In the past decade, the business world has realized something that the Lakers, Yankees and Patriots have known forever: talent wins games. More than ever, a company’s ability to attract and retain top talent serves as a major factor in its long-term success or failure. In other words: the war for top talent is on.

These days, it seems that ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ requires more than just the newest lawn mower – you also need the best people mowing the lawn. Competition to be the next Facebook, Snapchat, or the new ‘it’ sneaker that supposedly doesn’t smell when you go sock-free, is more intense than it’s ever been. At the end of the day, the leaders in every industry know that Talent is the Key to Winning.

Jacqueline here – co-founder of Scouted, an entry-level job matching platform that helps companies screen and sort candidates using data science and predictive analytics.  I’m here to talk to you about how to snap up top talent, even if you don’t have unlimited beer and ping-pong tables. In my experience working with companies to hire early-career talent, I see a lot of mis-steps. Here are some of the common pitfalls I see companies repeat, week after week, preventing them from finding and closing the talent they need.

Mistake #1: Your job descriptions are extremely boring and bland.

Before you can have your pick of the litter, you need a litter to pick from – i.e. the right mix of quality and quantity of candidates. I could write five articles on methods for effective sourcing and how to diversify your talent pool (shameless plug, Scouted can help you here!), but for now let’s focus on that first barrier – getting candidates interested in your specific open role(s). If your company is not well known on the map, this is an especially critical first step. Maybe the Googles of the world can get away with a job description so dull you wouldn’t even want your worst frenemy to work there, but for the rest of you: listen up.

We’re not advocating that you embellish the responsibilities. In fact, we’re pretty adamant about providing both a compelling AND accurate portrayal of the role. But accurate need not equal boring! Highlight not only what the person will be doing but the opportunity for growth potential and what makes this job exciting. Think about what drives you to (1) wake up every day and put on clothes without elastic waistbands and (2) spend more time with your office-mates than loved ones. Likely (we hope), it’s because you genuinely enjoy what you are doing, your work feels purposeful and you can see the impact that your work has on the company. These are the type of things you need to highlight to potential candidates. Don’t be afraid to say that this job requires “the type of person who never leaves a ‘t’ uncrossed”, or whose “idea of a good time is spending 5 hours on a stifling airboat in the Everglades at a networking event” (true story: I did that recently). But also highlight the personal growth and exposure to senior management that comes along with the less-sexy parts.

Mistake #2: You’re selecting candidates based on qualifications that simply don’t matter.

Let’s assume you have a strong and deep pool of candidates. The next challenge is to identify who is worth your valuable time to interview. Despite society’s great tech strides in the past century – we now have more computing power in our hands than NASA had in an entire building when it sent people to the moon – the format and function of The Resume hasn’t changed since, well, it was invented. While video interviews have started to make their mark, most interview decisions are based on a 30-second review of someone’s life history packed on 8.5 x 11 piece of paper.

To make things worse: many hiring managers focus on the obvious and easy things – school, GPA, experience – and assume that just because someone does well in school, they will be a good fit for their company and role. Did Joe do well in school because he’s smart, because he cared or because he’s incredibly disciplined? Did Lisa have a low gpa because she working two jobs while taking a full course-load, or because she’s lazy, or because the material went over her head?

There’s a pitfall in searching for particular work experience too. If you care about marketing experience, ask yourself why. Are you looking for someone who has the creativity to come up with content? The analytical skills to review the data and iterate strategy accordingly? If that’s the case, then somebody organizing a fundraiser for cancer or increasing membership at their frat/sorority might possess those same capabilities. Be open-minded and you will have a much higher chance of finding someone with the capabilities to learn how to do the job and, hopefully, grow out of it. Said otherwise, when hiring inexperienced talent, you are essentially ‘buying potential.’ Measure based on their potential to learn and grow, rather than the tangible experiences they’ve racked up in college.

Mistake #3: Your hiring process is slower than molasses.

I can’t stress this enough – SPEED is your greatest asset to closing the talent you want. Recruiting is a lot like dating. If you like someone, you can’t just wait around for weeks to ask him out. Call him! Now!

Hiring works the same way: if you think a candidate is great, it’s likely another company will too. You need to get yourself in the mix, and you need to do it promptly. Review resumes quickly – if a candidate is sitting in your queue for more than 1 week without any contact, they will likely assume you have implicitly turned them down. Once you reach out to set up an interview, ensure it’s scheduled as quickly as possible – a first interview /phone screen should ideally be scheduled within 1 week of contact.

After the first conversation, you might hit constraints outside of your control – your company might have a lot of internal red-tape preventing an expedited process. If this is the case, be sure to set expectations up front. Let the candidate know the potential next steps and associated timeline. This way they can plan, inform you if they have constraints and they won’t end up feeling like they’ve been left in limbo. Oh, and if you genuinely do like a candidate – make sure they know it! If your internal process is slow, make sure to be in constant contact with your candidates to keep them warm so they stay excited and engaged. Rule of thumb: don’t go more than one week without being in touch to keep them in the loop.

Mistake #4: You go radio silent a.k.a “ghosting”

I’m staying on my dating analogy here, so I hope you like it. Don’t string candidates along and don’t keep them wondering. The next best thing to a yes is a ‘quick no’.  If you know someone is not going to work out, tell them. Phone calls are best, but email works too. It’s a small world out there and you never know where this person might end up working and if your paths might cross again, so maintaining good relationships is crucial. If you want to be a true A-Player, give the candidate feedback as to why they were turned down. I mean, how can people improve if they don’t know where they fell short, to begin with? Everyone deserves a fighting shot!

Mistake #5: You’re a perfectionist who’s looking for a purple unicorn.

No one is perfect. You are not even perfect for the role you are in.  At the end of the day, a hiring decision is a bet, and with traditional interview tactics, your odds are only slightly better than Vegas odds with respect to making a good hiring decision (this is a great quick read if you want to learn the few key tactics that improve your odds of hiring great people). So, what does that mean? Stop over-analyzing – with every hiring decision you are making a bet, so it’s all about weighing probabilities and trying to be more likely right than not.

A potentially helpful matrix: weigh risk against potential. If someone comes out as low risk and high potential, then that’s a no brainer and hire away! If someone is high risk but high potential, well those are your vol-bets and if you can afford to take the leap, go for it – because those are the type of people who can shape your company in ways you can’t imagine (or they can flame out). Low risk, but low potential? Don’t waste your time.

Mistake #6: You forget the need to sell.

Did I mention recruiting is like dating? The hiring process is like courting a woman/fella – from the first email to the last, you need to remember to sell your company and its opportunities. Yes, it’s important that you do a thorough assessment to understand whether you want the person sitting across from you to join your tight-knit work crew, but it’s a two-way street. This process requires a deft balance: trying to understand how someone thinks and what they value as well as share why working with you is the bomb-dot-com. Just don’t forget your please and thank yous and to try and make a good impression. I can recount numerous cases of extremely qualified candidates dropping out of a hiring process mid-way through because the people they spoke to were rude and unpleasant.

With that in mind, be thoughtful about who you put in the hiring process and at what stages. Remember – you want your company to put their best, yet accurate, self-forward. Just like with your dating profile, it’s probably best to leave those pictures of you un-showered in your PJ’s off your initial profile.

Still unsure about where to focus your efforts to snag the talent you want? Here at Scouted, we’re only an email away and are happy to share insights, guidance and best practices galore to get you in the game.

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