Hiring a Magnet Employee To Attract Other Hires

Remember back in high school, when everyone seemed to follow the most popular athlete or cheerleader around? Not only did everyone follow these “stars” around, but everywhere they went suddenly became a “cool place.” Well, the same is true in recruiting. If you recruit noted professionals (known as “magnet hires”) to your firm, other people will follow them (as recruits to your firm) ó just like they did in high school. Recruiting magnet employees works on the same principle as magnet schools do in education: attract the best and everyone else will want to come. Incidentally, the magnet concept also works on a smaller scale when you hire a mentor or someone’s current boss. Once you hire one star, you are also likely to get additional recruits as a result of the magnet effect.

Everyone Wants To Work at the “Cool” Firm

In the Silicon Valley where I work, it is common for the best technical people to flock (almost like lemmings) to the coolest place to work. For example, at one time everyone flocked to HP. Then it was to Apple Computer, then to SGI, and lately, it’s been Cisco. Other geographic areas and industries have experienced similar phenomena. Once you are known as a “cool” company ó or what we call a “great place to work” ó recruiting becomes more of a sorting problem rather than an attracting problem. The magnet approach differs from the more traditional way most firms try to become recognized as a cool place, which is to build up the employment brand. Unfortunately, although branding (also known as image building) is an effective recruiting strategy, branding takes a relatively long time to have a positive impact on recruiting.

Follow the Leader: Magnet Hires

Fortunately, there is a quicker but equally effective tool for attracting a large number of talented people. It is known as magnet hiring. The basic focus of the program is to recruit magnet people, who by joining your firm will eventually cause others to want to join it also. Magnet people are defined as new hires who, by their mere hire alone, will bring a firm notoriety and additional recruits. In other words, because a “star” has joined the firm, others would also want to become an employee. The magnet approach is not restricted to recruiting. Marketing managers, realtors, and department stores have also successfully used the magnet concept to attract additional customers. If you have never seen the “magnet effect” in action, you probably have seen it in reverse, where a noted “star” employee leaves a firm, and as a result the stock price falls and others quickly begin to leave the firm (for example, as when Michael Jordan left the Chicago Bulls).

How Does It Work?

The basic principle behind magnet hires is that by attracting a few individuals (generally in key positions) a company will gain both notoriety and a stream of individual applicants who would also like to work at the firm. The expectation is that for every magnet hire a firm makes, it should be able to recruit up to 10 additional top performing individuals, who could not have been successfully recruited without the draw of the magnet person. Incidentally, well-known magnet individuals not only draw recruits to positions related to the magnets area of expertise, but they also attract top performers to unrelated jobs and other functional areas. Bringing in a “star” has numerous positive and immediate results in recruiting, but it has other benefits as well, because the ideas and experience a magnet brings may also help a firm to improve its product, its image, and its sales.

Spreading the Word

After a magnet is hired, it’s essential to spread the word immediately both in and outside the company. Normally the word is spread through press releases, and even in announcement ads in newspapers and industry publications. Announcement ads are particularly prominent in accounting, law, and other partnership firms. Recent examples of individuals who just by joining a firm have positively impacted the firm’s image and its ability to recruit include Lou Dobbs, William Shatner and Michael Jordan. Merely by joining an organization, these individuals caused their new company to become the “topic of conversation” within the industry. Magnet hiring in essence is the adoption of viral marketing techniques to recruiting. It is both an effective approach and in addition, it is relatively inexpensive.

Identifying People Who Qualify as Magnet Hires

Determining whether a person qualifies as magnet hire can be done using several different approaches. Some of the steps that can be used to identify the names of potential magnet hires include:

  • Asking other “magnets” or industry luminaries to name them
  • Utilizing focus groups, interviews, or surveys of industry insiders to identify who the industry icons are (individuals that are often surveyed include association leaders, senior executives, executive recruiters, and industry publication editors)
  • Running a computerized scan of major industry, functional, and business publications to see who is often quoted, cited, or on the cover (occasionally publications actually list the industry icons in special issues)
  • Identifying individuals who have been successful magnets for other firms in the past
  • Using PR and leadership consultants to identify individuals who are currently or likely to become industry icons in the near future
  • Identifying award winners (by industry or function)
  • Identifying individuals mentioned in press releases issued by major firms

Additional Criteria That Can Be Used To Select Individuals

The specific criteria that should be used to identify individual magnets vary depending on the industry and the job. Here are some examples of specific criteria that can be used:

