Make Your CEO Your Chief Recruiter

Take a step back and ask yourself this question: Who is the most powerful and well-known person with the most contacts and resources in your company? The answer of course is your CEO. Now ask yourself, what have I done to make the most powerful and well-known person in the company a recruiter? Unfortunately, the answer in most cases is…nothing.

The CEO Recruiter Hall of Fame

John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, graces the cover of Workforce magazine this month. Why would one of the most powerful CEOs in the world waste his time talking to a HR magazine? The answer is that John is the best recruiter on the planet. No, I am dead serious; he really is. He is among a few select CEOs (others in the Sullivan “Recruiting Hall of Fame” include Andy Grove, Charles Schwab, Jack Welch, Lou Gerstner, and Bill Gates) who realize the tremendous impact a CEO can have on employment branding, employee loyalty, and recruiting. “CEO recruiters” realize that being a visible, well-known leader can inspire people to want to work at a firm more than any recruiter ever could. The willingness of CEO recruiters to talk about how their company manages people and how crucial they are to the firm’s success does several things:

  • It makes people working at other firms think, “Someday. I’d like to work for that person.”
  • It increases referrals, because people frequently stop your employees and ask them, “What’s it like to work for him (or her)?”
  • It aids retention by reinforcing how important people practices are to your current employees.
  • It encourages and motivates recruiters, because they realize that they are not in this alone.

A CEO’s visibility and stature allows them to have a greater impact than any recruiter in HR ever could.

Make Your CEO Your Chief Recruiter

Not all CEOs make great recruiters, and those who have the potential are not always automatically great recruiters. They often have to be asked or even coaxed into the role. Once they have accepted responsibility they have to be trained and guided to ensure they say and do the right things. So what are steps you need to take in order to turn your CEO into your chief recruiter? Some preparation steps I recommend include:

  • Demonstrating what other CEOs are doing to help build their company’s employment brand.
  • Building a strong business case to show them the economic value of having the CEO as a visible recruiter and spokesperson.
  • Involving PR in the process of training them as well as selecting events and publications with the right demographics.
  • Providing them with an “inventory” of your people programs so they know what to talk about.
  • Refining, renaming, or otherwise sharpening up your people programs so that your CEO is exciting enough that people will want to hear about them.
  • Providing employee quotes, employee success profiles, frequently asked questions and talking points so they know what to highlight during interviews and talks.
  • Getting on “best place to work” lists, since this increases their visibility and also gives them “ammunition” and things to talk about.
  • Providing them with side-by-side comparisons so that they can clearly show how your company is superior in people practices to the competitor.
  • Getting them a speaking and writing coach to improve their communication effectiveness.
  • Tracking the increases in “hits” to the website immediately after a major article or talk. Use that information to motivate them to do more.
  • Assigning them one of your past recruiters to educate and coach them.
  • Making the process fun and providing feedback to them so they know how well they are doing.
  • Working with PR to get them on the cover of major magazines. CEOs often have major egos, and exposure motivates them to do more.

Action Steps for Your CEO

Once you convince your CEO to work with you, the next step is to give them an agenda that lists the things you need them to do. Some of the things I recommend include:

  • Having them highlight the importance of employee referrals during their internal talks. Make sure he/she reinforces the need for “every employee to be a recruiter”
  • Having them set aside time for interviews with business and industry journals.
  • Getting them to write articles that highlight your great people programs and practices.
  • Having them talk at industry and functional trade shows and include parts about your people programs.
  • Having them talk about what a great place your company is to work during their routine PR appearances, as well as at product and customer talks.
  • Having them set aside a certain number of hours per month to call candidates directly or to invite them in the for a visit to encourage them to accept your offers.
  • Involving them directly in orientation, since new hires will generally pass along the excitement this causes to their friends and former colleagues.
  • Asking them directly to ensure that managers are measured and rewarded for great recruiting and retention.
  • Encouraging them to write a book about the company and why it is a great place to work.


Most recruiters have no contact with the CEO, so their initial thoughts begin with fear when I suggest that the CEO should be the chief recruiter. But when most CEOs are contacted, they understand the value that they can bring to the recruiting process. Initially, they are often concerned about the amount of time it will take. But once you point out how successful other CEOs have been in the role, most CEOs along. If you’re not convinced, contact someone at Cisco and ask them how many times someone has stopped them at a trade show or in a rental car van and asked them about John Chambers and what it’s like to work at Cisco. It’s amazing what it’s done to build the image of Cisco as the best places to work, bar none!

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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