The best people are very discriminating, and those with multiple opportunities are not comparing your job to no job; they’re comparing your job to other comparable and competitive positions.

In a blog post last week I was high on the Lakers’ approach to hiring until the results were known. They got 80% right, but couldn’t close the deal. LaMarcus Aldridge was targeted as their next big man to help return the luster to this once storied basketball franchise. Instead he went to the Spurs for the same money but a better career move.

Like so many managers who can’t attract the best talent, the Lakers have a recruiting problem. They talk too much, don’t understand the candidates’ motivating needs and sold the sizzle, not the substance of the job. Whether it’s basketball or any other important job, when a hot prospect has multiple opportunities, recruiting matters.

Every manager who wants to hire a top person can learn some valuable lessons from the Lakers’ inability to land a top player. Here are a few you might want to consider.

Use a consultative recruiting approach for hiring.

Recruiting the best active and passive candidates is equivalent to solution selling. This involves the sales rep (the recruiter and hiring manager team) conducting customer needs analysis as part of the discovery process and, based on the findings, crafting a competitive proposal. In the case of a candidate for a job, it’s a great career move and one that’s superior to the competition.

Stop the selling and start listening. Hard. 

When you first meet a prospect, determine what the person is looking for before selling the open job. Hiring the best person for any job is a consultative recruiting process, not a transaction. Forget the employer branding sizzle and the generic hyperbole. The best people are very discriminating, and those with multiple opportunities are not comparing your job to no job; they’re comparing your job to other comparable and competitive positions.

Start with an exploratory career conversation.

If the person is not actively looking for another job, start the recruiting conversation with a potential prospect with something like, “Would you be open to chat about a career opportunity if it were superior to your current situation?” Most people will say yes. Sell the conversation, not your open job. This is a lot less threatening, more professional and far more appropriate when dealing with passive candidates.

Put the vision statement into the initial high-level overview.

When a person says they’re willing to discuss a possible career opportunity, don’t describe your open position with details and jargon. Instead, provide a one-minute high-level overview of the position including its purpose, why it's open and how the job relates to an important project or company initiative. When a job is part of an important mission candidate interest increases, since this is what drives on-the-job satisfaction and motivation.

Conduct a 10-minute needs analysis by getting the candidate to talk first.

Once some basic interest is established, don’t go into sales mode; ask lots of questions instead. Find out the candidate’s job hunting status and ask the candidate to describe his or her current job, some of the big projects worked on and what he/she likes most and least. As part of this, look for gaps between what the person is doing and what your job offers. You need to find 4-5 factors that collectively represent a potential career opportunity which sets up the next step.

Establish a 30% non-monetary increase as the threshold for a career move.

Aside from compensation, the big differentiators for a person with multiple opportunities are job stretch (a bigger job with more impact), job satisfaction (doing work the person finds more intrinsically motivating), and job growth. Mention to the candidate that for a job to represent a career move the sum of these factors needs to be at least 30%. This is referred to as the opportunity gap. Then describe the 4-5 factors areas you believe meet this threshold and suggest another meeting to get more information.

Put money in the parking lot.

Don’t negotiate the job before it’s fully understood. Too many candidates and recruiters alike filter each other in and out by discussing compensation before they’re willing to get into specifics about the job or reveal too much about themselves. If a candidate asks me about compensation too soon, I just suggest we should first see if the job represents a career move, then we’ll see if the compensation is appropriate. If the non-monetary factors are over 30%, compensation becomes much less important.

There’s more to recruiting top prospects than what’s described here but what’s described here will set the stage for what comes next. Hiring managers need to recognize their role in recruiting top candidates. It starts by understanding real job needs, understanding the candidate’s motivating needs and crafting a career solution. It doesn’t happen by force-fitting a person into some ill-defined job and hoping for the best.

This is what the Lakers tried to do, and failed. If you’re a hiring manager or a recruiter, the Lakers’ approach will fail for you, too.