How to Leverage Top Performers in Recruiting

In 2007, the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League were in a downward spiral.

The team’s $100-million quarterback, Michael Vick, was behind bars for dogfighting, leaving its current quarterback in over his head. And its head coach left the team in the middle of the season. The Falcons finished the year with four wins and 12 losses — last in their division.

Under normal circumstances, a franchise would require at least three seasons of rebuilding to get back on the winning path. Not the Falcons.

The following season, they had 11 wins and just five losses and made the playoffs after hiring a new general manager, recruiting a solid coach with a commitment to winning and drafting a talented rookie quarterback.

As an executive recruiter, I have the pleasure of working with a variety of clients. Some are name brands with exceptional growth. Others are smaller businesses fighting to carve a niche in their industry. I’ve even had the opportunity to help companies that were headed in the wrong direction — akin to the 2007 Falcons — and in need of answers on how to turn their business around.

For all of these companies, the No. 1 asset is their people. Retaining the best employees and attracting top external talent is a topic we discuss endlessly. The purpose of this article is not to address the best ways to attract that talent — that’s another topic for another day. It’s to focus on how use the best talent within your company to your advantage to attract more of it.

The life-cycle of a candidate exploring an opportunity is a fascinating thing. The candidates my firm recruits are predominately individuals who are successful, gainfully employed and not actively looking for new jobs. On the initial phone call with these candidates, they are hesitant and reserved to share information. Our only goal is to understand if they’re qualified and see if they’d be open to hearing about an opportunity that might align better with their current and long-term career goals. They usually express very little interest.

As the qualified candidates learn more about the opportunity and our client’s organization, we look to make sure their interest-level meters move forward. How to get them there is the tricky part.

With any candidate who is entertaining a job offer that would require them to leave their current employer, so much of the decision comes down to one factor: risk.

No matter how great the company is that they’re interviewing with, how lucrative the compensation, or even how much they dislike where they work, the idea of leaving a known commodity — their current employer — for an unknown commodity is risky. Regardless of how many interviews the candidate attends or how many people he or she meets, there’s always going to be unknowns associated with a new job.

This is where a company can leverage their best talent to help mitigate that risk.

Individuals within an organization who are performing at high levels and also had to make a similar leap of faith in the past are gold. They are the ones who can empathize with a candidate and offer validation.

Let’s break this down further:

Empathy: Often a candidate considering a new job just needs to vent and share brutally honest questions and concerns. These are most likely the same questions and concerns of every individual who evaluated the prospective company against their current company. Top talent within your organization who joined the team will have the ability to be sounding boards and provide insight into their thought process when they were in the candidate’s shoes.

Validation: Once candidates understand that their concerns are normal, they’ll begin to listen more intently to the factors that led your top talent to the decision to join your company.

Ways to involve your top talent in the recruiting process:

• Make sure they participate in the interview process and encourage them to share their story.

• Better yet, have them take candidates to coffee or lunch, offering a more casual setting leading to informal dialogue.

• If it’s possible, use your top employees to take the candidates out to dinner with spouses or significant others. It’s very likely the candidate isn’t the only one with questions — nor is he or she the only one making the final decision.

• Let them play the role of “friend” to talk with prospective candidates about their questions, concerns and issues facing the opportunity. There’s a good chance that these are thoughts your employee once had as he or she was going through the process.

• Make sure the communication doesn’t end with the signed offer. Continually involve the top talent in your organization during the transition process as well as during onboarding.

The Atlanta Falcons turned their franchise around by making great personnel decisions. Fast forward to the present, and those decisions have directly led to wins as well as other top NFL players wanting to come to Atlanta.

Because of the great success they have experienced, the team has been able to recruit and sign future Hall of Famers who are looking for an opportunity to join a winning team.

How does your company leverage its best talent? Feel free to share in the comments section below.