8 Mistakes that Lose Top Talent


We all want to hire the best talent that we can afford, and for good reason.  It is estimated that top performers produce as much as 4 times more than average employees.  Many hiring managers lose out on top talent long before making an offer.  Are you making any of these 8 mistakes that cost companies top talent?



1. Favoring Passive Candidates

I regularly encounter hiring managers who believe that active candidates (those who apply for a position) are less desirable than passive candidates (those who weren't looking but were sourced by a recruiter.)  Some believe that the best talent has already been acquired and retained by other companies and doesn't need to look for a new opportunity, that instead roles just come to exceptional employees. There are even companies no longer posting their open positions, believing that a recruiter can source better candidates than they would receive in response to a posting.

According to a 2017 Indeed Talent Attraction Study, 92% of top performers say they search for job opportunities at least a few times a year and 96% of top performers hired within the past year took action to find a job within 6 months of being hired.

If we think about top talent traits, it makes sense that they aren't sitting around waiting for a new opportunity to come to them.  Top performers are typically strategic problem solvers with high drive and initiative.  If they find themselves in a negative or neutral employment situation, high performing employees will naturally generate solutions and act upon them.  This behavior is what makes top talent so effective in business!  Even highly satisfied top performers keep an eye on potential growth opportunities and industry hiring trends (remember they are strategic!)

Another consideration, active candidates demonstrate many desirable attributes. An active candidate has typically already researched your company and the role and sees value in the opportunity. They have taken action to address a need or an issue in their professional life.  An active candidate has a reason to make a change and is willing to step through your hiring process.  They are open to change and learning new things.  An active candidate is less likely to be using an offer from you to negotiate higher pay from their current employer. 

My advice: Post your open positions to attract active talent that appreciates your company and aligns with your company's needs.



2. Online Presence Neglect

According to Glassdoor research

  • 76% of job seekers want details on what makes a company an attractive place to work
  • 69% are likely to apply to a job if the employer actively manages its employer brand
  • 69% would not take a job with a company that had a bad reputation, even if they were unemployed
  • 84% would consider leaving their current jobs if offered a role with a company that had an excellent corporate reputation
  • 54% of job seekers read company reviews by employees
  • The majority of job seekers read at least 6 reviews before forming an opinion about a company

As you can see from these statistics, it is critical to review your online presence PRIOR to posting a position or recruiting candidates.  The Internet has made all types of information immediately accessible, including employer reviews.  Job seekers today are resourceful and take the time to read employee comments, customer statements and corporate news before applying for positions.  If you aren't maintaining a positive employer brand online, you are wasting your recruiting dollars.  As mentioned before, top performers are strategic.  They make smart moves.  Top talent will not move to an organization with management issues, poor morale or defective products.

Job seekers aren't looking for a perfect online presence.  They are looking for a company that takes ownership for mistakes and makes adjustments to resolve issues.  

My Advice:  Review your online presence prior to posting. Respond to negative comments. Explain the steps you have taken (or will take) to improve upward mobility, poor management or whatever issues are posted online.



3. Short-Sightedness

Many hiring managers search for "the perfect candidate," someone who has every possible skill or characteristic they want to see in the role.  The reality is that people aren't perfect. We all have strengths and weaknesses.  I've seen hiring managers pass up a candidate who was a strong cultural fit, motivational fit, team fit and management style fit because they lacked a single skill that could be attained through a brief training or coaching session.  Finding someone who can easily acclimate into the company culture and work well with your team is far more important in the long-run than knowing a software program that can be taught on-the-job or through a course.

Likewise, I've seen hiring managers who couldn't see beyond a candidate's professional youth. Early in their career, they may not yet know how to interview well, have had a mentor or coach help them understand how to be effective in a corporate environment or how to present themself in a manner that elicits respect.  They may not yet know how the industry works but are capable, intelligent and eager to learn.  Being able to see a diamond in the rough (a high potential employee who needs challenge and mentorship), can significantly benefit your company in the long-term. Great managers develop talent.  Great companies establish succession plans and assign mentors to help high-potential employees get ready for the next step.  

