6 Secrets to Attracting top Talent

John Younger, an EO San Francisco member and president, CEO and Mojo Master of HireMojo

I’ve started five successful companies. In each case, achieving success was ultimately tied to attracting and hiring great people. I also have the dubious honor of having made more mistakes than most. That’s why it’s also absurd to depend upon the tired techniques of candidate searching that date from the 1960’s. Finding the best people, and getting them to want to join your team, should be akin to a major targeted sales and marketing effort. 

Having helped fill over 25,000 unique jobs, here are the six secrets that made all the difference for me.

1. Define the exact criteria

Before seeking candidates, ask yourself these essential questions:

  • What specifically needs to get done by when? You’re not filling a slot; you’re moving your business agenda forward.
  • How will success be quantitatively measured? If you don’t have reasonable metrics, you won’t know whether you have a top performer.
  • Why would the right person want this job? The best candidates can pick and choose, so you’d better figure out why they’d choose you.
  • What are the common attributes of your top performers?  Define the hard skills, soft skills and personality that your top people share.

2. Develop a compelling recruitment plan

Your recruitment plan consists of the job description and the initial interview questions. Think of the job description as asking the right person out on a date, with the description being the pick-up line.  It should contain the following:

  • A function title (Example: “Java Engineer”)
  • A creative title to catch the attention of the right person looking for a new opportunity(Example: “Java Engineer Who Loves Developing Gaming Software”)
  • Rather than writing a dull-as-dishwater job description, pretend that you’re writing a personal note to the ideal person you’d like to hire.  Use this personal message as your job description.


Software Engineer with 10 years of experience in a Java-centric software development environment. Must exhibit both innovative thinking, ability to work in a team and leadership skills, preferably in the research and development of medical devices.


This job is all about building software that helps doctors heal people and save lives.  You’ll be part of a creative team that designs and implements the software that runs some of the most advanced medical devices on the planet. Your skills in Java programming will make those devices easier to use and thus able to help more people.  You will be making a big difference to the lives of many people.

Since you want ideal job candidates to find your job description, add a string of keywords section at the bottom of the job description to get maximum Search Engine Optimization (SEO). What’s important here is focusing on the manifestation of the talent, rather than the years of experience. Avoid the standard hypothetical interview questions; they’re useless. Well constructed questions will help attract the right people because they show a deep understanding of what success looks like and why the job will be of interest to them.


  • Why are manhole covers round?
  • What is your greatest strength?
  • How do you define the term “leadership”?


  • Walk me through your most recent Java development project
  • How did the team handle differences in programming approach?
  • Why did you specialize in Java as opposed to some other language?What about our company excites you?

3. Cast a wide net AND a targeted effort
Starting with the easiest and least expensive methods (job postings and social networks, then resume/profile research, then target list generation).  Based on the flow and quality of candidates, work up the pyramid toward the most expensive and labor intensive methods (dedicated recruiters and agencies). I was so unimpressed with just how random most recruiting efforts seem to be, we actually created a systematic approach that incorporates most social networks, job boards and direct sourcing. 

4. Treat candidates like customers, referral sources and sharehlders
Remember, every candidate has friends and colleagues! Treating the people who apply only as candidates for the one job, not only alienates them, but gives your company a horrible reputation. Instead, treat candidates like customers, referral sources and shareholders. Make sure that everyone who applies is given a genuinely fair shot at being considered, and that he or she receives follow-up and closure regardless of the outcome. Think of it this way: the goal for each phone and in-person interview is to have the person enthusiastically interested in getting your job, even if they are not a good fit. Make every person a brand advocate for you.

5. Limit the number of interviewers
Having a candidate run a gamut of interviewers is wasting both the candidate’s time and your team’s productivity. I’ve seen a consistent dynamic; the less confident the hiring manager, the greater number of interviews required. Some interviewers are simply gun shy and will say “No” to everyone because they are afraid of making a hiring mistake. Others say “Yes” even when it’s not the right fit because they don’t want to be “the bad guy.”
Identify the people within your company who interview and select well, and consider having these few people be on the interview teams for roles outside their domain of expertise.

6. Move quickly when you find the right person
The tendency for some people is to wait until they have seen several candidates before making a decision, even if they have one who fits well. When you have someone that fits well, move before they get hired by someone else.

Once you’ve created your recruitment plan, have your current top performers read the description and answer the interview questions. This will tell you whether your questions are filtering out, rather than identifying, top performers.

You can find free examples of the most successful job postings and questions for a variety of roles at HireMojo

Categories: Interview PEOPLE/STAFF


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