The War for Talent
All leaders know how important it is to get hiring right – and yet many companies continue to struggle when it comes to putting the right people in the right jobs, not to mention onboarding and retaining them successfully. In their new book, TALENT MAKERS, Greenhouse co-founders Daniel Chait and Jon Stross present their step-by-step guide for implementing a structured hiring process that attracts great talent and turns hiring into a competitive advantage. I spoke with them about the challenges around hiring, and how they can be surmounted.
Would you share an example of what often goes wrong in hiring?
So many companies struggle with hiring. Even in our own company, when we first started out, we needed to hire for a specific executive role and decided to bring in an agency to help. We told the hiring agency that it was a priority of ours to diversify our executive team. We said our expectation was that when they sent us candidates, that it would be a diverse candidate pool.
After several weeks of looking for candidates and sending us a few, they wanted to talk: “The truth is we’re having a hard time finding diverse candidates—the talent pool is what it is.” The agency person continued: “Let me ask you a question: is this just kind of a ‘check the box’ thing where you want to say that you’ve seen a few women for this job, or what?”
They were trying to lead us to conclude that we were sabotaging our own efforts to diversify our team. We pushed back and said: “On one level, we believe you, that if you just do the most obvious things that everyone does, you’ll develop a less-diverse pool than what we’re looking for. That’s not what we’re paying for. We know that it takes effort, and we know that it takes smarts to do what we’re asking you to do. Our expectation is that you’re going to do it.”
We know that a structured hiring approach will always yield the right talent for the right role. It might just take time. In the end, the agency came through and we hired a great candidate with a diverse background. The world is full of highly talented people. Diversity is critical to the health and success of a company, and leaders should never settle for anything less.
How has hiring the best talent changed over the last ten years?
One of the main points that we make in TALENT MAKERS is that hiring has become more competitive than ever. The best candidates, people who can work anywhere, get a lot of attention from recruiters. Talent is in demand these days, and companies need to compete for their attention. Second, the best companies win in hiring because they work differently. The entire company is involved in hiring, and it is seen as a top leadership priority. This way of working is new, and many in the C-suite do not know what being “great at hiring” actually looks like. After all, this isn’t something that’s taught at business school. What we’ve seen is that exposing leaders to what they can do is very eye-opening. That’s our goal with TALENT MAKERS: to provide leaders with the playbook for great hiring.
What are some common mistakes in the interviewing process?
The most common mistake is not being prepared. Someone goes to interview a prospective employee, not having written down what they need to ask, and making it up as they go. So, what happens is that they don’t listen to the answers, because they’re worried about the next thing they’re going to ask.
Also, it’s human nature to have biases. People decide in the first five or ten seconds of meeting someone whether they like them or not, and they spend the rest of the hour justifying that unconscious decision. The candidates walk away feeling that the company doesn’t care about people; they may feel bored, unclear, or even discriminated against.
Additionally, interviewers often don’t write down any feedback, and they leave the interview with only a high-level impression, if that. When they get down to the decision-making process later, they frequently hear or say things like, “Who was that again?” And they end up making really important hiring decisions based on very little data.
When companies don’t use a structured process where they test candidates the same way and collect data, they make decisions that are inconsistent and even biased.
“Every company knows talent is important – but all too often they also know that hiring is going poorly for them.”-Chait and Stross
In the best of the best companies, what does hiring look like?
Companies that do hiring well use a systematic, structured process. And the first step in the process is to figure out exactly what will enable someone to be successful in a job. So, interviewing becomes not just about having conversations, but about specifically assessing whether the candidates have the traits and skills that have been identified.
What is the hiring maturity curve, and how can it help leaders?
The “Hiring Maturity Curve” is a term we coined at Greenhouse to help companies understand how they’re doing when it comes to hiring. The curve goes from chaos – where everyone is pointing fingers at each other; to inconsistent – where you’re having some success, but ultimately the success is fragile and perhaps dependent on a single superstar recruiter; to systematic – where everyone is working together with a consistent process; to strategic – where hiring is a differentiator for the company.
The challenge for a lot of leaders and hiring managers is that they’re in the weeds. They are focusing on individual hires. They need to step back and assess hiring as a function – where are they falling down, and where are they ahead. We’ve created a simple quiz that can help them figure out where they are on the curve. This includes asking themselves questions like: What is our theory on why candidates would choose to come work with us over our competition? How do we ensure that each candidate has a positive and engaging experience when they apply? Where are we finding our hires? So, by using this tool, they can figure out, not only where they are today, but what behaviors they need to adopt to move higher up the curve. It gives leaders a good roadmap for what they need to start doing.
