What are the six steps to hiring top talent on demand?
These days, the process of hiring top-tier talent has become a convoluted process. It requires sifting through hundreds of applicants, identifying which to proceed with (often using keyword searches), and then beginning the first of five interviews before finally hiring. While you may still find talented candidates that way, there are no more guarantees of finding the right person because you’ve put them through a few behavioral interviews. Is there a way to hire qualified and talented employees without spending so much time and energy?
Scott Wintrip eliminates hiring delays by helping organizations implement a process to fill jobs the instant they become open. He's been named by Crain’s top Staffing 100 List for five straight years. He's a member of the Million Dollar Consultant Hall of Fame, and his new book is High Velocity Hiring: How to Hire Top Talent in an Instant. I recently interviewed Scott on the LEADx Podcast to delve into the confusing world of hiring, and how we can disrupt the process. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: I’m a bit of a skeptic, because I believe top talent is hard to find, and we have to run them through a gauntlet of interviews. How am I wrong on that?
Scott Wintrip: Well, let me start with you're not alone. You said something really important there. You've got to put them through the gauntlet of interviews and that often sounds to me like a multistage process. That mindset is not uncommon. Many people equate time and effort spent on hiring with making the quality hire. That mindset goes further. It's, “Hey, if we take a lot of time, the more energy we expend, the better that hire will be.” Unfortunately, it's giving them a false sense of control and it's one of the reasons, Kevin, that two rounds of interviews grew to three, then four, and now five. Last year in one of the keynotes, I did I was having people raise their hands. I said, “So, are we still at five rounds of interviews for the same job, or has it increased?”
Somebody raised their hand and said, “Oh, no, it's six.” Just yesterday, I was talking with a CEO in London, a major telecom company, they're doing seven rounds of interviews, all in an effort to get it right.
Think about it. Taking lots of times to hire doesn't save companies from bad hires. It only saves them from one thing, from making a bad decision. They're afraid to be wrong. Look, the CEO I talked to yesterday, people who have bought into this slow-to-hire, quick-to-fire mindset, they're not bad people, they just bought into a bad idea. They're stuck on what I call “the old way of hiring”, that's keeping a job open until the right person shows up. It's created long time to fill, open seats, higher expenses, added effort, frustrated leaders, I could go on and on. This is why people need this process, need the book, because I teach the new way of hiring. It's cultivating top talent, but then you wait for the job to show up.
Kruse: You mentioned it's a six-step process. Could you summarize those for us?
Wintrip: Sure, so let's make it simple because six steps are a lot to cover in a short time. Let's actually look at it in the three phases that those six steps make up. I want to encapsulate it in three words: ‘Enrich,’ ‘Harness,’ and ‘Sustain.’ What we're enriching, harnessing, and sustaining is the flow. It's all about the flow of talent. Let's take that first phase, enriching the flow of top talent. Well, the parts of that are you've got to have a blueprint of who is the right talent, and then you've got to get a better flow of that talent coming in. In the book, I give this amazing tool called the “hire right profile,” and it's a pretty simple four-quadrant system. It's the ‘must haves,’ ‘must not haves,’ ‘pluses’ and ‘minuses.’
But it goes deep. In this one document, you've got a blueprint of who works because you're looking at who's actually worked well in your organization. Then, you take that and you go tap into more streams of talent. Most organizations are only effectively tapping into two or three talent streams. To have a strong flow, I call it ‘candidate gravity,; that pull, you've got to tap into eight streams. That sounds overwhelming to some people, but actually, it takes less effort to tap into all the different pools through eight streams than trying to find a limited pool of people through two or three.
Now, once we enrich that flow of talent, we've got to harness it, and there are a couple things we have to do there. We have to counter hiring blindness, which is the limits of our human perception. We can only see what we tend to be expecting. The unexpected, it's been proven scientifically, we can't see that. It's why pilots can actually miss unexpected things like a runway incursion. Kind of scary when you think of it. Something as mundane as hiring, of course we're going to miss things when it's outside the limits of our perception, so we've got to counter hiring blindness, and we've got conduct better interviews.
Conventional interviews don't work, including the newer form of conventional interviewing– behavioral interviews. It's all about talking about doing work versus seeing people in action. We harness talent by making sure we counter the blindness and do better interviews. Then, we sustain that because we've built a better flow. How we hire in an instant is we build an inventory, a talent inventory. Now, it'd be nice if we could just put people on a shelf, cryo-freeze them. I've always joked about that.
