By Liz Ryan
Rather than sticking with the standard recruit-and-select model, companies looking for serious talent need to sell themselves as well
If we end up one day in something like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World - a planned society in which kids are assigned their future occupations by the third grade - some of the little tykes will surely end up in human-resources training classes, learning about the two steps involved in staffing： recruiting and selection.
People in HR have been talking about recruiting and selection as long as I can remember - and for just as long, deluding themselves about the way we ought to be hiring mid- and senior-level execs.
HARD TO FIND. Recruiting, as we have practiced it, has meant casting a net to alert the right people to a job opportunity. Once they line up at your door, figuratively speaking, you start the second stage - selection. That means picking the best person and making an offer. See how easy it is?
This process calls to mind the longshoremen in On the Waterfront （starring the late Marlon Brando）, who waited to be called - or not - for work every morning. A Vietnamese friend of mine experienced this in real life, while languishing in a Hong Kong refugee camp before his immigration to the U.S. So I know there are places where excellent candidates sit and wait to be selected.
Not in the Knowledge Economy, however - nor in the competitive marketplace for senior-level talent. Not a chance. Even in this still-not-rosy job market, really good candidates are hard to find. The proof is that executive recruiters are still earning nice fees for finding people who can make a difference in a company's fortunes.
FOUR VARIETIES. Moreover, employers are adding slots very cautiously, and so much is riding on each employee's performance that it's vital to find the right people. And this is why it's essential for companies to abandon the recruiting and selection tradition in favor of a better approach - one that I call "vet and woo."
I developed the vet-and-woo mentality during the labor shortage days of the tech boom in the mid '90s. During my employer's rapid growth it became obvious that every senior-level candidate was a significant person to us in one way or another. Generally, they fell into four categories （using "he" for simplicity）:
1. The candidate was both solid and sold on us, and we would pursue him like a cheetah after a three-day fast.
2. The candidate was sold on us, but not right for us right then. So we would keep the door open, because he might be a terrific hire in six months or a year.
3. The candidate wasn't sold on us - red alert！ - because we could really have used him. Maybe another time.
4. The candidate wasn't sold on us, and that was fine, because we weren't a good match for one another. We, nonetheless, wanted him to think well of us - and tell others about our wonderful company.
Who did that leave to summarily dismiss with a two-line "no thank you" letter？No one, that's who.
LISTEN, LEARN, SELL. I came to realize, in short, that every meeting with a prospective management hire - usually over a meal, as custom dictated at the time - should revolve around vet and woo, listen and sell, evaluate and share the vision of our company's shining prospects, and gain an understanding of whether the candidate was someone we should hire. And also to get the person excited about our company, an inseparable goal.
Whatever the outcome of a particular search, it's important that you never stop evaluating and never stop selling - consultative selling that seeks to understand what a candidate is after and whether you can deliver it. It's important to approach these tasks seriously, because no company deserves to hire decent, senior-level talent if it treats the first couple of interviews with any candidate as a "you show us" screening before it begins selling itself.
This is why it's almost always a fatal error to assign mid- and senior-level candidate selection to junior human-resources people. Can you imagine having to describe your expertise in brand strategy to a person two years out of college？
MULTIPLE PAYOFFS. There's no special secret to the vet-and-woo interview. Simply talk, listen, and ask questions. Not "tell me your greatest accomplishments at ABC Corp." questions. Regular, human questions that will draw out the candidate's interests, strengths, and thought processes. Your selling should be more in the line of recounting your own happy experiences at the company than reciting its accomplishments.
The goal is to provide yourself with a choice of several motivated, expectant candidates. The payoff will be better employees, goodwill for your company in the job market, and great future relationships - among both the people you hire and the ones you don't.