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The Case For Recruiting Like A Satisficer, Not An Optimizer

Optimization is great for some things, but can cost us when selecting new talent

Please meet my purple couch. A custom-made, velvety soft, 1920s style, pucker-backed, purple couch:


I went on a frustratingly long journey to find this couch. It started with me wanting a sofa that I would absolutely love. I said, “I’ll know it when I see it. I will have an ‘aha’ moment.”

So I went shopping. I saw big couches and small ones, contemporary and traditional ones, purple and red and brown ones. But in 20 store visits, my ‘aha’ moment never came.

And therefore I went the custom route, with some help from a decorator. It took three months longer than I had hoped. And it was way more expensive than I’d wanted.

This couch looks beautiful. Well, I think so. But after all that rigamarole, it’s still not perfect:

–          I couldn’t sit in it beforehand. Such is the nature of custom-built furniture. So I was nervous about how comfortable it would be. And this couch is actually NOT the most comfortable.

–          When I moved, the couch didn’t fit up the new stairwell. I couldn’t rightly leave this masterpiece on the street. Oh, no. Instead, I ended up hiring a company to saw it into pieces, move it, then re-assemble it.

My expectations were really high with this lavender leviathan. I set out to find a couch that was a perfect 10 but my experience as an owner has been closer to an 8. I probably could have gotten a different couch much faster that was also an 8, and therefore been just as happy.

I was an optimizer, but I could have been a satisficer. (Satisfice = satisfy + suffice, by the way.)

Optimizers Versus Satisficers

Optimizers endlessly expand and analyze their choices, and take a long time before finally moving forward. Sometimes they don’t even make a decision.

Satisficers search the available alternatives and efficiently pick one that meets their threshold.

Here’s the kicker: Research shows that satisficers are happier about their decisions than optimizers. Einsteining a decision rarely results in a better outcome.

This is because the optimized solution is only marginally better than other solutions, and is seldom worth the extra cost of surfacing it.


The Case For Being A Recruiting Satisficer

Often when recruiting, we say, “I’ll know it when I see it.” We hold out for the perfect hire. We try to optimize.

But when we enter optimizer territory, we can stumble:

–          We often spend more money and time than we need to.

–          We encounter tradeoffs that we weren’t expecting. For instance, we hope for our perfect 10 to not have any flaws because, well, she’s our 10 and we are stretching our budget to hire her. But of course, she is not perfect — no one is. In fact, if we look around us, we will likely see a crew of imperfect, lopsided, yet highly competent people. It’s curious that we expect new hires to be so perfect when we are not perfect ourselves.

–          Our decision-making abilities can suffer. (What was I thinking, buying a couch I couldn’t even sit on first?! But I was distracted by choices like the right shade of purple for the buttons and pillows. This diminished my cognitive capacity.)

I believe that when hiring, we need to be aware of the costs of being an optimizer and the benefits of being a satisficer.

After all, marketing has become more agile. And more real-time. By the time we engage our perfect 10, our needs may have changed.

(Note: Optimization can work wonderfully for many marketing/business decisions. But optimization applied to selecting top talent is still nascent. In the words of one CEO of a marketing analytics company whom I asked about this recently: “Hiring is too important to entrust to analytics!”)


Making The Switch

The moment of switching from an optimizer to a satisficer is a very scary one, as I have seen from shepherding clients through recruiting initiatives. This moment may come when our perfect 10 candidate breaks up with us. It may arrive when our time or our budget is so constrained that we simply have to make tradeoffs.

But that moment is always a turning point. Things paradoxically get easier from there. A satisficing approach gives us more degrees of freedom and more nimbleness.

I am not advocating for settling, but rather for being realistic. We’ll often learn more, and faster, by taking a satisficing approach instead of an optimizing approach.

I talked with one hiring manager who hires every new person on a provisional basis and upgrades them to full-time once the fit is established. And there are companies who aim to keep their hiring process to a week.

Why not look for ways to engage talent in a test-and-learn way, in much the same way we now approach marketing?

Your thoughts?


How Leak-Proof Is Your Recruiting?

Is your recruiting leaky? You can patch those leaks — with either a quick fix or a full renovation — to stand out from your competition and attract more top candidates.

