Recruiting | 10 min read

Recruiting Supermodels and a Tool to Help You Do It

Recruiting Supermodels and a Tool to Help You Do It
Keith Halperin
Sr. Recruiter at PhaseZero Ventures
@kdhalperinImage Credit: sivribiber

As a recruiter, one of the main problems I face with prospective and actual clients is unrealistic expectations of who they can really hire. For a variety of reasons (which have been gone over many times before), there seems to be a sense of entitlement that the facts don’t bear out … “The very best of the best should beat a path to our door and be dying to work for us.”

I can think of one particularly relevant example of this.

Some months ago, my then-current contract was winding down so I was interviewing for a new one. I was meeting with a VP of HR with a well-established San Francisco Bay startup. The VP told me how their CEO was very technically astute, and actively involved in the recruitment process (that’s another problem, but one I won’t get into here). The VP said that the CEO didn’t want to hire the top 10% or the top 5%, but the top 1% of candidates.

I asked: “Does your company pay in the top 1%? The VP answered, “No, our Radford survey shows that we’re in around the 50th percentile of pay.”

KH: “What about benefits; do you have exceptional benefits?”

VP: “No, decent but not exceptional.”

KH: “What about opportunities for advancement?

VP: “About average, I think.”

KH: “How about work/life balance, or quality of work life, or stock options, etc.”

VP: “We’re about par for startups with those.”

KH: “Well then: you’ve got a bit of a problem …”

Here’s an analogy I make for companies and those who recruit for them:

Let’s say you are a single, available (wo)man looking to date, and on an overall evaluation scale, you’re an 8/10. You and 300,000 other single, available (wo)men have complete backgrounds and direct contact information for all the supermodels in the world. You’re an 8/10, but what do you think the chances are that ANY of the supermodels would:

  1. Ever talk with you,
  2. Ever go out with you, if they did talk to you, no matter how quickly, frequently, carefully, thoughtfully, or pleasantly you contacted them?

There’s a way around this, but it isn’t pleasant and probably won’t be done (it’s the point of this piece): Telling the hiring managers that you, your company and your jobs just aren’t special enough to get the supermodels.” And instead of going after the people you want who won’t work for you, you figure out who you reasonably can get and go after them, because they’ll do well enough to get the job done.

All right, so you and I know it, but they (founders, CEOs, hiring managers, etc.) don’t. How can you present this to them in such a way that those who aren’t too deeply caught up in the delusions of their own/own company’s grandeur might actually accept the reality of their situation? I recently came up with a simple tool: the Corporate Desirability Score. You take a number of things that people want and companies provide (like, pay, benefits, etc.) and rate them on a 1-100 score relative to other companies. It’s like a Radford Survey with additional factors:

Basics (what every company has to some degree or another)BenefitsCommutabilityCompensationGrowth/promotion/raise potentialInteresting work/type of technologyOverall importance of what the company doesPeople (staff & management)Recognition (personal and/or group)Reporting Structure (reporting to CXO- versus manager-level)StabilityWork environment and corporate cultureWork/life balance


Bonuses (typical of  some startups and a few others)Free food & refreshmentsPre-IPO stockMisc.


To use the CDS, get the most accurate and objective information you can (maybe from HR, maybe from other sources). Be suspicious of very high or very low numbers, and if you get these very high or low numbers, you should probe for the basis of them. If no one knows: guess. You add up all the numbers, and divide by 12 (you could have higher score than a 100). That ‘s your CDS.

Let’s give a made-up example for a large, established firm:

Basics (what every company has to some degree or another)Benefits 70Commutability 85Compensation 65Growth/promotion/raise potential 45Interesting work/type of technology 50Overall importance of what the company does 60People (staff & management) 70Recognition (personal and/or group) 85Reporting Structure (reporting to CXO versus manager-level) 30Stability 85Work environment & corporate culture 90Work/life balance 70


Bonuses (typical of some startups and a few others)Free food & refreshments 50Pre-IPO stock 0Misc. 50Rounding down, you get a a CDS of 75.

This means that all else being equal, a company could reasonably expect to hire the 75th percentile of employees, across the board. For some low-demand areas, you could reasonably expect to hire higher, and for high-demand areas, lower. (However, I expect that the CDS function might be some sort of exponential curve, so that it might be a lot easier for  a 40th percentile company to hire 50th percentile people than it would be for an 87th percentile company to hire 97th percentile people.)

A decent recruiter should expect, all else being equal, to get employees in to the 80th percentile (or a little better), but it isn’t realistic to expect them to be able to attract the “Fabulous 5%” or 95th percentile. If you want to hire people who wouldn’t talk to your recruiters and are willing to accept offers far lower than their value (or CDS) would indicate, you should bring in the 30% fee third-party recruiters. (I think that’s one of the very few things you should use a third-party recruiter for, and if it works, it’s worth every penny.)

The CDS is not a perfect tool. Add or subtract factors, or weigh them as you see fit. But be aware that you may have biases to your weighting. However limited and flawed it may be, the CDS will help you establish with those founders, CXOs, and hiring managers who aren’t too caught up in their own hype to pay attention to facts. IMHO, it’s also more useful than the advice of a bunch of folks constantly telling you how to try for much better people than you’ll realistically ever be able to get.

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