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5 Ways HR Leaders Can Attract Top Talent

Feb 24, 2020

Manager interviewing a good looking applicant in her office

Do you find it difficult to attract and keep great employees? 

You can make noticeable improvements in your recruiting and hiring without spending a fortune—and engage your existing employees in the process.

Here are five strategies to help you become a talent magnet. 

1. Think like a marketer.

"Marketing is breathing." — Craig Valentine

More specifically, marketing is every contact you make. Each point of interaction is an opportunity for you to make a positive impression on prospective hires. For example:

  • The tone of your job adsare they company-focused or candidate-focused? Are they appealing? Easy to scan? Do they convey that working for your company is something of a privilege? Do they inspire? Here's an ad for a UPS warehouse worker that showcases what I'm suggesting. The first line reads "Find out what you’ll become as a Package Handler at UPS."
  • Ease of application. Is the process easy to follow? Have you gone through it yourself to see where you could eliminate friction and confusion? 
  • Time-to-hire. This is the length of time it takes you to hire, once you have a pool of candidates to choose from. What could you do to condense this time and still make good hiring decisions?

    Examples: Conducting initial interviews by phone. Checking references sooner rather than later. Not needing half the company to sit in on every interview.

Just as the best marketers focus on their customers, the best HR leaders view their entire recruiting and hiring process through the lens of those they want to attract and hire.

This also means taking a new look at your face-to-face impressions. Here are several ways to stand out in a good way:

  • Greeting candidates with a smile, sincere handshake and appropriate eye contact
  • Dressing professionally
  • Making candidates feel welcome by being punctual and prepared
  • Treating the interview as a conversation among professionals (as opposed to an interrogation)
  • Following up when you say you will

Common sense? Of course. Common practice? Not always. Especially when nearly everything is shared on social media, you want to give your candidates, new hires and existing hires an experience worth sharing.

2. Tell a better story.

Back when the U.S. unemployment rate was over 10 percent, a new college grad told me how he had reluctantly turned down two recent job offers. Which I'm sure went over well with his parents.

In both cases, he had asked the interviewer "What is it like to work here?" And in both cases he heard a variation of "It's not that great, and people don't stay." 


As of this writing, the U.S. unemployment rate is a drum-tight 3.6 percent. Which means candidates are asking themselves more than ever, "Why would I want to work here?"

Some questions to help you frame your answer:

  • What do our ideal candidates value? If they're high performers, they probably want autonomy and room to grow.
    As Ron Friedman writes in his book The Best Place to Work, "... the more supportive you are of others' autonomy, the more likely you are to inspire their best effort." 
  • How can we match what candidates are most looking for with the best of what we offer? And convey this connection before candidates even ask?
  • How can we be realistic about our challenges and at the same time optimistic? For example, if you recruit for a public accounting firm, it's counterproductive to pretend that tax season isn't stressful. Better to share how you help alleviate the stress. 
  • What is our company or department mission? Candidates want to know your "why" so they can see how they would fit in. 
    (I love this brief and actionable mission from Emory Hospital: "To Serve Humanity by Improving Health.")
  • What could we do to make our story better known? Consider adding video to your site, featuring high-performing employees who can speak to what it's like to work at your company. 

Food for thought when doing video: College students/recent grads often prefer the professional advice of their slightly older peers—even when professionals who are much more experienced are sitting right in front of them.

3. Incorporate talent acquisition into your corporate culture training. 

Instead of shouldering the effort alone, make talent acquisition part of discussions and trainings with existing employees. 

If you're not doing corporate culture training, here are some simple discussion questions to jump-start the effort: 

  • How would you describe our company culture?
  • When was the last time you felt a major "win" at work? What happened to make you feel that way?
  • What change do you think would make the greatest positive difference in our work environment?
  • What role would you be willing to play to bring that change about?

The answers you receive to that last question will tell you something about each person's locus of responsibility—in a nutshell, whether they see themselves as doers who are willing to make a difference or "victims" who bear no responsibility for their fate. 

Once you start to develop a better sense of your company culture and employee perceptions, you can have more advanced conversations around what would make your company a talent magnet. 

Your employees' responses might surprise you.

For example, I've known so many passionate employees who love their work and pour their heart into it—but who wish management would stop turning a blind eye to chronic negativity or tossing up their hands in the face of gossip.

Doesn't seem like too much to ask.

Before you call in a work culture consultant, why not do what you can on your own? Then when you get stuck, it might be more valuable to seek some outside help.

4. Be the best—or at least your best.

Few of us can be Google or Apple. But the high performers you're meant to attract can't resist a winning company culture.

That means a culture that is good and getting better all the time, by design. Some simple ways to bring this about:

  • Granting employees autonomy and flexibility as much as possible 
  • Eliminating unhelpful phrases such as "Do a good job!" (I call this micromanagement dipped in sugar)
  • Requiring employees at every level to be learning something new and sharing it with their teammates; something as simple as a book, an article, or a solution they found to a common workplace problem
  • Leading by example and holding others to the same standard

How have you seen (or would you like to see) constant improvement play out in your workplace? I invite you to share a comment below. You can find more about this topic in James Clear's book Atomic Habits

5. Take care of the employees you have. 

What a concept. Put another way, give high performers a reason to stay.  

I learned this the day I gave notice at the Evanston Public Library. I was nineteen.

And I'm not saying I was a high performer—but when I told my supervisor I would be leaving to focus on my studies, she said "Oh, and you were such a good employee." 

Yes I was. Thank for waiting till now to tell me that.

The point is, when you have employees worth keeping, appreciate them. Appreciate them often.

Support them. Show them respect and encouragement. Ask for their feedback and take it to heart. If you can, offer to send them for additional training.  

This is not a case for coddling employees or feeding anyone's sense of entitlement. I understand that companies have to earn a profit and HR departments have to show a return on their investment.

But if you're looking to become a greater talent magnet, why not strengthen your "pull" by making your entire culture the absolute best it can be?



Wrapping Up

Do I believe in culture training in the workplace? Yes, or I wouldn't offer it. But I still say your own internal efforts are what matter more. Start there.

And when someone asks "What's it like to work here?" have an answer so compelling that the candidate asking wants to go out and tell all their friends.

That's how you attract top talent, even when unemployment stands at 3.6 percent.


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