Raise the Talent Bar by Redefining the Bar

Raising the talent bar involves consistently hiring people who are in the top half of their peer group. If this is a strategic talent acquisition goal for your company, you need to consider these fundamental truths about hiring people who are already in the top half:
  1. Unless you have an excess supply of people who are in the top half applying to your job postings, you’re not likely to find these people by relying on job postings as your primary sourcing tool.
  2. Since people who can raise the talent bar typically get assigned to stretch projects and promoted more frequently than their peer group, they have a different mix of skills and experiences than listed on the traditional job description.
  3. The people in the top half of their current peer group generally find their next jobs via an internal promotion, through a referral from a previous manager or co-worker or by being contacted by a recruiter.
  4. People who can raise the talent bar will not accept an offer for a generic lateral transfer unless they receive a premium compensation package. This situation is how bidding wars are started.
  5. People who can raise the talent bar become dissatisfied quickly unless the work is meaningful, they have the ability to make a significant impact and the hiring manager is willing to invest time in promoting and developing them.
A hiring strategy and process designed to raise the talent bar must address each of these issues. This is rarely the case. Most hiring processes are more compliance-driven with an emphasis on matching skills and competencies built around the flawed assumption that the best people will apply to boring job postings or respond to a message that appears to offer a lateral transfer.
There is no legal requirement for this default process standard. It’s actually possible to raise the talent bar by designing a hiring process based on how and why people in the top half look for new jobs, how they engage with recruiters and how they compare different opportunities including not changing jobs.
One way to bypass the job posting process and save wasted time screening out unqualified or uninterested candidates is to prequalify prospects using a more appropriate measurement system. For example, rather than searching on skills, search for people who are doing outstanding work comparable to what you need done AND who would also quickly see your opening as a potential career move. Given these pre-qualifiers it’s highly likely the person would respond to a multi-pronged marketing campaign and the hiring manager would agree to interview the person.

How to source and screen for qualified talent

To get started on this path using LinkedIn Recruiter, search for candidates who have just one or two of the most critical skills required and who have also been formally recognized for doing outstanding work. These are the people who get promoted more often or who are asked to coach, train, teach, mentor or advise their peers. They also speak at major industry conferences, prepare whitepapers, ace the hackathon or win the sales competition year after year. You’ll need to search on these terms to first identify these talented people. Then shrink this pool to 20-30 people who would also see your opening either as a step-up in some way from their current job or an opportunity for faster growth or a more impactful job.
When you first contact these people, you need to go slow. Start with an exploratory phone screen based on the premise that if the job isn’t a career move, you’ll just stay in touch and network with the person until the right career opportunity develops. This is how you implement a referral-based sourcing model in parallel with a direct-sourced approach. Connect with those who are not perfect for your role and search on their connections using the above “top half” filters. To get a personal referral ask the initial contact if he/she would recommend some of the people you found for the current open role. Tapping into these second-degree connections is how you’ll find some of your strongest talent.
These ideas are not new. They’re based on high-touch marketing techniques commonly practiced whenever selling any customized product to a sophisticated buyer. This involves a multi-step discovery process to determine if your opening fills gaps in the candidate’s background. Then if the gaps aren’t too wide, determining if the person possesses the ability and potential to handle the short- and long-term performance requirements of the job.
Simply put, if you want to raise the talent bar at your company you have to find and hire people who have already raised the talent bar somewhere else. Except for entry-level positions and a great employer brand, it’s unlikely you’ll find them by chance.