This kind of a next best thing, Kevin, is we just have to have a couple of people ready to go for each of our core jobs, and then we keep that tap flowing, and that rounds out the process. The organizations that have done this can either fill one, several, or many jobs in an instant, and it's really their choice. A lot of the small companies they work with, they choose to fill one core role. Some of the bigger organizations, a lot of their roles, but it's completely flexible based on the organization and how much of a commitment they want to make to hire an instant.
Kruse: You talked about eight streams for the candidate flow, are they specific like stream one is online job boards, stream two is your alumni network? What are those streams?
Wintrip: That's actually a perfect question. The eight streams include things like automation. Automation is the catchall category for things like job boards, but there's more than job boards. In fact, job boards have been over utilized probably more than any tool. Everybody has access to them, who pays for them, so you've got a whole bunch of people going after a small amount of talent. There are other kinds of automation we can add, as well. There are sourcing systems, there are resume-parsing systems that take resumes and put them into your computer and help you filter through the candidates.
But then you have other streams. There are referrals, for example, still the gold standard. We can mine our existing database, which is if an organization has file cabinets of paper or they've got a computer system; there are lots of overlooked people. Then you have something that I call ‘talent manufacturing.’ There are initiatives now where organizations and third-party providers are creating job ready candidates, because there aren't enough to go around. Then, one of my other favorite streams are talent agents, staffing and recruiting, and workforce solution companies.
Those are just a sampling of some of the eight, and here's the key on you bringing this up because it's important. Every single stream does have some overlap, so yes, you can tap into some of the same people through different streams, but one of the things I discovered in my work that I think makes it so cutting edge, is no one stream can access all of the talent. In fact, if you have two or three or four streams, which is what most companies are leveraging, you'll have a portion of the talent. To go after all of the untapped pools, all of the people that could possibly fit your jobs to be able to hire in an instant, to have a surplus of candidates, they have to tap into all eight.
Kruse: Is there any bias towards active candidates vs. passive candidates? Do you ever say, “Hey Scott, we want to put you into our talent pool,” and Scott says, “Well, you don't even have an open job right now. I ain't wasting my time on that,”?
Wintrip: Yeah. That's one of the first things the really savvy people get this one, because they're thinking, “Well, why would somebody who has lots of options want to be having a conversation about something that doesn't yet exist?” It's a great question. Well, let's look at it this way. Top talent, that's who we really want to work for us, the best talented people out there, the people who fit our roles, they have options. They have more jobs than they could ever take. They've seen how most companies hire. Most companies wait until a job's open and then cast a wide net, and then when they can't fill that job, they keep casting the net and keep casting the net, and it makes them look desperate. It makes them look as an organization like an undesirable place to work.
Versus if I'm a hiring manager and I'm introduced to you, you were a referral, I could say, “Kevin, I look ahead. I look for top talent who could maybe join us now, in the near future, or the distant future, who want to have options when that time comes. Based on what I heard, I think you could be one of those people where I could be an option for you in the future. How about we spend a couple minutes seeing if that makes sense for both of us?” To me, that's a bit of an intelligence test for that candidate. If a candidate passes me up on that, they're probably not top talent. Talented people like options.
They know that tomorrow they could get the pink slip. They know that things change in an instant, and they like to have options. This approach enrolls savvy people in wanting to be part of an organization because they've planned ahead, and they're also talking to an organization that plans ahead versus flying by the seat of their pants.
Kruse: This reminds me of Doug Conant, the former CEO of Campbell Soup. He would reserve one night a week to meet with top talent. He would ask around, “Who's the best CFOs that you know in our industry? Who are the best heads of IT?”
Wintrip: This reminds me of a global hotelier that I worked with, and worked with the corporate office, and we worked with the properties as well. They did something very similar. It was a corporate mandate from the top down that everybody engage in regular talent blitzes, and they would do it at the departmental level. The way it would work was at the same time, or split time if there was a coverage issue, people would invest a chunk of time while on the clock to sourcing talent.
