How to Think Like a Top Candidate

Scott Kuethen
January 22, 2019

Many employers these days want our search firm to help them hire a top professional from a tough competitor who can jump right in and make their company more productive. To attract this high-caliber person, we suggest that you learn how to think like a top candidate.

One of our recruiters had a conversation the other day with an employer who needed help finding a sales person. In an effort to learn how Amtec could assist him, our recruiter (R) asked the employer (E) several questions. In a nutshell, the conversation went something like this:

R: What does your company sell?

E: We sell widgets…(and he explained the environment in which these widgets are used).

R: How much in dollar amount do you expect this salesperson to sell in order for you to consider him/her a success?

E: I’m not sure.

R: Well, in order to screen potential qualified candidates who are a good fit, we need to understand what you think success looks like for the person’s first 30, 60, 90, and 120 days on the job. Do you have an idea of what kind of lead generation you expect from this person?

E: No.

R: What kind of salary and/or commission are you looking to pay?

E: A good base salary, $X, since they won’t be making very much at first, with commission on top of that.

R: That sounds like a fair base salary. What type of background do you want this person to have?

E: I want someone who works for one of our competitors, has top sales numbers, and can bring with them a book of business to start producing for us right away.

R: So if I heard you correctly, you want someone who is at the top of their game working for a competitor, who will bring a book of business with them, who is willing to make less working for you at first and build up to making what they were before?

E: Yes.

R: What would motivate a top performer to leave a company where they’re making a lot of money to come work for your company where they’d be making less?

E: Our company culture.

R: Oh, great. Can you describe your company culture for me?

E: Not really. I’ll have to think about that.

Why a Top Candidate Would Want to Leave

Now, we honestly can think of several reasons why a top performer might make such a move. She might be unhappy with her commute. He might be dissatisfied with the support he’s receiving from his company. She might be looking for a company culture that’s a better fit. He might have a personality conflict with his manager…and so on. Our experienced recruiters hear countless stories every week from candidates who want to find greener pastures. The question is, does your company offer whatever greener pastures the type of high-performing candidate you want is seeking? To answer that question, you need to learn to think like a top candidate!

What a Top Candidate Is Looking For

For your business to be seriously considered by a top candidate, he or she is going to want at least one or two of the following features to be in place, probably more:

  1. An environment where he or she can succeed. Many employers think they can define targets for their employees’ success as they go along. But would you want to move from a place where you’ve learned how to succeed to one where you don’t know the rules, the targets, the roadmap to success? Probably not! This means that, as an employer, you need to ask yourself, How will I measure my new employee’s success? We recommend that before every new hire, you create a performance acceleration tool to outline SMART goals, assign a mentor, explain the company’s structure, and list key connections. (Amtec offers our Great Start Tool to our customers at no additional cost.)
  2. Higher compensation and better benefits. Money may not be the top motivator for every candidate, but you can be sure it’s in the top five! Have you run a pay scale comparison to learn what value the current labor market assigns to workers in this position? Are you offering pay and benefits commensurate with what the candidate is already earning? Most candidates in this competitive market hope for greater financial reward—rarely will a top candidate make a lateral or backwards move in compensation. Would you?
  3. The opportunity to improve, develop, and expand. For some top performers, this means further training, a better job title, or a new challenge. For others, it could involve a shorter commute, a closer territory, better work/life boundaries, or more meaningful perks.
  4. A more favorable company culture. Just as you personally want to be valued for your contribution and treated with care and respect, so do your employees. Every company has a certain personality or company culture that can achieve these goals in unique ways. Just as you might get along with one person and not another, not every company and candidate are a good fit for each other. Have you defined your company culture? This is an important exercise that will enable you to accurately portray to a top performer why he or she should be excited to join your team. What specifically does the type of quality candidate you need look for in a company culture? If you’ve had high performers in the past, it can be helpful to define what really got them excited about working at your company.
  5. A cause worth supporting. After reviewing hundreds of thousands of answers from America’s workforce, Harvard Business Review found that employees want a cause. “Cause is about purpose: feeling that you make a meaningful impact, identifying with the organization’s mission, and believing that it does some good in the world. It’s a source of pride.”

How to Think Like a Top Candidate

To hire a high-caliber employee, you’ll need to learn how to think like a top candidate. Professionals are in high demand. They want an environment that sets them up for success, compensation that rewards them for their hard work, opportunities to grow and learn, a culture where they feel like they belong, and a cause they can support. Figure out how to give them what really matters to them and weave those features into the fabric of your company. The best candidates will be attracted to you just as bees are drawn to honey.

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