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Tips for attracting, landing and keeping top talent
I often tell my teams “it is all about the people” and for that to be true, you need to make sure everyone you bring on fits the culture of your business. And whether you are leading teams at a Fortune 500 company or just starting up, the need to make great cultural hires never goes away.
There are the basic questions: What are your values? Tell me about a time you were part of a great team – what made it great? They are descent questions to ask, but they only give you surface level insights into whether a potential new hire will be a great cultural fit.
Throughout my career, whether it was my time at Microsoft or presently at home-improvement network Porch.com, I have always taken a hands-on approach towards building teams and hiring people that are the right cultural fit.
To help those looking to make great cultural hires, here are my five must-ask questions to determine if the people you are bringing on will be the right fit for your company.
1. Why do you want to work at this company and what are your expectations?
You need to know if people want to join your company for the right reasons.
For example, do they know what it takes to be successful at an early-stage company? Are they prepared to embrace ambiguity? Are they ready to get their hands dirty? Are they ready to execute quickly with limited resources? Are they scrappy? Whatever values you hold true at the heart of your culture, you need to hire people who are aligned with how your business operates and the values you live by.
2. Who inspires you and why?
I like to learn from people who their points of inspiration are. Who are their role models and what makes those people special to the candidate? You often garner quite a few insights from this question as it gives you a peak into the behavioral patterns an individual respects and in many cases models themselves after.
3 What’s your superpower?
Everybody is great at something. Everyone has a superpower. It is the go to trait you pull from when times get tough and you need put your head down, crank and produce. People should be honest about this and you should encourage an honest answer. Part of setting people up for success is ensuring you have them in the right role at the right time.
As I recently shared, I believe that the job of a manager is to get the very best out of their people. Putting them in right position with the right team is an important part of the equation. Doing so goes along way towards ensuring positive cultural fits.
4. What motivates you to come into work every day?
There are a number of ways for people to answer this question, but I have found those that carry a great energy and hit on curiosity as a reason to run up the stairs every day. Great hires know that learning never ends and they maintain a high degree of intellectual curiosity throughout their day-to-day work. You will find that these hires stay on top of what is happening around them, the business and the industry. They identify trends before they happen and they think in a very pragmatic way. It’s a superpower not everyone possesses. When you find someone who is thinking about the world in a way that is bigger than him or her, that energy is contagious.
5. How do you rely on others to make you better?
I like this question because it gives people the opportunity to showcase one of my favorite traits: self-awareness. The best hires know that they don’t know everything. They are aware of their strengths and limitations and can speak to them both with transparency and candor. In particular they can focus on specific areas they want to improve, grow and learn. They spend more time talking about their losses (and what they learned) than their wins. This shows that they cherish collaboration and the development of a transparent working environment.
What do you think the odds are that candidates applying to jobs at your company are satisfied with their experience? The answer to this is probably pretty bleak, as recent studies suggest that upwards of 69 percent of candidates have negative hiring experiences. As the fight for talent continues to get more and more competitive, entrepreneurs and hiring managers should consider taking a very critical look at their interview processes, not only to increase their chances of attracting the right employees, but also to further their employer brand.
Smart companies know that they need to invest in their interview process, putting thought into each step so that they can be more efficient, make better hiring decisions and leave a positive impression on every individual who comes through their doors. Here are four tips on how to perfect your process.
1. Build your interview team.
First, take a hard look at the objectives for this role and what candidate qualities you’re looking for. From there map backwards to build out your interview team, identifying the individuals and questions that will help suss out the information you’re looking for. I’m a big fan of “Who: The A Method for Hiring,” which is filled with great tips on how to build an interview team and approach each stage of hiring.
Another thing to consider when building your interview team is diversity. Make sure you’re including individuals from different parts of your organization who together can give a holistic view of the company. This allows candidates to get a more in-depth understanding of what your company is about, and empowers them to make a more informed decision. This also provides your team with unique perspectives and balance to the interview process, meaning your team can fairly and effectively decide whether or not an individual is a good fit for your company.
2. Talk money upfront.
Don’t be afraid to talk money upfront as part of the job posting or in the early conversations you have with candidates. While many companies might not be accustomed to this, the benefits of talking compensation from the start greatly outweigh the cons — it prevents both sides from investing in a lengthy interview process if they’re not aligned on compensation. In fact, transparency early on around compensation is arguably one of the most important contributing factors to success in the interview process. Ultimately nobody wins in a situation where weeks are spent interviewing for a role, only for the offer to fall apart at the last minute because compensation expectations weren’t aligned since both sides felt too awkward to bring it up.
My company, Hired, has a unique take on this considering we’re a career marketplace focused on making the hiring process more efficient and transparent than traditional recruiting methods. Every company on our platform must list a salary upfront for every opportunity they are hiring for. This takes away the guessing game around compensation, allowing companies and candidates alike to have real conversations from the get-go. Candidates can see the full picture of a job opportunity and it results in a more informative and positive experience from the start.
While the idea of sharing salary information upfront might worry some companies, the majority of job seekers will take a lower-paying job in favor of such factors as the opportunity to learn new skills, take on greater responsibilities or the ability to work from home part of the time. If you find out early on that your offer is lower than what the candidate was hoping for, be sure to orient your conversation around non-financial factors including the opportunity to build something from the ground up, learning potential, a flexible work schedule and more.
3. Communication is critical.
Keep in mind that interviews are typically the culmination of hours of work and preparation on a candidate’s part. So be respectful, and communicate clearly and often. As a general rule of thumb, communication with a candidate should happen within 24 hours of an update or major step in the interview process. This includes everything from the initial phone interview to the skills assessment to the onsite interview to the final offer.
