Having trouble hiring top talent? Here’s what you’re doing wrong

Last updated:
April 3, 2024
April 3, 2024
min read
Brendan McConnell
hire top talent
Table of contents

Finding and hiring top talent is at the heart of what it means to be a successful recruiter. Your goal is to snatch up the best possible talent to fill an open job requisition before the competition does. Knowing how to hire top talent effectively, therefore, is critical. 

Unfortunately, top talent doesn’t stick around for long. And there is a growing shortage of skilled workers that will only worsen in the coming year. According to Korn Ferry, the global talent shortage for skills workers will widen significantly, with an expected 85.2 million unfilled jobs on the market by 2030. 

While this may sound like a good thing for recruiters, it may actually cause significant headaches for companies looking for talent to meet specific knowledge and skills requirements—such as AI development. Lots and lots of companies will be competing for a shrinking talent pool. 

Recruiters, therefore, need to be able to work effectively and efficiently to identify, screen, and lock down the right person for the job. This means knowing how to hire top talent and what mistakes to avoid that may result in you losing out on the ideal candidate. 

This guide will help. 

Common reasons for losing top talent 

Too often, recruiters are their own worst enemy when going after top talent. There are often issues in the hiring process, a poor candidate experience, misaligned interview processes, or a lack of clarity of expectations. All of these factors can have an impact on a company’s ability to hire top talent. 

Consider, for example, that the average time to fill a tech position is 52 days as of 2023. That’s nearly two months, during which the best candidates can lose interest in your role and company or get snatched up by a faster recruiter. To nab the best talent in the market—especially for highly in-demand skill sets—that time needs to be much shorter. 

Time to hire is just one example. Consistently missing out on top talent for your open requisitions is likely indicative of a wider series of problems in your organization or recruitment process. 

Here are some of the most common reasons that companies lose out on top talent. 

1. Failing to plan your requirements and strategy.

Trying to fill a job requisition without a plan or a clear list of requirements is a bit like trying to hit a target in the dark. It takes a deliberate strategy and clear requirements to identify, attract, screen, and close the best talent for a given position.

Without a clear picture of the job requirements you need to fill, and a strategy for identifying the best candidates, you risk creating poorly targeted job ads and job descriptions, and being unable to properly screen candidates. All of this creates barriers to identifying and hiring top talent.

2. A poor candidate journey.

Recruitment teams that don’t have a clear and consistent candidate journey ensure that they will undoubtedly experience headaches when trying to land top talent. A strategic candidate journey ensures that each touch point with the candidate has a purpose and moves the applicant through the funnel as efficiently as possible.

Candidate journey needs to be fully optimized at six key stages:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Interest
  • Application
  •  Selection
  • Hire

If each stage doesn’t work in sync, or if the experience is poor and disjointed between each, you’re setting yourself up for headaches. 

According to a recent JobSafe survey, the pet peeves that most often ruin a candidate's journey are: 

  • Failing to publish a position’s salary 
  • Expecting multiple years of experience for entry-level roles 
  • A hiring process that takes too long 
  • Poor communication and ghosting 

Throughout the journey, make sure that you’re clear on expectations and offerings, and efficiently move candidates through the hiring process in a transparent manner. 

3. Poor employer branding.

80% of talent acquisition managers believe employer branding plays a significant role in the ability to hire top talent. And 77% of organizations see employer branding as an integral and crucial part of their overall business strategy.

The best candidates will have a bunch of different companies and job options to weigh during their job search. One way to ensure that you don’t make the shortlist is to have poor employer branding, or an unclear message about what your benefits are to the applicant.

Likewise, poor reviews about your company are likely to force existing top talent to leave, as well as harm your recruitment efforts. 50% of employees have quit their jobs because of a poor manager, and 82% are considering quitting. A poor employer branding reputation, therefore, impacts both retention and the ability to attract new hires. 

Despite competitive salaries, a negative employer brand can dissuade high-quality candidates. It's crucial to address issues contributing to a poor reputation, such as negative reviews, lack of employee engagement, or unclear expectations around company culture.
Nicola Clarke, Executive Recruitment, Kepler Search 

4. Using the wrong sourcing channels.

Looking for top talent in the wrong place is one of the best ways to ensure that you never find them. More important than sending tons of recruitment ads out into the world is taking the time to understand who your candidates are, and how you can reach them on their own turf.

