How to attract top talent

Technology is changing how you hire, but the basics are still worth remembering

The world is changing and so is the field of recruiting. As the number of students graduating from universities each year grows, so does the talent pool of highly educated, employable workers. However, a 2017 ManpowerGroup study found that a staggering 40% of global employers report talent shortages and a 2016 PwC study found that 72% of CEOs are concerned about the availability of key skills.

Additionally, statistics show that keeping the talent bar high is a good thing. The Harvard Business Review found that the the best performers are four times as productive as average performers and that 80% of a business’ profits are generated by 20% of its workers (anyone who’s worked beside someone on their phone all day is nodding right now). Brian Armstrong, founder and CEO of Coinbase believes “It’s easier to hire 90th percentile performers who start doing great work right away, than to train average performers into 90th percentile performers.”

Recruiting software company, Lever, published research that shows 31% of all hires are proactively sourced, which means that teams actively scouted new hires versus passively waiting for the right talent to apply. Most top performers aren’t actively looking for jobs. It may be that their current employer has recognized their talent and is doing everything in its power to keep them and/or they have a number of other options available. Rob Long of hiring management software firm, Workable, suggests assuming that anyone you’re speaking with has an active offer on the table in addition to yours, therefore time is of the essence. As always, it’s a delicate balance between speed, cost, and quality: choose any two. While technology can help streamline, speed up, and simplify the recruiting process, the approach has to be solid before technology can step in to leverage current activities. This article focuses on getting back to basics, as well as leveraging technology to attract top talent.

High tech starts low

As much as technology can support HR and recruiting efforts, if the groundwork isn’t there, technology won’t be able to turn nothing into something (garbage in, garbage out). Therefore, automation starts from a very low-tech place: understand the role you’re looking to fill and quantify what the ideal candidate looks like.

Rob Long of Workable says that hiring managers often have high expectations of their future employee, but seldom take the time to identify exactly what that person’s skills, abilities, and intangibles look like. It’s important to understand exactly what you’re looking for so that the recruiter, company, or candidate don’t waste time.  A poorly thought-through role stalls the hiring process more than anything else.

In addition to wasted time, the cost of a single bad hire can be more than $25,000, according to a Harvard Business Review report. To help prevent this, Brandon Styles of Hired (a firm that connects top tech talent and companies) suggests making two lists for the ideal candidate: need-to-have and nice-to-have. Looking for potential deal-breakers also narrows down the list in the right direction.

Furthermore, technology can’t replace personal, human-centered interactions in the recruiting process. Styles emphasizes the need to customize communication, especially when using a channel like email. This may include specifying which projects or products the candidate would be working on or affecting, as well as who they would be working with if they were to work at your company.

Most people weren’t born yesterday: they can tell when they’re being spammed by automated recruiting emails. Attracting top talent requires effort to personalize communications so that they’re meaningful to the candidate, which will improve response rates. It’s all about cutting through the noise, and personalization is the key to making that happen.

Job description vs. job ad

In much the same way that car companies entice you to test drive a new vehicle to experience its world-class precision handling, sleek interior, and unmatched storage (and not the steering wheel, five seats, and a trunk), a company looking to hire top talent needs to advertise in much the same way. Sell the benefits, not the features.

Your organization shouldn’t be using the same job document internally and externally. A job description is an internal document that captures information such as responsibilities, authority, and working conditions. In contrast, a job advertisement or job posting is meant to attract candidates to the opportunity by offering a shorter, flashier version of the job description in a tone and format consistent with the company’s image. The job ad needs to sell the potential applicant both on the job, as well as the company. Key items presented in the job ad include: title, location, responsibilities, qualifications—education, skill, experience—and how to apply. In much the same way that the car company tried to trigger an emotional response—excitement, prestige, and luxury—the job ad should trigger positive emotions.

A great place to start is with rethinking the job title: it’s a fast, easy—and free—way to make the job more appealing. What’s in a name? As employment author, Peter Weedle, points out: “Top talent want to see themselves in the job, not some HR job title (associate III), so add the skill they would use to describe themselves (sr. marketing pro).”

