The Difference between a Good and Bad Hiring Strategy

To summarise what I mean by a hiring strategy, I am referring to a company’s approach to how it intends to attract people for a specific role or set of roles. This could be one role or several roles for the same department.

With much talk about how to attract talent in a competitive market place, skills shortages and endless articles about company culture I find it baffling at how some companies approach hiring permanent employees.

Let’s explore the key area’s of a hiring strategy, the rights and the wrongs and then outline what makes for a good hiring strategy.

The Objective of a Hire

The logical answer is to get the best person for the job. But what does this mean? The person who can do the job best? Who has all of the skills needed? Can do the proverbial, “Hit the Ground Running”? When I work with new clients some will say that they want someone who can do just that; hit the ground running.

One question I ask clients when faced with this objective is why would someone who has the best skills and ability and who could come in and hit the ground running want this job? Think about it. Training obviously wouldn’t be what they would want as they can already do the job. Progression wouldn’t be something they’d want either as again this would be doing something they already do. You’re left with location, hours, being out of work, benefits, culture and the elephant in the room, money.

It may be closer to home for them, have better hours, better benefits and better culture. But if you’re a great candidate at what you do and have all the skills, how did you get to being so good in the first place?

The Background of Skilled Candidates

Someone had to train you and you were considered worth putting the training into. Somebody had to develop you not just in skills, but in the application of those skills. You would have sought, as a character, the opportunity to better yourself. Why would you call it a day at bettering yourself now?

It could be due to location, but unless you are the only firm in the area looking you will have competition for that individual. If location is the only selling point of your business, unless you’re on their doorstep it’s unlikely to be the be all and end all. As for hours, the chances are someone else offers their desired hours also so you wouldn’t be unique there. If they are out of work, they’ll need a job. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll want the job, just need it to tide them over.

As for benefits, the reality is that they tend to be sweeteners rather than deciding factors. Unless the benefit is a major one. A guaranteed 10k bonus for a maintenance engineer would be good, but who’s actually going to offer that?


A lot of focus is on benefits packages with companies looking to offer better than the next firm. In reality most benefits packages only have marginal gains over one another. A death in service or a life insurance is unlikely to be what it comes down to when choosing which firm to join. I’d love to say it’s a big deal, but it only really makes a difference when you look at high level roles because the package values are sometimes 20k+. That’s sizeable. Benefits packages for Technical Sales people as an example don’t tend to be valued anywhere near that and hence don’t have much weight in the grand scheme of things. It’s nice, but more cherry on the cake than have your cake and eat it.

Company Culture

I wrote an article concerning how this is branded:

The problem is that many companies are obsessed with employer branding and a key focus area is promoting their culture. But so many companies are projecting the same type of image; we are all things to all people. If you were to go by the employer branding of some of these firms, and many are very impressive mind you, you’d be led to believe that they are absolutely brilliant places to work. Yet, too many bare little relevance to what their branding tells potential employees and candidates are gradually getting wise to it.

The other thing to consider regarding culture is that if you are selling a wonderful culture, but the reality isn’t actually anything like that, how do you expect to retain people? If you’re under the impression that you do have a great culture, why are you looking for this particular vacancy? If it’s expansion and you rarely lose anyone then you’re probably on to something. But if it’s because yet another person left again, maybe you need to address this area and take a look in the mirror.


This one is often the most baffling to me when it comes to companies hiring strategies. If you have other companies in your locality looking for the same people you are, offering the same hours, similar benefits and a great culture too, why offer an average salary and expect to get the best people? It’s a bit like going to an auction and only offering the opening bid? What are you expecting to get?

Yet what’s even more crazy is that there’ll be some agency that takes the job on promising that they’ll find someone for them. I’ve been doing this a long time and it’s a real rarity that that agency will find them anyone in these circumstances. In the nicest way, and I’ve been there as a new recruiter many moons ago, you won’t know what makes a good vacancy from a bad one.

I agree everyone has to start somewhere, but some companies still won’t learn their lesson. They’ll keep using agencies in a scatter gun effect to see if some candidate finally pops out of the woodwork. That’s not a hiring strategy that’ll retain good people. It sounds desperate and you’ll end up getting the odd chancer candidate in that’ll ruin your culture. Good people leave average businesses. You’ll just end up average with a scatter gun hiring strategy.

