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What Employees Want

At the Rivet Group, we spend a good part of each week networking with exceptional candidates that are ready for their next job. We try to get to know what the right next job for them will be. (We take the matchmaking process between job seeker and company very seriously.) One of the questions we ask is “What are the three most important things they are looking for in the right job opportunity?” The more experienced the candidate, the more nuanced the answers can be. We also spend time discussing why they are ready for a new job – the gap between what they have and what they are looking for usually dictates their sense of urgency.

The challenge is that employers rarely know what great employees want.

What managers and HR assumes is important to job seekers, and what they “sell” as a reason to come work for them is often not that important to the job seeker. Part of the problem is that “conventional wisdom” is not a great guide. When we ask an employer, “Why should a great candidate come work for you?” the answer is usually, “Great pay and benefits, a market leader, and career growth opportunities.” While those are all criteria to consider, they rarely make the top three list for job seekers.

If you don’t know what employees are looking for, you are fishing with an unbaited hook.

To help you refine your pitch to top candidates and build a company that attracts and retains top talent, we wanted to share with you what most A-players are looking for in a company. While not the most scientific of surveys, here are the top ten things that potential employees tell us are important to them in a new job:

1. Culture. As Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The rub is that culture means different things to different people. One company culture might be great for one type of candidate, and awful for another. In the second- and third- level questions we ask when a candidate says culture is important to them, the consensus is a company that values its employees and recognizes their work and achievements. Most of this list will relate back to culture in some form or other.

2. Empowerment. Especially for leaders, they want the latitude to do the job they were hired for. For individual contributors, the ability to make decisions about their work and do it as they see fit, when they see fit. It’s also important that they are given the tools to succeed, whether the technology or talent to get the job done.

3. The Team. High-performers want to be on a team of high-performers. They want to know that their teammates have their back, and can be trusted. They have little tolerance for people that are not pulling their weight.

4. The Leadership. They want to feel confident in the company leadership is competent and will look out for them. Many of the candidates we talk to are lacking effective leadership – which is why they are looking in the first place. As Simon Sinek said in his tremendous TED Talk, they want to feel safe, above all else.

5. Compensation and benefits. While it does not often crack the top three, most candidates when pressed will admit they want to be paid what they are worth in the marketplace. Even the best jobs in the world will have turnover if people are below the market for their skills, there is no 401K, or they cannot take their kids to the doctor. Benefits go beyond just health care. Things like paid maternity and paternity leave, tuition reimbursement, and little things like gym memberships are an opportunity to showcase that a company takes it employees seriously.

6. Work/Life Balance. Most high performers want to have a life outside of work. They will put in long hours and take work home when it’s warranted, but don’t want to be expected to be on call 24/7 at the whims of their managers. They also don’t want to get grief if a kid is sick or they want to go to their favorite spin class in the evenings.

7. Schedule flexibility. This is tied to work/life balance. Most job seekers look for the latitude to manage their own hours to get their work done. Some people that means coming in early so they can beat traffic. Others, it means working remotely when they need some time to grind out some work. They know they’ll get the work done and want the latitude to do it how they see fit without being micromanaged.

8. Location. Where the job is located is important – especially if it means a relocation. From both a commuting standpoint and access to off-clock stuff to do, job seekers will evaluate the entire deal. Large metros with a decent cost of living generally have an advantage – especially if there is a trailing spouse with a career to consider, or kids that need good schools to attend.

9. Stability. Many job seekers we work with are on the market not of their choosing. Their previous employer made financial decisions and their position was eliminated. Or they were on the receiving end of M&A musical chairs. Some people are comfortable as job hoppers, but most are not. They want to know that they will have a future at a financially stable company.

10. Career growth. Believe it or not, internal career growth does not come up as often as you’d think. While it’s important for most to advance in their career, most employees (85% in a recent survey) would leave if a career move presented itself at another company. This is not surprising, considering the candidates we are talking to are ready to leave their current employer.

Keep in mind the data set – these are the desires of either high potential individuals, or executives at the top of their game. We generally don’t talk to the people “just happy to have a j.o.b.” or have been at their company for decades. Their priorities might be different.

The other thing to consider is that the inverse of the top ten – is why employees leave companies.

Like it or not, there is and always will be a war for top talent. Companies that prioritize their employees and continuously try to recruit, train, and retain the best talent they can afford will find greater success than those that don't. Knowing what drives talent to - or from - your company will help.

At the Rivet Group, we specialize in placing exceptional talent with companies that are going places. If you are ready for a career move, are looking to add to your team, or need help figuring out how to be an employer that employees want to work for, we can help.

You can reach us at

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