Anecdotally speaking, we have seen this within the Graphic Communications Management program at Ryerson University. At our school’s annual Job Fair attended by more than 60 companies, the most interesting job titles—and the ones that convey the most seniority—seem to get the most attention from students. Project manager garners more interest than intern production coordinator and web & social media specialist is more appealing to students than graphics intern. It’s undoubtedly a combination of factors—job title, company, location, wage, and benefits—that make one opportunity more appealing than another, but the job title either captures their attention or doesn’t.

When addressing the job responsibilities in the job ad, listing out every single one can seem like an overwhelming to-do list; instead, focus on why the job is exciting, who the candidate will be working for and with, as well as outlining what they’ll be doing and how it contributes to the whole. How will they be recognized? What will they get to learn? Listing company awards, perks, and a frank what-we-are-offering section in the job ad can help attract top talent. To increase the visual and aesthetic appeal of the ad, you may also wish to include high-quality images of your office and employees. Videos—including employee and customer testimonials, and your company’s story—can be an engaging way to capture attention.

Social media management company, Hootsuite, has a knack for writing compelling job ads. Here’s the introduction for senior manager, marketing programs:

Who You Are…

You are a cross-functional guru. You are passionate and experienced in program management with strong leadership skills to drive the marketing strategy and execution. You thrive in a cross-functional environment that allows you to launch new digital products and bring ideas to life. You develop creative program management strategies, manage the campaign process across different stakeholder groups in the organization and continually work to improve the customer experience. Versatility and creativity will be necessary as you find innovative ways to embed new strategies for go-to-market launches and promote new solutions. You have excellent interpersonal, communication, teamwork, presentation and project management skills.

Hootsuite uses descriptive language that effectively paints a picture of the role. While it is a little wordy, Hootsuite is a high-tech startup that many know by name so they can afford to make their job ads a little longer. Your company might not be so lucky, therefore remove any unnecessary words so that top talent doesn’t have to sift through paragraphs to learn about the job. Make it as quick and easy as possible to get to the heart of the ad. It’s a sales document, after all.

Below the first section in Hootsuite’s ad are the subheadings “You’re Great At…” and “You Have…”, which lists responsibilities and qualifications, respectively. Hootsuite’s job ads are professional with a dash of fun, which mirrors the company’s culture and brand philosophy. One of my favourite things about this job ad is in the “You Have…” qualifications section: “Ability to herd cats while maintaining a sense of humour”. They could have easily used more formal language to communicate the same thing: Ability to effectively manage a team of diverse individuals.” I think the former not only speaks to the clever nature of the company, but it’s also a more transparent and authentic depiction of the job.

There’s no one right way to write the job ad, other than to write it with the candidate in mind: use employee-centric language and explain what’s in it for them. Most high-calibre candidates are always employed and likely have multiple recruiters vying for their attention. The job ad must not only convince top talent that the job and the company are worth their time, but that the hassle, uncertainty, and challenges associated with change are worth it.

Once your job ad is ready, it’s now time to spread the word. Post it on your own website, job-search sites, social media, and work with a recruiter to help spread the word. Posting the job internally to encourage referrals is another excellent strategy. Talent knows talent.

Polish your company’s online image

Now that your job ad’s been posted and potential candidates are showing interest, the place they turn to next is your company’s online presence. A 2016 study by job site, Glassdoor, found that most job seekers read at least six reviews before forming an opinion of a company. This is great news. You have an opportunity to wow top talent before meeting them. So what does your online brand presence say about you? Here are several areas to be mindful of:

Company website

Does your company appear to be modern and forward-thinking?

Is the content polished — free of spelling and/or grammatical errors?

Do all the links work?

Have you included interactive content, such as video?

Is your site designed with accessibility in mind?

Do you show your company culture and profile your employees?

Company social media sites

Do you have a presence on social media sites?

Is the branding/messaging consistent?

Are you adding content on a consistent basis?

Are you positing the most appropriate content for the platform?

Customer reviews 

What are your customers saying about you on popular review sites?

Is there any opportunity to respond to feedback?

If so, have you responded? Have you done so in a way that is respectful and productive?

Employee reviews

What are current and former employees saying about your company on websites like

If so, have you responded respectfully?

Job ads

What type of language do you use in your job ads—formal, casual, somewhere in between—and what does this say about your company culture?

