Whenever a hiring manager needs to see more than 4-5 people before hiring someone, there's a problem.
This problem existed long before job boards and LinkedIn came along.
And it still exists and there's no diet-pill easy solution.
I first confronted the problem in the early '80s as a rookie recruiter. Since my previous experience was in engineering, manufacturing and cost controls, I decided to do something about the "too many people needed to be seen before hiring someone problem." It started by putting together a prioritized list of the reasons why hiring managers needed to see too many hiring mistakes.
To start I found 15 hiring managers who were willing to try out different ideas to eliminate the problem. It took a while but we succeeded. We not only figured out techniques to keep the maximum number of candidates seen to about 3-4, but in the process something else remarkable happened - hiring mistakes dropped to nearly zero, interviewing accuracy increased dramatically and quality of hire soared.
In essence the problem had to do with the proverbial, "If you don't know what you're looking for, you'll never know when you have found it."
But before getting to the end of the story, here's the beginning:
Most hiring managers wouldn't see and couldn't hire the best people since they over spec'd the job and assessed the wrong skill set.
Long before I became a recruiter I learned that the best people were promoted based on their ability to successfully tackle tough problems irrespective of their years of experience. Based on this concept I started asking hiring managers what people in the open job needed to do or accomplish in order to be considered successful. As part of this I asked them if they would meet candidates who had a track record of comparable accomplishments even if they had a different mix of skills and experiences than initially listed. Very few disagreed.
The assessment was non-traditional, too. I asked the hiring manager to dig into the person's comparable accomplishments to determine competency, fit and motivation. When these performance qualified people were hired, quality of hire and job satisfaction increased, interviews per hire declined and interviewing accuracy improved. As important, diversity hiring increased since the artificial skills and experience barriers-to-entry were removed.
The best people always wanted more money than the budget.
Finding A-level talent with all of the requisite skills and experience was an impossibility within the salary constraints typically offered. After a few years of trying to negotiate compensation, I changed focus and proactively sourced people who would see the job as a career move rather than a lateral transfer. For example, we targeted people who would see the title as better or that a shift to the company would accelerate their growth or the actual work content was more satisfying. By defining the work as a series of performance objectives it was much easier for these A-level candidates to evaluate the job based more on what they would be doing, learning and becoming rather than the increase in compensation they'd be getting.
Switching to a long-term career focus became a classic win-win-win for the hiring manager, the candidate and the recruiter. I refer to this as the 30% solution - giving new hires a combined 30% increase consisting of job stretch, more impact, faster growth and more satisfaction.
The best candidates weren't overtly or actively looking for another job.
After a few years recruiting staff-level professionals and managers, I discovered that the ideal candidate was someone who was very talented and had just started looking for another job. I refer to these people as tiptoers. By building a deep network of people in my search area specialty I soon got regular referrals of talented people at the moment they started looking.
However, there were never enough of these tiptoers to go around. So as part of completing a search project I would contact people in my network and ask them to tell me about the best people they knew who were not looking. I then contacted and recruited these candidates by suggesting we just talk to see if one of the open positions I was handling offered a 30% non-monetary increase. If the spot wasn't perfect for them I'd then get referrals of the best people they knew who also weren't looking.
Use a Less is More Approach to improve Quality of Hire
Sourcing is the diet pill of hiring. It might feel good for awhile, but the long term results are rarely satisfying. Hiring better people takes hard work. I make the contention that less sourcing and more recruiting is the work needed - better jobs, more engaged hiring managers and stronger recruiters. The idea is to spend more time with fewer higher quality candidates. Above all, remember that, "If you don't know what you're looking for, you'll never know when you have found it."
I was working with a group of recruiters last week and I asked them how they’d handle some common candidate questions particularly, “What’s the compensation?” Whether you’re on the asking or receiving end of this question, responding properly is important.
The problem is that the question is a trap. And so is the answer.
Because if you answer it incorrectly the conversation will end. In this case, the best answer is a non-answer.
If you’re the recruiter, here’s one great non-answer:
Let’s be frank. If the job doesn’t represent a career move it doesn’t matter what we pay you because you’ll soon be unhappy. So let’s first figure out if the job is a career opportunity and then we’ll see if the pay works.
But there’s an even better non-answer that reveals the candidate’s underlying drivers of personal satisfaction.
So let’s get personal for a moment. I’d like you to role play your answer with me.
Imagine I’m a recruiter who contacts you and asks you if you’d be open to explore a situation if it represented a true career opportunity. You say, “Maybe,” but first ask, “What’s the compensation?”
But rather than answer it, I say something like the following. (Put your reaction and response in the comments below. They’ll help you and everyone else get a perspective on what’s important.)