When it comes to the onsite interview, companies that communicate clearly on what to expect will leave a lasting, positive impression. At a minimum, ensure that your HR partner or hiring manager includes information upfront on who the candidate will be meeting with, what his or her interview schedule looks like, directions to your office and what your company’s dress code is.
If you want to go the extra mile, give candidates insight into what kinds of interviews and questions to expect, as well as details on how they will be assessed. Stripe is a great example of this, as it provides all candidates with a comprehensive guide on what to expect for its onsite interviews. By empowering candidates with the information they need to prepare, it allows them to put their best foot forward, and helps to guarantee that interviews are effective for your hiring team.
4. Feedback counts.
There’s a growing perception that employers simply aren’t responsive during interviews, and the data backs this up. Only 27 percent of candidates say an employer gave them an explanation of why they didn’t get a job after interviewing. The good news is that by taking the time to provide feedback to candidates — particularly those who are far along in the process — this will help set you apart from most other companies out there. It says volumes about your brand and ends things on a positive note. Additionally, it can open up the door for future conversations with a candidate in the event there’s a role down the road that they’re a better fit for.
Hiring the right talent is arguably the single most important challenge companies face, which is why the days of one-sided communication, leaving candidates hanging or disrespecting their time are gone. Revamping your interview process with an eye towards making it more candidate-centric is one of the best ways to bolster your employer brand and attract the best and brightest. When in doubt, I always try to follow the golden rule — treat candidates the way you would like to be treated. I find that it rarely steers me wrong.
Congratulations! After having screened dozens or hundreds of resumes and having conducted numerous interviews, you have found the perfect fit for your vacancy. Weeks or months of hard work come to an end. Make sure you get it right at this critical point of time of the hiring process. One false move can result in a refusal. If you screw it up now, you have to start at zero again. After all, a significant percentage of all job offers made are turned down. Making it right is an art and a science.
Here are the nine steps to making a bullet-proof job offer:
1. Move fast: If you’ve made a decision, why wait? In recruitment, time will work against you in 9.5 out of 10 cases.
Real talent is scarce in any economic cycle. Whenever possible contact the selected candidate the same day after their final interview. If not, make contact within a day or two at most.
If you wait longer, a psychological process in the candidate’s mind can take place which goes, “No news from them for four days, this is not a good sign. I really wanted that job but I won’t get it. Well, after all, this job is not THAT great. There are disadvantages too. In fact I don’t want it anymore!”
2. Choose the right communication channel (part 1) – Always call!: Some companies send emails or letters.
Make a phone call; not only can you convey your excitement, but you can also gauge the level of enthusiasm of your candidate. A phone call versus an email (see point 7) has the advantage that you can not only ease the candidate’s stress during the post-interview waiting period, but you also show how thrilled you are to make them a part of your team.
And if your candidate has the slightest doubt or hesitation, now is the time to step in. If you send an email, you might get only a “No thanks.”
3. Be enthusiastic: Be professional, but be enthusiastic. Tell the candidate she was your first choice out of 100 resumes and came out number 1 during the interview process. Explain how impressed the interviewers are with her mind-set, approach and skills.
It’s natural to play your cards close to your vest during the interview and selection process, but once you’ve made a decision, drop your reserve. Don’t worry, conveying your excitement won’t affect the salary negotiation process.
Remember: The employer-employee relationship doesn’t start the first day on the job. It officially starts with the job offer. Make that moment memorable for the candidate.
4. Apply the 10% rule: In general, candidates expect a pay increase of at least 10% when they change jobs. Few candidates will change jobs for the same or lower salary (barring unusual circumstances, of course). And if they do, they’ll feel some level of resentment every time they get their paycheck.
Never offer a salary below their current salary unless there are concrete, objective reasons to do so —and even then, think hard about it.
5. Show the money: Explain pay and benefits as thoroughly and accurately as possible. Describe the base salary, how any bonus plans work, provide a fairly thorough overview of health and other benefits, and describe any other perks.
There are two ways to talk about the salary:
- “We offer you $80K base plus bonus and the regular benefits. I will send this by mail and we hope you will accept.”
- “In your first year, you will get a total compensation of $80K base plus 10% bonus based on personal and company targets. In the past three years the full amount has been paid to people on your level, so that’s $8K. We also have a very good pension scheme which corresponds to $2K per year. Furthermore, we offer the monthly public transport pass which has a value of $1.2K per year. And last but not least, we have a canteen and take 50% in charge. It is only a detail but represents $1K for the whole year. How does this sound, Ginger?”
6. Get a commitment — even a tentative one: Many candidates will ask for time to consider the offer. That’s natural, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions. Say, “I completely understand and you should take the time. What is your first reaction, what do you think about our offer?”
Any hesitation the candidate shows indicates they may turn you down, so ask questions without being pushy. See if you can overcome any objections or provide additional information that will make acceptance more likely.
7. Choose the right communication channel (part 2): Always follow up in writing: Then put everything in an email or letter. Include all elements of the offer: job title, base salary, benefits, vacation, holidays, perks, etc.
And make sure to set a deadline; three days is typical.
8. Feel their pain: In my experience, one-third of the candidates who refused a job offer did so because they accepted a counter-offer from their current employers.
Talk about how it will feel giving notice: “How do you feel about giving notice after working there for five years?” “How will your boss react?”
Be sensitive to the candidate’s feelings; even if they desperately want to change jobs, resigning will still create stress and anxiety.
9. Ask the “killer question”: If you can’t get a good read on the candidate’s level of interest, if the decision-making period is dragging on, or if you just want to make absolutely sure the candidate will show up on their first day, ask this question, “I interviewed two other good candidates for this job. Can I tell them the job has been filled?”
Few people will lie about their intentions, especially when lying might affect another person who really wanted the job.
