Google’s Rabbit Hole — Innovatively Sourcing Top Talent Based on Their Search Words

Google’s seven-month old “rabbit hole” recruiting program simply has to be classified as innovative.

The program has two major components. The first (a “keyword sourcing” approach) identifies employed top talent (some call them passives) based on the advanced terminology that they place in the Google search box while learning and doing their job. After they are identified, an unexpected message appears on their open Google search page stating “You speak our language.”

The second component challenges them to “follow the white rabbit” to an invitation-only “foobar” page. This begins a series of coding puzzles/problems (that can take over 30 hours to complete) that are designed to first excite and then to assess their capabilities. With fewer than 20 total hires during its short run, rabbit hole certainly isn’t a large program but it does produce quality. It has an extremely high offer rate (nearly 20 percent of interviewees) and an amazing 100 percent offer acceptance rate.

These Two Google Approaches Can Be Applied to Other Firms

There are several important lessons that corporate recruiting leaders should learn from this Google program. The first is that the best way to identify top employee talent is not through resumes or profiles, but by finding a proxy for “their work” online, which, in this case, are the advanced search terms that reveal the high level of their work. A second almost-as-important lesson is that rather than relying on what they see as boring interviews to assess top talent, excite and assess them with some form of real-world puzzle or contest.

The concept of the rabbit hole recruiting program is relevant to other firms because fortunately, you don’t need to own a search engine to find individuals using advanced terminology. Any firm can offer online problem-solving challenges, which have been proven to attract talented non-jobseekers.

“Finding Their Work” May Be the Most Accurate Sourcing Approach

The most accurate talent identification tool may literally be reviewing their work. If you take a mental step back from traditional corporate hiring, you would quickly realize that if you wanted to hire a great cook, you would taste their food and you would find a great artist by viewing their paintings. With a fresh look, you would also soon realize that a great cook or artist would unlikely have a great resume (especially early in their career). But if you could actually see and evaluate their work, you could find talent that most would miss.

The same “view their work” approach should be a mainstay of corporate recruiting because it’s increasingly easy to find examples of the work of potential recruiting prospects on the Internet. You can find their ideas and their work on their blogs, on Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Facebook, and GitHub. If after finding them, you also give them a relevant problem at your firm to solve, you dramatically improve the odds that you will find a leading-edge top performer.

Finding Those Who Use Advanced Terminology Is Part of a “Find Their Work” Strategy

Identifying those who use advanced terminology is an initial step in finding their work. Seeking out terminology first is important because search engines excel at finding keywords and short search strings while they are not often capable of actually finding samples of work. Highly desirable people are continually benchmarking, creating, and seeking out “best practices” and will use terminology covering those best practices. Also, because continuous learning is a key characteristic of top talent, keywords can help you find individuals and innovators who are seeking out new approaches and new knowledge.

The more advanced the terminology, the more likely that they are on the leading-edge of knowledge in their field. If you don’t believe that the use of advanced terminology is a key differentiator between top and average performers, survey your own employees to see if the best performers use different and more advanced search terms than the average. And once you identify their names, you can then seek out examples of their recent work.

Finding Their Work Is Much Superior to Screening Resumes

Evaluating their work is a much more accurate assessment approach than screening resumes. First off, there is little correlation between resume writing and on-the-job performance. The best future employees certainly don’t have the best resumes or LinkedIn profiles, simply because resume writing and self-marketing skills might be a minor skill in their profession. Evaluating talent by their resumes is also problematic for hiring managers because they are not trained in how to identify top talent based solely on their resume. Every day they accurately evaluate the work of their employees, but they don’t spend any time learning how to predict great future employees based on resumes and LinkedIn profiles.

Assessing their work can even be superior to employee referrals because some referrals are tainted by personal relationships

Anyone Can Find Leading-edge Talent Based on the Terminology That They Use

You don’t have to own a search engine to find individuals that use advanced terminology. A standard Google search where you use advanced keywords (e.g. “keyword sourcing”) will find individuals and authors that have used the term in the past. However, if you want to find current individual users, you need to work with the search engines directly. Almost all large search engines provide an opportunity for anyone to purchase sponsored links. Whenever a purchased search term is entered, these appear on the same page as your search results. Google’s AdWords and most others also provide analytics and keyword planning features that allow you to determine the best words and phrases for your purpose.

There are also numerous search engines which allow you to search social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter that may not be effectively searched by standard search engines. Incidentally, the best way to find the right advanced search terms and terminology is directly consulting with your own top-performing employees in your target field and periodically asking them what a current advanced “search string” would look like.

