Recruiting Millennials – The Power of the Positive No


Recruiting is a tricky thing. We all know that. And recruiting well is as much about luck, timing and the karmic alignment of the universe as it is anything else. It’s also massively subjective, from all sides. I don’t put a lot of faith in tried and true processes for hiring. Having said that, I did find something that worked well for me recently. So much so, I reckon I’ll try it again. Maybe you’ll be able to extract some learnings from this little story…

We were looking to recruit a smart young person to take on a marketing role at our Bali office. Well, to be more accurate, we were really looking for a bit of a Jack of All Trades. Marketing would be the main focus, at least initially. But we wanted someone we could simply point in the right direction and then they would figure it out. Someone who could both take the lead and take initiative. Someone who could identify problems, come up with multiple possible solutions then ultimately make a good decision. I’ve always believed the ability to make a good decision is critical to long term success. That doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be the right decision, just a good one. A good decision is one that you come to after getting as much information about the problem as is practical, thinking through the alternative solutions, assessing the worst case scenario if it fails and then ultimately committing to a decsion. In a world of data overload, it’s vital you don’t get bogged down getting all the information. You’ll probably never have all the information anyway. And the more time you spend trying to get it, the longer it takes to make your decision. Analysis Paralysis is a real thing.

Our team had identified a guy in his final year of a Hospitality Management degree. Xander (not his real name) was a mature age student, so he had a bit more life experience and work experience than his classmates. Though he didn’t have an overwhelming desire to be in the spa industry, he wasn’t opposed to it. Also, he had gotten to know one of our senior people, who was a guest lecturer at his college, and he decided working with her could be a rewarding experience. Finally, although he wasn’t from Bali, he had lived there a few years and was keen to make Bali his home. Best of all, he was not only interested in marketing but also had some relevant work experience in the field. All in all, he was a strong candidate. I’d never met the guy. Still, even though we weren’t hiring him for a senior position and chances are he wouldn’t have a lot of dealings with me directly, I definitely wanted to speak with him before we hired him. For a company that didn’t traditionally hire expats in junior roles, this was a big change for us. I saw this hire as a potential game changer. If we could effectively integrate young, fresh, international talent at our HQ, we had a real shot an upping our game. This could help reinvigorate the entire company.

When Xander finally got to me, he was already approved to hire as far the rest of the organization was concerned. He met all the criteria, passed all the tests, ticked all the boxes. He was right for us. But were we right for him? I felt like we had an obligation to make sure we would be able to give him what he was looking for in a job. Hopefully in a career. I’d like to say this is because of my altruistic nature, but the truth is I just think it’s smart business. There’s no point hiring someone who has dreams and expectations that your company (or your industry) can’t deliver on. Sure, he might still be a great fit and he could bring some serious value, but eventually it will come unstuck. That doesn’t mean all your hires need to be in it for the long haul. Far from it. I would much rather have someone who gives 100% for 14 months than someone who stays for 14 years but spends most of those years going through the motions. You just need to be ready to commit to going through the hiring process again every year or so. What is important though is that your goals are aligned, even if they’re super short-term goals. For example, let’s say we’re looking to get better at Instagram. He’s got lots of knowledge and theories on Insta (as the cool kids call it!) but hasn’t been given the chance to apply it to a real business. Perfect. We’re aligned. Then he tells us his real dream is start his own social media agency in the next 18 months. Problem? Not at all. Our goals are still aligned, just not for the long term. So, come work for us for a year, bring us value while at the same time building your own CV, then we find a replacement for you and help you move on to build your dream. Everybody wins.

As it happened, I was speaking at an industry event in a few weeks’ time. I figured this might be a good opportunity for both me and Xander to decide if we were a good fit. So, I invited him to join me at the event and shadow me for the 2 days. Rather than just blindly follow me around, his task would be produce content that we could use on our social media platforms. It would cost us $200 to buy his ticket to the conference. We spent a few hundred more on a hiring a decent camera to create the content. I figured this would be much cheaper than hiring him and it not working out. If you think about it, there probably wasn’t a better way to find out if bringing Xander on board was a good move or not. He would get to learn a bit more about an industry he doesn’t really know. We would get to see what he knows about social media and content creation in a real-world setting. He also gets to spend some one-on-one time with the boss to get some insight into what I think and how I operate. And I get to dedicate a significant chunk of my time to an important hire, without having to block out my schedule for two days.

So, we did all that, we fell madly in love with each other (professionally I mean) and Xander has gone on to make a huge contribution to our company, totally reinvigorated the entire organization, made millions of dollars for everyone in the process and we all lived happily ever after. Or at least that would’ve been the fairytale ending. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. And that’s ok. We did learn a lot about each other, as we had hoped, but through our in-depth interactions over the 48 hours, decided that it just wasn’t the right thing for him at this stage of his life and career. Bummer!

Often times we convince ourselves we don’t need to spend that much money or go to that much effort on recruiting. This is especially true when it comes to junior roles. And maybe we don’t. Maybe you’ve just got amazing interview instincts. Maybe you can read people really well and know exactly the right profile of person you need for the job. But maybe you don’t. What I can tell you is that this experience was one of the most satisfying recruitment processes I’ve ever been a part of, as an employer or an employee. I think Xander would say the same. Neither of us got what we wanted but we both got what we needed. A great outcome.


Key Takeaways

  1. Good decisions are more important than correct decisions.
  2. Beware of Analysis Paralysis.
  3. Give your candidates real-life tasks to complete as part of the interview process, not just role plays.
  4. 100% effort for 14 months is better than 14 years at 60%, but be committed to hire and fire.
  5. A ‘No’ can sometimes be the most positive outcome for all parties.