Learn From The NFL Draft And Recruit Like The Pros

This is an exciting week in the world of sports as the 2022 NFL Draft begins. For those who don’t follow the sport, during the National Football League’s annual draft, the 32 teams recruit former college football players through an arranged system over the course of seven rounds.

The draft is the best way for teams to bring in new talent, and the process of talent evaluation is extensive. Each pick is a risk, as you’ll never have a complete picture of a prospect’s ceilings, and the fit with the right team can change everything.

In that way, business recruiting is similar. Recruiters must hire who they believe the best candidate is based on the information they have, and they can’t ignore their gut feelings. If your organization wants to recruit like the pros, you need to approach the process like the pros. Embrace these NFL Draft principles for your next hiring cycle.

Analyze your team’s needs

Scouting is a major part of the hiring process, but it starts with self-scouting. Know your team’s strengths and weaknesses. An NFL team may need a wide receiver, but they won’t just bring in anyone to fill the role. They need a good scheme and cultural fit. What can that prospect do for your team that others can’t? How can they fulfill the team’s unique needs?

Ask yourself what the ideal candidate would look like. Maybe you’re a tech recruiter and you need someone a little more specialized this time. Perhaps you’d like your next shift manager to have stronger people skills. The insight you can from self-analysis will put you in a better position before you even start researching candidates.

ATD’s Angel Green recommends shifting to a continuous performance management process to keep analyzing your team’s performance. The more frequently you self-scout, the more prepared you’ll be when a need arises.

“Is a position about to open because performance is lackluster in an area? Do you need to add a utility player? Add some strength? Build for the future depth?  By constantly having a pulse on how your players are performing, you can be strategic in your recruitment efforts.” –Angel Green

But don’t reach

The flip side of the above point is to avoid simply hiring the first person that checks your boxes. In the NFL, a team may “reach” for a position of need when there are better options on the board or they could get the same player much later. A team may need a quarterback and take a less polished option early while other teams are getting quality players ready to make the jump.

Gut feeling matters, but don’t ignore analytics. The best resumes are data-driven and provide tangible measurements of performance. Just as the NFL has more analytic data available than ever before, use all available data at your disposal before you make the hire.

Bet on traits

A college football prospect is almost never a finished product. Even the best can’t-miss prospects need time to adjust to the faster, stronger competition of the pros and to learn the more complicated playbooks. Instead, what makes a player desirable is the traits they possess. Teams will bet that possessing valuable traits is enough, and the player can learn the “teachable” skills down the road. NFL scouts swear by intangibles, traits like confidence, mental toughness, and coachability, as some of the most important traits.

“Some guys carry themselves like they’re hoping something good happens. Other guys carry themselves like they expect to make something good happen. And [with the latter], you really can feel it.” –Stephen White, former NFL defensive lineman

Your hiring search is best served by following the same philosophy. You may have a deep wishlist of traits and skills you’d like your next hire to have, but it’s rare you’ll find someone that possesses them all. Decide what skills are a priority for you. Many soft skills, including communication skills and adaptability, are highly-transferable and hard to teach. Meanwhile, proficiency in a specific software may be something easy to pick up as the employee gets acclimated.

Consider floor vs. ceiling

NFL teams must balance players that can come in and play right away versus players that can become future superstars. You may find a player that seems pro-ready, but they might not get much better than they were when you drafted them. Meanwhile, a player with desirable traits in need of polish can lead your team to glory with the right coaching.

Are you looking for someone who can come in and fill a role immediately, or do you want to nurture growth and find someone that can play a major role for your organization in the future? Every organization needs both, and there’s no shame in being a role player or depth piece. But it’s important for scouts and hiring managers alike to look at a candidate’s floor and ceiling.

Sell your team

In the NFL, players don’t get to choose their employer, but neither party is served by a bad fit. A player telling a team they won’t want to play for them isn’t unheard of. Job seekers, meanwhile, DO get to make their choice. Modern Hire reminds us that interviews are a two-way street. You need to sell your organization and why you’re the best fit for this prospect.

Have a backup plan

You never know how the board will fall in the NFL Draft. You may desire a player, but your rival gets the chance to draft them before you do. In the business world, your ideal candidate may take a more lucrative offer or seek a benefit you just can’t meet. You can’t put all your eggs in one basket. Good NFL teams will find multiple players to fit their needs, and you need to as well.

Remember that we said to avoid reaching. Don’t stop interviewing after you find one candidate you really like. Continue to do your research and gather data. In that way., you’ll be prepared for anything.

Wrap up

There may be no “business world draft”, but recruiters can learn a lot from the big leagues. NFL teams must constantly evaluate their needs and choose which traits to prioritize, and a savvy organization will do the same. Embrace the above strategies and recruit like the pros!

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