You Never Need to Compromise Quality, Speed or Cost of Hire – Here is How to Win at All Three

A few weeks ago I was talking to the CEO of a $250 million business looking for a CFO. He started the meeting complaining that the recruiters he’s used in the past always try to talk him into compromising on the quality of candidates they present. I met this CEO through the head of a private equity firm where I’m now helping them interview CEO candidates for a major new company. The Chairman of the group also complained that the quality of the candidates they had been seeing from a major executive search firm were all over the map.

So when I read a post on this blog advising recruiters to discuss with hiring managers the trade offs between quality, speed, and cost in the candidate search process – I had to take a pause. I have been recruiting 40+ years and I am a firm believer that there don’t need to be any trade offs between these core metrics. It is possible for a good recruiter to achieve all three given the right strategy. Here is how it’s done:

Maximize quality of hire by redefining success

Of course, the root cause problem is that recruiting top tier candidates is not possible using traditional job descriptions. So you need to convince hiring managers to put these aside during the intake meeting. It’s common knowledge that skills, experiences and competencies have been shown to be weak predictors of on-the-job performance. If you know a top performer who has been promoted, you have all of the proof you need to agree on this point. The reason people are promoted has little to do with their skills and experiences and all to do with their successful performance and ability to learn. So rather than use a “pick two out of three” approach, it’s better to redefine how performance is measured.

For example, for the CFO project the CEO began our initial meeting showing me the traditional list of “must have” skills, required experience and perfect personality traits. I said this wasn’t a job description but a person description, so let’s parking lot this for a minute. He didn’t argue. Then I asked him what the person needs to do in the CFO role to be considered very successful during the first year. We came up with six performance objectives that focused on improving margins by 5-10 points, implementing a companywide planning and budgeting system and developing an ROI-based decision making process used at every level in the company.

He instantly agreed this was the right way to measure performance.

Minimize time-to-fill by implementing a “small batch, high touch” process

There’s no need to compromise on speed. The key is to only spend time with candidates who are a strong fit for your job rather than wasting your time weeding through skills-qualified people and hoping someone reasonably good will be interested. In this case a strong fit is defined as someone who is performance qualified (meaning he/she can do the work described above), possesses the Achiever Pattern (the person is consistently in the top 30-40% of his/her peer group) and the person would naturally see your opening as a career move.

Combined with “Clever Boolean” and an advanced recruiting technique called “Cherry Picking,” finding people like this is not difficult as long as you implement a 40-40-20 sourcing program. This means spending 40% of your time getting referrals, 40% direct sourcing and 20% writing compelling messages that are pushed to your target audience. Specialist recruiters have a distinct advantage since they’re constantly building talent-rich pools. This way finding a few hot prospects in a week or so is likely. Generalist recruiters who are proactive networkers and have a license to LinkedIn Recruiter can still deliver prospects in 5-10 days.

Reduce cost per hire by offering candidates a huge non-monetary increase

Of course, you still need to recruit and close these people but you do this by offering people a 30% non-monetary increase rather than saying you can’t afford to hire these people. This means the job must offer a combination of more stretch, more rapid growth, more impact and a mix of more satisfying work. This is a go-slow, high-touch relationship-based recruiting approach.

This has nothing to do with filtering prospects on compensation, title and location. It has all to do with making the case that your open job puts the person on a stronger long-term career trajectory. For example, for the CEO project the top candidate was willing to take a drastic reduction in compensation to lead a unique start-up. Early this year, I talked with an engineering manager who was willing to take a modest increase for the chance to lead the design efforts for a new AI-based marketing platform. And last year I got a senior HR director from a bigger company to relocate to a less desirable area in order to get a VP level title for a slightly smaller company.

So forget the two-thirds approach to recruiting. Instead redefine performance, find a few strong prospects who would see the opening as a career move and then close the deal based on what the person can become rather than what he or she receives on the start date.

