Recruiting With Little or No Money – Tools and Ideas to Consider

I) Recruiting Tools that Use “Other People’s Time”

If you’re short on recruiting funds and on hours in the day, the best approaches to consider are those classified as “OPT” approaches that use employee time and budget resources of other departments:

  1. Recruiting at professional events. Ask your firm’s employees to recruit at local and national events, trade shows, awards dinners, and seminars they are planning to attend. This is a superior approach because your employees can easily approach potential candidates as “equals” and because their time and travel expenses are already being paid by their business unit or other sponsor. The key to successful event recruiting is to develop the expectation that each employee attending such events will bring back three names of individuals who would be outstanding recruits. Encourage your executives and superstars to speak at these events, because that exposure might result in some immediate candidates, as well as improvement of your overall employment brand.
  2. Social networks. Having recruiters spend endless hours building profiles on social network sites can be expensive. Instead, shift some of the responsibility to your employees because there is a high probability that your employees currently utilize one or more social networks already (Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc.) both on and off the job. Start by encouraging your employees to include in their profiles compelling facts and stories about the firm. Next, encourage them to proactively make group connections and to provide you with names of potential recruits.
  3. Blogs. Recruiters can write effective blogs but it’s probably also true that many of your top employees probably already author blogs or are active participants in blogs relating to their field. If so, encourage them to talk about the positive aspects of your firm and to actively recruit on their blogs. Encourage other employees who read blogs to use them to also identify top talent.
  4. Boomerangs/corporate alumni. The best way to ensure a high-quality hire who perfectly “fits” your culture is to focus on recruiting boomerangs (individuals who previously worked at your firm). During tough economic times, many of these individuals might regret their decision to leave but be hesitant to approach you about attempting to return. A simple phone call from an employee in their former department reassuring them that they would be welcomed back might be all it would take to land proven talent.
  5. Videos. Videos are powerful recruiting tools because they allow you to more effectively “show the passion” at your firm. Rather than paying vendors to develop these videos, consider holding a video contest where employees throughout the firm compete to put together short, compelling videos about why your firm is a great place to work. The employees will do it on their own time and surprisingly, they may find many compelling features to display that you weren’t aware of. Post the best ones on your own corporate website or on YouTube.
  6. Proactive employee referrals. Employee referrals need to be your number one focus because they shift a great deal of the recruiting “work” away from recruiters and on to your employees. Referrals produce high volume and high quality, but during tight budget times the cost of referral bonuses needs to be avoided. The best way to do that is to directly approach top performers that work in areas where you’re hiring and ask them to provide you with a handful of names of top people. Next ask them to make some contacts for you to begin the relationship recruiting process. Most employees are willing to do this work without an expectation of a referral bonus. Also consider expanding your referrals to allow referrals from customers, strategic partners, vendors, consultants, suppliers and retirees.
  7. Ask past references for referrals. Individuals who served as references for previous top hires will often help out again in your search for new candidates if they were asked. Start identifying recent hires who have turned out to be exceptional. Call their references back, thank them, and then ask them who else they may know who is exceptional and could possibly be interested. Because these individuals have given good references once, it is highly likely these new names will also be of high quality. Most references are more than willing to help without an expectation of reward.
  8. Traditional referral programs. During tight economic times you might need to shift away from individual referral bonuses and towards a “drawing” or lottery approach. This is where employees get a statistical opportunity to win trips, vacation time, lunch with CEO or other non-cash yet compelling prize. You can also make customers, employee’s families, suppliers and consultants that work with your firm eligible for the referral drawing program.
  9. Hold a name-gathering Rolodex/PDA party. If you need help in sourcing or identifying top candidates, involve your employees who are likely to know the best and brightest in helping you put together a list of possible candidates. Rolodex parties are informal departmental or business unit meetings were top performers are brought into a conference room, given ice cream or treats and are then asked to “download” and share the names of the very best individuals that they know at other firms from their personal contacts. Those names might be stored in a Rolodex, a PDA, mobile phone, or email-based contact manager. Regardless of where the information is stored, the very best names are gathered at the party and are then targeted by recruiters to fill current and future job openings.
  10. Chat rooms. Chances are that your best current employees are already active on Internet listservers, forums and chat rooms. Encourage them to talk up the firm and answer questions highlighting your best practices and technology.
  11. Media coverage. Encourage managers and top employees to make themselves available to the press because the coverage can help attract candidates. Also encourage them to write articles in professional publications that highlight the firm’s best practices and technology.
  12. Recruit at company events. Consider company sponsored business, PR, product and sales events to also be recruiting events, where you might be able to identify potential candidates.
  13. Mentors and mentees. Mentoring relationships can be very strong. Take advantage of that by asking your employees if they are a mentor (or a mentee) of someone at another firm. If so, ask them to help you recruit the best ones.

