Using Weaponized Recruiting Tools To Achieve Talent Domination – By Shifting To An Aggressive Competitor Strategy

TA must shift from its “can’t we all get along mentality” to an aggressive competitor mentality. This shift must occur because both the need for talent and the competition for it (in critical areas like AI) are now becoming the #1 business success factor. A factor that’s more critical than other previously dominant internal success factors like technology, funding, or supply chain!

Recruiting Must Shift Away From Its Placid “Get Along Mentality”

Recruiting is in its current passive state because most recruiting leaders have adopted what I call a “pacifist mentality.” Where instead of considering ourselves to be part of a highly competitive, aggressive talent competition. They have accepted a strategy of “Can’t we all get along.” With that mentality, our leaders routinely treat recruiting as a “friendly competition,” where we look at rival recruiting leaders as only another frenemy.

And unfortunately, without the high sense of urgency that is generated when leaders realize that they are in an aggressive competition. Recruiting leaders today only feel comfortable using the most conservative recruiting tools that are guaranteed not to generate the slightest criticism or controversy. However, once our leaders realize that we operate in a business world that has become much more competitive and faster changing than when we developed our current recruiting toolkit. Most leaders will quickly realize that our lack of aggressive competitiveness in recruiting is now directly hurting our managers, our coworkers, and our company’s future.

Instead Become “An Aggressive Competitor” That Uses Weaponized Recruiting Tools 

Because both the value of key talent and how hard you must fight to acquire it are now constantly increasing. Smart recruiting leaders must learn to redefine recruiting as a highly competitive zero-sum game. Where there must be a winner and a loser after each open job is filled. And in order to win these increasingly aggressive competitions for talent. A company will have to begin using the most aggressive tools and strategies that do more than simply recruiting talent. Because in addition, these weaponized tools can also hurt your competitors and shift the recruiting balance in your industry in your favor. The remainder of this article will be focused on fully understanding these aggressive recruiting tools, and the aggressive competitor strategy behind them. 

You can tell when a recruiting leader has successfully made this shift over to become an aggressive talent competitor. When they include some of the following words in their goals for a recruiting tool. Those indicator words might include raid, hurt, crush, intimidate, and dominate. 

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The Available Weaponized Recruiting Tools… Under The Aggressive Competitor Strategy

There are 10+ categories of weaponized recruiting approaches that a recruiting leader or an individual recruiter should consider using. I would note that each individual tool on my list has already been proven to be successful at least once within a major corporation. And the name of an example company can be found in parentheses within the description of each tool (Example – Cisco). Also note that within this list, the most aggressive weaponized recruiting tools appear first.

  • Hire to Hurt – tools in this category purposely target and hire a few key executives or critical employees from a competitor firm. However, the goal of this extraction tool is not just to increase your own talent. But an additional goal is to purposely degrade a competitor firm’s current and future capabilities in a critical business area (Example – Uber). A slower and less impactful alternative is to Hire to weaken, which is the continuous focus on recruiting away a competitor’s talent across all jobs over an extended period of time. In order to gradually weaken that competitor. You can learn more details on the hire-to-hurt strategy here.

As one CEO put it to me, “I really like this hire-to-hurt strategy because our ship rises while simultaneously their ship sinks.” “And when we hire an unemployed candidate, we miss out on the opportunity to reach out and hurt our competitor.”

