Remember the phrase “employer of choice” from the dot-com boom? It was a period of ridiculously low unemployment, a time when companies struggled not just to find exactly the right talent at the right price — but to find talent, period. So they did everything they could to woo applicants with a string of new perks: concierge services that would pick up your dry cleaning and help you do basic domestic tasks, free food at the office, foosball tables for recreation, casual dress codes, and so forth. Did those perks make them employers of choice? Not really. Once everyone offered them, they simply raised the table stakes for getting a good hire.
How, then, do you create a more desirable workplace than your competitors? By outperforming them. That’s because people like being associated with a winner. It also doesn’t hurt to set a high bar for entry. At least part
the reason why so many young people apply for programs like Teach for America or jobs at Google is because of the perception that it is so hard to get those positions.
Think about it from the perspective of those you’re recruiting. Companies that can offer workers identification with a famous or winning brand and bragging rights for holding a job others are dying to have don’t need to pay as much as everyone else or provide as many fancy benefits to attract droves of applicants.
Since you’re aiming for quality, not quantity, offering terms and conditions that are appealing to all applicants is unnecessary. Rather, you’ll want to figure out what kinds of candidates are a good fit and then meet their particular needs. If you want people with terrific pedigrees, you have to be willing to pay a lot — but do you really need those pedigrees? If you want candidates interested in staying for the long-term, you have to offer them good opportunities for advancing internally. Organizations rarely take a hard look at what they can give people, and so they are continually disappointed by their recruiting. Whittle down the list of attributes you want to those that you are willing to pay for, whether with money or with intangibles.
Also be up-front about the aspects of the job that might not appeal to everyone. It’s tempting — but a huge mistake — to downplay or withhold that information. Hires who learn about the less-desirable aspects after they start the job will certainly feel misled, possibly underperform as a result, and even quit if the deceit is bad enough. It’s much better to be honest from the outset. Scare away those who won’t fit — and establish positives that will attract the right candidates into the pool.
Then focus on those upsides: what you can offer that most competitors can’t. Maybe it’s location, opportunities to acquire experience, or the flexibility to work remotely. None of those will suit everyone, but again, you don’t want to court everyone. Doing your employees’ laundry may get people to stay in the office longer, but if you don’t care where they get the work done, why bother?
If there’s nothing distinctive you can offer to set your organization apart, and you don’t want to pay enough to buy the talent you prefer, then just like any other shopper, you’ll have to start compromising on what you want.