When Assessing Talent, “Give Up Without A Fight”

Most recruiting is relatively straightforward and easy to understand. But there is one crucial aspect that is counterintuitive. That aspect is the ease of finding your new hires. It would seem logical that you would be happy when it is relatively easy to get candidates to say “yes” to your offers. In fact, the exact opposite is generally true. Top talent is seldom easy to convince.

In short, if you want to know if you are getting top talent, the answer is, “If they are easy to catch… you don’t want them!” Expect to have to fight for top talent.

The Best Get Counteroffers!

Fish that are easy to catch are usually floating (and are dead or soon to be dead). The best fish are fresh, healthy, and put up a fight. In a low unemployment economy, top talent is in high demand. The best are currently employed and are not easy to get away from a competitor. As a result, top candidates will invariably get at least one counteroffer from their current employer in response to your job offer.

This means you often must “up the bid” with a second offer to the candidate if you are going to convince top talent to leave their current job. I have a friend at Cisco who pulled me aside when he heard me advise a manager to use counteroffers as a talent assessment tool.

His response was funny. “If you have really found top talent, expect to have to make two counteroffers (not one)!” I was initially shocked, but later realized there was a good deal of truth to the advice. It’s a war and if you expect to get the very best, expect two counteroffers. Now there are some exceptions to this “expect counteroffers” guideline because some managers and companies refuse to make any counteroffers.

These “penny wise but pound foolish” managers just don’t get it. Whether you currently have the talent, or are fighting to acquire it, expect to have to bid for it!

Three Calls, No Returns

The best are recruited constantly. I expect top talent to get an average of three calls from recruiters each week. If the talent you are recruiting eagerly wants to talk to a recruiter, they might not be the type of person that is in top demand (those who are inundated with recruiter calls). Incidentally, getting recruiter calls is not a bad sign, but it does force management to continually treat your employees well so that they will not return an outside recruiter’s calls.

Thus the goal becomes three calls, no returns. This means you want your talent to be so good that everyone calls so much that you need to treat them so well that they never return the calls!

Other Reasons Top Talent Are Difficult To Recruit

  • They are constantly busy and thus are hard to get hold of.
  • Because they are continually recruited, they can spot an amateur recruiter
  • mile away. Use a great recruiter or expect to fail.
  • Because they receive so many offers they can not be fooled by a “low-ball” offer. Make a competitive bid or don’t play at all.
  • Once you land them the fight just begins again. You must fulfill every promise you made, or they will immediately begin looking.


Don’t fool yourself. If you’re really looking for the best of the best in a tight job market, beware of recruits who are easy to convince. There are obviously exceptions, but as a general rule, if your candidate does not get a counteroffer, either they are not a top candidate, their boss is a dummy, or they are really unhappy in their current situation.

Be aware of the latter, because generally top talent know how to manage situations (and their bosses) so that they never reach the point of frustration. On the other side, be happy that recruiters are calling your top talent. It’s the ultimate compliment to a manager!

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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