Be sure you are the one who controls the process. Surprises can be a good thing for a kid’s birthday party but they are generally bad in business. Go to the end during this critical phase of the recruitment to avoid them and to make sure your chosen candidate will turn up on day one. If you let go now, you risk losing it all and we don’t want that, do we?
Many firms use exit interviews to find out why employees are leaving their jobs. Unfortunately, asking an employee on their last day “why are you leaving?” doesn’t provide useful information in time to prevent the turnover. A superior approach that I’ve been recommending for over 20 years is a “stay interview.” I alternatively call it a “pre-exit interview,” because it occurs before there is any hint that an employee is about to exit the firm. A stay interview helps you understand why employees stay, so that those important factors can be reinforced.
Definition: A “stay interview” is a periodic one-on-one structured retention interview between a manager and a highly valued “at-risk-of-leaving employee” that identifies and then reinforces the factors that drive an employee to stay. It also identifies and minimizes any “triggers” that might cause them to consider quitting.
The Many Benefits of Why-do-You-Stay? Interviews
Some of the reasons why stay interviews have proven to be an effective retention tool over the years include:
- They stimulate the employee – most employees are excited simply by the fact that the organization is concerned about their future and that their manager took the time to consult with them.
- Personalized – unlike engagement surveys and many other retention tools that are focused on what excites a large number of employees, this approach is customized to a single identifiable individual and their wants.
- They are limited to key employees – by having a “stay” discussion exclusively with your key employees who are at risk of leaving, you focus the manager’s effort and you minimize the overall time that the manager must devote to retention.
- They include actions – unlike exit interviews, which only identify problems, stay interviews also encourage the parties to identify actions that can improve the employee experience and actions that can help eliminate any major frustrators or turnover triggers.
- Lower employee emotions – the discussion occurs before the employee has made the decision to consider leaving. As a result, the emotions of the employee (and perhaps the manager) are lower.
- Low time pressure on the manager – because the employee is not actively interviewing for a job, there is less time pressure on the manager to immediately solve the identified retention issues.
- A focus on the positive – most of the interview is focused on identifying and then reinforcing the positive factors that the employee enjoys about their job. Although some negative factors may be covered, they are not the primary focus of the interview.
- They don’t require training – most managers can successfully conduct stay interviews without any formal training. A simple “how-to toolkit” is generally all that a manager needs to successfully conduct these interviews.
- They are inexpensive – these informal interviews don’t require a budget. In most cases, an hour of a manager and an employee’s time are the only major cost factors.
20 Possible Stay-interview Questions to Consider
There is no required standard set of questions that must be used in stay interviews. Ideally however, you want to limit the number of questions that you select so that you finish the interview within one hour. I have broken the type of questions to select from into four different categories.
A) Introductory questions
- Approaching the employee – approach the targeted employee during a lull period and use an introductory statement something along this line. “I want you to know that both I and the firm appreciate your commitment to the firm and the great work that you have been doing. If you have a few minutes, I would like to have an informal conversation with you to ensure that we fully understand the factors that make you loyal and that keep you here, and any possible actions that we can take to bolster your job experience and to keep you happy.”
- Starting the interview – start the interview with a simple introductory statement like the following. “Thanks for taking the time to have this discussion. As one of our key employees, I want to informally pose some simple questions that can help me to understand the factors that cause you to enjoy and stay in your current role. During the interview I will also use a series of questions in order to identify any factor that could possibly frustrate you to the point where you might even begin to consider other job opportunities.”
B) Identify the factors that make the employee want to stay
- Positive stay factors – tell me specifically, what factors cause you to enjoy your current job and work situation (including people, job, rewards, job content, coworkers, management etc.), and as a result, they contribute to your staying at our firm as long as you have? Help us identify the factors that make you more passionate, committed, and loyal to your team and the firm.
- Reasons you give to others – if you have ever been asked by a close friend or have been contacted by an external recruiter, can you tell me what reasons you gave them for wanting to stay at our firm?
- “Best work of your life” factors – do you feel that you are currently doing “the best work of your life?” Can you list for me the factors that could contribute to you” doing the best for your life?” (Note: this is the No. 1 key retention factor for top performers)
- “Job impact” factors – do you feel that your work makes a difference in the company and that externally it has a noticeable impact on customers and the world? Do you also feel that your coworkers think that you make a difference? (Note: this is the No.2 key retention factor for top performers.)
- Fully used factors – do you feel “fully utilized” in your current role? If so, can you identify the factors that make you feel fully utilized? Are there additional things that we can do to more fully take advantage of your talents and interests?
- Are you listened to and valued – do your colleagues and teammates listen to you and do they value your ideas, inputs, and decisions? How can that area be improved?
C) Identify the positive actions related to retention that might further increase this employee’s loyalty and commitment to your firm
- Better managed – if you “managed yourself,” what would you do differently (in relation to managing “you”), that I, as your current manager, don’t currently do?
- More positive elements and fewer less desirable ones – can you make a list of the elements or motivation factors in your current role that you like best and that you would like “more of? What factors would you miss most if you transferred you to a completely different job? What things do you really miss from your last job at the firm? Can you also make a list of the less-desirable elements or frustrators in your current role that you would like to do “less of?” Are there any frustration factors that keep you up at night, that enter your mind while driving to work, or that cause you to dread having to come to work at all?
- Dream job – if you were given the opportunity to redesign your current role, can you make a list of the key factors that you would include in your “dream job?”
- Where would you like to be – can you help us understand your career progression expectations and let us know where you would like to be in the organization two years from now?
- Challenge factors – can you list for us the most challenging but exciting aspects of your current job situation? Are there actions that we can take to further challenge you?
- Recognition – can you highlight any recent recognition and acknowledgment that you have received that increased your commitment and loyalty? Are there actions that we can take to further recognize you?
- Exposure – can you highlight the recent exposure to executives and decision makers that you have experienced? And are there ways that we could increase or improve that exposure?
