Stop Battling for Talent and Start Asking Questions That Matter

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Growing up, my family dinner conversations were very different than my peers. While most kids picked at their food, while their parents probed them with questions about what happened that day at school, my parents were serving mashed potatoes with a side of deep conversation – about self esteem and emotional awareness, of course. If I brought up a seemingly mundane story from the playground while asking to pass the green beans, my parents would dissect it and ask questions to make me think more deeply. When both of your parents are psychologists, you learn to have an appetite for exploring your own growth and development.

Given my childhood, it is not surprising that I found myself at a company like BetterUp, in a role where the majority of my day is spent connecting with people about their growth. This has always been “in my blood” and a topic that genuinely fascinates me.

As a member of the Talent Team, I’ve talked to hundreds of candidates about what they are looking for in their next job opportunity. I connect with them and ultimately assess for a mutual fit. However, in this market, it can be tempting to lead by trying to sell the company. BetterUp’s workplace accolades are impressive, with awards including being named to People’s 50 Companies That Care list, being ranked #8 on Fortune’s 2019 list of Best Workplaces for Millennials and most recently, being ranked #12 on Fortune’s Best Small and Medium Workplaces for Women list. While of course, these are impressive and worth mentioning, this approach doesn’t quite feel authentic to me. Instead, I find myself taking a page out of my parent’s book. I try to get to the heart of what someone is looking for by listening and asking questions, rather than spewing data and company recognitions.

By moving beyond the practicably “salesy” pitch, I have an opportunity to really understand what motivates someone as they consider making a career move. More often than not, I hear that people have a deep need to do something meaningful. I hear that they are hungry for their personal investment in a company to be matched by development opportunity and a strong culture. I hear a skepticism around the trendy beer-on-tap startup perks, and a craving for a genuine feeling of connection and belonging in an organization. This desire for “something more” spans the generations. BetterUp’s own research shows that 90% of workers in the US would trade a portion of their earnings in order to do more meaningful work.

It would be easy to simply respond to candidates with a laundry list of ways that BetterUp meets these needs, however I find the approach to feel performative. Instead, I like to give candidates a deeper sense of my own experience – not simply why I joined BetterUp, but what’s kept me here.

I tell them about how intimidated I was when I first joined the organization. I was terrified to speak up in a meeting with executives, as the least experienced person in every room. However, within a few months, I was given the opportunity to present in front of the organization at our Company All-Hands. Before I knew it, I was sitting down with executives that asked my opinion on how to build their team. I quickly felt like I had a seat at the table. And if I didn’t, someone would physically get up and grab me a chair. While most people are used to feeling anonymous at work, I was surrounded by people who made me feel like I mattered.

However, when you work alongside subject matter experts or executives with years of industry experience, you can be paralyzed by the idea of letting someone down or making a mistake. I tell my candidates how instrumental coaching has been for challenging these fears and insecurities. My coach has given me a place to process my experiences at work and provided tactical strategies for me to try. Working with my coach gives me someone to be accountable to each week and allows me to reflect on my progress.

While I may have had a unique upbringing that primed me for facilitating conversations about development, my desire to reflect and be challenged is not unique. Almost everyone I connect with is starved for this type of experience. While millenials get a bad reputation for being impatient and entitled, I am seeing the opposite. I hear that people are hungry to do the work and put in the time toward lasting, transformative development. In fact, they are asking for it! People are seeing beyond the smoke and mirrors of free lunch and gym memberships and have a strong desire to seek resources for bettering themselves in a more meaningful way.

Rather than wooing employees with foosball tables and company happy hours, I encourage companies to take the time to understand what motivates people and what is going to keep them invested, especially when things get hard. Based on the feedback I am hearing so consistently, people not only crave the opportunity to grow and develop, they also want to be challenged to evolve within the context of work.

Something tells me this might resonate for you too. What kind of development opportunities are you receiving? What is it that you are really wanting from your workplace? I encourage you to ask for it, and see who might be listening.