Our company is known for being extremely competitive on the compensation side but before we get into the details I’d like to ask you a slightly different question. Think about the best job you’ve ever had. A job you truly enjoyed. A position you actually looked forward to going to on Monday mornings. Was your high degree of personal satisfaction attributed to the money you were being paid or the work you were doing? If it was the work, what about it was most satisfying?
As you can see below, few people said it was the money.
Most say it was the work itself or the importance of the work or the people they were doing it with or their boss or the company or the culture. Rarely do they say it was the money.
A personal example might help clarify the concept. My first job (long, long ago) was on an engineering project team designing missile guidance systems. At 22 I thought it was a pretty cool job but the older engineers on the team found it uninteresting and unsatisfying and as a result put in minimal effort. As I quickly learned, most of these same engineers had been recently transferred from the Apollo moon landing project. They told me they found this work inspiring and as a result worked 70-80 hours a weeks for five straight years and loved it. What I learned was that putting a man on the moon not only inspired the nation but also everyone who worked on the project. Surprisingly, it turned out the work was exactly the same as they were currently doing but the mission was different. I learned long ago that the mission and purpose of work matters when it comes to motivating people. It still does.
So what work inspires you? What’s the inner purpose that drives you? For some people it is the mission or the project. For others it’s the chance to learn something new. For some it’s helping others. Whatever it is you need to know it about yourself before taking another job and you need to know it about someone before hiring the person.
Being competent to do the work is never enough; being motivated to do it is what matters most.
Here’s one way to figure this out before you hire anyone ever again. During the performance-based interview process I use, I ask candidates to describe their major team and individual accomplishments at each of their past few jobs. (This technique is summarized in the Lynda.com video course summarized below.)
As I dig into each of the person’s major accomplishments I ask where the person proactively took the initiative or went the extra mile or volunteered to take on projects without being asked. A pattern soon emerges. Some want to be left alone to handle tough technical problems. Others want to handle challenging business issues or enjoy getting involved with teams or coaching others. Whatever drives people to excel is revealed by this type of fact-finding. Of course, and not surprisingly, these internal motivators usually correlate highly with what the person described initially as their most satisfying job.
So if you want to hire more highly motivated people, make sure the work you’re offering matches their natural motivators. And if it does, pay them whatever they need.
That’s why you can’t ever answer, “What’s the compensation?” before you know what motivates the person to excel. Because if you answer it incorrectly, you’ll never know.
Imagine a passive candidate says, “Show me the money,” as a precondition to talk about a job opening. Actually, I assume that’s a pretty familiar scenario for most of you.
Now, what will happen if you respond with the paragraph below? What do you think the candidate will say?
Before I get into the compensation, I’d like to ask you a question. First, think about the best job you’ve ever had. One that was extremely satisfying where time just flew by. Why was it the best job and why did you like it so much? (Pause) Was your satisfaction due to the money you were making or something else? If it was the money why was it the money and if it was something else what was it?
Most people will say “something else.” Usually better growth opportunity, more exciting work, a stronger company or something about the people or manager. A few will say it was the money but even then there was something about the work the person found motivating.
Regardless of what they say, ask, “I’m not sure my open position will offer this level of personal satisfaction but wouldn’t it make sense to talk for 5-10 minutes to see if it does? Worst case we can network and stay in touch until something like this comes along.”
Why this tactic works almost without a fail and why it’s important to use it
If you’ve been a recruiter, hiring manager or HR person more than a few months you’ve encountered the problem of not having enough money to hire the best people.
However, if you ask the most satisfied people in your company what motivates them to excel it’s rarely the money. More important, if you ask the best people in your company who were hired in the past year and continue to thoroughly enjoy their work you’ll also discover it’s not due to the money they’re making. It’s likely the work they’re doing, the people they’re doing it with, their hiring manager or the company mission or culture. Or all or some of them.
Many of these people also took the job for less money than they initially wanted. If you find this hard to believe, just ask these same people to rank order the criteria they used to accept your company’s offer. You’ll find compensation is typically in the middle of the list and the factors related to the actual work, the growth opportunity and the people are at the top.
Now ask them and every passive candidate you’ve ever spoken to or any active candidate who wasn’t desperate to get another job what their criteria was to engage in a conversation. Typically it was the money, company, title and location.
Now compare the two lists of the criteria the person used to accept the job and the criteria he/she used to engage in a conversation. The former is about what the person will be doing, learning and becoming and who he/she will be doing it with. The latter is about what he/she will be getting on the start date.
The problem with most recruiters and hiring managers is that they only consider people who pass the “what they get on day 1 filter” before they even discuss the “what they’ll be doing, learning and becoming” acceptance criteria. This narrow-minded approach eliminates everyone from consideration who actually cares less about what they get on day 1 if what they’ll be doing, learning and becoming represents a true career move.
