How to avoid driving away top talent

 width=Imagine the typical home-buying processÉ but riddled with unexpected gaps in communication, unanswered questions and a sneaking suspicion that the seller is hiding something from you. What if the realtor is hesitant to have a phone call or meeting to talk through issues, but gives you endless rounds of paperwork and questions to complete before you are even ready to consider putting in a bid?

Reasonable buyers would not tolerate this for a decision as important as buying a house. Why do companies think they can get away with perpetrating similar red flags when trying to recruit top talent to their firm? The fact is, they can’t.

As an Executive Search Consultant, I have witnessed firsthand how companies fail to consider how their actions (or inaction) reflects on the reputation of their entire organization and brand. These red flags run the gamut from not answering questions in a timely manner, deflecting hard questions that may reveal weaknesses, unexplained or unreasonable changes in the timeline and wildly inadequate compensation packages that are not aligned with current market surveys.

A-players are quickly turned off by such issues, leaving the company with only B-level candidates at best, or desperate individuals at worst. If a company appears misaligned or disorganized during the recruitment process, candidates can easily infer that the company is likewise disorganized in its decision-making process, and worse still, probably disorganized throughout its daily business and people practices.

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Organizations can substantially mitigate the risk of driving away A-players by focusing on three, interrelated issues: setting expectations, transparency and responsiveness.

  • Setting expectations involves clearly outlining the timeline for the recruiting process, the steps along the way, reporting relationship, exactly what the job entails and the framework for compensation. Of course, it is realistic and natural that some of these details will be Òmoving targets,Ó especially for a newly created position. For example, I have filled several positions where a client was willing to pay market or above-market value for potential candidates and extended the time line for the search to allow time for us to research the market rate and prepare recommendations on compensation.
  • The topic of managing expectations dovetails nicely into transparency. Companies should be clear, candid and comprehensive about the short- and long-term challenges associated with the position in question. Additional clarity should be given about where this individual fits into the organizational chart and the success metrics for the role. If changes are necessary to the timeline, hiring process or scope of the position, organizations must be straightforward about the rationale behind those changes and communicate everything in a timely manner.
  • Responsiveness is incredibly important throughout the process. Indeed, any perceived apathy or lethargy on the part of the hiring company can derail, if not outright sabotage, recruitment success. As a new recruiter, I tended to be inefficient in the process, and admittedly clumsy with communication at times. However, I focused on being extremely responsive to candidates and clients alike to make up for these limitations. To be sure, it was critical that everyone knew I was diligent in the hard work that defines executive search. Likewise, A-players want to feel like they have a partner in the process — whether that is an internal recruiter, contract recruiter or the hiring manager. Simply put, nothing raises red flags quicker than candidates having to wait an inordinate amount of time for answers to pertinent questions regarding the company, role, process or timeline.

The best thing organizations can do is (i) to ensure that recruiters are armed with enough information to have meaningful conversations with potential candidates and (ii) to empower the hiring managers to have sway in the process. Candidates should not feel like the recruitment process is a series of transactional hoops, but instead feel that the process is about a two-way conversation and vetting.

While technology is certainly changing the way recruitment is performed, technology alone cannot put potential candidates at ease and cajole A-players to accept offers. Indeed, recruiters are partners in finding talent solutions versus resume harvesters. Therefore, recruiting and the hiring process is still accomplished most effectively through personal communication and genuine relationship-buildingÉ and those are ultimately grounded in Setting Expectations, Transparency and Responsiveness.


Terry Donovan is a director in the New York office of AETHOS Consulting Group. He can be contacted at

AETHOS Consulting Group is a global advisory firm serving the hospitality industry. The firm enhances value for its partner organizations via access, know-how and fresh thinking. Core competencies include executive search, compensation consulting, business strategy, psychometric assessments and logistics. The firm is designed as a single partnership operating from ten locations in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific.

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