My favorite interview inquiry for management positions is "tell me about a time when you helped someone else achieve a career goal."  Strong managers regularly devote time to developing their team members, so a candidate in need of coaching does not deter them, it excites them.  While coaching-up young professionals now is a smart move, by 2025 it will become a necessity.  Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by the year 2025 (Brookings Now Data).  Why not start mastering this skill now so you will have it down when it becomes essential?

Another short-sited move is hiring for the current company or team culture instead of the culture you are working to achieve.  While new hires need to be able to function in the current culture, you will need change agents to make a shift and this won't happen without intentional hiring.

My Advice:  Develop your management chops.  Consider coaching up a young professional rather than conducting an extensive search and paying a high salary for a polished performer.  Hire for the values and culture you are working to build.


Photo by BernardaSv/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by BernardaSv/iStock / Getty Images

4. "Right Answers" Over "Right Behaviors"

Most hiring managers know to avoid closed-ended questions (those that have a single-word answer.)  However, it's not uncommon for hiring managers to ask questions they deem as having a "right" or "wrong" answer.  The problem with interviewing this way is that candidates prepare for these types of questions and may provide the answer they think you want to hear, rather than an answer that is true for them.  The other issue, with this type of questioning, is that a belief or preference can change over time.  So, a candidate may answer the question "right" today but change their opinion weeks, months or years down the road.  

For example, if you use a question like "what's more important speed or accuracy" in an interview for an accounting role, most candidates know to answer "accuracy" or "both are equally important." This doesn't tell you if this candidate actually focuses on accuracy above speed in their work.  It only tells you that they know how to answer this question correctly for your role.  To pull out their typical behavior, you need to use a question like "tell me about a time when you had to choose between speed and accuracy and what you chose."  Most candidates will not only share their previous decision but also any lessons learned from the experience that impacted future behavior (i.e. choosing speed over accuracy last time caused them to miss an important detail and they decided that accuracy is more important than speed.)

Most recruiters and experienced interviewers choose questions that will elicit behaviors (and have no right or wrong answer).  In recruiting we say "the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior" and statistically this rings true the majority of the time.  Interviews are for learning about a candidate, not checking off boxes.  If you can glean information about a candidate's behaviors and motivations, you can make an educated hiring decision.  When their previous decisions and behaviors line up with those you are seeking, the employment relationship is more likely to be successful.  

My Advice:  Use behavioral questions in your interview process. FOCUS ON LEARNING ABOUT A CANDIDATE'S EXPERIENCE AND BEHAVIORS SO YOU CAN HIRE FOR the values and characteristics you desire.



5.  Pace

According to a Glassdoor study, the average U.S. job interview process takes 22.9 days. Despite advances in automation and a variety of applicant tracking options, time to fill continues to expand. Employers have incorporated more screening steps and validation tools that have countered efficiency gains from automation. One problem with extending time to fill is candidate burnout.  

Burnout can occur when a candidate feels they are being asked to jump through too many hoops, believes they are no longer a strong contender for the position or views a company's slow pace as an indication of internal issues.  Top performers are evaluating a potential employer at every stage in the hiring process.  A lack of communication and forward progress conveys to your candidates that they (and filling this position) are not a priority.  Most professionals believe the candidate experience is a glimpse into the employment experience, so a smooth, streamlined process can help you win top talent.

A strong recruiting process will incorporate mobile technology, regular communication and will take no more than 1 - 2 weeks to move through each step (resume review, phone interview, assessment, in-person interview, offer, verification, on-boarding.)  A longer process risks losing strong candidates. Remember the saying "the early bird gets the worm"? Top talent often receives multiple offers within a few weeks of starting their job search.  If you haven't made it to the offer step within this amount of time, odds are you will lose the candidate.

My Advice:  Don't start to recruit until you can dedicate time and resources to the process.  Consider outsourcing parts of your process to increase efficiency.  Stay in contact with your top candidates, even if it's just a quick email to let them know they are still being considered.


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6.  Is There an I in Team?

