Small Business Finance News

Employers Test Reality TV Tactics To Find Good Employees

Written by Ken Gaebler
Published: 1/18/2012

TopstepTrader, a recruiting firm for the futures industry, puts job candidates to the test with a two-week trading contest and a chance to win a $150,000 live trading account.

The Republican presidential race has been compared to reality TV shows like Survivor, with a cast of characters battling to survive and possibly win the ultimate prize -- an all-expenses-paid trip to the White House and what is arguably the most prestigious job in the world.

Futures Trading Contest - Top Step Trader Competition

The drama and the gaffes have been entertaining, but they are also indicative of an emerging trend in hiring: using reality-TV-like contests to find talented new employees.

It makes sense. If American Idol can discover Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, why can't a business run a similar contest to find top talent?

TopstepTrader, a Chicago firm that recruits and develops talent for the futures trading industry, is putting this theory to the test with the mother of all financial trading contests, a chance to compete for a $150,000 live trading account.

"Our whole company was built on the premise of seeking the undiscovered, untapped trading talent that is often overlooked by other firms, provide them with opportunity and then in return receive a small portion of those traders' profits," TopstepTrader president and CEO Michael Patak recently explained to a reporter at The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch.

With enrollment starting today and the two-week contest commencing on January 30, anybody who wants to be a futures trader can sign up for TopstepTrader's Next Best Trader Challenge. (To enter the Next Best Trader Challenge trading competition, visit to sign up and have the opportunity to be financially backed by TopstepTrader. There is a $25 contest entry fee. Anyone, anywhere in the world can join the Challenge.)

The trader with the highest account balance at the end of two weeks will win. Additionally, Challengers will be evaluated on the following criteria: aptitude for trading; net daily profit and loss; average wins versus average loss duration; proper risk management; and trader intuition.

"You never know where undiscovered talent lies," commented Patak. "This unique challenge provides the opportunity for anyone who might be interested in trading to find out if they have what it takes to become a professional trader."

Kudos to Patak and his team for pushing the envelope on innovative ways to find and hire great talent. More than just a smart business initiative, there are lessons in this contest for employers in search of talent and for the many unemployed individuals who are in search of a job.

Notably, the market for finding human capital is surprisingly inefficient, and contests like the Next Best Trader Challenge bring much needed efficiency to the hiring task. Now more than ever, we must all be creative in our attempts to make the recruiting market more efficient.

As it currently stands in this economy, employers in need of good employees can't find the right people for their jobs. Indeed, in its recent annual hiring forecast report, CareerBuilder found that many open job positions remain open simply because companies are struggling to find skilled workers.

Running a talent contest is one way that employers can "try before they buy" and avoid hiring an employee who interviews well but doesn't deliver the goods in terms of getting the job done in the real world. Another option, of course, is bringing in unskilled workers and training them -- but that's an expensive proposition, and there's no guarantee that you'll find any superstars in your cast of new hires.

For would-be employees who are between jobs, the lesson here may be that you need to put your money where your mouth is: tell employers you are willing to work for free for a month to show them that you are the right person for the job, for example. Don't just talk the talk. Show employers that you can walk the walk.

In this economy's turbulent employment environment, as Heidi Klum often opines in the reality TV show Project Runway, "one day you are in and the next day, you are out." Whoever wins TopstepTrader's Next Best Trader Challenge will be in, with a great job opportunity and the prospects to make some real money.

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