Guerilla Recruiting: It’s Time for a Revolution!

Why Now?

We could step back and ponder why guerilla-style recruiting tactics are emerging, but we already now the answer. Starvation causes desperation, and when demand exceeds supply, someone is going to have to starve! The migration to a truly global economy has created a situation whereby nearly all nations collaborate on economic development and compete for limited resources. In no market is that competition more visible than in the market for specialized talent, where some organizations are truly starving.

While most corporate recruiters are aware of talent shortages forecasted for their local area, few are aware that similar shortages are forecasted around the world. Even the world's most populous nation, China, now finds itself struggling to fill demands for specialized talent restricted locally by its largely agrarian population and legislation limiting population growth. While in the past recruiters could augment local talent with relocated talent, the ability to attract and retain foreign talent is now subject to significantly more resistance.

Around the world we have transitioned to a talent controlled market. Add to this scenario the fact that nearly all recruiting systems are designed from an employer point of view, and you can easily realize that revolutionary change is inevitable.

What Is Guerilla Recruiting?

Guerilla recruiting is a style of recruiting that makes use of the tactics and strategies used for centuries in guerilla warfare. It is a highly focused form of recruiting that is fully integrated and driven by the fundamental motives of the organization. It is typically deployed by an organization that is inferior both in numbers and tools against a larger, more mechanized competitor, but that is not always the case.

Unlike traditional recruiting, which merely supports the business; guerilla recruiting takes responsibility for contributing to and driving the organization's performance. It is a no-holds-barred style of recruiting where every weakness in the competitor is identified and exploited using minimal yet highly focused efforts. The battle that guerilla recruiters are fighting is not for talent, but rather for market share, revenues and survival.

In guerrilla recruiting you seem to your competitors to be coming from the east while secretly attacking from the west; instead of attacking head on, you attack from the side; instead of a persistent battle, you attack and withdraw quickly, delivering significant yet targeted damage. In guerilla recruiting you attack competitors where they are vulnerable, even if you have no direct need for that talent — because while your competitors counter to repair the damage inflicted, they leave other more desirable talent unguarded. Every weakness must be attacked until the competitor is weakened and can be annihilated, enabling your organization to pick up market share and revenues without the costly expense of a merger or acquisition.

What Are the Characteristics of a Guerilla Recruiting Force?

A guerilla recruiting force is a small, very elite group of professional recruiters that often augments a traditional recruiting function. Their actions are not subject to requisitions and budgetary constraints, although they are held accountable for producing a hefty return on investment.

Their strengths are in competitive intelligence, tactical planning, and flawless execution. They use the competitor's strengths and weaknesses against them, customizing their plan of attack to each competitor's current circumstances. In particular, they leverage the gaps in employee expectations and employer deliverables.

The guerilla recruiting force:

  • Is viewed as a weapon.
  • Utilizes the cover of society to mask its presence.
  • Plays on the aspirations of talent using sympathy, cooperation, and assistance.
  • Does battle on enemy grounds.
  • Is laser focused.

What Are the Major Steps in Building A Guerilla Recruiting Force?

Guerilla recruiting is not for the faint of heart or those not adept at dealing with corporate politics. Guerilla recruiting is about hiring to hurt, about knowingly and purposely inflecting harm on a competitor's ability to do business. Therefore, the primary action that must be taken when building a guerilla recruiting force is to recognize the political nature of the activity and make sure that everyone involved can stomach the gore that will ensue until victory is reached.

With the groundwork in expectations laid, the major steps include:

  • Establishing a charter for the force that exists outside that of the traditional recruiting function, and possibly outside the human resource department.
  • Selecting a leader and key players who have a proven ability to work in unison on projects requiring extreme mastery of details.
  • Identification of primary business goals and prioritization of external forces capable of blocking achievement of those goals.
  • Development of a defined process and arsenal of tools to power competitive intelligence.
  • Establishment of a discretionary spending fund used to finance covert recruiting activities.

Critical Success Factors in Guerilla Recruiting

As with any highly specialized activity, success in running a guerilla recruiting force is largely dependent on flawless execution of a short list of success factors. These factors include:

  • An unrelenting focus on execution based on the perceptions of the target talent versus that of the internal manager or employer.
  • The identification and internal senior-level support of a guerilla recruiting leader who is resolute, loyal, self confident, capable of handling retaliation, honest, well-informed, and respected.
  • Dedication by senior leadership to adjust corporate culture, management styles, and corporate infrastructure to meet the changing demands of the talent population.
  • Dedication by senior leadership to fully support and continue guerilla recruiting activities until victory is achieved with resources needed.

Critical Failure Factors in Building a Guerilla Recruiting Force

Just as success in building a guerilla recruiting force is dependent upon flawless execution of a short list of success factors, it is also dependent upon avoiding certain failure factors, including:

  • Lack of organization and prioritization of guerilla recruiting strikes.
  • Existence of hidden agendas or actions outside those sanctioned by the primary business goals.
  • Use of deceit and trickery as means to secure recruits (this may cause the organization more harm than that inflicted on competitors).
  • Failure to understand and manage to gaps in what talent expects and what employers are capable of delivering.

Examples of Guerilla Recruiting Strikes

Because guerilla recruiting tactics are intended to leverage the weakness of specific competitors against them, the possible number of actions that constitute guerilla recruiting strikes are endless. But here are a few examples of recently utilized tactics:

  • One Midwest firm heavily dependent upon high-end customer service talent recruited employees whose demographics matched the target customer profile of competitors to become customers of the competitors for the purpose of identifying which employees were top performers. After establishing a rapport with high-end associates, the employees later used their relationship to identify the associates' decision-making criteria, which was relayed back to the recruiting force and used to deliver customized introductions.
  • One national insurance firm routinely visited the parking lot of a competitor's regional training facilities with a video camera to record the license plate numbers of employees who showed up on days the competitor was offering certification classes. The firm then used state motor vehicle databases to identify the employees' names and contact information.
  • One national hotel chain recruited a large task force of retired people interested in travel to scout talent at competing organizations. Recruited scouts were given specific tasks to execute that would see how employees at competing organizations handled certain circumstances. In exchange for their identification and assessment of talent, the hotel chain partially subsidized its scouts' travel.
  • A regional health services firm transitioned an oversupply of medical technicians following the relocation of a facility into a short-term temporary staffing function which sold services to other regional competitors. While onsite, the technicians were charged with evaluating and reporting back to the guerilla recruiting force which talent was worth recruiting and what their likely concerns or motivations were. Once the key talent at competing firms was mapped, the temporary staffing technicians were reabsorbed into other operations in a manner that looked growth related.


Whether or not you have started to experience the coming war for talent, to ignore it or dismiss will be a mistake. Around the world in the modern age, corporate growth is dependent upon innovation driven for the most part by highly creative specialized talent, talent which is increasingly in short supply. Just as the real estate market in most of the U.S. has become a seller's market, so, too, has the employment market.

Talented individuals have options, more so than ever before. Your ability to both attract and retain talent in the very near future will largely depend upon your ability to abandon the archaic employment processes developed in the stone ages, when talent was cheap. Your organization will need to adopt a new perspective, one that recognizes and manages the perceptions of the talent you so desperately need.

Guerilla recruiting is not the answer for everyone, and most certainly should not be employed across the board, but it is the number one tool in key positions and key lines of business where having the best truly matters. Be bold, try it!

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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