  1. Nobel, Pulitzer, Oscar, or industry-equivalent prize winners (or finalists)
  2. An inventor or creator of a famous technology or product (e.g., Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, Andy Grove)
  3. Famous ex-politicians (local or national)
  4. Ex-CEOs or corporate leaders
  5. Former sports, military or entertainment stars
  6. Current or former professional association leaders
  7. Leading authors, speakers, or consultants with broad name recognition
  8. Current or former media personnel (news anchors, columnists, press spokespeople, or other prominent PR people)

Steps in Recruiting Magnet Employees

Recruiting magnets is not rocket science, but it does demand some attention to detail, particularly because the individual you are recruiting is very likely to have hundreds of career choices. In addition, magnets are experienced individuals who often can only be successfully recruited by senior managers and other influential people who they probably already know. The basic steps in the recruiting process include:

  1. Identify others in the industry who have successfully used the magnet technique and learn from their successes and failures.
  2. Consider hiring an executive search firm or a well-known industry icon to help you during the process.
  3. Estimate the number of additional recruits you can expect to get after hiring a magnet.
  4. Calculate the program’s ROI.
  5. Develop a business case supporting the magnet concept.
  6. Build a magnet recruiting plan and get final management approval.
  7. Consider testing (and refining) the concept with one initial magnet hire.
  8. Get senior management or other famous people to serve on the recruiting team. In some cases, after the magnet is on board he or she is specifically asked to assist in the recruiting process by calling potential recruits directly and asking them to join. In other cases, “dropping” the magnet’s name alone is sufficient to draw in other candidates.
  9. Identify potential magnet hires by name (this is often a continuous process).
  10. Build a relationship with the targeted individuals over time and try to indirectly identify their job acceptance criteria.
  11. Develop policies and procedures that allow you to build a customized job to fit their exact needs.
  12. Make the offer and the hire.
  13. Develop a PR program to spread the word that the magnet has joined your firm.
  14. Ask the magnet for names of other stars (and potential stars) to target.
  15. Implement your recruiting plan to attract these identified top performers using the magnet as a primary draw.
  16. Ask all new hires if the magnet influenced their decision to join.
  17. Run the metrics to measure the program’s success and to identify areas where the program can be improved.
  18. Eventually integrate the company’s employment branding process with its magnet program.
  19. Keep open communications with the magnet in order to ensure that they remain happy.

Multiplying the Impact of the Magnet

Magnet programs don’t operate in a vacuum. If your firm has built a strong public image prior to implementing a magnet recruiting program, that image can serve to multiply or increase the impact that the magnet program will have on your firm’s recruiting. Some of those “impact-multiplying factors” include:

  • Your firm has already developed an employer-of-choice and/or a great-place-to-work brand.
  • Your firm has already been listed on best-place-to-work lists.
  • Your firm has already has a great product brand or product line.
  • Your firm has a famous CEO, technologists, or other industry leaders.
  • Someone has written a book about your firm or your firm frequently receives positive mention in industry publications.
  • Your firm has recently received positive PR and media coverage.

In direct contrast, if your firm doesn’t have any of the above positive multiplying factors then the recruiting impact from the magnet hire may be reduced. For example, even hiring an icon like Alan Greenspan probably couldn’t resurrect the recruiting functions at a firm like Enron!

Potential Problems With Magnet Hire Programs

As simple as it is, magnet recruiting programs can encounter some problems:

  • Remember that magnet people are likely to be highly valued at their current firm, so poaching them away won’t be easy or cheap. You can bet that they will receive a counteroffer from their current firm.
  • These individuals don’t change jobs very often, so you might have to build a long-term relationship with them in order to initially attract their interest.
  • When they are ready to move, you’ll need to act fast if you expect to successfully recruit them. That means you may have to keep a position open for them for a significant period of time. Even then, you will need the authority and the courage to make a one-day hiring decision.
  • Because of the special treatment and the notoriety that the magnet receives, you may also get a good deal of internal jealousy and conflict from your current employees.
  • Normal recruiting tools and your standard recruiters may not be effective when recruiting magnets.
  • The relatively high recruiting and compensation costs of hiring a magnet may seem to be extravagant by financial executives unless you have demonstrated the economic value of the additional hires.


Successful recruiting professionals realize that they must think outside the box if they are going to differentiate their recruiting practices from those of the competitors. Attracting a magnet and then using them as bait to attract other top professionals is a simple concept to understand, and it is sure to get the attention of senior management. The economic return of magnet recruiting can be high, because in addition to the obvious recruiting benefits the company can also get a good deal of positive publicity as well as new ideas and industry contacts. In some cases, the publicity can also positively impact analyst’s opinions, and thus a firm’s stock price. And yes, even though you’ll have to pay the magnet a large amount of money, the returns will far outweigh the cost.

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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