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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

How the Best Companies Out There Attract the Talent They Want

Before someone is a great employee, he or she is usually a standout applicant. On your end, things just click and the person is an automatic choice to progress from one round to the next. On the candidate’s end, he demonstrates throughout the hiring process that he gets who you are and what you do. So, how do you maximize the chances of recruiting these candidates who’ll “fit”—who’ll actually make all those clichés like “hit the ground running” true?

To find the answer, I spoke with Liane Hornsey, former VP of Global People Operations at Google and current Chief Administrative Officer at Softbank Group International; Brad Lande, CEO of Live in the Grey; and Claude Silver, Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia. These experts shared their perspectives on recruiting and retaining talent—and each one stressed the importance of core values, culture, and authenticity.

Here’s what I learned:

Be Clear on Your Core Values

It’s a pretty simple idea: When your company has a clear, defined set of values and is open and honest about them at every stage of the interview process (and even before), both candidates and hiring managers will have a feel for whether or not they’ll be a match before actually working together. It means you can picture, say, whether an applicant whose examples are all team-based (or all independent) will be likely to succeed in your environment.

The key, though, the three experts agree, is that those values are authentic. You shouldn’t choose values because they sound good or work for other employers. In fact, culture is one area where imitating leaders in the field is a mistake. At Google, Hornsey notes, cooperation is critical; but other companies may find success through a competitive atmosphere. “Don’t pretend to be someone else,” she says. “If Microsoft tried to be Google, they’d fail.”

If you haven’t already, take the time to discover and spell out your company’s core values. Unsure where to begin? Talk to your standout current employees about what they love about their jobs and what’s kept them around—you’ll likely find patterns. In addition, Hornsey points out that companies with strong employer brands also have unmistakable customer brands; use that as a launching point.

More importantly, though, make sure that you’re living those principles day in and day out. Plenty of organizations have a list of values, but as Lande says, what matters is that they’re “grounded in behaviors.” If you say you’re committed to personal growth but don’t have a budget for employees to take courses, candidates will see right through it.

Show Who You Are

Once you’re clear on your employer brand, you’ll naturally attract the right kind of candidate. According to Lande, it’s really that simple: “Once you’re able to articulate the identity of the organization in a way that feels unique and authentic, it becomes a filtering mechanism in and of itself…you’ll attract people with a similar set or complimentary values that are aligned with the organization.” By making it clear who you are, candidates can in turn consider if they’re a match. “The company’s not in the driver’s seat,” explains Hornsey. Hiring should be a two-way process that examines “Is this right for the individual and the company?”

Of course, you’ll need to communicate who you are as broadly as possible, so current employees, prospective applicants, and recruiters can all have higher odds of sending the right people your way. Remember that applicants will seek out more info than what you put in the job description: They’ll be looking across your website, third-party sites like The Muse and Glassdoor, and social channels to get a sense what it’d be like to work there. Video is a useful tool here—especially video that features your current employees. Use them to get your message out, and candidates will be able to assess the fit for themselves.

Oh, and when doing so, don’t be afraid to showcase your culture beyond the workplace: What do employees do for fun? What matters to them? People want to, in Silver’s words, “bring their whole selves to work,” so they’ll be looking for common ground extending beyond the scope of the role they’re applying for.

Don’t Compromise Quality for Speed

You’ve heard it before, but Hornsey’s #1 rule bears repeating: “Never ever compromise a hire.” And she means it: She once left a role vacant for 18 months, because while she saw candidates with the correct technical skills, she felt they weren’t aligned with the company’s core values. Similarly, VaynerMedia relies on the classic airport test, with Silver agreeing that she’d choose a culture fit with slightly weaker skills over someone with hard skills whom she “wouldn’t want to have dinner with.” As the company has grown, the expectation for technical skills has risen, however values like hustle and “doing the right thing” still matter most.

To make sure an applicant will be a culture fit, Lande suggests splitting out the hiring process across different team members who’ll screen for skills vs. match. He says companies get into trouble when “people who assess the functional skills are asked to look for cultural fit [as well],” and that to be given the same level of accuracy and care, the roles need to be separated.

It’s not easy to turn down an applicant with a perfect resume when you have a vacancy and work going undone. But employees who don’t fit your culture, who can’t be themselves or will be going against the grain won’t be happy in the long run, and you’ll be back to hiring for the role (yet again).

At the drop of a hat, Hornsey will tell you that collaboration was key at Google, and Silver would share that Gary Vaynerchuk’s motto, “doing the right thing is always the right thing,” is a guiding value for VaynerMedia. It’s no coincidence that companies with legendary cultures—that applicants line up to work at—have unmistakable, authentic core values.

So, if you’re facing a hiring challenge (you’re not that excited about the bulk of applicants, or you’re about to hire new employees into the double—or triple—digits) don’t simply look outward to improve your chances. Look inward first. Get really clear on what your company identity is and how you can articulate it. From there, you’ll find the process of attracting the right candidates follows much more naturally.

Photo of co-workers courtesy of Compassionate Eye Foundation/Steven Errico/Getty Images.