The Systemic Problem in Recruiting Top Performers

How many times have you heard one of the following statements from hiring managers?

  • “I want top performers.”
  • “I want to hire a star.”
  • “I am looking for an A-player.”

And then very shortly later hearing something along the lines of the following:

  • “I am looking for someone who has been there and done that.”
  • “I need someone who can hit the ground running.”
  • “this candidate hasn't been in this kind of position before.”

It seems few are willing to point out that these are two mutually exclusive statements.  Allowing hiring managers to continue thinking these are not conflicting statements is the cause of problems in recruiting that which they seek.

In the off-chance that you think these statements are not in conflict, let us analyze what the statements are saying.

Wanting someone who has been there and done that, someone who can hit the ground running, and basically been in that kind of position before doing exactly what the hiring manager is looking to have done…is looking for someone willing and happy to continue to do what they have been doing (and already mastered).

On the other hand, the top performer/star/A-player is probably looking for a promotion or basically get into a position to learn new skills.  They are looking for job stretch and job growth.  They are probably looking because they are bored in their current roles because they have mastered the position already and the related skills.  They are looking for new challenges and to do things they have not done before.

In fact, if hiring managers can not understand this, they are probably not a top performer/star/A-player themselves…and therefore there is another obstacle to hiring top performers/stars/A-players.  Because top performers/stars/A-players want to work for other top performers/stars/A-players.

The mind set of a top performer/star/A-player is different that those who are not.  Their needs must be met – usually the challenge and learning – or they are not happy and become disengaged.  They don’t want to do exactly what they have been doing.

But I see repeatedly…in many different kinds of companies…the same mistake of treating top performers/stars/A-players the same as everyone else and not really bothering to care about their needs.  Instead, hiring managers continue to look for the peg that fits perfectly into their hole on their team…with little thought that if it is too good a fit for the candidate’s past experience, a top performer/star/A-player would not be interested because he or she would be bored.

If you want to hire top performers/stars/A-players, then you need room for this person to grow (i.e. they won’t have all the experience already) and therefore you must be willing to take chances on people.

I have been seeing hiring managers take less and less risks.  This is fueling the trend for asking for people who have “been there and done that.”  It is causing hiring managers to not want to consider someone without all the skills upfront.  They don’t want to trust that the candidate can learn it quickly on their own or might be able to handle it without having done it before.

Don’t you see how this closes the door to top performers/stars/A-players who are looking for new challenges rather than continuing in a job they have mastered already?

If your company declares that they want the best talent…that they want top performers/stars/A-players…then fundamentally that means we need to take chances on our hires and we need to consider hiring people who don’t have it all already.  Maybe they haven’t exactly done the job before or had some of those responsibilities, but that is why they are interested.

All through my careers as a recruiter, I have continued to hear people say they want the top talent…but we are moving further and further away from the practices and hiring philosophy that would allow us to attract and hire the top talent.

If we really want to hire top performers/stars/A-players, then we have to see how top performers/stars/A-players are different than most other applicants.  They are looking to do something different, not get another position doing what they have been doing.  We have to accept the risk associated with hiring candidates that have not been there and done that yet.



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Eric Putkonen is a public speaker / presenter and he is passionate about recruiting / talent acquisition & retention, culture & employment brand, engagement, and leadership (which affects all of the prior). 

Views: 474

Comment by Tiffany Branch on August 16, 2016 at 12:27pm

Thank you.

Comment by Bill Schultz on August 16, 2016 at 6:50pm

I think everyone's version of A player is different.  It's the recruiter's job to ferret out the best match for the organization.  I wouldn't butt heads with a hiring manager who says "I only hire A players" unless they start rejecting folks that I feel are good matches.


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