- Learning, growth, and leadership – can you highlight for me your positive experiences in the area of learning, development, and growth? And are there ways where we could increase that growth? The employee should also be asked if they desire to move into a leadership role, and if so, what are their expectations, their timetable, and their concerns?
D) Identify the possible “triggers” that may cause the employee to consider leaving
Triggers are occurrences or events that driver loyal employees to at least begin considering looking for new job.
- Identify possible retention triggers – if you were to ever begin to consider leaving … help me understand what kind of “triggers” or negative factors that might cause you to consider leaving? Please include both job and company trigger factors.
- Recent frustrators – think back to a time in the last 12 months when you have been at least slightly frustrated or anxious about your current role. Can you list for me the frustration factor or factors that most contributed to that anxiety? Can you also help me understand what eventually happened to lower that frustration level?
- Others made you think – if you’ve had conversations with other employees who have considered leaving or who have actually left our firm, did any of the reasons that they provided for leaving cause you to at least partially nod in agreement? If so, can you list those factors and tell me why they seemed to be at least partially justifiable as a reason for leaving to you?
- Past triggers – what are the prime factors that caused you to leave your last two jobs? Are there factors from your previous jobs that you hope you will never have to experience again at our firm?
There Are 4 Possible “Stay-interview” Formats to Consider
If you know why an individual employee stays, you can obviously reinforce those factors. And if you know far enough in advance what factors might cause them to leave, you can get a head start in ensuring those turnover causes never occur. If you have decided to try these interviews, here are four “why-do-you-stay?” formats to consider using depending on your situation. These formats include:
- A one-on-one interview with their manager – have their manager ask the targeted employee questions during a face-to-face interview. Getting managers to talk to their own employees is such a powerful tool, this format beats the other options hands down. Skype and telephone interviews are also acceptable as close alternatives.
- A one-on-one interview with HR – in cases where the employee’s manager may be reluctant or where they may themselves be part of the problem, an HR professional can be assigned to conduct the interview. Because they are experienced interviewers, in some cases, the results can actually be more accurate and insightful.
- Questionnaires/ Surveys provided to current employees – providing a sample of the currently targeted employees with an electronic survey or questionnaire that asks the same questions in item No. 1 above is an acceptable option. This approach may actually be required for remotely located or shift employees.
- A focus group covering a small group of employees – in this format, you ask a group of targeted employees in the same job family why they stay and what might cause them to leave. Remember not to overgeneralize with group wide stay or turnover factors.
Additional Stay-interview Issues, and Actions
This section contains additional elements, issues, and key questions.
- When to approach the employee – stay interviews should be scheduled periodically — usually once a year during a slack business period. It’s usually a good idea to interview all key employees around the same time, so that you can implement common actions at the same time. Conducting them less frequently than every two years can be problematic in periods of high turnover. For new hires who naturally have a higher risk of leaving, conduct stay interviews at four and eight months.
- Handling possible resistance – if an individual employee has never participated in a stay interview, you should expect some level of anxiety and even resistance simply because they’re not accustomed to talking about their own motivators and frustrators. Typical issues that you might encounter include: concern that you are questioning their loyalty or commitment, being uncomfortable discussing their personal feelings, not having sufficient time to prepare for the discussion, and the fact that the manager doing the interview may be a primary contributor to their frustrations.
- Who to select for stay interviews – don’t cover every employee; prioritize your employees based on your estimate of the negative dollar business impact if they left and the probability that they might actually leave within the next 12 months.
- What if the identified issues are irresolvable? — in a small percentage of cases, these interviews will bring up some major problems and issues that can’t simply be easily resolved by their manager. In those cases, HR should be consulted but if the issue cannot be resolved, a longer-term “replacement plan” as well as a shorter term “backfill plan” will be needed in case the interview actually triggers the employee to leave.
- Develop a stay interview tool kit — HR must accept responsibility for developing an effective stay interview approach that all managers can follow. Use the toolkit format because it gives managers choices, so that they can customize the approach to their own situation. The toolkit should include dos and don’ts, frequently asked questions and answers, a directory of help services, a list of possible “stay questions” to ask the employee, and most importantly, a list of acceptable retention actions that are available to any manager for improving an employee’s job and for minimizing possible retention triggers.
- Consider related retention actions – most organizations that find stay interviews to be highly impactful should also consider implementing post-exit interviews. Post exit interviews occur months after an employee has left. These delayed interviews often reveal the “real underlying reasons” why key people left. Re-recruiting is another tool that should also be considered. Recruiting is where key employees are approached periodically with the goal of completely restructuring their job, so that it becomes at least as exciting as any job that an external recruiter might be able to offer them.
The concept of “stay interviews” is simple. You must periodically work with key employees to increase the number of reasons why they stay and to minimize anything that frustrates them and that may act to trigger their departure.
If you are a manager and you think that these interviews may be unnecessary, and if you expect to win “The War To Keep Your Employees,” you must forever bury the notion that the best employees will “naturally” stay at your firm without you having to periodically take major actions.
Employee retention is growing as an issue because we live in a world where the minute after a manager does something to anger or frustrate an employee, the employee can react negatively by instantly applying for a new job by simply pushing a single button on their smart phone. This “stay interview” approach is a combination of customer relationship management and market research approaches. And by using it, HR can move retention closer to becoming a more data-driven function.
The stay interview has proven to be easy to learn and highly effective, almost any manager can dramatically reduce their turnover rate and save hundreds of thousands of dollars by implementing this simple and inexpensive tool.
You have two candidates for a position. One is experienced and knowledgeable while the other is inexperienced but talented. Which one should you hire? Making the right decision can be a source of competitive advantage for your business.
When to hire for experience.
