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What High-Quality Job Candidates Look for in a Company

What High-Quality Job Candidates Look for in a Company

by Sarah Houle and Kevin Campbell

Story Highlights

  • High-quality candidates display some similar characteristics
  • High rankings on "great workplace" listings can attract stars
  • The best hiring strategy is both systematic and personal

Here's a common lament expressed by hiring managers:

"The candidates all sounded great when I interviewed them. But most of them never performed at a high level after getting the job. I thought I asked all the right questions. What went wrong?"

Managers approach Gallup with variations of this problem all the time. After digging deeper, Gallup often finds that hiring managers and recruiters assess the quality of their candidates based on many factors, such as the candidate's interest in the company or how excited the candidate is about the job. These hiring managers and recruiters are often confident they asked every important question and listened for every important answer during candidate interviews.

Unfortunately, they're often dead wrong. Factors such as the intensity of a candidate's interest are important. But as Gallup researchers have discovered, what attracts high-quality job candidates to a company or organization is different than what attracts lower-quality candidates. "High-quality candidates" are defined as individuals who are well-qualified for the position and who will likely remain a part of the company for a longer period to make appreciable contributions to its goals. High-quality candidates respond to interview questions and express preferences for what they look for in a company or a job in ways that are different from the responses of candidates who are less qualified for the position.

To identify and hire great workers -- especially in tight labor markets -- hiring managers need to ask smart questions and know what to listen for in candidates' responses. To do this, hiring managers must understand what attracts top talent. Then they should systematically analyze candidate responses to see what differentiates high-quality candidates from the rest.

This strategy can pay off in stronger business results. For example, Gallup meta-analysis results suggest that when companies select the top 20% of candidates based on a scientific assessment, they frequently realize a 10% increase in productivity, a 20% increase in sales, a 30% increase in profitability, a 10% decrease in turnover and a 25% decrease in unscheduled absences.

After studying talent for more than 70 years, Gallup has discovered that many predictors of performance are role-specific. For example, the characteristics that predict success as a salesperson don't necessarily predict what it takes to be a successful sales manager. Therefore, role-specific assessments tend to be the best at identifying people with the potential to be high performers.

But some characteristics and behaviors are common to top performers across many different roles. Here are four ways that high-quality candidates may respond differently than the rest to the right interview questions.

High-Quality Candidates Want Their Company to Align With Who They Are

High-quality job candidates are attracted to companies that align with who they are and encourage them to do what they do best. Gallup research shows that these candidates choose to work for companies that match who they are and what they believe in. They are also more likely to choose companies that present them with opportunities to fully apply their skills.

In contrast, lower-quality candidates are more likely to seek companies that meet their immediate requirements, such as pay and benefits, work hours and work demands, or personal and family needs. They also are more likely to accept a position because they "needed a job," potentially reflecting a lack of goals and drive. This suggests that these candidates are more likely to switch jobs or companies when their personal needs change.

Listen for candidates who say they are interested in the company, profession or job because it aligns with who they are and what they excel at. They are more likely to be well-qualified for the role.

High-Quality Candidates Want to Make a Difference and Be Challenged

High-quality candidates are attracted to jobs that offer challenges and opportunities to make a difference to others. These candidates say they enjoy intellectual or creative challenges. They also say they enjoy their work because it makes a difference to other people.

In comparison, lower-quality candidates tend to focus on factors such as money or independence, lifestyle fit or the types of people they like to work with. These candidates look for a place where they can do what they are good at, without really seeking challenges and opportunities for growth. They are also unable to identify what they enjoy most about their work.

Listen for candidates who readily describe what they value about a job, paying special attention to responses about improving others' lives and tackling role demands.

High-Quality Candidates Search for the Best Companies

When candidates consider which companies they will apply to, both high-quality and lower-quality candidates are attracted to a company's status in its industry. But high-quality candidates are more likely to do their homework, searching for and considering the best companies. These candidates may also be paying close attention to "great workplace" lists: Gallup has found that eight in 10 U.S. adults who are open to a new job or who are actively seeking a job say they are at least somewhat more likely to apply to a company that has won a great workplace award.

In contrast, lower-quality candidates are more likely to be drawn to factors such as a company's location or benefits. Though these factors may appeal to candidates with high talent, they aren't their primary criteria for applying to a company.

Listen for candidates who are selective in applying to great companies. Leaders should ensure that their company retains its reputation as a great place to work.

High-Quality Candidates Want to Learn and Grow

Compared with lower-quality candidates, high-quality candidates are more likely to be attracted to roles that provide opportunities to learn and grow. Their ideal job would feature professional development or growth opportunities.

By comparison, lower-quality candidates describe their ideal job as offering a high income or independence, the opportunity to do what they are good at, a flexible schedule or coworkers whom they could enjoy working with. Those who cannot describe their ideal job are much less likely to be highly qualified for the role.

Listen for candidates who say their dream job features responsibility and the chance to serve others, and/or provides development and growth opportunities.

An Approach That's Systematic and Personal

It's a simple truth: High-quality candidates are attracted to companies and jobs for different reasons than lower-quality candidates. The most successful hiring managers understand this and actively look and listen for the best.

To attract high-quality candidates, hiring managers need to understand what draws these candidates to a particular job or a company, and they should use a systematic approach to recruiting them. Hiring managers also need to know what differentiates high-quality candidates from lower-quality candidates and listen for those differences in candidates' responses. By using a targeted approach, companies can appeal to -- and hire -- individuals with top talent.

Additional Reading

Yang, Y., Blacksmith, N., & Streur, J. (2011). Applicant attraction: Understanding preferences of high-quality applicants. Paper presented at the 26th Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology, Chicago, Illinois.

Brandon Rigoni, Joseph Streur and Bailey Nelson contributed to this article.

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