A Talent Opportunity Alert Process: You Should Have One

One of the most common questions I get from recruiting managers and executives is “What differentiates a world-class recruiting function from an average one?”

Well, in case you didn’t know, one of the primary differentiators is the practice of “proactive recruiting.”


It’s possible to categorize corporate recruiting activities into two basic types, reactive and proactive. Nearly 99.9% of all corporate recruiting activities fall under the first type, which is reactive. Reactive recruiting simply means that the recruiting function reacts or responds when, and only when, a requisition is opened up.

The second option, “proactive recruiting” (or “proactive talent management”) is an extremely powerful approach in which recruiting, on its own, takes positive action, regardless of whether there is a current job opening. Proactive recruiting provides you with a chance to WOW managers and to become a corporate hero.

Proactive talent management is a forward-looking approach that anticipates problems and opportunities. It involves acting independently to take advantage of a talent opportunity or confronting an upcoming talent problem, rather than waiting to resolve it after it occurs.

Of course, most business professionals already know that anticipating and being proactive is almost always a superior approach to being reactive. Although proactive recruiting is rare in corporate recruiting, it is however widely practiced in executive search, where it is a standard business practice to have search professionals continuously identify top talent, regardless of whether the search firm has a client with that current need. They rely on the premise that if they identify currently available top talent, they will invariably find a client that wants them. In the same light, corporate recruiting managers must learn to assume that if they identify great talent, that at least one manager will be willing to act on them.

The broader concept of “proactive talent management” includes many distinct proactive elements including pre-need hiring, “most wanted” lists, competitive analysis, predicting turnover, and “recruiting opportunity alerts.” In the remainder of this article, I will focus on the single element known as “recruiting opportunity alerts.”

Understanding Recruiting Opportunity Alerts

The premise of “talent alerts” is a simple one. It is perhaps best illustrated by an example.

Think of yourself as the head of a golf team with no open positions. Suddenly, your team’s recruiter enters your office and says, “I know you are not hiring but perhaps you might want to know about a ‘sudden talent opportunity’ that I just learned about. I learned that just an hour ago Tiger Woods quit his current golf team and no other team, other than us, knows that he’s available. Given his talent, would you be interested in talking to him about joining our team?”

Of course the manager would respond with something like, “Hell yes! I’d love to talk to him immediately before the other teams have the chance to reach out to him!”

Under the traditional “reactive” corporate recruiting model, even if a recruiter knew about Tiger Wood’s sudden availability, without an open requisition, they certainly wouldn’t go out of their way to tell managers about it. As a result, after your managers later found out that he left one team and joined another, they would agonize over not being the first to know.

This example illustrates the concept of a “recruiting opportunity alert,” a recruiting function that continuously scans the talent horizon and periodically “alerts” relevant managers when the “tracked” superior individuals and teams suddenly become interested in a new position. Rather than the typical problem-solving mode, in this case, recruiting has a chance to shift its focus toward seeking out positive opportunities.

Alerts Are Better Than Not Knowing

It’s the same concept as when your stockbroker calls you up and tells you about a financial opportunity based on something that happened an hour ago in the market. Knowing about the “sudden” opportunity gives you information and a choice, which is superior to ignorance and no choice.

With a recruiting opportunity alert, there is no guarantee that a manager will take action on it. Nevertheless, it probably is a good idea to give them a heads-up so that, at a minimum, managers know that the recruiting function is on top of “what’s happening” in the talent marketplace.

Three Steps to Setting Up a Recruiting Opportunity Alert Process

It’s important to begin the design process by working with your corporation’s competitive intelligence team. Identifying when top quality talent is about to become available is a form of competitive intelligence gathering.

Developing the rest of the process includes three basic steps.

Step 1: Program administration

Developing the program’s rules and procedures through the following administrative elements:

  • Determine who can participate. At least initially, identify the individual managers who are willing and who have the authority to act quickly on sudden talent opportunities. There’s really no sense in focusing on managers who have no budget, no authority, or those who are unwilling to take a risk.
  • Prioritize. Some alert processes give priority to a small set of managers. One option is to give the “first shot” either to managers who respond the fastest or to those who have a track record of successfully hiring individuals as a result of alerts. A second option is to prioritize by the importance of the manager’s product or business unit. At firms where managers are quite competitive, it makes sense to allow managers to “bid” on the opportunity to interview high-value individuals.
  • Establish rules. By definition, sudden alerts reflect immediate opportunities, so establish rules that require managers to respond rapidly once alerted about an opportunity. Managers who fail to respond with a sense of urgency should be given a lower priority or even dropped from the alert program. Warn everyone involved that this information on candidate availability is highly sensitive and thus it cannot be allowed to leak to competitors.
  • Develop program metrics. This helps to determine what elements of the alert program are working well and which ones need improvement.

