The ‘27 Names’ Strategy for Recruiting New Employees

A single job opening can expand hiring possibilities exponentially, if you leverage WSJ Leadership Expert John Sullivan’s strategy.

(Originally published in the WSJ Experts July 21, 2016 1:15 pm ET).


One of the toughest challenges in business is to find qualified, experienced workers. Especially in industries like tech or manufacturing where the unemployed talent pool is small, managers need to magnify their recruitment efforts and get creative, and that includes overcoming a reluctance to target talent currently working for competitors.

One approach hiring managers are using is what I call “27 Names.” This name-gathering technique leverages every open position as a means to find other qualified prospects.

Here’s how “27 Names” works. Start by telling interviewees that being well-connected is an assessment criterion. Then, during your interviews with the top five candidates, ask them to list three qualified workers in this job category at competing firms. That will net 15 names.

Ease any fears your finalists may have that they’re giving you the names of people you might hire for their prospective job. Make it clear that – as a finalist – they are only up against other current applicants for the job at hand. Applicants – especially those attuned to the social-media world – will recognize that who they know is a reflection on their own qualifications.

Next, expand to the next tier of hot prospects — the people your final hire is submitting as references. Because the people a job candidate submits as professional references are almost always more experienced or more senior than the applicant, consider each as recruiting targets. So that’s three more names, a total so far of 18.

During on-boarding, ask your new employee to name the three best people that they would recruit away from their last firm. We’re at 21 now.

A few months after your new hire is on the job – if he or she is performing well – call the original three references (whether you recruited and hired them or not) and ask them to provide the names of two individuals that are equally as good as the original job candidate that you hired with their recommendation. That’s two more names from three people – a total of six new names, so we’re now at 27.

Go ahead. Target the best people in your sector. Use this multiplier to reveal the names of the people to watch and potentially to poach. They are the people whose talent and reputation can take your company to the next level.


About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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