11 Ways to Improve Quality of Hire


Improving and measuring quality of hire is a challenge that companies have been struggling with for years. That’s because, in my opinion it’s simply not possible using current hiring practices.

The problem relates to too much focus on generic skills and competencies, the use of ill-defined jobs for hiring purposes and indirect interviewing and assessment techniques (i.e. anything needing some type of statistical means for validation).

Accurately measuring pre- and post quality of hire requires a clear understanding of actual job needs; sourcing and recruiting programs designed to attract the best, not weed out the weak; and direct measures of past performance. The 11 steps outlined below meet this criteria and you can easily test them out on your next hiring assignment.
Using a Performance-based Hiring Process to improve quality of hire
1. Define exceptional performance rather than an exceptional person.

Every job can be defined as a series of 6-8 performance objectives. For example, it’s better to say, “Launch the new product line within 6 months targeting 20% market share within 2 years,” rather than, “Must have 5-8 years of product marketing experience in our industry plus an MBA from a prestigious university.” The quality of a person’s comparable results will then be the pre-hire measure for quality of hire.
2. Don’t post internal job descriptions.

There is no law requiring a company to post skills-laden job descriptions. When the top labor lawyer in the U.S. says using Performance-based Hiring as the foundation increases diversity and high potential hires you might want to give it a try. Starting with stronger candidates is one way to hire stronger people.
3. Turn job descriptions into stories to attract stronger people.

Use Marketing 101 techniques to write compelling career stories. As part of these, describe the work that needs to be done and the impact the person can make. You’ll also send these to passive candidates to get them excited.
4. Embed the skills into your career stories.

Convert your most critical skills into outcomes as part of your online job descriptions. For example, “Use your CPA and experience in international consolidations to help manage our fast-growing business,” will excite a person. “Must-have” requirements will turn the best off.
5. Develop a catchy title.

“Flight Nurse – Helping Save Lives Everyday” will generate a lot more interest than “Medivac RN – Experienced.” The former generated 14 viable candidates in one week vs. one marginal candidate in three months.
6. Create a “pitch tweet.”

Captivate your ideal candidate’s intrinsic motivator with something like, “Join new Ruby scrum team generating advanced VR gaming platform: LINK #vrgames.” Social media is a great sourcing channel when used properly.
7. Screen on Achiever terms.

To find the top 25% for any job, add recognition terms like award, honor, society, leader, coach, fellowship, promoted, patent, white paper, speaker and/or assigned to your Boolean strings. Achievers include these terms in their profiles and resumes. Those with few accolades use passive or generic terms.
8. Engage in conversations.

Go slow. While the above techniques will get stronger performers into the top of your recruiting funnel, you need to use a career-oriented recruiting approach to get them excited about your opening.
9. Modify the job to fit the person.

The likelihood a top person who’s not looking will find your vague job description an exact career fit is remote. Think about adjusting the scope of the position somewhat as a means to craft it as a career move.
10. Interview on past performance in comparison to actual needs.

The Performance-based Interview is all about having the candidate describe accomplishments comparable to those listed in the performance-based job description. Neat fact: If the person has comparable accomplishments and is motivated to do the work required, he/she has exactly the skills and experiences required.
11. Assess quality of hire pre- and post.

Using the Talent Scorecard found in the Appendix to The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired, you’ll be able to measure pre-hire candidate quality of hire based on the person’s past accomplishments. You can use the same scorecard to measure the person’s actual on-the-job performance post-hire. By following the Performance-based Hiring process, the two measures will be close to exact.

According to Harvard professors Ross and Ogas, in order to maximize personal, company and societal performance, there is a need to customize your offerings to meet the needs of the individual being served. This is true for education, industrial design, medicine, sports coaching and hiring. In their soon-to-be published book, The End of Average, they outline why the Performance-based Hiring process described above is the only hiring process they found that could increase quality of hire for any job, improve on-the-job performance and increase employee satisfaction. It all starts by emphasizing the impact the people hired can make rather than the cost of hiring them.