If you’re a leader and are frustrated with hiring – you don’t have the predictability and transparency that you want – you can take this assessment. If you have recruiters on your team, they can take the assessment with you. Then you can figure out what the specific things are you need to work on – whether it’s how you source, how you interview, or how you use data.
Unconscious bias is in the news of late as organizations struggle to correct systemic racism and other issues. What are some ways to eliminate bias in hiring?
Throughout TALENT MAKERS, we touch on the importance of hiring to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion. Companies are asking how to become more fair in how they hire. They mean well, but often, when they look at their pipelines, who they’re hiring isn’t reflective of the community they live in or their customer base. An important theme for us is that creating a structured hiring process not only does everything we’ve already talked about, it’s also how companies can mitigate bias. When they orient the process around what it takes to succeed in the job and put every candidate through the same steps, it becomes easier to calibrate fairly among people – and not hire based on first impressions. When they can assess multiple candidates in the same way, they can truly make the best decision, and that’s where bias is reduced.
So, using a structured hiring process not only allows companies to hire great talent, it also helps them achieve their DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) goals. It’s a win-win situation all around.
“Using a structured hiring process not only allows companies to hire great talent, it also helps them achieve their DEI goals.”-Chait and Stross
Onboarding is a key part of hiring. Any tips for a successful experience?
Much has changed because of the pandemic. A lot of the things that used to happen in onboarding would take place in person. The new employee would sit with their team. They’d go to the break room and be able to chat with others. They would learn a lot about the company and make friends. Now, when everyone is working from home and people don’t meet any of their co-workers in person, companies have to be that much more proactive about ensuring that new hires are getting integrated well.
It’s about being intentional and creating a plan. Where leaders go wrong is that they don’t think about onboarding. They figure HR will make sure the new hire gets on payroll, and IT will make sure they get a computer. Yet, the challenge with onboarding, especially right now when everyone is trying to do it remotely, is how do you teach the social norms and values of the company? How to teach people their jobs and make them feel a part of the community of the company? The way to do it is to start engaging new employees before they even walk in the door. Usually there’s a couple of weeks between when someone accepts the job offer and the first day of work. Use that time to get new employees excited and introduce them to the people who will be on their team and others in their start class. Build an intentional plan to figure out who does what. Three days before they start, this person will send an email to the new hire. Two days after they start, another person will take them to lunch – or eat lunch with them over Zoom. The other piece is that you have to start collecting data. You manage what you measure. Five days in, does the new hire have everything they need to do their job? Thirty days in, do they know what success looks like in their job? Ninety days in, are they adding value? If you’re not collecting that data, it’s hard to know if you’re actually being successful at onboarding.
What’s the role of the leader when it comes to hiring?
That’s where the name of our book TALENT MAKERS comes in. The role of the leader is to be what we call a “talent maker.” These talent makers – whether they’re the CEO, the head of sales, or the head of engineering – have three basic responsibilities.
First, they need to be a talent leader. They’re seeding a culture of hiring and demonstrating that hiring is something everyone has to work on. Everyone has a part to play, and it can’t just be the job of the recruiter.
Second, they need to be a talent magnet. This means that they themselves are getting people to come to the company. They’re closing the deal with in-demand candidates to get them to take the job. They’re speaking at events and raising visibility for the company.
Third, they need to be a talent partner. In other words, they must demonstrate what being a good partner to the recruiting team is about. For example, these leaders spend time with their recruiting partner early on to clearly define the requirements for the role that is being filled. They are engaged in the hiring process, and they make decisions quickly when it comes to approving offers.
What other advice do you have for leaders who want to excel at hiring?
Hiring is the leaders’ responsibility. There are very specific lanes within that responsibility that they can think of and do. In our book, we try to help leaders start immediately making improvements in how they hire. Here’s what we’ve learned in our work: every company knows talent is important – but all too many also know that hiring is going poorly for them. We hear it all the time. “We make terrible decisions. We don’t know how to find people. We give people bad experiences. We don’t have the data or systems to make things better.” So, fundamentally, everybody cares about hiring, almost everybody is bad at it, and TALENT MAKERS provides a system so you can get better at it.
For more information, see TALENT MAKERS.
Image Credit: Clem Onojeghuo