Best Practices in Recruiting: Develop a “Most Wanted” List

As a consultant, I have the opportunity to visit dozens of firms each year, and without a doubt the most frequently asked question is, “What are the best practices in recruiting?” Well, one best practice that always appears near the top of my list is developing a “most wanted” list. A “most wanted” list is simply a list of pre-identified, specific individuals that you want to hire at the beginning of the company’s fiscal year. Because this is a “want” list, and wants change over time, so too must this list. In fact, it should be consistently evaluated and changed throughout the year as business conditions change. The contrasting practice that most traditional recruiting organizations utilize is the “wait and see” approach, which involves:

  • Posting job openings and waiting to see who applies, or
  • Searching the Web to see who might be available at the time that a job opening occurs

Both of these approaches are relatively passive in nature. In direct contrast, however, are companies that develop a “most wanted” list, which takes a much more proactive approach. By identifying the specific individuals you want to hire by name at the beginning of the hiring process, you take a good deal of the chance out of the recruiting process. Pre-identifying targets allows you to focus a significant portion of your recruiting time and resources on convincing a relatively small number of individuals to come to work with your firm. Why Develop a Most Wanted List? A most wanted list is an element of strategy that is borrowed directly from the sales function. Salespeople could choose to wait for customers to come to them. But any salesperson worth her salt realizes that a more proactive approach is required. This “most wanted” approach creates a list of the most desirable customers in advance, so that salespeople can focus their sales efforts on those targeted customers. It’s time for recruiting to learn from “sales” and to adopt a similar process. There are many reasons why a firm should consider developing a “most wanted” list. Some of them include:

  • Pre-identifying talent gives you more time to assess and sell them.
  • By identifying top performers by name at the beginning of the process, you minimize the chances that a manager or recruiter will settle on a second-grade candidate from off the list.
  • By targeting a relatively small number of individuals, you reduce the total overall number of applicants significantly. This in turn means you can spend more time on top candidates and less time on the high volume of relatively low quality “walk-in” candidates.
  • The reduced volume of applicants reduces your risk of lawsuits and the number of applicants you must track for EEOC purposes.
  • By presetting your diversity goals (as a fundamental element of selecting your “most wanted” individuals,) you essentially guarantee a diverse pool of recruiting targets.

Steps in Setting Up a “Most Wanted” List The process is relatively simple. Things to do include:

  • Determine the appropriate size for your most wanted list (it varies in size from 10 to over 100). It’s best to start small until you refine your processes.
  • Attend seminars and read articles in order to identify the “who’s who” in each key functional business area.
  • Ask managers and key employees to refer “the names” of top performers they know at other firms.
  • Identify potential boomerangs (i.e., former employees) and finalists from previous searches who didn’t accept your offer.
  • Identify the key talent (by name) at your direct competitors, especially where hiring them will both help your firm and directly hurt your competitors.
  • Assign managers and recruiters to each of the candidates on the list.
  • Develop a relationship with each individual on the list long before you actually need to hire them.
  • Develop metrics and rewards to ensure managers and recruiters focus their energies on the most wanted list.
  • As hires are made (or failures occur), new people are continually added on, while others move up, down, or even off the list.
  • At the end of the year, measure your successes and failures, and use the information to improve next year’s list and process.

Conclusion Developing a most wanted list is a recruiting practice that few people want to talk about. Even though managers at leading best practice firms like Cisco, EA, and Pixar have utilized the most wanted concept with great success, the practice often makes “thin-skinned” HR people nervous. When advocating the practice I often hear comments about how it dehumanizes the people on the list or how it can anger competitors. I find this logic shortsighted, given the fact that all professional sports teams regularly use the most wanted approach with little or no ethical qualms. I’ve also found that managers love the concept and are more than willing to help you compile the list of names.

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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