  • A direct raid on a competitor – this recruiting effort is often misnamed as poaching (you can’t poach because employees are not owned). It is when during a set period of time, you openly target at least a handful of employees from a single competitor. The raid may include “proximity recruiting”. Which involves physically sending recruiters directly into (or nearby) your competitor’s public worksites. Or the raid might include both physical and online messaging that directly encourages employees at the target company to join others that are also moving to your company. And finally, often a part of this raiding strategy. It is to offer a sign-on bonus as an incentive to further encourage more employees to leave (Example – MGM Grand). You can learn more about a direct poaching strategy here.
  • Team lift-outs – when your organization must hit the ground running in a critical business area. It makes sense to target the hiring of a completely intact team away from a competitor. So you acquire a team that is already functioning well. While simultaneously, your competitor will lose their complete capability in the same critical area. And that capability won’t be easy to rebuild. So your company, in essence, gains an instant competitive advantage that may last for as long as a year (Example – Nuance). You can learn more details on this lift-out strategy here.
  • Recruit industry icons for attraction and branding – recruiting an industry icon immediately gets everyone’s attention. So as your first step, you create a “most wanted list” of the top industry icons. And then, over time, you gradually build relationships and subtly begin recruiting them. Obviously, the primary goal of this strategy is to recruit a handful of icons for their knowledge, contacts, and leadership. But a secondary goal is that hiring them will serve as an instant employer brand-building win. This type of attention-getting hiring lets everyone in your industry know that your organization’s future is bright enough to attract icons. And at the same time, it may also improve your own employee retention rate (Example – EA). You can learn more details on this icon recruiting strategy here.
  • Purposely hurt your competitor’s recruiting capabilities – obviously, you can increase your competitive advantage in recruiting by building up your own team. However, another approach that you should consider is to purposely degrade the recruiting capabilities at your top talent competitors. Start that effort by recruiting away their best recruiters. And especially those recruiters that routinely beat your recruiters in a head-to-head recruiting competition (Example – Agilent). You can learn more about hurting those that beat you here.
  • Send them to Lucent – you can directly hurt your talent competitors by sending them all of the weak talent that you come across. In the hopes that your competitor might actually hire one or more of them. That means that you proactively forward the resumes of your own weakest employees that you would like to leave. As well as any of your recruited candidates that appear strong initially (but that you later found out otherwise). Obviously, you forward the resumes anonymously without revealing to anyone what you have done. With the hopes that your competitor will fill an open position with one of these lemons instead of actual top talent. Note that the word Lucent was added to the title of the approach because they were the target company in the initial “send them” effort (Example – Cisco).
  • Hire them all – this proactive action makes it much more difficult for your competitor firms to recruit talent in critical areas (like AI). This “over recruiting” effort is an extension of evergreen job recruiting. The goal is for your firm to literally hire all of the available talent (beyond your needs) in a critical job. Simply so that there won’t be any remaining available talent in the marketplace that your competitor’s can recruit. Not being able to hire anyone in a critical area will directly reduce your competitors capabilities over the long term (Example – Agilent). A related approach is known as “labor hoarding.” Which is when a company goes out of its way to retain all of its current talent beyond its current needs. By avoiding layoffs and minimizing turnover. This purposeful hoarding also prevents competitors from recruiting away your released talent. Who might provide them with valuable insights into how your company operates. 
  • Hire to learn – under this approach, in order to learn, catch up, or develop a new capability. You identify, target, and hire a handful of highly knowledgeable current employees who are currently working in critical areas at industry benchmark firms. Legally, however, this generally excludes hiring high-ranking individuals just for their secrets (Example – Apple). As an alternative approach, consider hiring ex-employees from benchmark firms. Instead of targeting current employees, you instead target recently departed former employees from these same benchmark companies. Based on the premise that they will still have best-practice knowledge and company contacts. Also, realize that attracting knowledgeable employees that have already departed may be much easier. 
  • Interviewing for names – finding the names of top talent at a company is always valuable. But few realize that you can often identify those names during your interview process. You start this name gathering process by purposely including all qualified applicants from a targeted firm in your interview slate. And then, in addition to using these interviews to assess the candidate. You also ask them to demonstrate their knowledge of their company and industry talent. By listing the names of the top people in their area (Example – Cisco). In addition, you should ask each new hire during onboarding to provide you with at least five names of top performers that still remain at their former company. You can find more details on name generation during hiring here.
  • Farm team hiring – this approach uses a “lesser company” as your company’s farm team (like in baseball). So that this company is known for its employee development. Becomes your prime source for upcoming talent. And as part of that recruiting effort, you proactively spread the word that you will automatically consider upcoming talent from this company for a promotion into the next level job at your company. Also, let all potential recruiting targets from the lesser company know how well their colleagues have done after joining your company (Example – Macy’s). You can find more details on farm team hiring here.
  • Right time recruiting – unfortunately, nearly 100% of all recruiting is to fill immediate openings. And that makes sense until you realize that there are certain times when the recruiting competition is low. You will be able to recruit much higher-performing talent away from top competitors if you are patient. And that means literally postponing the hiring of a portion of your jobs until you know the competition is low. You can learn more about this incredibly effective right time strategy here.
  • Win head-to-head competitions to discourage talent competitors – winning most of your natural head-to-head recruiting opportunities against your competitors will obviously build your own employee talent pool. Fortunately, winning more than 70% of these competitions for open jobs will, at the same time, also discourage the recruiters at your competitors. And over time, your competitor’s recruiting capabilities may never recover from this disillusionment. For this approach to be effective, you must have a mechanism for determining when you are in a head-to-head recruiting competition with the targeted company. You can identify those head-to-head competitions by asking each of your interviewees to list the other firms they are targeting. And when you are, obviously, you must put special emphasis on those head-to-head competitions with the targeted competitor (Example – Google).
  • And finally, be prepared for vigorous pushback – whenever you advocate the use of weaponized recruiting tools, you can bet your last dollar that you will generate a tidal wave of “but you can’t do that” excuses. If you don’t believe me, think back over the last few months. And try to remember even a single time when a leading author or your own recruiting leader actually used terms like crush, dominate, or raid. Or if they ever recommended the use of aggressive tools like hire to hurt, team lift outs, or sending the weak ones to our competitors. So it’s essential that you anticipate each of these arguments and that you have a pretested effective answer ready for each.

