The 6 Things Talented People Look for in a Company

January / 2021
Authors: Dr. Josh Cotton, George Randle and Mike Sarraille

The following is adapted from The Talent War.

The Google campus is incredible. There’s a bowling alley, free gourmet meals, colorful company-provided bikes, a statue park, and more.

But if you were to ask employees why they work for Google, we can almost guarantee that no one’s going to say, “Because of the bowling alley!” Instead, they’ll talk about getting to work with the best of the best or having the opportunity to contribute to meaningful projects.

Many companies have a fundamental misunderstanding of what talented people truly want. They offer competitive salaries and wonderful creature comforts—high-end espresso machines, fully stocked kitchens, pool tables, and more—yet still hemorrhage talent. 

On the other end, we’ve seen countless people turn down higher pay to stay with a company where they feel challenged and love the people they work with.

Attracting talent requires knowing what talented people want. Here are six of the most important things that talented people are looking for in a company.

#1: Talented Leaders and Colleagues

People are the glue that holds a company together. More than any other factor, the people we work with dictate our level of job satisfaction, so of course, talented people will be drawn to other talent. 

The quality of your leaders is especially important. Ultimately, people don’t leave companies; they leave bosses. It is very difficult to leave a great boss, even if someone else is offering you more money. 

On the other side, if leadership is terrible, it is difficult to get talented individuals to stay, even if the compensation is good. A bad leader is highly destructive to the overall culture and your ability to attract and retain talent.

Talented people have a wealth of options available to them, so they will choose to work where they are surrounded by other talent.

#2: A Sense of Community

Community is a powerful driver. From a psychological perspective, most people join gangs or terrorist groups for the same reason most people join the Navy SEALs: they want to be part of a team. Two wildly different sides of the spectrum, good versus evil, but ultimately people in both organizations want the same thing: to be part of an organization that will do anything for its people.

It’s the same in the business world. Talented people want to be a part of an organization they believe in.

A sense of community is important not only for attracting talent, but retaining it. When people feel a sense of community, they are more loyal, and in today’s corporate culture of people hopping from job to job, loyalty is more important than ever.

To feel like part of a community, people must feel they provide value to the community. To attract talent, you need to have a culture in which you clearly recognize people’s achievements and make them feel valued.

#3: Challenge

More than 300 people have died trying to climb Mount Everest. Yet there’s no shortage of people attempting the climb each year. Why? Because people—especially talented people—love a challenge.

Attracting talented people requires providing them with an environment in which they can be challenged and make full use of their talents. 

You need to create the perception that your organization will offer a challenge—a chance to do the biggest, hardest, most dynamic, fastest-changing work that will ultimately set your workers up for success in every facet of their lives. Then you pose the challenge to potential talent: do you have what it takes?

#4: Growth Opportunities

Talented people have high drive and are always striving for more, so growth opportunities are very important to them.

When talented people are looking for a new job, they are rarely looking to move laterally. They want to move up. They want more responsibility and greater impact. They want to work toward bigger goals and grow, personally and professionally. They are interested in pushing the limits of what they can accomplish. 

So if talented candidates don’t see clear growth and development opportunities at your organization, they will take their talents elsewhere.

#5: Purpose

Talented people want to know that their work matters—they want purpose.

You can make all the money in the world, but if you’re not having an impact, it doesn’t matter. You will feel dissatisfied because a life without purpose is a life unfulfilled. 

It is up to you to define the purpose you provide for prospective employees. For example, a construction crew’s purpose might be building homes for people, or an oil rig worker’s purpose could be contributing to the country’s energy independence. 

Even if the purpose is not immediately obvious, it does exist. Your company must fulfill some need in the world or your local community, or it wouldn’t exist. You must identify that need and translate it to prospective employees.

Nobody wants to feel like their time and efforts are worthless, so as a company, you need to tell prospective employees what impact they can have by joining your organization.

#6: Salary and Benefits

Money is of course important, but despite what some would have you think, it isn’t everything. Especially for talented people with high drive, money is usually a concern up front but not the most important factor down the road. 

Special Operations soldiers, for instance, handle highly classified material, regularly risk their lives, and have highly refined leadership skills, yet they are paid much less than senior-level managers in the corporate world. Similarly, many talented people choose to become teachers or nurses or any number of underpaid careers. 

What we have identified both in the military and private sector is that talented people find more satisfaction in challenge and purpose than money.

But let’s be honest: pay matters. To attract talent, salaries and benefits must be reasonable or competitive for the market. You don’t have to be at the top, but you certainly don’t want to be at the bottom. You need to be in the ballpark.

Attracting Talent

If you want people to dedicate their talents to your company, you must offer them something equally valuable in return. 

Money and perks are certainly part of that equation, but they’re not enough on their own. Talented people want talented leaders and colleagues, a sense of community, challenge, opportunities for professional and personal growth, and purpose. 

By providing those things, you can attract—and retain—the kind of talented individuals who will propel your company into the future.


For more advice on building an effective hiring team, you can find The Talent War on Amazon.

Mike Sarraille is the CEO of EF Overwatch, an executive search and talent advisory firm, and leadership consultant with Echelon Front. He is a former Recon Marine and retired US Navy SEAL officer with twenty years of experience in Special Operations, including the elite Joint Special Operations Command.

George Randle is the Managing Partner at EF Overwatch, former US Army officer, and Vice President of Global Talent Acquisition at Forcepoint, a human-centric cybersecurity company. George has more than two decades of experience in talent acquisition at Fortune 100 and Fortune 1000 firms.

Dr. Josh Cotton is an expert in talent assessment and employee effectiveness. He has designed scientifically valid candidate selection practices for the US Navy SEALs and Fortune 100 companies and has advised leaders at DuPont, Omnicom, CSX, and Flowserve.