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Hiring: The simplicity of the process is seductive. Announce the opportunity. Sort through the résumés. Bring in the best fits. Interview. Pick the best of the lot. Repeat until properly staffed. What could possibly go wrong? That question should engender a chuckle followed by “Where do I even start?”
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Who you on-board can make or break you. Once hired, you won’t know for months if you made the right decision. There is a chance you didn’t and the cost of a redo is pricy; even more costly is settling for “good enough.”
It can seem easy now with Monster and other web-based tools to access masses of candidates and increase your odds. But in the case of hiring, having too much information is the enemy of the great. Drinking from a fire hose of candidate-provided data is a long path to the diamonds in the rough you are looking for. You need to find the cheats. I’ll explain with an example from my living room:
Mario Kart is the one and only video game I can still play with my daughter without it being an embarrassing experience for us both. This is because the controller is not a device with seven buttons that looks like an ocarina, but it is a steering wheel – something I have 30 years of experience with, and she none. Nevertheless, I always lose because she cheats.
I will be slightly ahead of her and then in an instant, she’s half a lap ahead of me. I’ll ask how. She shows me how you can turn left after the blue mushroom, drive straight at the cliff, and you pop out a half lap ahead. These are the game “cheats,” designed into the game to reward mistakes.
Over 20 years at Starsys we spent quite a bit of time going around the hiring track, and eventually figured out our own ways to short-cut the process. In this blog and in blogs to follow, I will share five of the cheats that we discovered that provided us a faster path to great talent.
Cheat 1: Announce your opportunity in code
Conventional thinking is to cast a wide net. But when we needed a very specific, hard-to-find set of skills for a role, we needed to spearfish – find a quick way to target just the right candidates. We did this by describing the opportunity in a language that only they would understand.
For example, one of the most critical hires for us was aerospace manufacturing technicians. They were the last to touch the hardware, and if it was not perfect, we could be out of business.
We discovered a particular demographic was a great fit for this role: no previous aerospace experience, intelligent out-of-the-box thinkers, great with their hands, passionate about space, but had written aerospace off as they couldn't afford technical school or college.
As an experiment, we announced the opportunity in a language that would resonate with our target demographic but would be off-putting to more traditional candidates:
“Are you a passionate, slightly maniacal individual, great with your hands, tired of flipping burgers, and has always wanted to build spacecraft hardware? If so, we would like to talk to you here at Starsys.”
We had many fewer people respond, but the ones that did walked in the door with a glazed look saying, “You wrote that for me. How did you know?” They were adamant that they were the perfect fit of the job. We found that if they had this response, there was a good chance we were talking to one of our diamonds in the rough.
The key was an approach to describing the opportunity that included a polarizing filter for the personality and values we were looking for.
Passionate: Willing to do whatever it takes, excited about their work, finds the right work intrinsically rewarding.
Slightly maniacal: Non-traditional thinker, out of the box, inventor tendencies, looking for a company that honors this.
Tired of flipping burgers: Recognizes their unrealized potential, ambitious, looking for a company that weighs ability greater than experience.
That has always wanted to build spacecraft hardware: Has personal vision, a hard-wired love for our business, will be intensely loyal as a result of getting an opportunity to realize a dream.
Whimsical context of the announcement: A person that resonates with our company's mantra that “Work should be Fun.”
Here’s the recipe for creating your own listing:
- Create a minimalistic shopping list: What are the three to five attributes that are hard to find, but make the difference between good and great?
- Write the opportunity description as an elevator pitch: short, powerful, complete, compelling.
- Write the announcement in a polarizing manner: If the candidate is cut from this cloth, they will be drawn like a moth to a flame, of they are not, they will run. Want courageous, and bold? “You live by 'Go Big or Go Home'.” Want high quality standards? “You thrive when held to a standard of near perfection."
- Run it by those that are already great in that role: Ask them if they would be drawn to the job posting. Don't post it until they say, “I would rush to check this opportunity out.”
This approach is certainly not for every new hire; sometimes a casting call is needed. But when you know exactly what you want, and you know it is going to be hard to find, try publishing the opportunity in a language that only they will understand.
More cheats in future blogs:
- The effective use of bribery
- Ridiculously hard interview questions
- The reference that tells the truth
- Hire when you don’t need to
Scott Tibbitts is the founder and former CEO of Starsys Research and a nationally recognized speaker on entrepreneurship and legendary corporate cultures. In 1988, he approached NASA with an invention made from hardware store parts. Starsys became a world leader in spacecraft devices, with products on 250 spacecraft and an unprecedented 100% success record. Scott is the co-founder of eSpace: The Center for Space Entrepreneurship, the only congressionally funded aerospace incubator, and is currently working with telecom providers to deploy an invention that prevents texting while driving.