Competitive Advantage Recruiting: Living in a Bubble, Part 2

If you are a fierce competitor who wants to practice competitive advantage recruiting, this second part of the article will continue to discuss action steps to take to identify and then counter your competitors’ recruiting actions.

Part 1 in this series introduced the initial three steps for building a competitive advantage in recruiting, which included applying counterycyclical hiring, learning to hire when they’re not hiring, and providing competitive job descriptions. This week, here are 14 more steps to take when building your competitive advantage:


1. Block them when they’re hiring. If your firm is any good, it’s obvious that whenever the competition is hiring for a particular job, they will target the best at your company. You can put your head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening, or take a superior approach and visit their website every day to identify what jobs they are hiring for.

When jobs appear that would make the competitor likely to target your top employees, rapidly implement a blocking and retention strategy. The point here is to identify the employees they are likely to call and “re-recruit” them so that the inevitable call from their recruiter goes un-returned.

Of course, you should also revisit your blocking strategy so that receptionist and call screeners know the names and numbers of your competitors’ recruiters who are likely to call.

An additional step to take when they have a job opening where they will likely raid you is to have someone call them and find out by name which recruiter is on the requisition. Use your profile of their recruiters to identify what they are likely to do in the best approach to counter them.

2. Raid them when they’re in trouble. Whenever a competitor is going through some difficulty, such as the termination of an executive, a merger, stock price crash, or a major product failure, your competitors’ employees are likely to be disillusioned.

If you’re a true competitor, this is the time you should begin making calls and offering them opportunities with more certainty and security. If you need to be reminded, remember that employees are not owned and that you are offering them an opportunity to get out of a bad situation. Shame on the competitor for not offering superior opportunities to yours.

3. Interview to learn as well as to hire. If you’re a true competitor, you want to learn as much as you can about what your enemy is doing. As a result, make it a standard practice to include at least one candidate from your competitor in the interview process for all key positions. Remember, every time you hire a competitor, your company’s value goes up while their value drops.

Interviewing competitors has an added bonus in that you can use it as an opportunity to test them about their problems and what approaches they are using to solve them.

4. Compare your website to their website. Invariably, most candidates will visit both firms’ websites before they make a decision on where to apply. True competitors are constantly comparing your website features and content to their website.

It’s your job to ensure that your website contains better information, better profiles, and a higher level of excitement. This is a continuous process because if they are any good, they’ll match every change you make.

5. Identify their best recruiter. If your competitors are competitive, their recruiters will be constantly probing and calling into your company to find out who the best are and who’s vulnerable.

Rather than being na?ve, attempt to find out which of their recruiters are getting through and what their arguments are. They should be part of any blocking strategy, but the secret is to offer small reward to any of your employees who will take notes whenever a competitors’ recruiter talks to them. Ask them to get the name, phone number, and make a list of the arguments they make. Then use this information to block their top recruiters.

6. Identify their sourcing, assessment, and selling approaches. If you and your talent competitors use the exact same sources, neither of you has a competitive advantage. The same is true of applicant-tracking systems, recruiter training, and everything else you do. If you want to gain a competitive advantage, you must use different sources than they do. Research (i.e., use Corzen) to identify which specific sources they use for each of their key job families.

If you’re not a big-name firm, it’s critical that you don’t go “head-to-head” with them using the same source. Instead, purposely try sources that they’re not using and shift from sources the minute they adopt them. If you want a competitive advantage in assessment and candidate selling, ask new hires on the first day about noted strengths and weaknesses. Yes, it’s hard work, but you can’t meet someone on a race-course if you continually follow their exact path. This same philosophy is true in recruiting.

7. Getting through to their best people. Identify any weaknesses in their strategy by constantly probing to see when the best call screeners are “off duty” and whether the voicemail system has weaknesses that allow you to contact recruiting targets directly.

If you’re a fierce competitor, you’ll track the successes and failures of each of your recruiters and use that information to plot a strategy to get your message in front of their best people. No need to use subterfuge here, just find out what works and keep doing it until they block it.

8. Track their promotion and hiring announcements. Nothing tells you more about a competitor than whom they promote and when they pass over someone for an external hire.

As a result, it’s crucial that you track each of their promotion and outside hire announcements because both of these events means that there are people who are likely unhappy because they didn’t get promoted. Contact these individuals immediately and make a pitch to those who will improve your organization.

9. Do your research. It’s much easier today to find out what competitors are doing because of the growth of the Internet. Assign someone in your organization to study competitors’ press releases and to do periodic Google searches using the words recruiting +XYZfirm. Read recruiting roundtable, Corporate Leadership Council, Conference Board, and consulting firm studies that mention the competitors’ recruiting approaches. In addition, find out what recruiting and HR magazines and newsletters they read to ensure that you share the same information base.

10. Test their systems. Find out the weaknesses in your competitors’ hiring systems. Start with asking new hires who worked at your competitors’ companies or interviewed there about the strengths or weaknesses of the processes.

If you’re feeling bold, test their system by having a friend or one of your employees apply and then assess their response time. If the candidate gets far enough, ask their time to interview, level of applicant satisfaction, and their approach to interviewing and selling candidates.

11. Find out who helps them. Ask new hires and your own consultants who advises them on recruiting-related matters. If you know who advises them, trains them, places their ads, and who supplies them with recruiters, you’ll have a better chance to catch up or leapfrog over them.

12. Postmortem. Whenever you compete “head-to-head” with your talent competitors, it’s critical that you analyze the results in order to find out why you won or lost. Ask new hires what worked well and what didn’t work so well. Use these learnings to continually improve.

13. Forecast where they’re going. If you’re going to win this battle, it’s obvious that just knowing what they’re doing now isn’t enough. So add “next steps” to your planning arsenal to forecast what they are likely to do next. Take this projection to senior managers and show them how a little investment can not only counter moves but also beat them to the punch.

14. Make it visual. Just like in war, you need to visually plot what the enemy is doing so that everyone is constantly reminded that this is a constant battle to gain a competitive advantage. Start by posting on the wall their recruiting organizational chart with the names of the key players. When they hire a new recruiter, you need to be aware of it and when they lose a good recruiter, everyone should be aware of that also.

In addition, do a mini-profile on each to identify their strengths and weaknesses so that when one of your recruiters is competing against their recruiter, you will improve your chances of winning the competition. Next, constantly post each of the critical jobs they are recruiting for, the name of the assigned recruiter, and their primary source to attract candidates.

Develop a competitive intelligence process that allows you to notify each recruiter electronically whenever their company is in trouble, has a hiring or salary freeze, or other anomaly that tells you now is the time to step up your recruiting efforts. Place this information in such a way that it reminds everyone, every day, that you’re in an intense competitive battle where you must counter and overtake every strategic action they take.

Final Thoughts

If you came into the corporate recruiting world from third-party recruiting, you are invariably already a fierce competitor because outside of the corporate environment, everyone knows recruiting is an “us against them” battle every day.

Within the corporate environment, most seem happy to, at the very least, ignore what the competitors are doing. If you’ve fallen into that “us against the world” trap, I hope this article has helped change your perspective, because it’s really our recruiting function against the recruiting function of a few primary-talent competitors.

Once you view it as a head-to-head battle, just like sales, the adrenaline kicks in and the rest is easy. If, on the other hand, you think there is enough good talent to go around, your end is in sight.

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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