With a recruiting project, you start with a landscape of possible talent, and narrow it down to 1-2 candidates to hire. It looks like this, right?

Purchase process

If you’re like most, however, the reality is much messier. Many companies leak candidates, and their process looks like this:

bucket with holes

You may be thinking, “Wait a minute. The whole point of recruiting is to exclude people while narrowing down to just one lucky person.” You’re right. But sometimes we can lose good candidates, or miss out on engaging with them at the outset.

Good recruiting is about engaging with the most strong candidates in the first place, and engaging with them in a process of mutual learning, until a successful outcome.

A Diagnostic: How Leak-Proof Is Your Recruiting?

Below are 10 approaches that help to retain the right candidates.

To what extent do these apply in your case?

Defining the role
1. We’re clear about what we’re looking for at the beginning. The more we change our target as we go, the more we’ll miss out on the right people.

Marketing the role
2. Our job specs and other branding messages make our company and opportunity sing. We’ve even market-tested them.
3. We go beyond “post and pray.” We also approach prospects in a proactive and personalized way to surface more good people.

Evaluating candidates
4. Our interviewers are good at selling the opportunity. And we train the interviewing team on how to conduct a predictive, strong interview. We know that “go interview this person and tell me if you like them” is poor guidance.
5. We evaluate candidates not just with interviews, but also through other assessments.

Closing the deal
6. We seek to understand a candidate’s goals and job acceptance criteria from the beginning of the process. This is helpful when crafting and closing the deal.
7. Our conversations with references are as productive as they can be. In fact, these reference calls often surface new candidates or new business for our company.

Process and feedback
8. We maintain an institutional memory of good prospects we’ve talked to in the past, so we get a running start for each new search.
9. Our speed is like Goldilocks: fast enough to not lose candidates to other opportunities, but measured enough to make good decisions.
10. We give prompt and sensitive feedback to candidates, so they leave with a positive impression of us. And we actively solicit feedback from candidates to improve our process.

If you see many areas where you lose people, you’re…. normal. Many companies struggle to have efficient, transparent, authentic, and predictive recruiting processes.

And that means that you have an opportunity:

Optimize each step and you will have a bigger and better funnel. Or optimize one step and your outcomes will still improve.

If your process is just a tad better than your competitors’, you will differentiate your company. And you will win a higher quality and quantity of candidates.

If your process is a LOT better, you will substantially differentiate your company and engage with even more good candidates.

My challenge to you: Pick one part of the process. Just one! And improve it.

Maybe it’s the area where you are losing the most candidates. Or where you risk missing out on the best candidates. Or the area that will be fastest to fix.

For example:
Look for an opportunity to delight. Delight and recruiting are seldom used in the same sentence. But again, opportunity abounds here. I read about one company that sends cookies to people on their dream list on their birthday (real, yummy cookies – not browser cookies!) to stay in touch. It’s a delighter that can jump-start searches.
Attract more attention at the top of the funnel. Increase the proportion of people you reach out to proactively. This is what retained recruiters do, and it takes time, but it tends to work.
Identify a key moment of truth where you can make or break the candidate experience. For instance, you could do a mutual feedback session with candidates, to show your willingness to improve and give them an understanding of how their candidacy struck you. (Consult your lawyers first!)

There are several other moments of truth that you can ‘own.’ For instance: The moment when someone arrives for an interview. The moment they receive a job offer. The time between them accepting an offer and starting at your company. How will you make those moments count?


Differentiating Diamonds From Duds: How To Surface Your Next Client-Facing Star

At age 18, I spent the summer scooping ice cream at a Cape Cod institution called Nick and Dick’s. Little did I know at the time that this job would be great training for my later career.

My manager at Nick and Dick’s was a guy named Rick. Rick at Nick and Dick’s. Go figure.

Rick at Nick and Dick’s had lofty standards for customer service.  He ran one high-performing shop. Or shall we say, shoppe.

I scooped endless dishes of rum raisin, peppermint stick, and mint chocolate chip (my favorite!). Meanwhile, I also learned valuable lessons about being customer-facing:

  • Customers can get overwhelmed by choices. Sense this, and help them navigate.
  • For customers, it’s not just about the ice cream. It’s about the promise of summer, of carefree-ness, of fun. You are there in part to fulfill that promise.
  • When in doubt, work with urgency. Customers will appreciate how you respect their time.
  • Say thank you when someone does business with you. Always.

