Best Practices for Achieving Talent Success Maturity

Using Job Goals to Boost the Candidate Experience and Hire Better

With insight from

Libby Sartain

Libby Sartain

Former CHRO, Professional Board Member

Libby Sartain is an independent advisor, working with companies on human resource issues. With more than 30 years of experience in human resources, she is also an author and frequent speaker, using her HR leadership and management experience at companies in technology, transportation and manufacturing. She led human resources at Yahoo! and Southwest Airlines during transformative periods. Both companies were among Fortune magazine’s “Best Places to Work” during her tenure. She is the former board chair of the Society for Human Resource Management and is on the board of Manpower Group and is the Vice Chair of the Board of AARP.

  • Who it’s for: 
    HR, managers
  • What you’ll get: 
    An understanding of why goals are important to recruiting, especially the recruitment of A-players, and how to incorporate goals into your recruiting process
  • Why you need it: 
    For better quality of hire
  • When it applies in the talent success process: 
    In the recruiting process

Attracting Top Performers

Understanding and defining the goals of a job before you hire helps you better assess a candidate’s potential for long-term success and attract the best people. Using job goals during hiring helps you attract and engage more A-players, because, by their very nature, they want to truly make measurable impacts from their first day and always want to start a job with clear, measurable goals.

The goal of your recruiting process should be to attract top performers and start building strong relationships with them — engaging them with your company from the first touch. It’s crucial because A-players have a vision of what they want to accomplish, both in their personal lives and in their careers. They want to know if your opening will offer them the opportunity to do their best work, and they want to understand how they will be measured along the path.

Goals also create a transformative connection between employee and organization. Compensation, for all its importance, is a transactional connection: You achieve tasks, and we provide money in exchange for those tasks. But when an employee buys into the goals and mission of a business, their performance is typically much more impactful.

The process of defining the goals for a new hire can also be extremely useful for the hiring team. For managers, goals help to clarify the purpose of making this hire in the first place, particularly if it’s not part of a pre-existing hiring plan or backfill. For recruiters, goals provide an additional dimension of understanding about what’s really needed to succeed in the role. Learn more about this in our article “Outcomes-based Recruiting: Leveraging Employee Goals for Better Recruiting.”

This article demonstrates how to incorporate goals into your recruiting process to improve your reviews for long-term success and better engage with top-performer candidates.

How Goals Drive A-players

For the same reasons that clearly defined and tangible goals lead to better recruiting and hiring, they are also motivators for top performers. In both cases, it’s about guiding people and your organization toward success.

How to Use Goals in the Recruiting Process

For any position you hire for, in addition to defining the job title, salary, and competencies, you should also:

  1. Define the goals
  2. Communicate those goals throughout the recruiting process

You should include the job’s goals in the job description, postings, conversations, emails with candidates, and other communication during the recruiting process.

How Goals Resonate with A-players

David McClelland, a pioneer in workplace motivational leadership, says each of us is motivated by three main needs: achievement, affiliation, and power. For A-players and top performers, the dominant driver will most likely be the need for achievement. This is closely connected to goals — in life and on the job.

McClelland’s research says that five attributes of the A-player explain why they respond when you provide them with clearly defined goals.

The ability and desire to take charge

High achievers take charge easily and often want to help other team members with their goals. If a role doesn’t show a strong potential for taking charge to achieve goals (i.e., if the role seems rote instead), you’re not likely to capture A-player candidates.

Well-developed focus and discipline

High achievers tend to have greater long-term focus and self-discipline. Clearly defined job goals give top performers long-term achievements to focus on, as opposed to more task-based job descriptions that provide short-term boxes to check off the list.

A strong sense of self-responsibility

High achievers have a strong sense of self-responsibility. They believe they, and they alone, are responsible for where they end up within a job. If clearly defined goals are set from the beginning of the hiring process, those goals will become their major focus once they’re onboarded.

Development of expertise

High achievers want to put in the extra effort to develop their expertise. They often want to be seen as the go-to member of their team, the person others turn to for information or help. If industry or company expertise is a clearly defined goal for a role, the role is more likely to be pursued by A-players.

Positive mindset

High achievers typically have a positive mindset, seeing challenging projects as opportunities as opposed to threats. If your goals seem ultimately attainable but also challenging, your job description is likely to pique A-players’ interest.

In short, having defined goals from the onset of a recruiting process can help attract A-player candidates. The next step is to maximize the use of goals in the recruiting process.

Making the Best Use of Goals in Recruiting

To make the best use of goals in recruiting, you need to define the job’s mission, goals, and time-sensitivity before you create the job description and begin looking for candidates. If you put too much focus on the job’s tasks and responsibilities, and not enough focus on these three aspects, you’re more likely to capture worker bees than A-players.

Step 1: Mission of the Job

The first step is defining the mission of the job. As noted by Geoff Smart and Randy Street in The Who Scorecard, the mission of a job is its “core purpose, boiled down to its essence so that everybody understands why you need to hire someone into that slot.” Any job created and assigned a salary band needs to have an explicit mission and purpose to it.