II) Sourcing — Low-Cost Approaches for Finding the Names of Potential Candidates

If you’re looking to identify potential candidates, here are some sourcing approaches that will cost you little or nothing:

  1. Ask candidates during the interview. Ask the best interviewees for the names of other good individuals they know during the interview. If you ask enough interviewees, you will get a pretty good list of top names.
  2. Ask new hires during onboarding. Ask all new hires on the day they start who else is good at their former firm. Ask them to help you recruit any of the identified individuals that they know well.
  3. Almost qualified – Re-look at “finalists” from previous hiring efforts for roles in a given job family to see what former candidates may now be more qualified.
  4. Conduct Google searches. It’s almost impossible for anyone with any professional status to “hide” these days. Key people always have high online visibility, so identify well-known individuals by running their “Google score.” Names can be found by searching using major technical terms or job titles, along with a firm name.
  5. Turned us down. Re-visit finalists who, in the past, rejected your job offers. Try a new approach and attempt to resell them. If they say no, ask them if you can contact them again later.
  6. A find-you-again profile. Ask your current employees “how would I find you again?” Ask them what business and social events they attend, magazines and journals that they read, TV shows that they watch, etc. Use this information to identify the sources that are the most likely to produce results.
  7. Retirees. Some retirees have second thoughts about leaving the world of work, while others are willing to work as “fill-ins,” so keep in touch with those that you might like to have return.
  8. Community groups. Encourage leaders of community, service and church groups to make referrals and to let you speak at their events.
  9. Contests. Technology firms like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others are utilizing online technology challenges to identify the best problem solvers in the world. Finance companies are using “case contests” to identify teams of MBA graduates with the ability to rapidly apply their learning.
  10. Clubs and organizations. Firms are beginning to realize that if you want risk-takers, you recruit at rock-climbing clubs. If you want people with discipline, you recruit former Marines. Several pharma organizations have begun hiring ex-cheerleaders as salespeople because of their discipline and their ability to get people’s attention. Pockets of labor usually share at least one extracurricular interest outside work. One hospital organization in Illinois found that nearly all pediatric nurses’ frequent arts and crafts supply stores regularly and began targeting crafts clubs and training classes in such venues as sources.

III) Selling Candidates — Tips on Convincing Candidates to Say Yes to an Interview or a Job Offer

  1. Job descriptions. If you have a hard time getting individuals to apply, a dull job description is a common reason why. Rewrite your job descriptions to make them more like marketing pieces. Identify the WOW factors that you have and the features that excite your current employees. Put them in your job descriptions and make them compelling.
  2. CEO calls. Have your firm’s CEO call top candidates directly and encourage them to sign on. CEO calls are incredibly effective.
  3. Same-level calls. Many individuals make a habit of not returning recruiter calls. Instead, have someone at their professional level call them and you will get as much as a three times higher response rate. The reason for this is “professional courtesy” and the opportunity to learn.
  4. Peer interviews. Many organizations have found that they get a significantly higher acceptance rate if candidates are interviewed primarily by the individuals they will work directly with. Because peers know the job, they can be more convincing and at the same time, more believable than hiring managers.
  5. Side by side offer sheets. Provide your hiring managers with a single sheet that shows how your offer compares favorably with offers from competing facilities. This helps improve offer a acceptance rates.
  6. Contact them on the right day. Constantly seek out information about top individuals that might “all of a sudden” be unhappy because their boss/friend just left, a merger has been announced, they didn’t get a raise, they got a bad performance appraisal or other “triggering event”. Contact them right away and close the deal.
  7. Select a hiring team. Some managers just aren’t good salespeople (recruiters). Identify the employees that are good recruiters and salespeople and let them do most of the hiring. Give them recruiter training and reward them for their efforts. Because they do a lot of hiring, they will naturally be better at it than a single manager that only does hiring once or twice a year.
  8. Free training. Offer top candidates you have pre-identified any vacant seats in your training classes in order to build a relationship and to assess their capabilities.
  9. Involve them. Ask top individuals to help you “assess” a new idea or program, then build the relationship to the point where they know you well enough to accept an offer.
  10. Sell sheet attached to your application. Attach a “sales sheet” to your hard copy application forms that highlights the best practices and features of your firm.
  11. Promise them an interview. Guarantee potential recruits an interview. Consider giving them a reward (a $10 coffee card) or a free meal if they show up for an interview.

IV) College Recruiting Tips

  1. Interns as on-campus reps. Ask your college interns/ part time staff to serve as recruiting representatives when they return to campus. Ask them to visit campus events and to provide you with the names of the best and what it takes to convince them.
  2. Grad assistants. The grad assistants of top professors not only know the best students but they are very good at convincing them to accept your new opportunities. Officers of professional student organizations are also excellent talent scouts.
  3. Use last year’s hires as sourcers/recruiters. Ask last year’s college hires to help you identify and recruit this year’s crop
  4. Ask college professors. Ask college professors to be referral sources. Identify the best and begin selling them more than a year before graduation.
  5. 2-years-out college hires. If you haven’t had a lot of success competing for students graduating, try re-contacting those you wanted but couldn’t get two years out of school. You might find recruiting them now is a lot easier as their preferences changed when they become more experienced.
  6. CEO talks. Having senior executives speak on campus and give presentations and classes have unusually high impact on recruiting.

V) Other Miscellaneous Approaches

  1. Create a hiring consortium to share costs. Consider going together with a group of similar firms to share recruiting ad and/or career-fair costs.
  2. Win “best place” awards. Although it takes a major effort, winning a place on local or national “best place to work” type employer branding lists will have a dramatic impact on both the quality of your applicants and your offer acceptance rates.


There are literally thousands of approaches that have been used by recruiters to reach top talent. Some approaches are more mainstream and as a result have been monetized by entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity to make money.

But the majority of approaches are simple, low-cost, and wildly effective when used in the right way. What works for the manager of the local tire and lube shop probably wouldn’t work for the software startup, but there are at least 100 innovative approaches that would.

The key to being a successful and innovative recruiting leader is trial and error; not random trial and error, but educated trial and error.

Look at the characteristics of the audience you are trying to recruit and identify approaches that make sense for that population. Top talent is used to being barraged by recruiters using mainstream approaches, so when you try something different you most likely will slide right past all the barriers they have erupted!

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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