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Common Errors When Attracting Top Talent

To find the best fit for your open positions, start by avoiding these common mistakes.

Assuming that active approaches will also attract “not-looking” prospects. Active job­seekers will likely find your open jobs without any extraordinary effort on your part. Typical active sourcing approaches like job boards, newspaper ads, “We’re Hiring” signs, and career fairs will successfully attract and get them to apply. But sometimes the most valuable—and by far the hardest to recruit—prospects are those top performers who are currently employed. These pros­pects are often employed at one of your competitors. And because they are top performers and innovators, they are likely already treated well, so they may not even look at a position announce­ment. Some call them “passives,” but a more accurate name would be not-looking prospects.

Not-looking prospects only make up the top 10 percent of the workforce, but despite their small numbers, they are the most valuable ones to target. And if you want to be successful, you must design your approaches specifically for them. Traditional efforts will not work. Some of the best not-looking approaches don’t involve recruiters, including employee referrals, technical discussions at conferences, and online and social media posts that focus on learning and becom­ing a better professional. And it almost always takes building a nonrecruiting relationship first before you can ever mention an open job at your organization to them.

Using dull position descriptions. Even iconic recruiting functions like the one at Google have realized that dull job descriptions will drive away top prospects that you like but that are not in­terested in this particular job. Get someone in marketing to help you rewrite the job descriptions so that the exciting aspects of the job are featured prominently. Be aware that you may actually have to improve the job itself, in order to attract top prospects. 

Not knowing the advantages you have to offer. To maximize your effectiveness in convincing top prospects to apply, compile a complete list of the positive things that your job and team pos­sess. As a result, it’s important to survey your current and past employees and ask them to identify the most outstanding features. Since stories are the best way to convince, encourage your recruit­ers, managers, and employees to know and repeat compelling stories that can help sell your job. 

Requiring an up-to-date resume to apply. Most not-looking prospects will be reluctant to update their resume, so requiring an up-to-date resume may dramatically reduce both the number and the quality of your applicants. Instead, consider accepting a LinkedIn profile for at least the initial application. 

Not asking managers to call prospects. At many organizations, hiring managers avoid getting involved in the hiring process until the interviews begin. That reluctance can cost you because the most effective convincing approach is having the actual team manager directly call top prospects to discuss the position. 


Failing to fully use LinkedIn to find names. Many hiring managers who haven’t kept up with social media fail to grasp the value of LinkedIn for finding top talent. Top organizations like Google use it, and so should all good recruiters and hiring managers. LinkedIn is full of top per­formers who are not actively looking, and their profiles make it easy to assess their capabilities and identify anniversary dates and the organizations they have worked at previously. 

Underleveraging employee referrals. Employee refer­rals routinely produce the highest quality hires—those who perform the best on the job and stay the longest—of any talent attraction approach. Organizations with modern referral programs generate nearly half of their hires from employee referrals. Referrals excel at convincing because employees who provide stories about the organization are the most effective salespeople. 

Note: This article is excerpted from the ATD Talent Management Handbook.


© 2015 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.


About the Author
With more than 25 years as a senior leader in talent management, performance improvement, talent development, and learning innovation, Terry Bickham is talent director and chief learning officer for federal, global, and industry development for the Deloitte U.S. firms. Bickham leads the creation and delivery of the full range of learning and development solutions that prepare Deloitte’s practitioners with the industry insight that matters to clients. He also serves as the U.S. talent representative on several Deloitte global talent and learning councils. He was a key member of the Deloitte University project team and led the design of the learning experience and development operations at Deloitte’s leadership center in Westlake, Texas.    A retired U.S. Coast Guard Officer, he is passionate about supporting military veterans. He is the dean for Deloitte’s highly successful CORE Leadership Program for transitioning military members.    Before joining Deloitte in 2006, Bickham was a senior executive with the U.S. government, having served as the chief learning officer at the Library of Congress and as the assistant administrator for workforce performance and training at the Transportation Security Administration. As a Coast Guard officer, he commanded units both afloat and ashore and served in several learning and development leadership roles.    Bickham has been a frequent presenter and keynote speaker at talent development conferences. He has been published in leading professional publications and profiled on the cover of CLO Magazine. He is a graduate of the U. S. Coast Guard Academy and holds graduate degrees in education and human development from San Diego State University and George Washington University.
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