The magic formula for recruiting talent? There isn't one

Agencies are constantly on the hunt for great talent, but recruiting is rarely a rational process, says The Martin Agency's director of recruitment.

The magic formula for recruiting talent? There isn't one

Everywhere you turn in the advertising industry, talent emerges as the hottest topic. It’s an understatement to say that finding the right talent is a challenge.

Agencies are desperately searching for the elusive magic formula — or at least some sort of plan to follow.

I have an ongoing fascination with the hunt for great talent and have often been asked to rationalise how I know a candidate is a great fit. The irony is that having a nose for great recruiting is seldom rational. Instinct carries more weight.

While there is no magic formula, in my experience it comes down to some pretty basic principles — with common sense, a bit of luck and good timing thrown in.   

Screen for talent, hire for heart

Most companies hire for skill and fire for fit. On the front end, it’s important to screen for skills and experience but at the end of the day, cultural fit is key. We think of our culture as "Good & Tough": good to each other and tough on the work.

That "good to each other" part is critical. All the talent in the world won’t compensate for someone who doesn’t fit your organization and share your company’s core values. We can teach people almost any skill, but we can’t teach integrity, character and work ethic. 

Grow your own

In our quest for the shiny new object — that hot prospect from another company — we sometimes fail to realise that the best person for the job is within our own walls. Some of our most prized employees have grown and evolved at the agency. Hiring from within is a huge success, a sign of good nurturing and development, to spot and support someone with promise in another discipline. 

See potential

No candidate will tick every box. Imagine what a candidate could become in your agency, with proper support and teaching. It’s worth the gamble to hire that future person rather than the one sitting right in front of you. Have the courage and take the chance.

Know what you want

Hiring the right talent starts with a thoughtful, detailed, realistic brief that the hiring manager and decision makers agree upon. Otherwise people go in different directions with how they interview, the questions they ask and their feedback on candidates.

Then you have too many cooks in the kitchen. When you know what you want with everyone on the same page, you can streamline what otherwise can be a long and laborious interview process, dreaded by the agency and candidates alike.

Own it

The hiring managers must be part of the agency sell and own the journey to making a great hire. Make a personal, direct connection to the candidate. Hiring by committee never works, so a good hiring manager needs to be definitive and decisive.

The gut check

The art of recruiting is intangible. It’s that gut feeling in the pit of your stomach. If the best candidate looks good on paper and even has a majority of supportive interviewers, and you still feel unconvinced for some small, perhaps indefinable reason, listen to your instincts.

Probe further and dig deeper, and if that doesn’t soothe your misgivings, walk away from the candidate. Recruiting, hiring and working together all boil down to relationships.

Things that bother you when you’re dating can cause divorce down the road — same applies for hiring talent.

Kay Lawson is the senior vice president, director of recruiting, at The Martin Agency

This article first appeared on


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