If you are hiring for a leadership position. This may seem obvious, but it can be tempting to put a promising person with a stellar individual track record in a position to lead. Excelling in a management role, however, is very different from excelling as an individual contributor. If this person has no experience managing others, it will be difficult for him or her to build and guide a team.
If you need specialized knowledge. In addition to leadership positions, prioritize experience for jobs that entail doing something the organization either 1) doesn’t know how to do or 2) doesn’t currently do well. Experienced people will bring not only the skills needed but also process and procedure.
When to hire for talent.
If you are hiring for practically any other job. Often you are hiring simply to add another person to an existing function. For instance, you need another software developer to join a team of eight, and there is already a clear process and workflow in place for how the job is to be done.
In a case like this, look for the most productive and talented person you can find, without much consideration for experience. Employees with raw talent offer many advantages. They may create new ways of solving problems and/or develop innovative products or services that a more experienced person might overlook. In addition, they may be more malleable, hardworking and loyal.
Avoiding common hiring pitfalls.
Decide ahead of time whether experience or raw talent is more crucial for success in the position. If the hiring team does not understand the job requirements and how to staff it, they will waste everyone’s time interviewing the wrong people. Or worse, they will hire the wrong person for the job.
Don’t equate job experience with talent. Many people have experience being mediocre. Look for candidates with not only a track record of success, but also signs of talent that go beyond their natural abilities. Seek traits that demonstrate exceptionalism (a good way in particular to judge candidates without much work experience), creative initiative, cultural fit and job-specific motivation — in other words, the employee wants to work specifically for your company. These types of employees provide much more value in the long run.
Don’t be a resume snob. Many leaders and hiring managers tend to be overly impressed with candidates who seem to have the most amazing combination of experiences. They focus on people’s alma maters, where they’ve worked, or what titles they’ve held rather than what these candidates have actually done or their potential. Just because someone worked at a great company doesn’t mean he or she will be a great employee.
Don’t skimp on job training. Hiring managers sometimes prioritize experience, believing that the candidate will get up to speed faster and require less training. This is rarely the case. For example, lack of training becomes a problem when hiring managers approach the work differently than the new employee.
The experienced employee begins doing the job his way, only to find out that the manager — who didn’t bother to train the new employee carefully — wants it done her way. This is frustrating for both. The manager feels like she is losing time every day, while the employee believes his experience is being discounted.
Cultivate your employees. Beyond the initial training, invest in every new employee regardless of experience. Offering professional development opportunities and room for advancement will benefit everyone and help you retain your employees.
Experience is crucial in many positions but talent at all levels advances organizations. Ensure that your HR people and hiring managers aren’t just filling the minimum job requirements, but are looking for people who will help you grow.
“If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.” – Ecclesiastes 11:4
You’ve seen them: overly detailed job descriptions masquerading as job postings. You’ve probably even written them yourself.
When it starts, you’re simply framing a description of your ideal candidate in isolation.
You check all the normal boxes. You lay out experience requirements, typically defaulting to the high end of the experience range. Then you list the education and skills required. If a bachelor’s degree is necessary, you write that an MBA is preferred. If no experience is required, then you list a bachelor’s degree. Why not get the best?
Will the new hire need to use in-house databases? Then you prepare a laundry list of databases they need to know, not bothering to think about how realistic this is. If 1 in 100 candidates can meet this requirement, why not put it down?
Maybe you have a template or job description you’ve used before. Maybe you pulled sample job postings from your competitors – a reasonable approach. But you want candidates who are better than theirs, so you add something more. You up the ante. You raise your expectations. You detail it all in the job posting.
Now, Imagine You’re the Candidate
You’re qualified for the real job – not the puffed up version in the posting. But you’re in a lower-level job right now or looking for a lateral transfer. This job posting for a job you could do very well scares you away with all its unrealistic demands and expectations.
Now maybe you, as a recruiter, HR pro, or hiring manager, say, “If a candidate is scared away by my post, they aren’t the right person.” But all too often, you lose out on the right person because you got a little carried away.
Here’s another scenario: Someone who meets the (unnecessary) requirements applies. Awesome! You get them in for an interview. They nail it! You’re so excited. You make the offer.
And then one of three things happens:
- They say no. You’re way too low. They were viewing this position as you posted it, not as you budgeted it. They come in about $20,000 higher than you were thinking the role justified. You just wasted a ton of time and effort and should think about reposting.
- They don’t respond at all because you were so far off it isn’t worth responding.
- They use your offer as leverage to get a raise from their current boss. Or they use it with another offer they have on the table – because great people often have multiple offers.
In any of these scenarios, you lose.
Listing a Job Is Like Listing a House
It makes me think of someone listing their house for sale. If they list it too high, then no one makes an offer. If they go low, a bidding war often ensues and they get higher than what they would have gotten if they had listed it at market price.
The same dynamic is at play with job posts. If you go too high in terms of qualifications, then you just scare people away. However, if you go understated on the requirements and boost your story in the job posting, you’ll receive more applicants. Then, you can choose the best from the bunch.
If you want to write better job postings, I recommend checking out two resources:
- The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired – Lou Adler
- Topgrading, 3rd Edition: The Proven Hiring and Promoting Method That Turbocharges Company Performance – Bradford D. Smart, Ph.D.
Is Your Hiring Process Too Long and Complicated?
Job postings aren’t the only point in the hiring process at which perfection can trap you.
How many times have you gotten through a couple rounds of interviews and then struggled to make a decision? Or how often has your top candidate received an offer elsewhere before you had a chance to even make your offer? Or how many times have you found that your top candidate has received multiple offers that you now have to bid against?
So you find yourself looking at the second or third person on your list. But have you already written them off or talked yourself out of that hire?