Later, when I switched from the client side to a customer-facing role at a marketing research firm, I applied many of these lessons.

Whether people are buying ice cream or purchasing complex professional services, they have something in common: They are tugged by forces that affect their emotions.  The buying context looks somewhat like this:

Clients need service providers who are aware of the forces surrounding the buying decision and who can help hack through those forces to move the relationship forward. These service providers must not only demonstrate technical competence, but also make clients feel empowered, supported, and trusting. They must convert the chaos of the buying process into clarity and calm.

(For a more nuanced description of the dynamic that inspired my sketch here, see the wonderful book Managing The Professional Service Firm by David Maister and read the chapter “How Clients Choose.”)

When marketing services or marketing tech firms hire talent, they are often looking for people that can be, as we say, “client-facing.”

If a candidate hasn’t yet worked in a customer-facing role, how can you tell if that person will be strong with customers? Even if they do have experience being in front of clients, how do you know their customer service ethos is what you need? After all, the flip side of someone having ten years of experience in anything  is that they may have ten years of experience repeating the same mistakes.

And sometimes the best candidates for marketing services roles are ‘transfers’  — people from client-side marketing or academia, for instance. Some of those transfers will be tone-deaf with clients. But some will be diamonds who can effortlessly earn that elusive trusted advisor status.

How do you surface those diamonds? In short, how do you uncover latent professional services DNA?

Conveniently, when you are evaluating talent for your team, you are actually a buyer of a complex sale. In effect, YOU are the client and the candidate is the service provider. So you have those same forces pulling you that we saw before:

This means that you can signal the forces affecting you, and evaluate how candidates navigate those signals.

As you evaluate candidates, pay attention to clues:

  • Do your candidates sense the forces pulling at you?
  • Are they summarizing discussions, clarifying next steps, and helping you feel less overwhelmed?
  • Are they creating a personal connection with you in addition to demonstrating analytical and marketing chops?
  • Are they anticipating and handling objections to their candidacy?
  • Can they paint a picture of how things would be better with them on your team?
  • Do they provide new insights that make you sit up straighter?
  • Do they bring urgency and a steady hand to interactions?

If you see evidence of these behaviors, you are likely in the presence of someone with latent skills in professional services.

And of course, ask them what they drew from their jobs in high school. Their reflections will be telling.

Thoughts? How do you test for professional services acumen?

Director of Trends & Insights, NYC

The Connective Good is currently working on a search for a Director of Trends & Insights for a startup consulting division of a media empire in NYC. This infographic below describes the role. (Thanks to the wonderfully talented Lisa Finch who designs these infographics with me.)




What House Hunting Teaches Us About Headhunting……And About Compensating Quant Marketers

Greetings from Cape Cod, where I arrived last night for Christmas. Within minutes I hopped on the couch and snuggled in next to my mom. It was time for our ritual marathon of watching HGTV – the purveyor of gems like “House Hunters” and “Love It Or List It.”

Not exactly highbrow, I know. But it’s Cape Cod. In December. Slim pickings for entertainment.

We watched Sally from Springfield dream of four bedrooms and an indoor pool, and then rein back to a modest two-bedroom, sans pool, to fit her budget. Then there was Todd from Toledo who dreamed of a brand new house but then realized a fixer-upper offered the right option of price and customization. Invariably, the house hunters in these shows end up happy.

Buying a house in a hot market is a lot like recruiting talent in the quant marketing space:

  • Just as the balance of power has shifted away from home buyers towards home sellers,  the balance of power in the talent market is shifting more towards candidates as the economy heats up.
  • You will have a huge wish list at first. As you go, it’s important to separate the ‘need to haves’ from the ‘nice to haves.’ This way, you can secure your dream house/hire within a reasonable timeframe and on budget.  And of course, if your wish list is really long, you may have to raise your budget or stretch your timeline.
  • There’s the uniqueness factor. No two houses are exactly alike. And no two people are exactly alike. This begs a customized approach to approaching the matching process and closing the deal.
  • Even when you make some concessions to fit your reality, it’s likely that you’ll be happy with your new hire, provided the cultural fit is there.

