Make It

LinkedIn looked at billions of actions to see who is winning the talent wars. Here’s what I learned

Suzy Welch
Google office
Cole Burston | Bloomberg | Getty Images

What does it take to get the best people to work for you? Based on an unprecedented data analysis conducted by LinkedIn, it comes down to two things: Excitement and opportunity.

I've been working with LinkedIn over the last few months on a project to understand which companies excel at both luring and keeping job seekers. The result is LinkedIn's Top Attractors list, an eye-opening ranking of the companies dominating the talent game. Scanning the list it doesn't take long to see the two qualities common across all of the winners: They have an energized culture and offer a chance at career enhancement.

Make no mistake. These are not the companies that are the "best" to work at, based on opinions and surveys. Nor are they the companies that are the largest, based on revenues and profits.

Rather, LinkedIn's Top Attractors List is comprised of the companies where people most eagerly want to land jobs, and stay in them when they do, as determined by 12 metrics that measure literally billions of online actions taken by LinkedIn's 433 million members.

Among those metrics: the number of views and applications per job posting on LinkedIn and other career sites; the number of views of a company's career page; and employee retention statistics as measured through profile updates.

All of the data was normalized across industries — so a tech company's metrics weren't measured against one in fashion — and LinkedIn only looked at companies with more than 500 employees. (For more information on the study's methodology, click here.)

Suzy Welch
Brooks Kraft LLC | Corbis | Getty Images

"Nearly every company is undergoing transformation. The pace of innovation keeps speeding up, which accelerates (and changes) competition and raises customer and client expectations," said Daniel Roth, LinkedIn's Executive Editor, to explain why the company embarked on the effort.

"The only way to meet these new demands is to hire and retain the right people. That means the companies who can hire better and keep the best — even if only for the few years that someone might want to work on your project — are going to be the ones who thrive in this transition."

The Top Attractors list certainly contains some companies you might expect. That Google came in at No. 1 on the U.S. list will likely shock no one that's observed the tech giant methodically seize world domination over the past two decades, all while offering beach volleyball in its sunny campus courtyard.

The ubiquitous, relentlessly innovative, industry-eating juggernaut called Facebook, at No. 3, is also not likely to stun anyone. Similarly, the sex appeal and sheer profitability of Apple (No. 4) make it something of an obvious entrant.

It's hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't jump at the chance to work at a company that dubs its frontline employees "geniuses" and manages to conjure up magic year after year after year.

But the list also contains what would appear to be surprises: take, for instance Amazon (a company battered in the press for its culture) at 5; Stryker at 12 and Pandora at 16.

I say "appear" because once you look closely at those companies, you see the same themes run through them: they give people a chance to do meaningful work, make them accountable and make the work count.

Here are some other trends we see:

The Top Attractors are unusually tech heavy

Tech comprises less than 10% of the American GDP, but every single one of the top 10 companies on the Top Attractors list is in the tech space. And, looking at all 40 companies on the U.S. list, tech's 45% of the total.

By comparison, only one of the top 10 companies on the Fortune 500 list is in the tech space. (It's Apple, incidentally one of the few overlaps between the two lists.) Similarly, finance, at 7.1% of the U.S. GDP, comes in at 10%, showing up four times on LinkedIn's Top Attractors list, with Visa, BlackRock at No.19, Goldman Sachs at No. 27, and Morgan Stanley at No. 40.

By contrast, companies in the energy space and retail space, which together comprise 7.5% of the GDP and 25% of the top 40 companies in the Fortune 500, show up not at all. (I repeat, not at all.)

Of note as well: traditional manufacturing, which has taken quite a battering since the 2008 recession, still comprises 12% of the American economy and a full 10% of the Fortune 500's top 40 companies.

On LinkedIn's Top Attractors list, however, the only company that comes close to being in that category is Tesla, showing up at No. 8, but it's about as much a traditional manufacturing company as, well, a tech company that makes electric cars.

Bottom line: Though comparatively small and wildly competitive, the tech industry is Shangri-la for workers of the world today. When I talked to Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton Business School and author of two best-selling books about management, about this finding, he wasn't surprised.

"Every industry in the world is being disrupted by technology. Would you rather join a company that's leading the charge or watch yours go out of business?" he says.

"Tech companies have raised the bar on what it means to be a great place to work: not just free food and ping pong tables, but a chance to do creative work on important problems, collaborate with highly motivated, talented colleagues, learn from world-class experts, and have a real voice."

The Top Attractors tend to be led by founders

The vast majority — 65% — of the top 20 Top Attractors have their founders at the helm, most of them bearing names that are as familiar as family. (Think Zuckerberg, Bezos, and Musk.)

The trend continues even as you go down the list, at companies such as Box (No. 25), Starbucks (No. 31), and Yelp (No. 39). By comparison, only one company in the top 20 of the Fortune 500 is founder-led, Berkshire Hathaway, with its superhero CEO Warren Buffett, and few have CEOs whose names are commonplace.

To wit: ask a few friends or coworkers to name the CEOs of the Fortune 500's top 3 companies: Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil, and Chevron. Yes, exactly.

Again, like the outsized appeal of tech, the founder following makes sense to Grant.

"If I could pick any company, I'd want to work where the founder is at the helm. It's a clear signal that mission will