Getting a Better Job Starts by Breaking These Hiring Rules

The talent market in the U.S. is heating up. As a result companies that want to compete for the strongest talent are shifting from becoming more efficient weeding out weaker candidates to focusing on new ways to attract stronger candidates. Savvy job seekers can take advantage of this transformation by understanding how jobs are filled and why certain candidates are selected and others ignored. Here's a quick summary of my favorite ways to get a better job.

Breaking the Rules Starts By First Understanding the Rules

The best positions are in the hidden job market before the requisition is approved. As part of the typical annual budgeting process hiring managers forecast their hiring needs. Many of these jobs are filled long before the jobs are posted on job boards via internal promotions, employee referrals and networking with former co-workers. Job seekers can find jobs in this pre-public "hidden job market" by spending extra time finding companies that are accelerating their hiring needs and using the backdoor to find a connection to the hiring manager or department head.

The least best jobs are in the job market after the requisition is approved. Once a job is posted most companies require candidates to officially apply to the position. While this is not legally required most companies enforce this approach to maintain some level of legal, but artificial, fairness. What's not fair about it is that perfectly qualified candidates are filtered on how well their skills and experiences map to the contrived lists of requirements included in the posting. That's why I suggest candidates be very selective and only apply to jobs for which they're a strong match. Otherwise they'll be branded as overly zealous job seekers and less likely to be seriously considered for other jobs where they might be a good fit.

Followers are given higher priority. As part of their sourcing plans, recruiters always search their internal resume databases before a job is officially posted. That's why I advise candidates to follow companies they're interested in to get an advantage on those who apply directly.

Make sure your resume can be found. Once a job is open, recruiters search their own private database of candidates as well as the more public databases on sites like and That's why it's important to understand how recruiters conduct these searches. Most start by screening for basic skills, industry terms, job titles and company names. Those at the top of the list are given a cursory look to determine progression, general fit and comparability with the published job requirements. Awards, significant accomplishments and honors can often act as substitutes for the traditional requirements but these need to be instantly visible on the candidate's resume or LinkedIn profile.

Leverage the employee referral program. A company's best hires typically come from their employee referrals and most companies try to target at least 40% of all of their hires from these sources. More important, these candidates are considered before those candidates who apply, they're considered for more jobs and they're considered for many jobs before they're posted in the public job market. That's why candidates should spend most of their time getting referred using some of these advanced networking techniques.

Don't negotiate the offer before you're a candidate. While I could write a book on how companies should conduct the interviewing process, suffice it to say that job seekers should recognize they need to use the interview to advance the process, not negotiate the terms of an offer during the first call. That's why I suggest candidates delay any compensation discussions at least until the end of the first call. The big reason: for the strongest candidates the jobs can be adjusted to fit their career and compensation needs. (Here's a video of the performance-based interview I advocate.)

Don't answer, "What are your compensation needs?" If a recruiter asks about compensation say it depends on the job. If pushed for a range, suggest it might be better to have a serious conversation before getting into specifics. If still pushed, ask if the recruiter works other similar positions that might be higher or lower than the one currently being considered. When the recruiters says "yes," suggest that you'll be able to refer more suitable candidates if the current position isn't a fit.

In addition to the above you'll need to use advanced consultative selling skills in order to ensure you're being interviewed accurately. However, it's important to recognize that too many candidates follow the traditional hiring rules to their own detriment. As a result they miss out on opportunities that could represent the difference between an unsatisfying job and a true career move. Getting one of these better jobs starts by refocusing your efforts and breaking some rules.

7 Hiring Rules You Cannot Break to Land Top Talent

As part of a project with SHRM, I’m identifying the reasons why quality of hire has not improved over the past 20 years, despite all of the new recruiting tools and many technology advances. The purpose is to help small companies compete with their larger rivals for the same people. Following is the essence of what I discovered. As a side note, many of these ideas are described in this Performance-based Hiring video just released on

As you’ll discover in the video, the ideas are appropriate for any company, recruiter or hiring manager who wants to improve the quality of the people being seen and hired. Here are the basic principles:

1. Focus on the right goal.

The objective of any hiring initiative should be to hire the best people possible. Too many talent and HR leaders violate this guiding principle every day. Instead of maximizing quality of hire, their focus is on reducing cost and being more efficient. This leads to the Staffing Spiral of Doom Catch-22. When maximizing quality of hire is a company’s foundational talent strategy, all of the downstream processes are designed to achieve this goal.

2. Don’t ignore the law of diminishing returns.

When it comes to hiring, this law clearly states that once everyone has the same tools, everyone will get the same results. In the case of hiring it means everyone will be hiring average people for ill-defined average jobs with the only difference being the employer brand, location and compensation package. To evade the law you need to have better jobs, stronger recruiters and fully engaged hiring managers.

3. Fit the job to the person, not the person to the job.

The best people aren’t looking for lateral transfers; they’re looking for career opportunities that offer more growth, more impact, more learning and more satisfaction. I’m now working with Harvard Professor Todd Rose, the author of the new bestseller The End of Average, on this concept.

His research reveals that in order to maximize individual personal performance you need to modify the job to better fit the person. According to Rose, too many companies are still trying to force fit top people into generic jobs based on generic competencies and generic skills.

4. Messaging matters.

Your messaging needs to differentiate your job, company and culture. You achieve this by being compelling, creative and different.

I worked with a small UK marketing company last year that posted a job for an HR and Admin wizard who had mastered the fine art of chewing gum and duct tape. They hired a person who agreed to fly over on his broom. The candidate signed his email “Harry Potter.” The person has already been promoted twice and is now running one of their business units.

5. Time matters.

Slow done. Sell the conversation, not the job. Don’t filter people in or out based on their skills or negotiate the compensation before the person knows about the job and you know about the person. And don’t let your candidates filter out your jobs on these short-term factors either. Too many good people are inadvertently excluded or exclude themselves this way.

It takes hours spread over weeks for a top person to fully understand the career potential of a different job. By spending more time with fewer top people you’ll not only hire stronger people but get great referrals from those who don’t find your jobs perfect for them.

6. The leadership qualities of the hiring manager matters most.

While hiring managers hire people in their own image, recognize the reverse is also true: The best people accept jobs from those who are in their own image. Clarifying job needs up front, conducting an in-depth comprehensive interview and investing the time necessary to recruit the person are parts of how hiring managers can demonstrate their leadership skills.

7. You need to offer the best people a 30% increase.

A great career move requires a job that offers some stretch, more impact, more growth and more satisfaction. If the sum of these is greater than 30% you have the foundation for a solid career move.

This is determined by comparing the person’s current job and rate of growth to what your open job provides. You won’t be able to determine any of this unless you clarify real job needs up front, invest the time to conduct an in-depth interview, stop filtering on things that aren’t related to performance and prepare compelling messages that attract the best.

By doing what everybody else does you’ll get average results. Don’t be surprised or disappointed. Being different is how you get better results. This is how the best people find their jobs and how you need to find the best people. Following these seven principles will help you be different.