Step 2: Identifying sudden recruiting targets

Next, develop a process for identifying the individuals who managers will be alerted about. Some of the approaches to increase your organization’s capacity to identify these high-value individuals include:

  • Use a Google score. As a foundation, provide your managers with an initial list of individuals who they can pare down to the ones that they have the most interest in being “alerted” about. You can develop this initial list by conducting Google type searches, which can easily identify the most “visible” individuals in each functional area. Next, ask managers to review the names and their profiles to identify the ones they want to hire. Place special emphasis on identifying individuals who write articles or are media savvy.
  • Use a “most wanted” list. Comparable to a sales manager’s list of the most desirable potential customers, a “most wanted list” is a short list of highly desirable individuals who were pre-identified by managers at the beginning of the year. This list should also include high-value former employees who you would like to return. The high-value individuals on this list should be constantly tracked. So whenever information is received that indicates that any individual on it is becoming available, a pre-specified individual (usually a senior manager) would contact them immediately. For all other individuals (those who do not appear on this select list), an alert would be sent out to managers in order to see whether there is any interest in hiring this individual.
  • Ask at orientation. Ask every new hire during their orientation process which of their former colleagues would be most apt to leave if they were asked in the next few months.
  • Enhance the employee-referral program. One of the goals is to make every employee a 24/7 talent scout, because as professionals in their field, they are the people who are most likely to know when someone is ready to leave their job. As a result, add a component to your traditional employer referral program that gives employees a small reward (i.e., a $25 Starbucks card) for providing information related to the immediate departure of anyone on your firm’s “most wanted” list of talent. If that person is eventually hired, that employee gets the full referral bonus.
  • Monitor social networking sites. Many individuals change their social network “page” or profile (on LinkedIn, Facebook, etc) the minute they are ready to change jobs. Ask current employees to look out for these profile changes or to use RSS feeds for auto-notification of any changes. Plan C is to hire an intern to frequently check the profiles of targeted individuals.
  • Track conference attendees. Individuals often leak the fact that they are considering leaving at conferences. As a result, notify every employee attending these large conferences to be on the lookout for information or even rumors about who is unhappy and who is considering leaving. Funneling this information back to recruiting provides them with the opportunity to assess its accuracy and to put a “watch” on this individual.
  • Track conference speakers. Conference speakers and panelists are often high-value individuals of interest to managers. Use seminar and conference brochures to identify these high-value individuals to track.
  • Monitor negative business situations. These business situations might include rumors of, or actual, mergers, the departure of key executives, the loss of a major customer, the canceling of key products, etc. It’s probably true that managers and employees are already are aware of these business situations but it’s recruiting’s job to remind them that these negative situations might in fact mean that a number of sudden talent opportunities are about to occur!

Step 3: Types of alerts that are provided to managers

Finally, you have to determine which types of alerts that you will provide to managers as part of the program. Some options include:

  • A single manager alert that goes to a single manager who has pre-identified this individual as a person of interest.
  • A narrow alert targeted toward a few individual managers who are most likely to desire an individual with these types of competencies. Alerts can be provided in person, on the phone, or through email.
  • A broad alert goes to a large number of managers. It is used when there is broad interest in this type of candidate or if you’re unsure.
  • An immediate “act today” alert covers an individual on the “most wanted” list, or anyone in high demand.
  • A business situation alert that covers “negative” business situations. This alert may be sent to all employees or all managers. It warns them to keep their eyes and ears open and to explore their networks in order to identify which of the highly desirable individuals at a “troubled” firm may be considering leaving. Any names that are provided are sent to recruiting for confirmation and possible action.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard for any organization to shift from the reactive to the proactive, but if you want to be strategic, you really don’t have a choice. Strategic recruiting departments are always proactive! Almost certainly, after your organization has some success in landing someone of the caliber of “Tiger Woods” as a result of your alerts, there will be no remaining doubt in your mind that this program has the potential to make recruiting a corporate hero.

After you successfully bring one of these “magnet” hires on board, you’ll also discover that they in turn will bring several others with them. Once you bring on several “magnet” individuals with a high industry stature, you almost guarantee that as a result, your overall employment brand will also improve significantly. Not a bad ROI is 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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