This Approach Is Different From Using Jobs Search Terms

Incidentally, many recruiters currently use job-related keywords and sponsored links for recruiting individuals who are actively looking for a job. They then place “we’re hiring” or open-jobs sponsored links next to the search term results. Unfortunately, that open-job approach will not succeed in attracting the very best employed individuals. They are unlikely to be interested in any job posting ad because they already have a good job, and when they are looking, they normally get their next job through a referral.

There Are Many Categories of Keyword Strings That You Should Use

Focus on words and phrases that someone seeking out new answers or approaches would likely use. There’s no magic here, and it takes some trial and error, but some of the search string categories you should consider include:

  • Forecasts and predictions — the very best are forward-looking. So they periodically use search strings that seek to identify forecasts and predictions of upcoming problems and opportunities. The very best will actually make predictions themselves.
  • “Best practices in …” — seeking out words related to best practices can help you identify individuals who are obviously looking for the best practical solutions. Since the very best become and remain the very best by maintaining an awareness of the benchmark practices, using words related to best practices in a functional area or industry is a great place to begin. The very best may go further and seek emerging or “next practices” in their field.
  • New technology —individuals who are seeking out information related to new technology are likely to be on the leading edge, and as a result, they should be targeted.
  • “New tools in …” — here you can use this generic new tool phrase or you can substitute a particular new tool or approach by name. By identifying individuals seeking out the latest tools, programs, or approaches, you are likely to come across those knowledgeable in or interested in these new approaches.
  • Issues and problems — the very best are constantly trying to solve the “hottest problems” and biggest issues facing an industry or function. So seeking out phrases related to these major unsolved problems means you will have an opportunity to attract individuals who are on our want to be on the cutting edge.
  • Award winners —anyone seeking out award opportunities, competitive contest opportunities, or individuals who are ranked on lists, or are award winners are almost without exception the kind of people you want to target.
  • Best practice companies — by focusing on search strings that include the names of the top-performing organizations, you will generally capture the individuals who are seeking to learn from these companies or who have themselves worked there.
  • Key authors, practitioners, and experts — by selecting search strings that include the specific names of leading functional experts, consultants, bloggers, and authors, you also likely to get individuals who are trying to learn by following or reading the work of the very best in the field.
  • Functional buzzwords — by selecting search strings that include the latest hot words or phrases in a particular business function, you are likely to have your sponsored link displayed in front of those trying to learn about or learn more about these new functional buzzwords.
  • Book, blog, and article titles — the very best seek out leading-edge books, journals, blogs and articles in order to learn. As a result, if you include them in the word search, you are likely to come across the eyes of individuals who are well read and are constantly seeking out the best publications.
  • Training or learning opportunities — the very best individuals are continually trying to improve, and as a result, they often seek out professional training and learning opportunities. Thus, individuals who use search terms related to advanced training, certification, professional seminars, webinars, or even looking up the knowledge base of a professional association should be considered prime targets.

After Finding Their Work, Ask Them To Solve Your Current Problem

Once you find the individuals that are using advanced terminology do not send them directly to a jobs or corporate career page. This will be a turnoff because these individuals are not active jobseekers. A better approach is a connection from one of your top employees in their field or an opportunity to complete a problem challenge.

The work that you find on the Internet might not be recent or relevant to your current needs. So the best approach is to give your identified recruiting prospects a real problem relative to the open job and your company. And that is exactly what Google has done with rabbit hole.

But you might also find that currently employed top people are extremely busy so that they won’t actively go to contest or problem-solving sites. That is why surprising them with a “you speak our language” note during a knowledge search is such a good idea for getting their attention. This note or sponsored link may be necessary in order to intrigue them enough to convince them to enter and begin your problem-solving stage. Incidentally, an added advantage when you ask numerous recruiting targets to solve one of your current problems is that you get to keep and use the solutions that they provide.

Final Thoughts

Firms like Google and Deloitte have a long history of using technical search terminology for recruiting. Unfortunately, many individual sourcers ignore keyword sourcing because of their narrow focus on attracting active prospects. However, those few who do direct sourcing, already know the value of the three approaches that I have highlighted: keyword sourcing; finding their work; and using contests/problems to excite, attract, and assess talent. These three sourcing tools are critical if you want to find those rare prospects who know how to solve complex problems, those who are continually learning on the leading edge of knowledge and innovators.

These three variations of finding their work are superior to screening resumes because resumes never contain examples of their actual work or their solutions to the real problems that your firm faces today. Incidentally, many recruiters wouldn’t know how to assess great work in a technical field if they tripped over it. Encourage employees to make referrals based on the work that they come across during their daily Internet and social media activities.

As seen on ERE Media on 9/7/2015.

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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