The One Thing You Need to Recruit the Right Team

It was December 29, 1913. An English adventurer named Ernest Shackleton told a reporter from the New York Times that, “The unknown fields in the world which are unconquered are narrowing down, but there still remains a great work.” What was it? To be the first humans to travel by land across Antarctica.

With deadly seas, frigid temperatures, and a price tag of over $250,000, this would be no easy task. But, ever-defiant, Shackleton was able to recruit 27 men for the crew and to raise enough money to build and equip two custom ships. On December 5, 1914, Shackleton and the crew of the Endurance set sail on what would be one of the greatest adventures in history.

But the Endurance would never reach Antarctica.

Just a few days into the trip, the ship encountered mile after mile of ice, leaving them stranded in frozen waters for just over 10 months. And then the ship sank.

The crew took lifeboats and landed nearby on the remote Elephant Island. From there, Shackleton and five others embarked on an 800-mile journey across rough seas to find help. They eventually did, and Shackleton led a rescue party back to save his crew. After 21 months alone in the snow, not one man died. 

It’s an incredible story that’s been told many times, but there is one key detail that is often overlooked: This crew didn’t survive because of what they could do, they survived because of what they believed. And that was no accident.

You see, Shackleton’s original ad in the London Times read, “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”

You don’t apply for that job if you’re just a good sailor who likes adventure. You only apply for that job if you are willing to suffer to try to beat impossible odds. You only apply for that job if you are a survivor. And that’s actually Shackleton’s most important lesson for us.

If you want to recruit the right people, don’t tell them what you need, tell them what you believe.

It’s advice we need more than ever before. With over 41 million Baby Boomers near retirement and unemployment going down, we face what might be the most competitive labor market this country has ever seen. This might not sound like a problem if you lead recruiting at Google, Salesforce, or the next great startup, but many insurance companies, retailers, manufacturers, and the like are struggling to compete. And most ask the same question: How can we attract the right team?

General Electric took Shackleton’s advice.

With over 126 years in business and 300,000 employees, GE was struggling to attract enough qualified software developers to sustain emerging technology needs. Despite its long tenure, the industrial giant did not have the cachet to recruit and retain qualified candidates.  

So, what did they do? GE launched a national ad campaign targeting new recruits in science and technology. First, it was Owen: A young professional’s tongue-in-cheek defense of why he went to work for an old and massive industrial company.


Then it was a commercial celebrating the scientist Millie Dresselhaus, which included a bold declaration that GE would hire 20,000 women in tech by 2020. These commercials and the others in the campaign increased applications to GE by over 800 percent. Why? Because GE lead with what they believe, not what they need.

You can do this too.

So, don’t open your next job posting with something like, “We seek a human resources manager with 4-5 years of experience in talent acquisition.” Say, “We believe that the only thing that builds great companies is great people. And we know that attracting those people is not about the online classifieds or referral bonuses, it’s about you. The person who is willing to work harder than the rest to attract greatness when you find it.” See the difference? 

If you want to compete for increasingly rare qualified candidates, don’t start with the salary, experience requirements, or workplace perks. Start by telling the story about who you are, and what you believe. Do that, and you will find your team. You will find your survivors.

Fair winds and following seas.

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