Involving your team in the hiring process can be a double-edged sword. Excluding your team from the hiring process can lead to assimilation challenges. Weighing your team's opinion above position fit can lead to performance issues. It's critical to find the balance between team fit, cultural fit, motivation fit, management fit and position fit. For more information about these different areas of fit, check out: "Finding Your Fit"

My Advice:  Incorporate a team interview into your process, have 2-3 team members involved who will interview your final candidates (those who have already been identified for strong position, motivation, management and cultural fit.) Consider your team's preferences, but never at the expense of other critical areas of fit.


Photo by Rawpixel/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Rawpixel/iStock / Getty Images

7.  Uneducated Biases

A large part of my role as a Consulting Recruiter is helping hiring managers identify and overcome bias. Humans develop bias by drawing conclusions based on experiences; experiences can vary. Our individual perspective filters can draw different conclusions from the same experience.  You've probably heard that it is common for eyewitness accounts to vary. How can 2 people witness the same crime yet have different accounts?   The answer is what has been called the "Rashomon Effect."  This occurs when the same event is given contradictory interpretations by different individuals.  Since we know this occurs, it is important to evaluate the legitimacy of our biases.  Bias can close the door to alternatives, which can be counterproductive to hiring top talent.

Companies that retain a group of employees for years can develop group beliefs that can influence hiring decisions.  Especially, if this group of employees moves into leadership roles, their preferences can be viewed more as policy or culture than preference.  While it's important to hire employees who can fit into the company culture, allowing uneducated group biases to influence hiring decisions can cause the company to miss out on top talent or even run into legal issues.

It is illegal to discriminate against any candidate on the basis of: sex (gender), race, color, national origin, religion, disability or age (over 40). If you have a bias against any protected class and are hiring according to this bias, you are placing your company at significant risk. The average out of court settlement for a discrimination claim is $40,000 and 10% of discrimination claims cost a company more than $1 million.  The average litigation cost for a discrimination claim is $115,000.

Most illegal bias is based on uneducated assumptions.  For example, a hiring manager may believe that a candidate within 5 years of retirement won't stay with the company as long as a younger candidate.  Statistics show us that younger generations tend to change employers more frequently than older generations.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median employee tenure of workers age 55 to 64 is 10.1 years versus 2.8 years for workers age 25 to 34. We also see many retirees continuing to work beyond retirement age.  The number of Americans working beyond age 65 grew from 4 million in 2007 to 9 million in 2016 according to PEW Research Center.

My Advice:  Identify your hiring biases and research if these are legitimate and/or legal. Value diversity and new perspectives and you will experience personal and professional growth.


Photo by Nastco/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Nastco/iStock / Getty Images

8.  Problem Avoidance

Problem avoidance is one of the most common mistakes I see in companies.  I have watched businesses fill the same position time and time again, assuming a recruiting problem when the real issue has been poor management, negative morale, lack of training or an undesirable environment (such as a musty, isolated office or a tight-knit team that doesn't welcome newcomers).  Over time, a hiring manager can spend thousands of dollars and countless hours finding great talent only to lose them 6 months later for a preventable reason.

The only way to discover why good employees leave is to create an environment where they feel safe to communicate their concerns and believe that change will occur after sharing this information.  If you can't salvage the employment relationship, having an external HR person or an unbiased manager in another department conduct an exit interview can often help you get to the root of the problem.  Parting employees should always get to choose what information remains confidential and what information can be shared with other parties.  By providing and respecting this option, interviewers can glean much more detailed, honest feedback.  

My Advice: check-in regularly with new hires and provide a safe environment for feedback.  make sure you have an exit interview process for parting employees and consider having a neutral 3rd party conduct these interviews.


Top Performers Choose Based On:

  • Good Pay & Benefits
  • Good Life/Work Balance (51%)
  • Good Location (42%)
  • Clear Path for Advancement (22%)
  • Company Mission/Reputation (12%)

Indeed Job Seeker Study


Now that you know how to attract and retain top talent, how will you put this knowledge to use? We would love to hear your ideas!

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