HR professionals often treat recruiting separately from employee engagement and retention, but recruiting and retention are two sides of the same coin, with the same basic ingredients. The right recruiting practices can also “bake in” long term employee engagement and retention.

The recruiting and the retention process both try to answer the same question:

What do employees actually want?

To recruit the best people around, you must understand what makes your job the best job around. To successfully retain people, you must understand what continues to make your job attractive throughout an employee’s tenure. (If you want to hire the most effective nonprofit CEO in Washington, DC, you’ll need to understand who you are competing with in that job market.)

From decades of research (cited at bottom), we found that there are four questions that best predict your ability to retain your employees.  By answering these same four questions in your recruiting process, you can also improve your employee retention.

The four questions every current and future employee has:

1. What is expected of me at work?

Clear performance expectations are vital. As a hiring manager, consider this simple scenario:

A year from today, you’re sitting across the table from your new hire for their first performance review. What business results did they need to achieve over the previous year for you to be thrilled with their performance?

How clear and specific are you in your answer? Do you communicate this in your job advertising and interview sequence, or do you leave it a little vague?

Top performers want to be clear of what they need to do, because without clear goals, being a top performer is impossible. Top performers need managers who will recognize their accomplishments, and discuss their performance candidly. Without knowing what matters, it’s impossible to feel the sense of achievement that the majority of workers want.

That feeling of achievement is vital to retention—but it starts from the moment you begin recruiting. By harnessing that feeling of achievement, you can create stronger job ads. A strong job ad plays a movie in the mind of the reader, where they can imagine themselves playing the role of the hero, achieving the great things outlined in the ad. If they can’t see a similar movie in their current job, it helps boost their desire to work for you.

2. Will I have the support necessary to do my job well? Is the environment built for my success?

Top performers are business thrill seekers—always looking for the next daunting challenge that only they can achieve. They are addicted to achieving the next big challenge…but equally wary of being set up to fail.

Because top performers care so deeply about results, they are keen observers of situations that are out of their control, full of unnecessary obstacles, bad teams, poor tools, and unrealistic expectations. They will try to climb Everest, but they will not mount a doomed mission; they want the right support so they can summit successfully.

Your hiring process needs to demonstrate that the support structure of your organization will let them do the best work of their lives. You need to demonstrate that they can achieve difficult tasks, because they will have a strong team, great tools, and realistic (but high) goals. According to HumanR’s “Four Factors That Predict Turnover,” a top performer needs, “confidence in the leadership’s ability to handle the changes that significantly challenge the business.”

Finally, top performers hate bureaucracy and red tape, because it prevents them from doing work–so don’t structure their work to be about constantly battling that. Your organization needs to feed their hunger for achievement, not require endless forms in triplicate.

3. Will my work be important to the larger mission/purpose of the company?

If someone is capable of driving results for anyone, why should they pick you?

You’ve made your expectations clear. You’ve demonstrated that there is a support structure to help those achievements happen. But have you demonstrated how vital these achievements are to the organization?

You can’t appeal to everyone in your job ad. For some people, the mission matters. For other people, the job’s inherent challenges are most important. But without exception, every top performer needs to know how their work is important to the organization’s success. If the job is not perceived as important, the best people will not be interested.

4. Do I expect to play an important role in the organization a year from now?

Top performers are often the first to leave a failing situation. Maybe the entire enterprise is at risk, or maybe it’s the marginalization of their department’s importance. Top performers don’t mind working hard, but when they can no longer win, they leave. Top performers are well aware of changes in their functional area and changes in the broader business sphere—they are quick to learn new skills and use the latest approaches. But when an organization values internal politics over the quality of the work, or when the entire industry is in decline, the top performers will notice it first, and be the first to take action. They leave bad situations because their work is so personally important to them. (And it doesn’t hurt that they are also the most employable, and find it easy to land a new job.)

It may sound counterintuitive, but the best way to retain your best people is to make them more marketable. Give them your most important, high-profile challenges. Give them work that demands they learn to use the latest approaches. Let them know that they, and their work, are important to you.

With Better Job Ads Comes Better Employee Retention Rates

By thinking about what it takes to retain your best people, you will start writing ads that do a better job of attracting them in the first place. When you write job advertising that is appealing to top performers, you will soon be achieving the kinds of business results you always wanted. To learn how to write more effective job postings, read How to Write Job Descriptions that Attract Top Performers. To gain more perspective on performance management and employee turnover, visit “What Drives Employee Retention and Employee Turnover?”

And of course, the more you succeed, the more attractive you become as an employer. Employee engagement follows success, not the other way around. To bake employee engagement and retention into your recruiting practices and make your job postings twice as effective, download our Guide to Effective Job Advertising.


  1. Levin, B. and Thornton, D. “Four Factors that Predict Turnover: An Examination of the Factors Affecting Talent Retention” HumanR , 2003.
  2. Sirota, David, Louis A. Mischkind, and Michael Irwin Meltzer. The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want. Indianapolis, IN: Wharton School Pub., 2005. Print.
  3. Press, Gallup, and Jim Harter. First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. New York, NY: Gallup, 2016. Print.