If you’re a recruiter, the hiring manager might be getting antsy at this point. (Or, if you’re the hiring manager, you might be getting antsy.) They want someone now, because the project is already underway and the team is behind the eight ball.
How do you avoid this mess?
You must have a process in place that qualifies candidates quickly and moves them to “hired” as fast as possible. You should be able to move through every step in the process – initial contact, interviews, background checks, offers and counteroffers, setting a start date, onboarding, and training – at a brisk pace. Any break in the process can cause candidates (or new hires) to second-guess themselves. If that happens, they might decide not to accept your offer, or they might want to renegotiate, or the whole relationship between your company and the candidate could spoil.
Review each step of your hiring process. Look over your past results. Where in the process did things go haywire? What can be improved? Make it your mission to make your hiring process bulletproof. Get it right, and you won’t fall into the perfection trap.
Candidate Rejection Letters Make Business Sense
How you treat candidates for your jobs really matters. Sending a candidate rejection letter to the applicants who were not selected for the job is an extra, but positive step, your company can take to build goodwill with candidates and establish yourself as an employer of choice.
Your reputation, built one candidate at a time, is critical to your ongoing ability to attract the best and most skilled talent to your firm.
In fact, to retain your reputation as an employer that employees should consider, there are four times during the hiring process that you really need to communicate with your candidates. Even a rejection letter is better for your applicants than to hear nothing for long periods of time.
Please note these guidelines for writing your candidate rejection letters and find two sample candidate rejection letters to use as models.
Start With a Follow-up Phone Call
A phone call to the candidate is the first step after you have decided that he or she is not the most qualified for your open position. During the call, you thank the candidates for their application and interview time. State clearly that you have determined that you will offer, or have offered, the position to another candidate.
Then, follow-up your call with the official candidate rejection letter providing the same information. This contact should occur as soon as you know that the candidate is not the person you want to hire. Don’t leave your candidates wondering, for weeks on end, whether he or she was the person selected for the job.
Tips for Writing Candidate Rejection Letters
- Also known as a “thanks, but no thanks letter,” candidate rejection letters tell the candidate that he or she was not selected for the position. If you believe that the candidate would qualify for other roles in your company and that he or she appeared to also fit your culture, you can also encourage the person to apply again in the future.Always end your candidate rejection letters on a positive note and wish the person success. Make sure you thank your candidate for the time invested in the application and interview process.
- Personalize your candidate rejection letters with the candidate’s name, the position, and possibly a remark about the interview time. You don’t want your candidate to feel as if he or she received a form rejection letter—even if it basically, is.
- Get straight to the point in your rejection letters. But, especially if you have called, the candidate already knows what to expect in the rejection letter.
- Make your candidate rejection letter business-like, but gracious. After all, you are puncturing a person’s hopes and dreams. Do so with respect and consideration.
- Never say anything in the candidate rejection letter that you don’t mean. For example, don’t suggest that the candidate applies for openings in the future if you know the candidate will not fit successfully in your organization.
- Remember, the candidate rejection letter is your last opportunity to build a relationship with the candidate that will cause him or her to think favorably of your company. Your reputation as an employer is affected by this candidate and the people affected by this candidate’s opinions and treatment at your hands. Don’t ever believe that this is unimportant for your reputation as a potential employer.
Sample Candidate Rejection Letter
This is a sample candidate rejection letter for the candidate that your hiring team found well-qualified and liked. Your goal is to let him know that he should keep applying to your company when a position for which he is qualified is posted.
Date of the Letter
City, State Zip Code
You’ve received the news when I called to tell you that another candidate was selected for the position of Accountant at the Mountain Meadow Co.
This letter is confirming that phone call.
My selection team was impressed with both your experience in accounting and the ideas you shared about what an all-star accounting team can provide for an organization. We encourage you to consider applying for positions that may open up in the future in your areas of expertise.
Thank you for taking the time away from your normal daily activities to come in for the interview with my team members. We appreciate that this is an investment on your part and we were grateful to have the chance to get to know you.
Best wishes for your continuing job search. Keep us in mind for our open positions in the future.
Mary Ellen Cordoba
On Behalf of the Accountant Selection Committee
Sample Candidate Rejection Letter
This is a sample candidate rejection letter for a potential employee who the hiring team determined was not a good fit with your company’s goals, objectives, or culture. You do not want to encourage this candidate to apply for your open positions in the future.
Date of the Letter
City, State Zip Code
As I mentioned during our recent phone conversation, we have offered our open position to a different candidate. This is your official notice of this decision so that you can close the book on this position.
We also want you to know that we appreciate the time you invested in coming into our company for an interview. The team is grateful for the opportunity to speak with you.
Best wishes as you continue your job search.
HR Manager for the Hiring Team
Much has been written about the perils and costs that come with making a bad hire. The impact can be huge — for the company, the team and the hiring manager, not to mention the new hire him- or herself. The costs are not just financial, but can actually do damage to the reputations of those involved.
- The average cost of a bad hiring decision can be several times the individual’s first-year potential earnings.
- Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh once estimated that his own bad hires had cost the company well over $100 million.
Still, while “bad hires”do occur, in my experience it’s the lack of an effective on-boarding process that can truly make or break the sucess of an individual joining a team. Too often, the approach is, “There’s your desk; get on with it,” together with the tendency to throw the new employee in at the deep end.
We then wonder why this person sinks, or struggles to stay afloat and excel in the new role. So, given those realities, here are my tips for welcoming that new hire:
- Announcement: You’ve just hired this wonderful talented person for your team — don’t keep it quiet! Announce it to the world (or at least the rest of your team)! Include a little information about who he/she is, the reason this person was hired and the role being undertaken. Help this person’s new colleagues understand how they can connect. Don’t leave it all on your new hire to make new friends at work. Throw a happy hour or lunchtime gathering to bring people together.