Step 2: Goals of the Job

The next step is defining the desired outcomes, or goals, of this job. You want to set specific expectations on the work to be done. You also want to communicate to the candidates how they will be measured, being sure to say that the measurement of their success will be clear and specific.

To learn more about how to use goals for better performance measurement, see our articles:

Step 3: Time-sensitivity of the Job

The third step is defining the criticality of the job, so you can prioritize it in your recruiting process. Determining the job’s time-sensitivity relates to the job’s mission and goals. For example, the job could be for a highly talented software engineer with a unique skill set needed to help quickly complete development of a crucial new product. On the other hand, the job’s mission and goals might indicate that the job is among those that your company routinely fills or is not necessarily mission-critical in the immediate term. Why do you need this job now, as opposed to spending your recruiting revenue and time on another job?

Step 4: The Job Description

Once you’ve defined the mission and goals of a job, you move to creating the actual job description. You can learn more about job descriptions in our articles “Building Job Descriptions That Sell” and “Recruit Better with Roles”.

Job descriptions are a mix of:

  • Tasks (what the employee will do every day)
  • Competencies (the desired behaviors of the role to achieve the goals)
  • Goals (what needs to be achieved to be successful in the role)

If you want A-players to be interested in your job openings, you need to define the tasks and competencies — but the goals need to be well defined. They are your opportunity to stand out and differentiate your organization from the competition.

Goals in Recruiting: A Sample Checklist

Backtime yourself two weeks from the date you want a job role to be posted. In those two weeks, the hiring manager and HR need to collaborate on a number of touch points. This helps ensure a smoother process once the job role becomes a live application for candidates.

An example of the two weeks before a job role posting is below. In the next section, you’ll find an example of a job posting with goals that you can use as a sample to develop your postings.

Task Responsible Parties Stage
Meet to discuss open role or new headcount; define deadlines throughout process Hiring manager, HR 2 weeks pre-job posting
Define mission of job; why is this role needed now? Hiring manager 2 weeks pre-job posting
Determine goals of the job; what does this hire need to achieve in the role? Hiring manager 1 to 1.5 weeks weeks pre-job posting
Define measurement of those goals; how will the new hire know they have been successful? Hiring manager 1 to 1.5 weeks weeks pre-job posting
Put together job description and posting based on above elements Hiring manager, HR 1 week pre-job posting
Prepare talking points for HR screens, re: mission and goals of the job Hiring manager 2-3 days pre-job posting
Post job description and begin sourcing for role HR Beginning of sourcing stage

Goals in Recruiting: A Sample Job Posting

Use this example of a job posting with goals — for a senior customer success manager — as a sample to develop your postings. The goals — job objectives — are highlighted.

Senior Customer Success Manager

Department: Client Services Office: Boston

The Senior Customer Success Manager fills a unique position at the intersection of consulting, sales, and client service. As soon as a company buys our software, it is assigned to a CSM who will work with the company to tailor its system, provide training and guidance on how best to adapt the software to its business processes, and introduce new products and services as appropriate. Our Senior CSMs work with our enterprise clients, providing the highest level of service.

For any person with a strong interest in enterprise software and entrepreneurial growth, this role offers a profound opportunity to develop a broad spectrum of critical skills in an environment that is supportive but not constraining. As a rapidly growing organization, internal opportunities for growth abound.

This role is especially appropriate for individuals with experience in any combination of sales, customer service, or enterprise software capacities. In particular, people with any of the following types of experience are especially encouraged to apply:

  • Client service: Experience in high-level, enterprise relationship management, problem-solving, etc.
  • Sales: We look for driven individuals who thrive on solution-based selling.
  • Communication: We’re on the lookout for decisive, organized candidates who have a knack for creating solutions and seeing them through from start to finish.
  • Technology: Although you may not have worked with applicant tracking, onboarding, or performance systems before, we are looking for people with a passion for technology.
  • Entrepreneurial élan: Finally, and in some ways most important, we’re looking for people with a demonstrated independent streak.


Why wait until the end of a hiring process to find out what we actually want you to do for us? If we bring you onboard, these will be your marching orders, in order of priority:

We are an equal opportunity employer. We support and encourage diversity.


[This is where you combine the job description with the candidate-facing description of your company, or what is sometimes called the “employee value proposition.” For example:]

COMPANY NAME, based in Chicago and with offices nationwide, the developer of the top-rated and biggest-selling software for retail store inventory management, is seeking a Customer Success Manager to grow with us from our Boston office. As a small company, COMPANY NAME provides an outstanding opportunity to develop entrepreneurial leadership skills in a results-based environment where every contribution has a visible impact on the bottom line. Now in our tenth consecutive year of double-digit growth, COMPANY NAME delivers a robust product line and business model with proven success in the market.

Company culture is a huge priority for us. We hire fun-loving, driven individuals who like to innovate with their team and bring the heat. We believe in creating a supportive and collaborative environment. Culture can be hard to define, so you’ll just have to come in and meet the team!