Here's the thing they did that I thought was most savvy. They would source talent, each individual for their own roles. They engaged in something I called a ‘rising tide of talent.’ Because you know this, you've been in the corporate world for a long time, you work with a lot of prominent companies. You've met leaders I'm sure, and they're often newer leaders or middle management where they're stuck. It's not because of talent, it's because the company needs them too much. The company can't promote them because there's nobody to take their place. This hotelier solved this problem because they enrolled people in the idea that, “You're promotable when we no longer need you and you're ready for your next role.”
They were very easily able to enroll people to do this, but you want to talk about a talent pipeline, because everybody was taking part. They also knew something else. Hiring is not an HR function, nor is it a talent acquisition function, if that department exists. It is a leadership function that is done in collaboration with HR, talent acquisition or staffing providers. When viewed at that light, savvy people like your example are always lining up talent before they need it.
Kruse: I see behavioral interviewing everywhere, and I don’t find it particularly effective. What is experiential interviewing all about?
Wintrip: Well, let me throw this out first. When we're done chatting today, go do a search and for everybody who's listening, go to Google and just type in the words “beating the behavioral interview,” and notice how many articles, books, podcasts, you name it there are on this topic. People learn to game that system. Why are they gaming that system? Because behavioral interviews are still talking about doing work versus doing work. Look, conventional interviews don't work, behavioral interviews are one of those, because talking about doing something is a poor indicator of whether or not somebody can actually do it.
I have always said that candidates do something I refer to as the ‘tell, sell, and swell.’ It's a form of selling; they're selling themselves. They tell the interviewer what they think the interviewer wants to hear. They sell best parts of their background, and they swell the ego, and look, I'm not saying that candidates for the most part are being openly deceptive. Sure, some are. It's normal, it's human that you're going to put your best self forward. I don't believe in letting somebody sell me on just the parts of themselves they're willing to share. I want to see proof, not promises.
I don't want words, I want action. How my experiential interview works is you experience the candidate doing work. After you look at their resume, you compare it to that hire right profile I talked about in the enriching process, and you determine who's worth talking to on the phone. Then, you talk to them, have a brief conversation, and you just briefly talk about things, looking for more indicators that they have those must haves, those deal makers. Then, you have a hands-on interview. That's all an experiential interview is, and to help, everybody listening, you could go do this tomorrow if you just remember three words: ‘see,’ ‘hear,’ and ‘experience.’
That's what you're doing in a hands-on portion of an experiential interview. You're looking for proof of fit. You've got to see it to believe it. Then, you want to hear how the person fits in. Sure, that starts during that phone screening, but then it continues in a face-to-face conversation. Hear how they fit. Do they fit your culture? Then, have them do sample work and you get to experience the quality of them doing that work. We've actually stacked this side by side with behavioral interviews and noticed two interesting things. A hands-on interview like this, the experiential interview takes a quarter of the time, because behavior interviews are long and drawn out because you have to draw out all these details.
The accuracy is so stunning. The hiring managers who've engaged in this have said, “I could see it myself,” versus the behavioral interviewer who says, “Gee, I'm not quite sure. I've got to ask more questions.” Therein lies the problem: seeing is believing; talk is cheap. And both of those statements have persisted for a long time because they're both true.
Kruse: I like to challenge our listeners to get at least 1% better every single day. Based on your work, what is something that you want to challenge all of our listeners to do today?
Wintrip: Well, you know I love this question. Everybody can improve something by 1% every single day. My advice is to increase your flow by 1%. Now, what does that mean? Well, we've got listeners here who are in different places. For some, they don't have a pipeline of talent. Maybe it's a middle manager who they're really good in their career but they've always relied on other people to source talent for them. Their 1% could be asking for a referral today, then again tomorrow. Then two more the day after.
For them, that's increasing the flow substantially. Now, for somebody who maybe has been sourcing referrals, they've got a great network, they're on social media, they go to networking events. They could be increasing their flow of interviews every day, or an email to set up a conversation, and maybe eventually one interview a week. Look, if you just simply ramp up what you do, I equate this often to weightlifting. You build strength by increasing the weight incrementally.
If you increase your flow 1% of talent every day, of each of the different stages in hiring, before you know it, you're going to be lifting like a champ when it comes to interview. You will be bench pressing talent, so to speak, in ways that you never thought possible. You'll have that talent inventory and then you can hire in an instant.
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.