4 Recruiting Lessons From Game of Thrones

April 22, 2016

The new season of Game of Thrones begins Sunday and everybody's excited about the chance to catch up with Tyrion, Cersei and (maybe?) Jon Snow.

But amid all the epic battles, lusty bedroom antics and bloody betrayals, there's something else that Game of Thrones offers: an epic lesson on recruiting. 

Most of the time when they're not pillaging or romancing, Game of Thrones characters are trying to enlist others to their cause. And isn't that the main point of recruiting?

On Game of Thrones, the stakes are high. A top-notch recruiting strategy can help you amass an army of thousands, while lousy recruiting can leave you with hires who literally can't keep their heads together.

Here are four recruiting lessons we can learn from Game of Thrones:

1. A great referral program yields candidates who kill it!

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For a kid, young Arya Stark was doing pretty well in her quest for violent revenge against those who'd separated her from her family. But then she meets a mysterious man, Jaqen, whose assassination game is even stronger than hers, and she begs him to tell her his secret.

Jaqen invites her to join his group of legendary assassins known as The Faceless Men. She reluctantly turns him down; she's not quite ready to give up her current job of vengeance seeking. But later, unable to forget about Jaquen's ringing endorsement of his “employer,” she tracks him down and becomes a Faceless Men trainee.

Yes, Arya's new hire orientation has been a little rocky; after breaking the rules during training, she gets blinded as punishment. But we're going to chalk this up as a recruiting success story because it shows the power of a good referral.

In a LinkedIn survey, more than 10,000 recent job changers were asked how they found out about their new jobs. The #1 answer: they were referred by someone they know. Plus, 87 percent of recruiters told Linkedin referrals are the best way to get quality candidates. Referrals are cheaper to train, don't take as long to hire, and make for higher quality employees. And if a good referral can snag an ambitious young go-getter like Arya, imagine the kind of winning candidate it can bring to your door.

2. “You know nothing, Jon Snow” — except for the benefits of a good employer brand 

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When we meet Jon Snow, he is little more than Ned Stark's neglected son. But when he gets a life-changing opportunity to join the Night's Watch, he jumps at it. Why? Turns out Snow was well-aware of the group's reputation as a dedicated and noble band of brothers with a sworn duty to protect the Seven Kingdoms' Wall.

Such is the power of a strong employer brand which, in the case of the Night's Watch, draws Jon Snow to Castle Black (the Night's Watch's desolate corporate headquarters) to beg for a job — despite the terrible climate, dangerous workplace conditions and stingy relocation package.

Jon turns out to be an excellent hire, eventually rising to the top rank of Lord Commander. Sadly, when we last saw him, his coworkers had left him with a harsh performance review that was so... shall we say, "pointed," it left him bleeding on the ice. But it's a case study of how a good reputation and a strong employer brand can attract good candidates from far and wide.

3. You can’t retain new hires if you put them in over their heads

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The rulers of the Seven Kingdoms have a ton of problems, including rampant incest and a string of weak and/or malevolent kings. But their most striking flaw is their inability to select and keep someone for their most important position: Hand of the King, the kingdom's chief executive.

In the first season, we see King Robert recruit his old friend Ned Stark to the position without being completely upfront about the morale issue at the palace. The result: poor, unprepared Ned is swallowed up by that toxic workplace and ends up with a date with a headhunter — and not the good kind. 

Others who held this cursed position didn't fare much better: Ned's predecessor had been poisoned and a subsequent Hand, Tywin Lannister, was killed in the bathroom by his own son (Tywin kind of had that one coming, though).

Clearly King’s Landing has a serious retention issue, and it’s not alone. A LinkedIn survey finds 64 percent of in-house talent professionals are interested in increasing employee retention. Organizations can do that by providing perks like professional development and career coaching. Maybe if the Baratheons paid a little bit more attention to retention — perhaps by promoting more from within or providing professional development courses like "How to Navigate Palace Intrigue" — they'd be able to keep a Hand of the King in place for more than just a few episodes. 

4. Money and dragons are great, but offering opportunity is the way to recruiting success 

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"The Mother of Dragons" should be in the Recruiters Hall of Fame.

Daenerys amasses an entire army of freed slaves she'd single-handedly recruited. The most impressive part? She doesn't do it with promises of money. Instead, she relies on some Lou Adler wisdom – she sells them on the career opportunity. Namely, she speaks to them, using their own language, and convinces them that joining her team would give them more freedom and job satisfaction than their current "employers." Her pitch has convinced slaves from no fewer than three cities to join up with her, giving her an army of thousands.

Daenerys's recruiting approach would work in real-life, too. In our LinkedIn survey of recent job changers, 45 percent said they left their previous jobs because of "the lack of opportunities for advancement." Money wasn't as big a factor; only 34 percent bailed because they were unsatisfied with the compensation /benefits. Daenerys knows that if you offer potential recruits a detailed explanation of how joining you can further their careers, they will eagerly listen. 

So break out the popcorn and enjoy Game of Thrones Sunday. And be sure to take notes. What you see on the show might help you attract and keep good employees — especially if you get yourself some dragons.

*Images from Game of Thrones

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