phone time during the morning or evening commute (because they are probably stuck in traffic just like you)  to engage in discussions with candidates . Get inside their head, but to also let them get inside yours.
Use recruiters for more than just finding candidates.  Allow your recruiter to get very intimate with your company before you ask them to find candidates so that they can play a role in both qualifying and selling top talent.  To do this, you need to establish long term recruiting relationships. Don't pick a new recruiter for each new placement.
Respond as urgently to recruiting to-do's as you do to customer calls. A top talent candidate will likely not be available when you get around to them or even if they are, your actions will have already placed you at the bottom of their list.
If you get a great candidate, put your best foot forward and move quickly. Don't ask them to interview with a weak player on your team.  This could kill the deal. Top talent goes to work at companies that they perceived already have top talent or are in the process of cleaning house of weak players to bring in top talent.
If you refer the candidate to someone else in your company, don't let go of the ownership of the candidate's hiring process. Follow-up inside your organization to make sure the right things are happening. Follow-up with the candidate after every step to keep them engaged and interested.

© 2011 Meaford Group

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