Looking to recruit quant marketing talent in early 2014? For insight into what to pay them and how to lure them, based on my conversations with hundreds of quant marketing professionals, check out my piece today in AdAge:
Pay, Expectations and Reality When Hiring Quant Marketers: It’s a New, Hot, Competitive Field: A Job Offer Needs to Be Carefully Tailored

Happy Holidaze from The Connective Good! Thank you for your business and your friendship.

Recruiting for a Director of Strategy for Marketing Analytics Powerhouse in NYC



Strategy Director Infographic

Does Your Recruiting Speed Or Splutter? See How You Stack Up

My new husband, age 41, is learning how to drive. We have been practicing together every morning. Which means that I clutch the armrest in utter terror in Boston rush-hour traffic, while gritting my teeth and forcing my voice to be calm, saying, “Next time, let’s observe that stop sign.”

Parallel parking is a particular challenge. Have you noticed that everyone has a different opinion of how to do it? My method, for the record, is to line up my mirrors, think of a grocery cart, and go. (Trust me, somehow it just works.)

Other well-meaning friends have shared their tips, most of which involve calculating obtuse angles and other fun memories of ninth-grade geometry class.

The key to becoming a good driver quickly? Practice, of course. Practice until all the little details become second nature.

Recruiting is similar. There’s a difference between a recruiting process that hums and one that stalls. In observing several companies’ recruiting processes, I’ve collected ten practices that separate the companies with their recruiting foot on the accelerator from those with their recruiting foot on the brake.

If you are hiring for analytical marketing talent in today’s market, you have likely already seen that you need to be fast and candidate-friendly. By getting the details right, you can get there.

Is your recruiting foot on the accelerator or the brake?  Where do you want it to be?

For each pair below, pick the sentence which best describes your recruiting approach.

1)      Flexible interview scheduling
a.      We will interview candidates early in the morning, late in the day, or even sometimes on weekends, in order to move the process along faster and be more candidate-friendly.
b.      We are guilty of dragging out scheduling and rescheduling interviews repeatedly, which can lead to lost candidates.

2)      Pipeline-building
a.       We’ll meet good people for networking, even if we don’t have a clear role available now for them. And we’ll consider redefining a role for the right individual.
b.      We’ll only talk to people about specific openings now.

3)      Evaluating candidates with assessments
a.       We ask candidates to bring work samples to talk through. And we use assessments in addition to interviews so candidates can demonstrate how they think. This often separates the truly skilled from those with shiny resumes but not much else.
b.      We use question-and-answer interviews only.

4)      Compelling job previews
a.       We have great job specs and other materials that show what the candidate will learn and become in the role.
b.      Our job specs read more like grocery lists than authentic job previews.

5)      Preparation for interviews
a.       We always identify and prioritize what we’re looking for in our next hire. We read a candidate’s resume thoroughly before each interview to prepare for a meaty discussion.
b.      We are likely to scan a resume while walking to the interview, and ask generic questions that probably leave something to be desired on both sides.

6)      Sponsoring international candidates
a.       We’ll sponsor international candidates. It widens our pool. Plus, immigrants often score high on ambition and adaptability.
b.      We don’t sponsor international candidates and don’t necessarily have a clear reason why.

7)      Clear roles for interviewing team
a.       We clearly establish which interviewers are the decision makers and which are providing input.
b.      We have too many cooks in the kitchen when making hiring decisions, which clouds the process and slows down decisions.

8)      Proactive employee referral program
a.       Our employee referral process is proactive and gets the right nourishment and sponsorship. (Here’s a good piece on getting the best from your referral program.)
b.      We send the occasional email to employees, saying, “You could get $2000 for referring your friend.” We wish this produced more results.

9)      Limited interviews
a.       We’ll limit interviews to four or five in most cases, and we’ll let candidates know the process to expect in advance.
b.      We do many interviews to give multiple people the opportunity to weigh in, even though we know they have diminishing returns and slow down the process.

10)   Test and learn recruiting culture
a.       We monitor and act on what works and what doesn’t, including which messages resonate with which talent segments, and which referral sources are most fertile.
b.      Yikes, we seem to reinvent the wheel for every recruiting cycle.

What other things have you done or seen to make recruiting hum along? I am eager to hear from you. And of course, if you have a fail-proof parallel parking strategy, please share it!