Your company is in a war for talent, and in that war, just about everyone is your enemy. When Bill Gates was asked a few years ago who Microsoft’s main competitors were for top employees, he replied McKinsey and Goldman Sachs.  These days he would likely add Google and any of scores of promising startups.

In other words, great employees have many choices, even in today's economy, and they aren't just limited to your industry.  To attract top-flight intellects, you need to build a persuasive case as to why your opportunity is not just the best of your competitors, but the best of all potential employers, including the one he or she works for now.  How do you do that?

  • First, get your team aligned. Start with some deep self-examination about what your company truly needs, and make sure everyone on the team agrees. A major turnoff for top job candidates is to hear the job profile described differently by different employees involved in the search.
  • Make a good first impression When the ideal candidate walks through your front door, what does he or she see?  Have you created an appealing place to spend 50 to 60 hours a week?   What does the work environment tell the candidate about you and your company?  A bad first impression makes it very hard to entice a strong candidate to your payroll.
  • Draft WhyDocs: The main (and usually the most important) question every candidate will be thinking is Why?  Why should I join you and why do you want me?  Everyone in the process needs to be able to answer both questions. They should all be able to explain why the move to your firm will indeed be in the candidate’s best interest. 
  • Remember it's not all about you:  Avoid the temptation to spend all your time selling the candidate on how great your company is without first understanding what really matters to the candidate. Learn that first, and then build the WhyDoc to address your candidate's desires.
  • Get out and hunt: When there is a critical need to fill, take the initiative and call key people whom you respect. Ask them for the names of top performers  they know or have worked with. And don’t stop with your circle of contacts. Have your whole team generate a slate of candidates.
  • Stay flexible:  The more you can offer, the more likely you are to win the heart of your candidate. It is never just about money. Top candidates want growth, development, opportunity, recognition and lifestyle. They want to feel passion, but they often want balance as well.  No one wants to put in 75-hour weeks then get “the look” when they want to leave early on a Friday to coach their child’s soccer team.

You cannot win the war for talent by being passive.  Involve everyone in the process, and remember that top performers always have choices. You will win only if the role at your company fulfills their desires--and is a big win for them, too.

Co-authored with Thomas Johnston, CEO of SearchPath, an executive search firm.