That’s why recruiters and hiring managers need to put compensation in the parking lot as soon as you start the conversation otherwise you’ll never have the conversation.
Other techniques for moving the conversation away from compensation
One way is to use the above questioning technique (“What was the best job you ever had?”) whenever a passive candidate asks, “What’s the compensation?” as a precondition for discussing a job.
Here’s another one I call the “end game” technique:
“Let’s be perfectly frank, if the job doesn’t represent a career move, you wouldn’t or shouldn’t accept an offer from us regardless of the compensation. So let’s first see if the job has the potential to be a career move for you, and, if so, we can schedule another more in-depth conversation.”
Or try the “multi-search” approach:
“I’m leading a search for a number of positions in (mention the function) from mid-level staff to senior management. If one of them represented a career move would you be able to chat for a few minutes?” Since you have multiple positions open, it’s hard for the person to ask about the compensation. If the person does ask, just say, “If you’re the right person for one of these jobs it’s hard to believe we couldn’t offer a very aggressive compensation package. Once we figure out if one of the jobs makes career sense we can discuss the compensation range.”
The point of all of this is to put compensation in the parking lot at the beginning of the first conversation. This allows you to discuss the factors candidates use to accept an offer rather than be filtered out by factors that are negotiable or are less important if the job is a true career move. Mastering this technique is essential for recruiting passive candidates. It’s also essential for networking with the person if you or the person discovers your job is not a true career move.
Being slightly underpaid is the nonintuitive career management technique for more rapid growth. It could very well be Stephen Covey's eighth habit of highly successful people.
Compensation growth must follow performance, not lead it.
Being overpaid for the work you do is not good. It will stunt your career growth. Recruiters will screen you out before they even get to know you. People who do know you will call you less frequently, even for jobs you're fully capable of handling. You won't even be given the opportunity to talk or negotiate an offer. The glass ceiling for those in their early- or mid-career stage is not gender, it's compensation.
In fact, I would say those who are underpaid have more career opportunities than those who are overpaid. So rejoice. Being slightly underpaid is a great situation. It offers more options to maximize your career growth. In the long run, this is how you maximize your total compensation. Compensation growth must follow performance, not lead it. This should be Stephen's Covey's eighth habit of highly successful people.
In my 35-plus years in recruiting, I have personally negotiated more than 500 offers, and advised on about 500 others. In most cases, the company was rarely willing to pay what the candidate thought he or she wanted. Yet, I closed most of them within the budget range. Even better, the candidates never felt short-changed, and in the long run it was the right decision.
Whether you're a recruiter, hiring manager, or candidate, take heed: It's always better to be underpaid. Here's why, and how I advise candidates to think about compensation when they're negotiating an offer:
- If you're overpaid, everyone will expect more of you. Consistent great performance will be anticipated, every mistake will be magnified, and raises will be minimal to get you back within the range.
- There won't be a honeymoon period. In your new job, you'll be under a lot of unnecessary pressure during the learning and ramp-up period. It will be impossible to deliver, since everyone assumes you already know everything.
- You've unnecessarily burned bridges that don't need burning. Getting a salary premium beyond the normal range always requires the hiring manager, the recruiter, and the hiring manager's boss to make a special deal with HR and compensation. They'll get lots of heat for this, and if you don't deliver right away, they won't be able to cover for you, nor will they want to.
- Bigger jobs will be few and far between. Since it will be very difficult to achieve the unfair and inflated performance objectives, promotions are less likely, and your salary will put you out of the range of other inside opportunities. If you decide to leave, recruiters will screen you out since your compensation is above what's available.
Slower long-term growth is what happens when candidates unknowingly pursue a short-term compensation maximization strategy. Instead, I advise candidates to consider a career maximization strategy. (Here's the full manual and the videoversion.) The idea behind this is to select jobs that offer the most upside potential, rather than those that offer the most money. If you're a candidate, fight for a bigger job, an earlier review based on your performance, and a chance to be visible. When a recruiter calls, never ask first about the compensation. Instead, ask about the job, who it reports to, the challenges involved, and how these relate to a bigger project or the company strategy. When comparing offers, including a counteroffers, don't go for the bigger bucks, no matter how big; go for the job with the biggest upside potential.
Just before getting ready to negotiate the offer, I ask my candidates if they really want the job, regardless of the compensation. If the answer is no, I stop right there. You should, too. If you don't want the job and you're taking it only for the money, you'll be disappointed. In the long run, a career maximization strategy will also maximize your compensation. Compensation growth must follow performance. It must never lead it.