Building a Recruiting Culture, Part 2

The Goals of a Recruiting Culture

Recruiting cultures can only be effective if they are focused, and that means that they must have clearly defined goals that everyone understands.

The goals of a recruiting culture should include:

  • Demonstrating to all employees that it's in their own best interest to work alongside the very best talent.
  • Showing all employees that, because of their professional exposure, they can play key roles in identifying the new talent that is needed by the organization.
  • Educating every employee on the best ways that he or she can identify and sell top talent on joining the organization.
  • Extending the organization's recruiting capability by also involving contractors, vendors, employee families, retirees, ex-employees, and even customers in the recruiting process.
  • By having such a large number of diverse individuals spending numerous hours talking to their contacts and colleagues at other firms about the benefits of working at your company, the organization can simultaneously not only recruit but also build its external employment brand. By having a positive external image spread by employees, the organization can also attract individuals through "viral story-spreading" who have not even been in direct contact with your employees.

How Exactly Does a Recruiting Culture Work?

In most organizations, recruiting is done primarily by recruiters. However, in a recruiting culture, everyone shares the responsibility for recruiting. For example, even receptionists play a recruiting role in that they are expected to pass along the names of all people they meet who are exceptional, whether they are visitors, vendors, or salespeople. Even salespeople are expected to pass along the names of other salespeople that they regularly lose big sales to.

Regular employees and managers also play a critical role (through the standard employee referral program) because they are expected to constantly seek out and evaluate individuals they meet when benchmarking, at professional meetings, or online. Employees are also asked to be talent scouts when they are away from work. This includes recruiting at fund-raising events, social events, and yes, even among their neighbors who come over for a barbecue at the house.

In addition to referring candidates, every manager is expected to elevate the importance of recruiting in his or her personal agenda. In particular this means that he or she must read resumes faster, be more precise before rejecting candidates, be more available for interviews, and make hiring decisions more rapidly.

On top of current staff, even contractors, retirees, and former employees are asked to be on the lookout for top talent. The leads generated by these diverse groups of individuals are funneled into the referral program for further assessment by the professional recruiting staff.

In essence, what is happening in a recruiting culture is that every employee and every "friend of the firm" is asked to play an additional role in seeking out and referring top talent.

Why Is a Recruiting Culture Superior?

It is no accident that many of the companies with the best recruiting success over time attempt to build a recruiting culture. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that the difference between having a handful of recruiters recruit compared to having every employee recruit, both during work and after hours, is dramatic.

There are many other benefits that result from turning your organization into a recruiting culture. Some of them include:

  • Total recruiting hours. A recruiting culture is clearly superior to most recruiting approaches because it dramatically increases the sheer number of "people-hours" that are devoted to recruiting. In most organizations, recruiting is handled by a team of recruiters and a common ratio is one recruiter for every 500 employees. Using this ratio as an example, if you have 40,000 employees, you are likely to have approximately 80 recruiters on staff. And, assuming a 40-hour week, the 80 recruiters will generate approximately 166,400 recruiting hours per year. However in any recruiting culture, if every employee spends only one single hour per month recruiting his or her professional colleagues, the organization will reap the benefit of 480,000 hours, or a more than threefold increase in recruiting power!
  • It shifts ownership. Everyone knows that individuals are more willing to take the time to nurture and improve things that they "own." Conversely, they routinely pay less attention to things that they do not own. Because a recruiting culture essentially shifts the ownership of recruiting away from HR and the centralized recruiting organization and onto the employees, it reduces the opportunity for hiring managers and employees to blame recruiting for all bad hiring. If recruiting management does an effective job of convincing employees and managers to accept more of the ownership of recruiting, you will soon find that accepting this responsibility means less complaining about centralized recruiting and a dramatic increase in the number of hours that each employee spends in identifying any top talent he or she might meet. In fact, he or she is likely to go further and aggressively seek out talent over time, and develop the ability to convince that talent to formally apply for a position.
  • Knowledge of the technical field. In a recruiting culture, most of the identification of potential candidates is done by your employees. These employees are actually working in the same technical field that they are recruiting, and are well aware of a variety of positive departmental and job specific characteristics for which recruiters might only have a limited knowledge. In addition, people working in a profession certainly know which events that the majority of professionals in their field attend. Because they attend the events themselves, there is no additional expense to send them and have them act as on-site recruiters. Because employees also read professional journals and use websites, they are also more likely to be able to identify potential candidates in these media channels.
  • Credibility. Because recruiters are known as "salespeople" for the company, there's frequently an almost automatic belief that what a recruiter tells you is not always 100% truthful. Ordinary employees, on the other hand, are almost instantly more credible because it's clear that they are not full-time salespeople. Because they do actually work in the area being recruited for, they can more easily answer questions and give a realistic preview of what the company and work are really like. For example, a recruiter cannot always know the idiosyncrasies of the manager involved, while an employee who works for that manager will know everything that it may take to convince a candidate to apply for a job.
  • Leverage your limited recruiting resources. It's important to realize that even though every employee becomes a recruiter, there is no automatic decrease in the centralized recruiting staff or budget. The staff's role merely shifts from doing 100% of the sourcing and selling to doing more follow-up after the initial sourcing has been completed by your employees. In essence, the recruiting department gets a tremendous amount of help that it doesn't have to pay for, and as a result, recruiters get to spend more time helping the manager sell and close the best candidates.
  • Building the employment brand. The most effective long-term tool for improving both the flow and the quality of applicants is building a great external employment brand. It turns out that one of the side benefits of having every employee talk to his or her friends and colleagues about your firm is that this activity also helps to build up your employment brand image. Having employees tell others (when they don't have to) how great it is to work at their firm builds a credible image that no professional advertising or marketing campaign could ever achieve. It's just like restaurants: You can advertise how good the restaurant is, but nothing builds long-term customers like word-of-mouth or "viral marketing."

