How to Hire for Careers, Not Just Jobs: An Interview with CareerPlug CEO Clint Smith

At CareerPlug, we’re on a mission to empower people to reach their full potential. 

Clint Smith, CareerPlug Founder and CEO

One way we do this is by helping businesses make the right hires, but it doesn’t stop there. We also want to help employers invest in their employees’ growth. This focus on the long-term results of hiring is important to Clint Smith, Founder and CEO of CareerPlug and author of the upcoming book How to Hire. 

Smith believes a great recruitment strategy must also include a retention strategy with an eye toward the future of your business. Of course, this is often easier said than done, so Smith has one piece of advice to help employers shift their mindset when recruiting: hire people for careers as opposed to just jobs. 

I sat down with Clint to discuss the importance of this concept, and he shared some actionable ideas that businesses can use to make better hires and retain the right people. 

Why hiring for careers matters

Let’s start with one big reason that hiring someone for the long haul matters  — the cost. Smith is quick to point out that, “The cost of turnover is really high,” and the data backs this up. According to one Gallup report, the cost of replacing one employee can range from one-half all the way up to two times that employee’s annual salary. 

Here’s another stat to consider: According to the Society of Human Resource Management, the average cost for companies to make one hire is $4,129. 

Of course, the ideal employee makes that cost worth it and the expense of hiring pays off. When you approach hiring with a career mentality, you become more committed to each employee and their growth, and employees become more committed as well. 

As Smith points out, “The commitment level is low for those employees that are just looking for a job, but if they feel like someone is investing in their career, they’re going to think twice about jumping ship.”

Clint Smith quote on employee commitment.

Not to mention all the unseen costs of turnover that are just as impactful. Smith says, “It’s disruptive when people leave. There’s a gap where you don’t have anyone and it slows things down.” 

One last and really important thing to consider is this: The labor pool is shrinking. As Smith puts it, “There’s a smaller number of applicants and more competition for them than ever. How will you stand out and hire the best talent? I think that offering a career instead of a job is a great strategy.” 

How to Hire for Careers

If you want to commit to supporting the growth of your employees and making hires for the long term there are some changes you can make before, during, and after the hiring process. Let’s look into some of those ideas as told by Clint Smith. 

1. Build intrinsic motivation with current employees 

Hiring for careers starts with the way you treat your current employees. 

When thinking about how to foster career development and hire employees for the long term, Smith is inspired by the book Drive by Daniel Pink. This book focuses on the value of intrinsic motivation, and as Smith puts it, “If you can build intrinsic motivation within someone, you can make them feel like they have a career and not just a job.” 

Smith goes on to say that, “The three things Daniel Pink talks about in this book are autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” It’s necessary for you to foster these with your employees and you can do this in any type of job. 

For autonomy, Smith likes the example of the Ritz-Carlton, a company that gives their employees a budget to solve issues for customers without having to get approval. This sends a message of trust that empowers each team member. 

He goes on to say that, “Mastery doesn’t always have to be about advancement. Some people just want to get better and hone their craft. People that take pride in the work they do are open to more learning. This is career development.”

Lastly is purpose. Smith says to consider, “Are you a mission based organization? Do your employees believe in this mission?” Helping employees feel a sense of purpose contributes to a sense of loyalty and commitment. 

These three objectives – autonomy, mastery, and purpose – provide a framework for how to treat current employees and should be top of mind as you position yourself in the hiring process as well. 

2. Plan for the future

When it comes to hiring for careers, planning is a crucial step. The hiring process begins well before you post a job listing online. Smith recommends creating a future organizational chart that maps out all of your current employees and helps you anticipate where your needs will be. 

When it comes time to actually make hires, spend a little time creating your Ideal Candidate Profile. This planning tool helps you think about the skills and traits you’re looking for in your next hire and can help you evaluate candidates more quickly. 

Smith also says to “spend time thinking about how someone is going to make a difference in your company and how you are going to make a difference in someone’s life.” 

Once you know your “differentiators” and how you will share them during interviews, it will be easier to position yourself throughout the hiring process and sell people on your company. 

3. Send the right message 

When creating a job description and sharing your open roles online, it’s important to make sure you’re sending the right message. This message can help you attract the right people and show them you’re making an effort to hire for the long term. 

Smith advises: “If you’re creating a posting for just a job, you’re simply going to write the requirements for the job. Whereas if you’re posting for a career, you would take a different approach to that.” 

Position your job posting in a way that helps people see your mission and what you value. Convey what kind of person you are looking for to fill a role and the impact they will make. 

Make sure your job posting catches the right eyes. As Smith says, “don’t bury the lead” — highlight what makes you different early on in the job posting, then get down to the specifics of the role later on. 

And one final thought on job descriptions: “The more you can personalize the message, the better.” 

4. Ask the right questions 

Sometimes candidates are simply looking for a short term solution or temporary job. Other candidates may be ready to commit to a company for the long term and grow within the role. 

So how can you tell job seekers from career seekers? 