- Prior to Day 1: Keep in regular contact with your new hire. Send any paperwork that can be completed in advance so as to not slow down that first day. Include the new hire in communications to let him or her get familiar with what’s happening before Day 1. Send a quick email or message that says “Enjoy the weekend!” and build the sense of community and belonging before you begin working side-by-side.
- Critical stakeholders: In many companies the organization chart provides a picture of who reports to whom. It’s a useful tool to learn formal hierarchies. Help your new hire understand who the critical stakeholders are. Prioritize the list, and share why these people are important. Make introductions. And don’t just send the new hire out to go and find “Sarah.”
- Informal stakeholders: If the organizational chart is about formal hierarchy, then this is about “how things really get done around here.” Spend some time explaining the informal network, the go-to people, the gatekeepers, the people who know what’s happening before it happens. And don’t forget the connectors and potentially the rivals/adversaries who may not think highly of you and your team, and may transfer that attitude to your innocent new hire.
- Jargon busting: I’ve yet to find a company that doesn’t have its own language and jargon. Whether it’s those pesky acronyms that people use (but can’t always explain!) or in-jokes and phrases, create a translation dictionary and share some context for your in-jokes so that your new hire can join in the laughter (and not worry about it’s being directed at him or her!).
- Myths and legends: These are the stories that help articulate the culture of the company (both the hero and villain stories). Share them, and help the new hire understand which stories are merely myths that otherwise might negatively impact his or her confidence or approach.
- Rules of engagement: Whether this is the new hire’s first job or he or she has worked in the industry a long time, you must spend time explaining the rules of engagement, otherwise known as the corporate and team etiquette that ensures success. Don’t assume that your listener knows or will work it out individually. This may eventually happen, but there’s usually a cost. Better to articulate “how business gets done” from the outset. Topics may include the cadence of meetings, the etiquette of dialing into a meeting, decision-making, and difficult topics or issues, etc.
- Sweating the small stuff: Don’t underestimate the impact of not addressing the small stuff. Which number is needed to dial an outside line? How do you use the photocopier? Where are the restrooms? The coffee machine? When are lunch breaks taken? It’s the little things that can be the most frustrating when we are new to a team and trying to be at our best.
- Understanding the characters on the team: In a nutshell, this is about spending time sharing your style and expectations, your hot buttons, strengths and blind spots. Provide your new team member with the information needed to successfully work with you and not have to guess (or misunderstand) your style and approach.
- Fun: Three of the five corporate values at our company involve having fun. Bringing on new team members means letting them know how we have fun at work, and how they can get involved in life outside of the office. It’s never too early to start cultivating a winning relationship that will make for a winning team.
Over the last decade, social-media profiles slowly have become our online personas. Filled with everything from our beliefs to where we spent last weekend, our feeds on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram represent to the world a core component of who we are.
Despite these sites’ growing popularity, reviewing a person’s accounts for human-resources reasons presents a variety of issues for employers. With so much information freely available online, traditional background checks might seem unnecessary. But business owners (big and small) should keep in mind some benefits of a more official approach to vetting future team members.
Drawbacks of ‘social-media background checks.’
It makes sense that employers would be willing to rely on social-media background checks to some degree. One of the most appealing aspects of social media is the glimpse it gives us into an individual’s personality.
If you’ve a position to fill, interviewing your candidate is a great start. No doubt you or someone in your company is well-trained in this aspect of the hiring process. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance your candidate has had his or her fair share of training as well.
An incomplete picture. In reality, an interview usually lets you see only part of the picture. Your candidate typically puts on a bit of a performance. Nothing against these prospective hires — each obviously wants to put a best foot forward. The person sitting across from you is unlikely to lie, but you can bet that individual is looking for any comment that will make you think he or she is the most attractive choice for your company.
Business leaders must be aware of this dynamic and do everything in their power to ensure they get a more robust view of each candidate. To do so, they need to access details beyond what they see on a CV or in an interview.
No dialogue. It’s tempting to rely on social-media sites for greater context. While the average person’s accounts aren’t likely to include much information relevant to employability, posts and pages can expand your understanding of the individual. Think of it as an extension of your previous interview — a follow-up with none of the dialogue.
What you learn rarely will give you any real insight into how good a person is at her or his job. And that’s assuming you can find the right person online. You’d be amazed how many people have the same name.
Curated pages. If you manage to find your candidate, you’ll very likely face a series of privacy settings that ensure you’ll learn next to nothing about the individual. Even then, bear in mind the real issue of curated pages. Forget about the extreme cases of fake profiles. People with lax privacy settings typically are very careful about what they post. Is this great for demonstrating professionalism? Sure, but it won’t make the hiring process any easier.
The issue here is a serious lack of transparency and objectivity. Potential employees can present themselves however they choose on social media, and employers have no choice but to take what they see at face value. Nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to discovering an applicant’s criminal history. This is a crucial point for many business owners, and screening efforts that don’t offer this information are incomplete at best.
Legal liability. Don’t forget the biggest issue of all: the potential for discrimination claims. Most employers are uncertain which items on social-media profiles are valid, legal grounds for making hiring or firing decisions. Privacy laws regarding online content are generally unclear. Depending on a social-media review alone can end up being quite a mess for business owners.
Why background checks remain relevant.
A real background check will give employers access to detailed data sets. In addition to current information about an applicant, companies that run background checks often retain several expunged records in their databases. Granted, this information can’t be used as grounds for hiring or firing, but it does serve to verify the unprecedented access these companies contain.
Employment history. Another benefit of background checks? They have the capacity to confirm an applicant’s employment history. These employment checks are particularly valuable to employers in intensive sectors that demand key qualifications. While this often is presented in the form of a standard criminal-record check, this component sometimes can extend into character statements and spot checks of legally accessible health records.