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Understanding The Characteristics Of This Aggressive Competitor Strategy

Before your company begins using weaponized recruiting tools, your recruiting leaders should make the characteristics of this strategy clear to all hiring managers and recruiters. Below you will find the defining characteristics of the aggressive competitor strategy.

  • Shift the balance – through your use of aggressive recruiting tools. Your goal is to disrupt the talent balance in your industry. And to shift it so that it now benefits your company.
  • Proactive action – rather than waiting for change to happen. You proactively take talent actions that force change. Your actions should impact not only recruiting, but also employee retention and productivity.
  • Use aggressive tools – in order to speed up the rate of change and to intimidate your competitors. You are the first to adopt the most impactful aggressive recruiting tools that have a high ROI.
  • Maintain a competitive advantage – it’s “us against them” in a zero-sum game. So another goal is to help your team gain and maintain a competitive advantage over each of your talent competitors. You can learn more details about gaining a competitive advantage in recruiting here.
  • Become data-driven – you must utilize a data-driven approach in order to determine what tools work and which ones do not work. At some point, you may need to use AI/machine learning to help make that determination.
  • You must prioritize – because everyone faces limited resources. You can’t treat all jobs equally. Instead, prioritize and focus on the jobs, skills, teams, and the competitor organizations. That has the highest impact on your recruiting results. You can learn more about prioritizing your jobs here.
If you only do one thing – try the “interviewing for names” tool during your next interview with a top candidate. And don’t be surprised when you see how effective it is. 

Final Thoughts

Because most recruiting functions are already extremely conservative in the tools that they use. Smart recruiting leaders must realize that they aren’t likely to make major strides in improving recruiting performance by adding additional conservative tools. Instead, I recommend that they try to match the increasing competitiveness that is found in the business world. By continually shifting your recruiting strategies and tools so that they become the most aggressive in your industry! Because that’s what CEOs have been expecting from us for years.

Author’s Note

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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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