The Consideration of Retention in a Hiring Strategy

Another problem is that bad hiring strategies are short term in their makeup. It’s we need the best people, the best skills and the talent to succeed. That’s ok, but when retention is only something that they work on after the horse has bolted, it makes for a poor strategy in the first place. I’ve experienced companies taking on a candidate from another agency that I know of but chose not to send them. The reason I chose not to send them isn’t just obvious to me, it’s obvious to the client. Things like jumping job to job every year for no real reason. Coming across as someone who will rub other people up the wrong way quickly. Yet because they have the talent to hit the ground running they get hired.

Sure as the day is day and the night is night, a matter of months later I get a call to refill that person who didn’t work out. And the client is not even surprised about it. When you hire someone like that, consider the impact on the good people around them. Would you want to work with a complete pigs behind? The type of person you’d walk the long way around the building just to avoid? It’s so short term and it’s this kind of thing that damages company cultures and drives good people to want to leave.

Your Choice of Recruitment Agent

This should be key before you start a hiring campaign. Get a recruiter who knows what they are doing, knows your market and can support you with objective advice. It’s in their interest to advise you in getting good people that will stay, because if you are a good company and that agencies candidates keep leaving you won’t use them again. Good recruiters want to work with good companies. Poor recruiters will think, act and work short term.

Interview recruitment firms and meet the recruiters. Ask them what they know about the market, who they work with, how they work. You’ll soon see who knows their stuff and who’s a chancer. Don’t just reply to every agency that drops you an email and say send me some CV’s. Only chancer agencies will bother and if that’s all the info you give them, you’ll get random CV’s. You might get lucky, but it’s like playing Russian roulette with your new hires. Any good recruiter who gets consistent great results won’t want to work with you.

What Makes for a Good Hiring Strategy?

Firstly, consider why someone would want to work for you in the first place. Really think about it. Why’d your guys who work for you now join? What were they looking for and what about those who have been there the longest? Why have they stayed so long? A lot of your best resource in answering this is the people who are already there.

Think long term. Good people are those that will want something long term. Why would you want someone for a permanent role who likes to change job every year? What can you offer a good person long term?

Your Budget

Be realistic. If you’re budget is above the market rate you can be picky, but if you’re paying the market rate you can’t expect the best skillsets. Accept that. You’ll need to train them and develop them. If you’re thinking long term where’s the problem? You might have someone who is 7/10 skilled now, but bolt on that skill to them over the next 6 months and you could have someone for the next 6 years. If they’re good both in skill and in persona, they could be passing on that skill to other people too.

Cultural Fit

The amount of companies that choose skill first and cultural fit second is verging on the ridiculous. It’s the wrong way around. You just end up with a bunch of individuals with average motivation. It’s like buying a ticket for the Bullet Train because it can get you somewhere quickly and then realising that it’s going half speed to save on fuel costs. The focus then ends up on motivating your staff.

People do things for three reasons; they have to, they need to or because they want to. If they have to it’s because they’re paid to do it. But most people are paid whether they put in a hard graft or not. If they’re only there because they have to be, they’ll do the minimum if left to their own devices. If they need to it’s probably because they don’t have a choice. This could be management by fear. As in they need to do it or they could lose their job. This produces only temporary results and will just see people fleeing your company because of oppression.

A Good Hiring Strategy

If people want to be there because it matters to them personally, they won’t need motivating. But how do you get people like that you ask? The truth is they are everywhere. Have a look from a helicopter perspective at your company. There will always be a small group of individuals who will work their butts off and they’ll do it when nobody is looking. Why? Because it matters to them to do a good job. The problem is that they go unnoticed. They don’t kiss arse.

Those are the people you want motivationally. And a good hiring strategy should be to find people that fit that criteria first and accept that they probably won’t be the most skilled on day one. Maybe 6 or 7 out of 10 from a skill perspective. That they won’t hit the ground running. And won’t produce short term results.

Yet, give it 6 months and with some training and you have a highly motivated, skilled and committed individual. Hire more people like this and you won’t need to motivate them. You won’t need to worry about working on your culture or retention. Think long term and you’ll get long term results.

If you study some of the most remarkable teams of people in business history, those that have produced staggering results over prolonged periods, this is how they did it. Using a good hiring strategy.

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