What Super Bowl LI Can Teach Us About Recruiting

What Super Bowl LI Can Teach Us About Recruiting

As a die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan, I am an unfortunate expert in understanding the concept of “finishing” or “closing out strong,” or rather, how NOT to.  That is, through the course of the last few NFL seasons I have come accustomed to the Eagles failing to “finish” or “close out strong” their opponents, witnessing the seemingly sweet taste of victory slip right through their hands.  This is exactly what happened to Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons just a couple of weeks ago versus the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.  During the 3rd quarter the Falcons sat on a 28-3 lead, and at the conclusion of the 3rd quarter, with just 15 minutes remaining, they enjoyed a 19 point cushion.  We all know all the final outcome, and for the millions of adoring Falcons fans across the country, they were left with their heads in their hands heading back to the drawing board only to start the process again next season.

What does this have to do with recruiting?  Well, there are indeed a number of things to be learned here.

How many times have you been courting the perfect civil engineering candidate for your firm, only to have the rug swept right out from underneath you?  Hopefully, this is not a regular occurrence, but in my 20 years of recruiting civil engineers, I have seen this happen numerous times.  The initial 60-minute phone interview flows extremely well and arrangements are made for the first face-to-face interview over breakfast or lunch.  Ideas are popping back-and-forth across the table, mutual contacts are identified, the food is good, and the meeting ends with satisfied bellies and the excitement of continued mutual interest by all parties.  Schedules are juggled, meetings are shifted around, but eventually the final meeting is set and the candidate commits to a discussion and exchange of ideas that will surely last for at least 2 hours as he or she will be meeting with a wide array of folks that will continue to evaluate him or her, and who best represent your organization.  During that meeting there are many smiles, laughs, stories exchanged, projects shared, concluding with a tour of the office.  An offer is eventually extended only to the tune of learning that your candidate has accepted another offer, or even a counter-offer from his or her current employer.  For all the fans of said candidate, they are left with their heads in their hands heading back to the drawing board only to start the process again.

Ouch.  And that’s the very polite expression.

So what steps can be made to eliminate, or at least limit this type of complete and utter destruction when things seem so perfect?

A.  Don’t make the mistake of falling back in your “prevent defense.”  At one point in the game, the Falcons had a 98.9% chance to win (ESPN).  Typically, when the odds are seemingly so good late in a football game, the defense really eases up on the pressure and drops back five or six defenders deep into the defensive backfield and maybe only half-heartedly rush two or three linemen.  In theory, this prevents the “big gain,” but it also leaves a lot of gaps.  When recruiting, when you feel you have the upper hand above your competition in reeling in a candidate, keep your base defense in place.  That is, don’t drop off your pressure ( the art of recruiting) so much that it leaves big gaps in your process that will allow an enormous amount of room for other firms to make gains. Understand what makes the candidate tick and turn the crown.  Roll out the red carpet at all stages, constantly making them feel welcome.  Keep the momentum moving forward.

B.  Play as if YOU are from behind.  When teams are behind they are constantly battling, evaluating the other team, making adjustments, and calculatedly chipping away until they can grasp victory.  Those in the lead may start to take their foot off the pedal or start subbing in second string players.  So as a hiring authority, be a really good listener, take great notes, learn what motivates the candidates you are interviewing, and what pain points they have with their current employment situation, and then chip away accordingly. Don’t take your foot off the pedal.

C.  Don’t shy away from the players that got you there.  Not to take away anything from the Patriot defense, but the Falcons’ top two offensive players, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, were underutilized and fell short compared to their regular season averages in attempts, completions, catches and yards…and these two athletes are the bomb.com.  So when top talent walks through your doors to consider what may be a better career opportunity, make sure your leaders and top players are actively involved in the recruitment process as much as possible, as they are the folks that have led the vision and success of your firm.  One of my very best clients, a 500 person firm, strives to have their CEO meet with as many candidates as possible, even it is only for 10-15 minutes.  Clearly, he gets involved in senior level and strategic hires, but imagine how good a young project engineer with 3 years of experience feels walking out of the doors knowing that the CEO of an enormously busy firm took the time out of his day to sit down and chat with him for a while.  And this is not just for show, the CEO has a great passion for his firm and the people they hire…so along with that, make sure that interaction is genuine.

D.  Give a great halftime speech.  As you advance a candidate through the interview process, make sure you rally your troops in between interviews and game plan in regards to the subsequent steps of the interview process, making sure that the goals are crystal clear.  Having all those involved in the interview process regularly informed and allowing them to strategize as well is key. Make recruiting a team effort, and provide as much information as possible to effectively execute the game plan.

E.  Beware of the “next man up.”  Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, LeGarrett Blount, the list of regular and key contributors to the Patriots offense goes on-and-on.  But the star of the game (beyond Tom Brady of course) was James White, a 3rd-year player.  During the regular season, White averaged 3.75 receptions for 34.4 yards per game.  In Super Bowl LI he accumulated 110 yards on 14 receptions.  Clearly, the Falcons were not ready for him.  Beyond your regular and known competition in the marketplace, there are always those smaller start-ups and new companies who have entered the marketplace who have been working hard and lurking in the background, grinding, waiting for their time to make a big splash.  My point being, understand that your opportunity is not the only great opportunity.  There are a lot of great opportunities available for civil engineers all across the country.  Whatever intelligence you can gather regarding other firms your candidate is meeting with can be extremely beneficial; never turn a blind eye to that.

F. If you have a game-changer, make it known.  Civil engineering is often commoditized, right?  So what makes YOUR firm different that will allow your firm to rise to the top of a candidate’s desired employer list? The Patriots had James White (See Point “E”).  What is your “game-changer?”


Happy Hunting!



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