This means thinking beyond traditional job boards and websites, and identifying new channels with which your target audience interacts. 

5. Critiquing applicants based on the wrong variables.  

Subjective recruitment, or judging applicants based on personal biases, can cause recruiters to take a pass on otherwise highly qualified candidates. It’s imperative that you have a system in place to ensure that you don’t hire based on gut feeling but rather based on objective facts and variables that lead to success.

6. Not being diligent enough.

A thorough recruitment process usually means pre-screening, screening, interviewing, and performing background checks on each of your chosen candidates. It’s a deliberate process that requires diligence and commitment to a system. Failing to do your due diligence can lead to taking a pass on qualified candidates, or choosing someone who isn’t actually set up for success.

7. Providing a poor interview experience.

According to research from SHL, 42% of surveyed job seekers have declined a job offer due to a bad interview experience. Nearly half of negative hiring experience reviews cited the interviewer as a contributing factor.

Relationships matter. And reputations spread. It’s critical that each person you interview is shown the respect they deserve, and that your process is fair and thorough enough to help you make an informed decision.

Being unprepared for an interview, or using the wrong techniques, is a great way to lose out on top talent, and tank your employer branding.

8. Being too general and picky.

Establishing a clear set of job requirements helps your team create a persona for an ideal candidate. This requires you to be very specific about what is needed to be successful in the job. Being too general will not allow you to focus your job search to find the best applicants.

I contend that the issue [with not being able to hire top talent] is not that the quality of candidates is diminishing, but that the quantity is increasing. Today, many companies have in-house Talent Acquisitions (TA) teams who are tasked with filling roles in every department—from supply chain to accounting to marketing to administrative. TA teams are spread too thin.
Jamie McCann, Executive Recruiter, Cohen Partners 

On the other hand, being too rigid with your requirements is equally problematic. There’s no such thing as the “perfect” candidate. So, it will be necessary for you to establish what job requirements are “must haves” versus “nice to haves” so that you don’t reject an otherwise solid candidate.

9. Not offering competitive compensation

According to a recent survey from Pew Research, 63% of respondents say they left their last job due to low pay. And while compensation isn’t the only consideration for job hunters and employees when deciding on taking a new job, or staying in their existing one, it is a major factor. 

39% of surveyed workers said that their biggest frustration when job hunting was not being offered a pay package that was in line with their expectations. And, 35% of hiring managers reported an uptick in job candidates asking to negotiate their compensation packages. 

Candidates want to be paid a fair wage for their skills and experience. That price goes up for the best talent, with the most in-demand skills. If you’re not offering (truly) competitive compensation packages, it’s going to be really tough to hire and retain the best talent. 

10. Taking too long to pull the trigger.

The best candidates are often off the market within 10 days of starting their job search. That means you need to be fast on your feet, and ready to expedite the recruitment and offer process if a top candidate hits “Apply”.

How do I attract and hire top talent? 

We’ve addressed the many pitfalls that get in the way of hiring top talent. But what do you have to do to attract them to your company, and make your employment offer appealing to the best of the best? 

We’ve gathered insights from experts in recruitment, HR, marketing, and leadership to share some insights on how to attract and hire top talent. 

Here’s what they had to say.  

1. Identify issues with competitor and salary analysis

Two major reasons that companies might struggle with attracting and hiring top talent, according to Rob Boyle, Marketing Operations Director at Airswift, are: 

  • If the compensation is too low for the responsibilities and work described
  • If the position is highly specialized and, therefore, has a very limited pool of qualified candidates. 

To solve this issue, Boyle recommends first identifying the root of the problem that’s blocking access to top talent. Competitor analysis, he says, is one way to tackle this. 

Useful tip:

Look for similar roles posted by other companies in your industry, and evaluate what they do differently in their job postings, how they structure their compensation, and where they post their job ads. 

Conducting salary benchmarking can also help, adds Boyle. This helps you determine if your compensation offering is competitive. If it’s not, this is a good time to reconsider your compensation strategy. 

