Recruiting Top Talent Is Easier Than You Might Think

Hiring is your most important job, however, most executives have it all wrong. They think they have developed a smart process and they know what they are doing, but that process is dated and mostly ineffective in trying to win over the happily employed candidate. After all, successful recruiting is not a science but an art. You can make candidates jump through all of the appropriate hoops, but in the end the interview process only shows you a couple things:

  • It shows you who is the best interviewer (perhaps who was coached the best or who is the most desperate)
  • It will give you a small understanding of the potential cultural fit but not enough to make a decision on by itself.
  • It will give you the opportunity to hear their rehearsed version of their philosophy and what they can do for you in the future.

If you pick up on some cynicism it’s because the most important thing to remember is that you are only “dating” the person at this point. You have yet to see the ugly side of them when they haven’t had enough sleep or how they react to bad news. Do they accept responsibility or make excuses? Are they an engaging leader and diligent worker? Only time will tell.

Many of you have hired a lot of people throughout your career, perhaps even hundreds but I would suggest that your previous experience does very little to ensure your next hire will be successful.


Your hiring process plays a part in being able to successfully attract and ultimately hire a candidate, however, the process is usually constructed backwards. You start with an initial screening call to test the candidate’s interest. Then the candidate moves to a phone call with a hiring manager that is trying to ensure the candidate has the right qualifications and they aren’t wasting their time. Once they are convinced this is a viable candidate you invite them out to the company headquarters for an in-person interview with the senior management team.

The reason most hiring processes go this way is because it is a game of chicken. The hiring manager feels like they have something special to offer and want to see tangible evidence that the candidate is, in fact, interested in the position and they are not wasting their time. Likewise, the happily employed candidate is being guarded in their investment of time and energy into exploring an opportunity they may or may not see as the appropriate next step in their career.

The entity that benefits the most from the contributions of a successful employee is the company. You must take it upon yourself to use the early part of the process to attract a good candidate and help them see the vision of what they have the opportunity to be a part of. Once they see it, I assure you they will be eager to impress you with their skills and dedication. If you don’t impress them, you may be missing on the best candidate. If you do properly engage them, you will see a passive candidate turn into a determined prospect that wants to win you over.

The Most Impactful Question

In my experience of interviewing and recruiting senior level people I have become insistent on the fact that there is one line of questioning that is far more telling than anything else you can ask during the hiring process. The question is… Why?

The focus of the question relates to why someone decided to leave any given position and why did they accept the position they went to next. This line of conversation will help you understand perhaps the most important characteristic of any new hire, how they make decisions. They say the best way to predict future performance is to look at past achievements. Are they an emotional decision maker, do they think the world is out to get them, or were they reasonable and thoughtful.

I personally take candidates through this line of questioning for every single position they have had in the relevant portion of their career. I look for trends. It doesn’t always tell the entire story but it is incumbent upon you to know your industry. Do the reasons make sense? Can you follow the logic? If not, then you should use your industry relationships to corroborate their story.

If an answer they give doesn’t make sense, challenge them on it. See how they respond to you digging deeper. This will give you glimpses of how they handle themselves in pressure situations. Do they become defensive or lack the ability to articulate in a clear way what they are trying to communicate?

What should you be listening for?

Well there are endless possibilities. I have found out so much about candidates during this exercise. As an example, if I am working for a start-up company and find that at each previous spot the candidate felt less than properly supported, that will throw up a red flag. Why did they not feel properly supported? You can’t get less supported that in a start-up.

What if they always say the company had a flawed strategy that held them back from sustained success? That’s also very telling. That should take your conversation down the path of…Why? What was it flawed? What would you have done differently?  If you know your industry well, you will know quickly if you agree or not.

The most important thing to remember during this conversation is that you are trying to find out their motivations not their circumstances. If you can learn in a quick way to motivate this person, you will know if they are a good fit in your organization.

How do you get transparency? 

Transparency is not given it is earned.  You must be transparent in your conversation and they will often reciprocate. Good candidates will do their homework on you and your company during their due diligence process. By being unafraid to acknowledge the challenges your company faces you will get them to lower the walls on who they are and what they have experienced.

Another way to increase transparency is to know your market. Know the companies and do homework on them. This is an ongoing yet often overlooked part of the job you hold. If you know your competitors, you will be properly prepared to identify a statement that doesn’t make sense.


It has been said, “every single problem or challenge a company faces can be answered with a person.” Hiring talent and minimizing turnover are the key elements to whether or not a company will be successful or not. Be willing to make bold moves if the opportunity presents itself, but most of all, ask why and listen!


– Josh Sandberg

Originally Published 01/26/2015