The role of artificial intelligence (AI) for recruiting

While recruiting will always be a human-centered process, there are ways in which technology, including AI, is already making huge strides. Resumé writing service, TheLadders, says that a recruiter spends an average of six seconds scanning a resumé before making a decision. Even the most highly acute recruiters are likely to miss top talent from time to time.

Additionally, sifting through resumés takes a significant amount of time and unconscious bias can easily creep into even the best-intentioned hiring manager. As Forbes contributing author, Lars Schmidt, says, linear career paths are a thing of the past and therefore the way in which we assess candidates’ experiences must change as well. Author, George Ander, compares career paths of the past to ladders and present career paths to lattices. They shift, turn, and pause, reflecting shorter placements, entrepreneurial ventures, and taking time off to spend with family, among other things.

So how do we save time, reduce biases, and better pair talented candidates’ unconventional career paths with opportunities in our companies? Perhaps we should get rid of resumés all together and put faith in the power of AI.

Unilever recently stopped their traditional university campus recruitment program in favour of AI. Instead of travelling to campuses, Unilever employed hiring AI firm, Pymetrics, to source graduating talent. The results were incredibly promising, as Unilever hired its most diverse class ever, both ethnically and socioeconomically, successfully hired from schools that weren’t previously on their radar, and reduced hiring time by 75%, from four months to four weeks.

How Pymetrics works:

Existing employees play neuroscience games.

Pymetrics analyzes trait data and trends are identified.

Pymetrics builds custom algorithms representing success and audits for bias.

Candidates play games and match to opportunities.

Startup and technology news site, TechCrunch, said this about the platform: “I tried Pymetrics’ battery of games and not only were they fun, but they made me assess what traits I could improve in myself. It’s time we moved past using Ivy League degrees, past lucky breaks, and discriminatory pattern-matching to sort people into careers. We have the technology to understand people’s underlying skills. With AI that doesn’t see race or sex or expensive suits, merit can shine through.”

What’s the most challenging part of adopting a whole new model of recruiting? It’s two-fold: first it’s the learning curve and fear associated with any big technological or process-driven change, and second, it’s convincing recruiters to adopt technology that may very well put them out of a job.

Closing the deal

You’ve successfully written a job description, as well as written a job ad, and you’ve sourced excellent talent… let the interviews begin.

In contrast to the way most companies operate, Rob Long of Workable suggests that HR teams give candidates the names of all individuals who will be part of the hiring process. Furthermore, he suggests also telling them about any technical testing that will take place. This is primarily to be open, transparent, and ensure they’re prepared, but it’s also to make the whole experience more personal, which can make all the difference for a candidate – and remember to always assume they have other offers on the table. Everyone should be very clear on how the candidate will be assessed. For the candidate, this will help the process feel smoother and more transparent. For the company, it will help the process be as productive as possible. Using structured interview score cards creates a consistent, apples-to-apples comparison between candidates. Lastly, Brian Armstrong of Coinbase reminds us that most people aren’t good interviewers, so making a judgement in the first 10 seconds is not only unfair, but also unproductive.

After much searching, selecting, and solidifying… it’s offer time. Long suggests determining who the candidate had the best connection with throughout the recruiting process and it should be that person who reaches out and offers the job. This might mean getting the hiring manager with whom that person will be working to reach out and explain why they’re really excited to have the candidate come on board. This simple action could be the difference between top talent choosing one opportunity over another.

Additionally, relatively soon after the hire has been made, many companies will ask successful candidates to outline their experience with the company’s hiring process on Glassdoor. Candidates are likely still riding the high of the hire and their positive review helps boost an employer’s online presence for future talent.

For those who didn’t make the cut, there is incredible value in following up and staying in touch. There might an excellent opportunity for them elsewhere in your company or at a later time. Consider providing feedback as to what went well and where they could improve in the recruitment process. Do they need more experience in an area before you think they’re ready for the job or were they simply not prepared enough when it came to the interview or testing? They want to know. A candidate experience study by Workplace Trends, reveals that almost 60% of job seekers had a poor candidate experience and over 70% of them shared this experience on Glassdoor. What an incredible and strategic opportunity to follow-up and close the communication loop to make their experience as positive as possible.


Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.