Lastly, Boyle recommends that companies conduct employee surveys to find out what their team likes and doesn’t like about working at the company, as well as how they’d describe the company culture. This will give you intel into what may need to be fixed, and how you can best present the company to the job market. 

2. Diversity your sourcing methods for better candidates

Companies sometimes struggle with poor candidate quality due to ineffective candidate-sourcing strategies, explains Phil Strazzulla, founder of SelectSoftware Reviews

Relying solely on one or a few sourcing channels can greatly limit the pool of candidates you create, resulting in an overall lower quality and diversity of potential new hires. 

To solve this problem, Strazulla recommends diversifying your sourcing methods and channels. 

This can include using: 

  • Job boards
  • Social media (paid and organic)
  • Employee referrals
  • Networking events
  • Partnerships with educational institutions
  • Direct outreach 
  • Internal talent pools 

Relying solely on active candidates from job boards and social media postings limits your potential talent pool, adds Nicola Clarke. The best talent is likely not actively looking for a new job, but may still be open to the opportunity. 

Building industry connections through participation in events and conferences, as well as conducting cold and direct outreach campaigns, helps you build a qualified candidate pool that you can tap when new roles arise. 

3. Align recruiter incentives with a quality focus 

Poor recruitment processes often stem from misaligned incentives that drive recruiters to value activity volume over candidate fit, explains Lou Reverchuk, co-founder and CEO of EchoGlobal

Most agency or internal talent teams face pressure from leaders or clients to fill roles rapidly amid 'talent wars.' So they blast undiscriminating job posts across every channel, hoping candidate quantity can compensate for priority mismatches or mediocre vetting in pursuit of speedy placement, he explains.

The solution to this problem is a consultative and capability-focused talent strategy. Recruiters need to truly understand a hiring manager’s success profile and be able to predict future skills needs. This ensures that they’re able to both source correctly and nurture niche communities purposefully to fill future positions. 

To get to this stage, explains Reverchuk, leadership must empower recruiters to value selectivity over fill rates. KPIs—or what recruiters are graded against—needs to skew toward quality and retention, rather than match volume and fill rates. Place value on getting the right hire, rather than filling the position with anyone in the talent pool. 

4. Define roles and improve hiring practices

Unclear role requirements pose challenges for HRs and recruiters, highlights Clarke. Establishing clear and detailed job descriptions—along with ensuring effective communication between hiring stakeholders—is essential for better candidate identification and selection. 

Wendy Makinson, HR manager at Joloda Hydraroll, adds that many companies simply don’t have defined hiring processes for top talent, and believe that posting on job boards is often enough to fill even the most in-demand roles. This, of course, is not the case.

She recommends refining the hiring process and really establishing requirements on a per-role basis before you even start to decide your sourcing channels and techniques. Start with gathering a deep understanding of who and what you’re looking for, and then tailor your outreach to that profile. 

Candidate experience: the secret weapon for hiring top talent

You've likely noticed a trend in the article so far. Each of the above points feeds into the overarching theme of candidate experience in some capacity. That’s because ensuring a positive candidate experience should be an ongoing priority for recruiters. 

Job seekers have many options available to them—especially if they possess highly in-demand skills. You’re not only competing with other recruiters, but also with the candidates’ existing company and their ability to focus on freelance or fractional work instead of full-time positions. A poor candidate experience is a significant and unnecessary barrier to this already fragile hiring situation. 

If you’re having trouble hiring your ideal candidates, ask yourself a few questions related to the candidate experience. 

  • What type of experience are you providing your applicants?
  • How is your company presenting itself to applicants?
  • What would your impression of the process, if you were in the applicant’s shoes?
  • What is your employer brand saying about your company?
  • Is that message appealing to your ideal candidates?

If your answers to any of the above questions are negative ones, then it might be time to start brainstorming how you can improve the experience for your applicants. 

Candidate experience goes hand in hand with employer branding. If one is poor, then the other will be as well. And while a great experience and branding alone might not seal the deal on every top candidate who walks through the door, it will certainly help ensure that you don’t lose out because of a negative first impression.

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