Employer protections. Plenty of perks come along with complete background checks, but one of the most underappreciated is the built-in protection against discrimination claims. You can use a variety of free, online tools to screen potential job candidates. But make no mistake: If you’re not familiar with the world of discrimination claims, you’re exposing your business to a potential issue. If you accidentally or unknowingly use certain information to make hiring or firing decisions, there’s a chance that applicants and employees alike can file a discrimination claim against your business.
If you’re not comfortable handling every aspect of the background-check process on your own, working with a professional service is your best bet. Not convinced you might need a helping hand? You may want to consider the long-term financial and legal consequences of missteps that could result from going it on your own.
Information acquired by self-managed social-media searches or otherwise unauthorized searches presents a minefield of potential legal issues. Laws are in place to protect both applicants and employees from discrimination. You need to be aware of these before, during and after any employment decision. Professional services have a system for properly identifying potential red flags and reporting them efficiently and promptly. Their people know exactly how they can proceed to keep them — and your company — on the right side of the law.
There’s certainly a case for checking out social-media sites to gain a better understanding of your team’s talent pool. But these social-media background checks are an incomplete way to assess applicants and can open the door to a host of issues you don’t want to deal with (and shouldn’t have to).
The stay interview is preferable to an exit interview because, in a stay interview, you ask current employees why they continue to work for your organization. At the exit interview, it’s too late to identify and solve the problems or help your exiting employee accomplish the goals he or she is leaving to obtain.
The results of a stay interview give you knowledge about what the organization can improve and how you can retain your remaining, valued employees—now.
Stay Interviews Provide Opportunities to Build Trust
The stay interview is an opportunity to build trust with employees and a chance to assess the degree of employee satisfaction and engagement that exists in a department or company. Employees prefer to work in an environment that cares to know about and understand their thoughts, needs, and feelings—especially when they see actions take place following a series of stay interviews.
Stay interviews are preferable to employee satisfaction surveys because they provide a two-way conversation and a chance to ask questions, and follow-up on ideas. They also deal with immediate employee happiness or concerns, not with how the employee felt last month or over the past quarter or the year.
You can also ask for examples that further help your understanding of the employee’s world view.
The survey frustrates employees when they are asked a large number of open-ended questions that cause them to type and type.
If you decide to conduct stay interviews with your best-performing employees, you want to approach the process carefully. If your organization has a culture that encourages open communication and employee involvement, they are an effective tool for identifying the areas that need improvement.
How to Approach Stay Interviews When Your Organization Lacks Trust
If your organization lacks trust and open communication, stay interviews may be a waste of time or worst, you may get bad answers that mislead you into making ineffective changes. Your assessment of your organization culture in areas such as staff turnover, innovation, sales per employee, employee longevity, attendance, total sales, and profitability tells you a story of whether your organization is in a position to hold stay interviews.
Your organization may need to use anonymous employee satisfaction surveys until you have had the opportunity to improve the factors that would currently make stay interviews uncomfortable for employees.
Additionally, if your organization’s climate lacks trust, you may want to participate in team building and trust building activities first. Then, when employees feel as if you are serious about improving the work environment, and they have seen changes, you can add stay interviews.
Make Stay Interviews Effective
Please note that if your organization decides to conduct stay interviews, employees will look for something to change as a result of their participation. You need to be committed to making positive changes before conducting stay interviews.
When you make changes, you need to inform employees that the changes are the result of their suggestions and responses in stay interviews. Employees will not automatically make that connection.
How to Conduct Stay Interviews
The employee’s manager should conduct the stay interviews. Human Resources staff can help with difficult interviews, but the stay interview should encourage open communication between an employee and his or her manager. The manager is the person who can most readily have an impact on the employee’s everyday working conditions.
Before conducting a stay interview, managers need training on how to conduct the interview, the questions to ask, how to build trust, and how to effectively listen.
This training will help managers approach the stay interview effectively and make the time invested more productive.
The manager may jot notes during the meeting but the focus of a stay interview should be on the conversation. The manager should actively listen and engage the employee in an open-ended conversation.
Start your stay interview with general, easy-to-answer questions. As the interview progresses, you can ask tougher questions after the ice has been broken. You don’t need to ask all of the recommended questions linked below.
Select the questions that appear to have the most utility for your organization. Unless an employee has a lot of thoughts to offer, the stay interview should take around a half hour to an hour.
When you ask an employee to participate in a stay interview, don’t expect that you can ask the employee why or if he or she is thinking of leaving as your first question. The chances are that he or she has a well-rehearsed answer that leaves no bridges burning. But, this answer won’t give you the information you need to help your organization become more attractive for employees.
After regularly conducting stay interviews, you will find the questions that yield the most useful information from your employees. As employees see their organization respond to their concerns and needs, the addition of the stay interview to the Human Resources arsenal of tools will have a positive impact on employee morale.
How to Treat the Data That You Get in Stay Interviews
If your organization decides to embark on stay interviews, HR should provide the opportunity for managers to discuss the results, share results, look for patterns across the organization, and share ideas gleaned from the employees.
Debriefing allows your organization to determine what needs to happen in individual departments and what you would be better off addressing organizationally.
Be careful not to trivialize how employees feel in your stay interviews, your department or your organization. You may agree or disagree with the views expressed, but nonetheless, they are the current reality of the employees who are participating in the stay interviews. As Tom Peters famously said, “Perception is everything.” This is an important factor in any interaction with employees.
Explaining away the responses, making excuses, or becoming defensive will also derail your process for understanding employee satisfaction and retention in your organization. And, that’s the goal, right? You want to create an organization that will retain your best employees. Stay interviews will help you accomplish this.
Sample Stay Interview Questions
You can use these sample stay interview questions to train your managers and to conduct your own stay interviews to identify what will retain your most contributing and valued current employees.