5 Questions You Should Ask Yourself to Land Top Performers

bigstock-Order--110005781.jpgIt’s no secret that recruiting equals questions galore. Questions to your hiring manager about what their ideal candidate looks like, questions to your fellow recruiters about how to navigate a tricky situation, and questions to your candidate about the qualities they seek in their next role. But if you want to hear a resounding ‘yes’ from your dream candidate, you may want to take a step back and ask yourself a few questions as well. In our webinar last week, Jordan Burton, talent expert and founder of Burton Advisors, told us how to attract, nurture and close our best candidates. We broke down his advice into 6 questions:

1) What is the mindset of a top performer?  

Before you even dive into your recruiting process, deeply consider the mindspace of top talent. If you had to make a generalization, how would you characterize the most qualified candidates’ approach to the job search? Jordan has gleaned that most top performers know they’re widely coveted. Their immediate impulse will be to tell you: “I don’t have a lot of time. I’m busy,” because they’re likely making a huge impact in their current role. The truth is, however, that top performers will make time if they see potential for recognition, impact and cultural fit at your company. Remember that even if they are confident in their qualifications, they are likely insecure in the face of the job hunt. “Marginal performers are experts at job searches, top performers are not,” says Jordan. “Top performers typically get pulled from one role into the next by happy former bosses, colleagues, and clients.” Therefore, it’s going to be much more difficult to get them engaged with a company they are unfamiliar with.

In order to truly grasp their mindset, Jordan suggests that you sit down with recent hires, or your colleagues who are fresh from the job search. He calls this an “intro interview”, the opposite of the “exit interview” that companies conduct when employees leave, and it is your chance to talk to new hires about their interview experience. Ask them questions like: “What was your excitement level at each stage of the process? What went well? What went wrong?”, Jordan suggests.

2)  Who should reach out to my candidate, and how?

Now that you have a better idea of how top candidates think, it’s time to get specific about how to best approach them. Every candidate is different, which is why it’s key to reconsider who should reach out to them in every interview process. Jordan has discovered that candidates are most likely to respond to: 1) Friends, 2) Respected colleagues they’ve worked with before, 3) Impressive people such as CEOs and thought leaders, 4) People they feel an affinity with, and 5) Random people such as recruiters. Recruiters can spend hours perfecting a compelling message, but it’s unlikely to hold the same weight as one from a friend or CEO.

Next, ask yourself how you should reach out to your top candidate. Jordan has gathered that in-person connections most effectively pique a candidate’s interest. Ideally, that in-person connection is “opportunistic”, or it occurs at a conference, party or meetup. In this situation, the candidate is less likely to assume that you have an agenda. But whether the connection is clearly about recruiting or not, a face-to-face interaction is always optimal. “Very few human interactions are actually about the text of the words, they’re much more about the emotions,” says Jordan. It’s much easier to get to know someone when you can read their facial expressions and they can read yours. And when top performers are receiving about 3 to 5 LinkedIn inmails a day, you can only assume that your message is blending in with the crowd.

3) What are their implicit motivators?

First things first: actively avoid a sales pitch at every turn. If your first words to a candidate are about the role you’re offering, they will begin brainstorming ways to escape the conversation. Instead, your most pressing question should be about their implicit motivators. Figure out what they do and do not like about their current role. What inspired them to take on the role in the first place? What are they looking for in their next role?

“Get them talking for 5-10 minutes,” advises Jordan. “As soon as we start sharing parts of ourselves, our perception of the person we’re talking to changes.” We start thinking “Wow, I’m sharing some pretty deep information. It must be because this person is worth it,” Jordan says.  Instead of relying on stock bullet points on what makes your company great, get your candidate talking about their implicit motivators and tailor your conversation to each one using behavioral based interview questions.

4) Why is their candidate experience so important? 

It’s not because everyone who’s anyone is talking about it these days. It truly matters, and Jordan told us why.

First of all, the best recruiting engines are referral-driven. If you deliver a stellar candidate experience, you encourage referrals, many of which eventually lead to hires. “Candidate experience also delivers better data,” Jordan maintains. When a candidate has a great experience, they are more forthcoming, and you’re able to get to know them better. In case that reasoning isn’t convincing, Jordan also says that candidate experience is the number one closing strategy. Create an inspirational, rigorous, and personal experience, and that will tell your candidate more than any online research. Candidates will use your process as a proxy for their actual experience at your company. An easy, boring process, for example, will tell a top candidate that your company will not be challenging. It will tell them they can do better, and they will look elsewhere.

Ultimately, candidate experience is where you show candidates how badly you want them on your team. If you devote your attention to your candidate and resist the temptation to talk about yourself, you tell them that your only goal is to call them a future teammate.

5) What are my go-to ninja tactics if my candidate has concerns at the end of their process?

A perfectly smooth candidate experience is no guarantee that you’ll win the heart of your candidate. In the event that they disengage from your process for any reason, you need a few go-to ninja tactics under your belt. You may want to nail down a few of your own, but Jordan’s tactics may activate your ninja brainstorming power:

  1.  Towards the end of each candidate’s process, Jordan recommends that you ask them how likely they are to accept your offer. If their likelihood is less than 100%, find out what questions and concerns lie in the remaining percentage. Once they address their doubts, respond: “If I can get you comfortable with those concerns, are we are at 100%”?. If the answer is no, figure out why. These direct, persistent questions should get to the root of their concerns so that by the end of your conversation, they have no more room for doubt.
  2. Jordan’s second ninja tactic is “the counteroffer”. If you expect your candidate to receive a counteroffer at their current company or another, counsel them through the other offer. Assure them that you are in their corner. This can establish trust between you and your candidate, and deter them from considering the other company.
  3. The “parallel process” tactic is risky but can be powerful. In this conversation, tell the candidate that the interview process is a two-way street. Jordan suggests this approach to the dialogue: “Hey, we’re getting to know you and you’re getting to know us. If at any point you determine this is not the opportunity for you, just let us know. We can end the process at any point.” This approach is risky because the candidate may actually drop out of your process, but it can be successful because it tells them that you have their best interests at heart. 


Top performers care about far more than a high salary. They want to find cultural alignment with your team, know that they’ll grow professionally, and so much more. Without asking yourself the questions above, you may not be able to show them those qualities in your team. 

Itching to learn which behavior is sure to establish bad rapport with your candidate, so that you can avoid it like the plague? Listen to Jordan’s full webinar here.