Steps in Developing a Recruiting Culture

If you decide to embark on the road of turning your organization into a recruiting culture, there are a variety of steps that you need to take.

Some of the major ones include:

  • Benchmark other recruiting cultures. Once you make a commitment toward building a recruiting culture, you next need to begin building your expertise in what makes an effective recruiting culture. Begin by benchmarking existing cultures to identify the critical success factors of a recruiting culture. I recommend that you look at Quicken Loans, Southwest Airlines, Google, and SAS as initial models to study.
  • Involve the executives. Any program that changes the culture of an entire organization requires executive buy-in and approval. As a result, the second step is to run the basic idea by the executive team to see if it accepts the potential benefits and ROI as well as whether the executives are willing to make the personal commitment to take the lead in championing a recruiting culture.
  • Develop a plan and set measurable goals. Recruiting cultures don't happen by accident; they require a written plan. So begin by putting together a team to develop the draft plan. That team should include recruiting management but it also should include at least one senior executive, someone from marketing and branding, and at least one high-volume hiring manager. The plan should include measurable goals, which should be included as a talent scout, the expectations and responsibilities for each individual, a timeline, and your budgetary needs.
  • Make a business case. Once the draft plan is completed, it's time to work with the CFO's office to develop a convincing business plan. The purpose of this is to convince the CFO, the CEO, and line managers that it's to their benefit to accept the additional role of 24/7 talent scout for the organization. A secondary plan must also be developed to convince employees and non-employees of the benefits they will reap as organizational talent scouts.
  • Re-energize your referral program. The foundation of any recruiting culture is the referral program, because once employees identify potential talent, they must have an effective process to ensure that they are rapidly and formally assessed and ranked, and that the very best are scheduled for interviews. This can only be done through the referral program, and it must be operating at an optimal level, because soon the volume of referrals will increase dramatically.
  • Educate your workforce. The next step is critical because your primary new source of recruiting power is your workforce. Rather than getting employees involved strictly based on the rewards related to referrals, you instead need to convince them that it's in their best interest to be working alongside the very best. You also need to convince them that they can play a critical role in identifying and bringing these talented individuals in for assessment. This cannot be a one-time educational effort; instead, it must be continually repeated and updated if you expect your employees to remain energized.
  • Develop a story inventory. Even when you have successfully convinced your employees that they should be talent scouts, your job is only half done. This is because employees can only be successful as talent scouts if they have a great story to tell. Now, you can assume that they already know an array of positive stories and things to say about the organization; but, a better approach is to provide them with a storybook or "story inventory" which highlights some of the company's best practices and success stories. HR, recruiting, and PR must work together to gather and write these stories so that they are easy to understand and repeat.
  • Improve orientation. Every new employee must be made aware of his or her role as a corporate talent scout, and that initial message is best sent during employee orientation. The orientation process should include convincing the employees of the importance of their role as talent scouts and also educating them on how they can successfully identify and screen potential candidates. In addition, during orientation, new hires need to be exposed to some of the best organizational stories from the story inventory. And finally, to remind them that you are serious about recruiting, they need to be directly asked for the names of their best colleagues on their first day.
  • Develop metrics. The final step is to develop measurements and metrics to ensure that the recruiting culture program is meeting its goals. Measurement should include the quality and volume of candidates, the success rate of candidates in interviews, employee satisfaction and referred-candidates satisfaction, and on-the-job performance of new hires under the recruiting culture initiative. These results then need to be compared to those from the standard recruiting processes to ensure that they are superior. The metrics should be assessed after six months so that the program can be tweaked and improved.


Unfortunately, building a recruiting culture and building an external employment brand are the only two strategic long-term plans from which a director of recruiting can choose. One benefit that they both share is that they involve a large number of employees in the recruiting process and, as a result, they both increase the organization's recruiting power. The other benefit is that this involvement also increases the exposure and image of the recruiting function. This image-building occurs in part because recruiting becomes a primary topic of conversation in every meeting at every level of the organization.

When recruiting permeates the organization, the status of the centralized recruiting group grows proportionately. Yes, if you want to be a hero in recruiting, building a great employment brand and building a great recruiting culture are really the only two choices. And since the economy is now booming, the time to start both of these efforts is now.

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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