Thirty years ago, a vice president in the human resources department at a Fortune 200 company told me that the firm's two best sources of talent were its university hiring program and referrals from recruiters and employees. Job postings were used largely to fill rank-and-file positions. A private survey conducted last quarter by another Fortune 200 company confirmed that nothing has changed in 30 years.

Despite the obvious, companies still invest enormous sums on job postings and then complain about the lack of great results. That's why I suggest companies shift their job board spend to targeted outreach and networking programs. Job seekers should reverse engineer this process and stop applying to job boards, shifting their efforts to gaining introductions through the backdoor.

How People Get Jobs Survey

I've had a survey running for the past two years asking people how they got their last job. More than 1,800 people have taken the survey. The graph shows results based on how actively they were looking for a job and whether they were employed or not at the time. The results of the most active job seekers are on the left and the most passive on the right. "Tiptoers" are those who are fully employed but casually looking.

The The results confirm what everyone in the recruiting industry already knows--the best people get moved internally or promoted and most of the rest are referred. Surprisingly, the referred part is true even for those who are actively looking.


But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how people get jobs. In a recent post, I suggested that those who apply to critical jobs represent less than 10 percent of the entire talent market. Collectively this means that 95 percent of the total talent market changes jobs either through a promotion or networking. This is mind-blowing!

To target this 95 percent of the talent market, companies need to overhaul their hiring systems. Simply benchmarking how the best people got their jobs and why they accepted one over another is a good way to start. Here's what you'll likely discover:

How the Best People Got Their Last Job and Why They Took It

1) They took the job on the basis of what they would be doing, whom they would be doing it with, and the upside opportunity. Few took the job because of what's written in the job posting. That's why I suggest defining the job as a series of performance objectives.

2) The importance of the work mattered more than the company brand. Employer branding is overrated, since it largely appeals to active candidates. Branding the job appeals to everyone. This involves describing the work and its impact on a major company initiative. Here's an example.

3) When first contacted by a recruiter they knew, or someone they knew at the company, the discussion was open and exploratory. That's why you need to slow dance.

4) When an unknown recruiter made first contact, his or her persistence was key in getting the candidate to consider the job.

5) The job was often modified to best suit the strengths of the person and to more fully meet his or her career and compensation needs.

6) When comparing multiple opportunities, the candidates valued what they'd be doing and the growth opportunity over the compensation.

7) Those who were casually looking--the Tiptoers--worked their network first to seek out opportunities rather than applying directly.

8) During the interviewing process, the candidates spent a lot of time (four to eight hours) meeting people, doing company research, and getting outside advice from family, friends, co-workers, and professionals.

9) They often developed a friendship with someone who would be a peer in the new organization. This person provided valuable insight into how things really operated.

10) Few of the people were desperate to get another job, so short-term economic pressures had little impact on their decision making.

I cannot remember a time when job postings were ever the source of the best talent, so it surprises me that companies continue to spend excessive time on a narrow segment of the talent market and hope things will be different. The alternative is obvious--benchmark how the best people get their best jobs and why they take one over another. Then implement what you find. This is a simple way to rewrite your future history at least when it comes to hiring.