How To Recruit Like The World's Most Progressive Organizations

Written by in Practices
- 5 min read

Finding the right people is hard. A PWC CEO survey, says 93% of CEOs feel the need for better ways to attract and retain the right talent. Other data says 38% of companies struggle to fill open positions.

And even when an organization attracts good talent (as many Bucket List organizations do), it’s still hard to select those who are the best fit. Here are five powerful practices culled from our visits to over 60 progressive organizations.

Winning the war on talent

Unsurprisingly, organizations that focus on making work more fun attract more, and better, talent. The Belgian Federal Office of Social Affairs in Brussels is one of the best examples we have seen. Prior to 2002, when Frank van Massenhove initiated their remarkable transformation, only 18% of recently graduated Public Administration students wanted to work for them.

Today, they have a reputation as a progressive organization. A staggering 93% of recent graduates now want to work for Frank’s department. Whereas in the 2002 they attracted (an average of) 3 applicants per vacancy, this has now skyrocketed to 57(!).

But winning the war on talent does not stop with a big pile of applications. Now it is crucial to select the best candidate. Here are 5 powerful ways to do just that.

1. Hire for culture, train for skills

Many progressive organizations focus, first, on cultural fit, and then on skills. They approach the hiring process this way.

Practices from our Bucket List organizations include: culture interviews, panel discussions with employees, discussions with the founders, and performing practical tasks to observe behaviour in practice.

At Spotify, culture-fit trumps skills. They believe they can train for the latter but not so easily for the former. To make sure of good fit, they now start each recruitment process with an intensive culture interview. Only in this way, can Spotify’s recruiters (and they use only internal recruiters) be sure that there is a proper fit between candidate values and the company’s innovative culture.

The decision to do the culture interview first was made recently. They had discovered it was hard to turn down highly skilled candidates later in the process because of a poor cultural fit. So, now they do it first.

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2. Let the team do the hiring

In many traditional organizations, HR departments do the recruiting. And they can feel pressure to find the new candidate as quickly as possible. Indeed, HR may be evaluated, formally or informally, on their speed in doing so. The consequence is they go for speed, first, and not necessarily for quality or fit. Doesn’t make any sense, right?

Putting work teams in charge of selecting their future colleagues avoids these problems. Several organizations do this, including outdoor apparel company Patagonia and financial consultancy firm Finext.

This not only allows the team to select the best new colleague (instead of having to accept someone hired by HR), it also makes them more committed to ensuring the new hire succeeds.

3. Show, don't tell

Instead of talking about the attendee’s (possibly exaggerated) written achievements, why not ask them to perform a task? This can reveal a lot about skill, organizational, and cultural fit.

For example, Bucket List pioneer Henry Stewart lets applicants for training roles participate in live courses. They can be taught, and asked to teach. After exchanging feedback, they then ask the applicant to teach once more—to see how they respond to feedback. Henry: “We can talk about their training skills all we like, but we won’t know how good they are until we actually experience it.”

4. Trial period

Even if you think you have found the perfect candidate, it is still hard to predict actual on-the-job fit. Therefore, some progressive organizations allow a trial period, for both parties.

The employer can assess whether or not the new hire actually is a good organizational, cultural, and job fit. And the new hire gets a chance to really experience what working in that organization is like. A trial period of 3 months is not uncommon.

5. Pay a new hire to leave

Companies like Zappos and Cyberclick have clearly defined trial periods that lead up to an important moment. This moment is about deciding whether or not the trial will turn into actual employment.

At Cyberclick, the trial period looks like this:

  • Once selected, the applicant starts working for 3 weeks.
  • After 3 weeks, the team evaluates the new colleague. They have a strong focus on his/her alignment with their company values. Any team member has the right of veto during this evaluation.
  • After 3 months, there’s another, similar evaluation.
  • Once the employee successfully passes all stages, she has a decision to make. She can choose to (1) take the job, or (2) not take the job and receive a 2-month bonus (!) in addition to salary for the time worked (So far, 30 employees had the chance to take this bonus. Nobody, so far, took it.)

Zappos has a similar practice. They pay new hires $5.000 to quit after their 4 week training period.

These companies simply want to make damn sure new hires want to work for the company because of more than just money.

Radical, but successful

Maybe these practices sound radical. But for the companies that use them, they work wonders. They avoid some traps in the out-dated practices that 93% of CEOs say need changing.

Perhaps they are worth trying?

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