Are Your Job Descriptions Attracting Mediocre Candidates?

March 1, 2016

Is the quality of people applying to your jobs better or worse than those not applying? If worse, or you don’t know, you’ll never be able to hire the best people available - you’ll just be hiring the best who apply.

I’ve been on a rant ever since Harvard Professor Todd Rose published his book, The End of Average, last month. In it, Rose proves scientifically that the hiring processes used at just about every big company in the world are fundamentally flawed. His major theme is that no one is average and individual performance depends largely on the context of the job and the leadership skills of the hiring manager. Given this, Rose contends that pre-screening tests and an emphasis on personality, competencies and behaviors during the interview are counterproductive.

Maybe I’m biased. Or proud. In his book, on the radio, in his speeches and in his lectures, Professor Rose continually advocates the use of Performance-based Hiring as the only hiring process that actually meets his criteria for what it takes to consistently hire top talent.

The reason: It focuses on attracting and assessing people primarily on their ability and motivation to do the actual work that needs to be done in the actual environment. That’s why I consistently harp on the folly of attempting to attract as many active candidates as possible based on some employer brand and using pre-screening tests and skills-based filters to eliminate the unqualified. A better solution is to attract a different group of more qualified people.

If the quality of people you’re attracting isn’t stronger than the people already in your company, the best you can do is hire people like you’ve always hired. Given this Catch-22, here are some ideas to improve the quality of candidates you’re attracting in the first place:

1. Add taglines to your job titles that capture the ideal candidate’s intrinsic motivator.

A job post with the title, “Flight Nurse – Helping Save Lives Every Day” attracted 14 nurses in 72 hours vs. six in three months without the tagline. Four of the fourteen were hired in two weeks, versus none from the original ad.

Capturing what drives personal satisfaction in your job title is a great way to differentiate your messages.

2. Tell stories, don’t list requirements.

In this posting for a controller on LinkedIn a story was told about how the person in the role would be able to get out of the numbers and make a difference. Telling stories about the importance of the job is one way to attract the right people into your talent pool, rather than weeding the wrong ones out.

3. Job branding trumps employer branding.

Generic employer branding might be okay for entry-level and junior staff positions, but the best seasoned people want their work to be important to the company’s success. By tying the actual job to a major company project or initiative, you’ll add a critical dimension to your job posts, emails and voice mails.

For example, we used, “lead the turn-around of a struggling product line” to attract a highly regarded marketing leader who ultimately rejected a more lucrative counter-offer.

4. Convert having to doing.

Rather than list a critical skill as a “must-have,” describe how the skill is used on the job. For a tax director for a public company, we said, “Use your CPA and extensive international tax background to develop a global tax strategy.”

The best people want to know what they’ll be doing before they’ll respond. Only the desperate will accept being demeaned using a boring list of “must-have” requirements as the condition to get interviewed.

5. Response rates are less important than getting the best to respond.

By adding achiever terms to your searches, you’ll be able to identify the top 25% in any job classification. For this VP HR role we added the phrase (awards OR honors OR society OR fellow OR scholar) to the traditional HR terms and found 30 very strong passive candidates for a great job in a terrible location.

We identified our top 10 candidates, and called and sent multiple emails and ultimately talked with eight of these people. While the first email response was okay at 30%, we wanted the best people to engage in the process. That’s why end-to-end campaign response rates need to be tracked by the quality of people responding.

While attracting stronger talent at the top of the talent funnel is a critical first step, it’s only a first step. Recruiting, assessing and hiring these people is what really matters. It starts by recognizing that the best people are looking for career opportunities, not ill-defined lateral transfers. Pulling this together requires great jobs, skilled recruiters and fully-engaged hiring managers. Alternatively, you can trust statistics and pre-screening tests and hope that the people who apply are good enough.  

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