By asking the right questions and paying attention during interviews

Notice what candidates are asking during interviews; see where their focus is. Smith says: “Look for people that are already digging into the company’s problems. Where are their passions? Is this person committed to mastery? What’s their motivation?”

Clint Smith quote on asking the right questions

You can tell a lot about someone by asking situational questions and taking stock of how they’ve handled themselves in previous roles. You can also ask questions to get a better idea of their intentions for the future. 

At CareerPlug, we invite all late-stage candidates to a lifeline interview where we talk about the candidate’s background as well as professional and personal goals. This not only helps the employer get a better idea of whether or not the candidate is the right fit, it helps the candidate feel valued throughout the process. 

5. Fine tune your brand

As Smith likes to say when it comes to hiring, “You attract who you are.” 

This means that if you’re treating your open positions like jobs, you’ll attract people that are looking for a short term opportunity. This is especially important in industries that are known for high turnover. Hourly positions might come to mind or those roles that people typically think of as “just jobs.” 

If you are giving your hourly employees autonomy, trust, and purpose, you will become known as a great place to work in the long term. Smith says, “Imagine if you did this in restaurant industries or home services, you’d actually be the exception as opposed to the standard.” 

No matter what industry you’re in, you are in charge of your own narrative. Walk the walk, and “don’t be shy about sharing what makes you different.” Word will spread through employee testimonials and online reviews. Clint says, “Nothing beats social proof.”

Having a positive employer brand that reflects an attitude of caring about your employees growth will make it much easier to hire for careers, even in industries where doing so isn’t the norm! 

6. Hire for growth potential 

When it comes to hiring, it can be beneficial to hire for growth potential vs. experience. Think about hiring for ability, motivation, and culture fit. The rest can be taught. “Giving the right person a chance can help you earn employees for life,” Smith says. 

He goes on to say, “There’s something special about being the first organization to give someone a shot and make them feel like they have a career. Over the years, the people that have been the most loyal are the ones that I gave a shot early on. Maybe on paper they didn’t have the right qualifications but I hired them for their potential.” 

Clint Smith quote on hiring for growth potential

Once hired, continue to support your employees’ growth. Promote internally when you can and consider covering the cost of additional education, training, and professional development. 

For more on hiring for growth potential, watch this video featuring CareerPlug’s Senior Director of HR, Natalie Morgan: 

Final thoughts 

Build intrinsic motivation in current employees by fostering autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Make a plan before hiring and be intentional throughout the hiring process by sending the right message and asking interviewees the right questions. 

The way you treat both candidates and employees will impact your employer brand and your ability to make the right hires. Lastly, a willingness to give candidates a chance can create loyal employees. 

Hiring for careers is an important strategy for both recruitment and employee retention and is an essential part of how we hire at CareerPlug. 

When it comes down to it, Clint’s best advice is simple: “It’s about how you position yourself and treat people. You can either make people feel like it’s just a job, or you can make them feel like they’ve got a career.”

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Originally from small town in central Texas, Ashley Johnson graduated from Texas State University in 2013 with a degree in Business Administration. She was hired by CareerPlug as a Talent Specialist in 2014, and moved up to ultimately lead the Recruitment Services team. From there, she pivoted to Implementation, and is now the Implementation Manager.

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Chris accidentally started a 20-year career in franchising when he was 18 years old and took a job painting houses for College Pro Painters. That job turned into the ownership of his first franchise (a house painting franchise). While at Monmouth College in IL, he operated his business, played on the varsity football team, and studied to become a teacher.

The taste of entrepreneurship and desire to coach others led Chris deeper into franchising, working with a few franchise brands helping them grow their businesses. He lived in the Chicagoland area his entire life until recently moving his family to Austin, TX.

In his free time Chris coaches youth sports, especially youth football, and spends as much time as he can with his wife and 2 children.

Jenny Leman


Native to Texas, Jenny graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2004 and joined CareerPlug in 2017. She retired her first career path as a Registered Dietitian after 10 years, and has found her true belonging in business operations.

As CareerPlug’s President, Jenny leads all teams to an aligned effort toward achieving our vision. She works to build healthy and scalable internal systems to equip and empower the CareerPlug teams to bring their best for our clients. She loves contributing new ideas and rethinking the status quo. Jenny really connects with the company’s core values, but especially with our intent to “Keep Growing.”

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Clint Smith

Founder & CEO

Clint founded CareerPlug in 2007 with the simple idea that there was a better way to help employers connect with quality applicants. Today Clint works every day to fulfill CareerPlug’s mission: Make Hiring Easier. Leading by example, Clint loves spending his time developing new ideas and teaching others.

After graduating from the University of Florida, Clint worked in investment banking and strategic marketing; both experiences influenced the development of CareerPlug. He also spent a year away from the business world teaching 5th grade in Boulder.

Clint is passionate about helping others succeed and is involved in numerous mentoring programs. He and his wife, Sarah, are also foster parents. Clint enjoys family time, beach volleyball, and outdoor adventures.