Not Enough Recruiters? Maybe You Need a Talent Scout Program

Are you facing talent shortages? Do you need more help but have no headcount for more recruiters? Are you working in an industry where talent isn’t that visible? If you answered yes, you are not alone.

Despite legislation that makes the recruiting process more laborious, an increase in the complexity of skills needed, a global talent shortage, demands from candidates for a better experience, and boatloads of recruiting technology that no longer seem relevant, a significant number of organizations are not resourcing their staffing functions to even ensure minimum levels of productivity.


You can sit back and cry, or you can start investigating recruiting models that unofficially increase your resources. Consider a Designated Talent Scout Program, which may increase your number of recruiters by a factor of 10 to 100 but does not formally allocate new headcount. This type of program is also known as a Recruiting Assistant Program.

What is a Designated Talent Scout Program?

A talent scout program is a volunteer program where qualified employees are selected to become designated talent scouts who will recruit in their spare time. Talent-scout applicants are accepted based on their passion for the organization, their ability to articulate a compelling value proposition, and their access to a network of potential candidates.

Each designated scout must complete a self-directed training course (usually online) to ensure they know the organization’s expectations. This program increases the number of individuals who are actively recruiting within any organization. While this program may sound like a traditional employee referral program, it is quite different.

How is it Different From an Employee Referral Program?

When designed correctly, employee referral programs are powerful tools that produce both high-volume and high-quality hires. However, most referral programs are poorly designed and even more poorly executed, so a talent scout program can and should run in tandem.

This targeted recruiting program differs in several key areas:

  • Limited participation. Individuals are screened and selected to ensure that the “right people” are spreading your recruiting message.
  • Formal training. While a few ERPs provide training to employees on a voluntary basis, designated talent scout programs require formal training to ensure that every scout is familiar with the process, tools, and limitations placed on the organization.
  • Volume targets. The well-trained individuals ensure a smaller volume of total referrals. Candidates have been more thoroughly pre-screened and pre-sold, versus ERPs that can produce significant volume.
  • Primary motivation. Designated talent scouts are selected because they are motivated primarily by the fact that they are helping to build a great team for their organization, thus ensuring that their colleagues will always be working alongside the very best people. While some organizations do employ financial rewards for talent scouts, the primary motivation is never the money.

Additional Benefits

In addition to the above differentiating design factors, there are other benefits of having a Designated Talent Scout Program, including the following:

  • Buzz. The process of creating the program and selecting designated talent scouts will help to create a buzz about recruiting throughout your organization.
  • Involvement. The program helps spread accountability for recruiting beyond the recruiting function. By involving more people and giving them a designated responsibility, you spread the “ownership” of the recruiting problem throughout the organization.
  • Prestige. Because the program is not open to every employee, selectivity can help make being made a designated talent scout a prestigious opportunity to become a member of an elite group (this prestige does not occur when you’re just a participant in a normal employee referral program).
  • Increase believability. Designated talent scouts “live the job” every day, so they are more believable and can provide more detailed information than standard recruiters.
  • Better frontline assessment. Because the talent scouts are picked partially based on their job and performance level, they are more likely able to assess a candidate’s knowledge and aptitude for performance.
  • Easier to manage. As a small subset of the employee population, scouts are easier to communicate with and manage.
  • Exposure. Based on their influence, scouts are more likely to produce superior results with a “spare time” commitment.

What are Some Qualifications for Participation?

Every organization is unique, but there are some factors to consider when selecting a designated talent scout. Some recommended selection criteria include:

  • They are top performers.
  • They have a passion for the organization and that passion is clearly visible when you meet them.
  • They travel frequently.
  • They have a broad “sphere of influence” with numerous opportunities to influence potential candidates.
  • They are among the best at making successful employer referrals.
  • They work in “hard-to-hire” jobs or business units with talent shortages.
  • They put “building a great team” ahead of any interest in monetary bonuses for referrals.
  • They are well-known in their field.
  • They often give public talks or presentations.
  • They have strong sales skills.
  • They regularly attend professional events and conferences.
  • They are well-connected with extensive online contacts on LinkedIn and other networking sites.
  • They have been a recruiter at some point in their life.
  • They write a blog.
  • They hold a visible position in professional associations or in community groups.

This Program Works Like Gangbusters!

You might think that having a talent scout or recruiting assistant program is a “pie-in-the-sky” idea, but if you thought that, you’d be wrong. Let’s look at an example of how the program has produced amazing results in the Army National Guard.

In 2006, the National Guard implemented an incredibly successful talent scout program known as G-RAP (Guard – Recruiting Assistant Program). The National Guard hadn’t met its recruiting goals since 2003, and in 2005, missed its goal by a whopping 5,000 recruits. Now, largely because of the recruiting assistant program, it exceeds its recruiting goals. The National Guard reports that during its initial 19 months of operation, the program brought in 35,000 enlistments. This result is even more amazing given their own admission about “how frequently guard units are being dispatched to war zones.”

In addition to the initial recruiting (not done when they are “on duty”), the Guard’s program expects its participants, designated as “recruiting assistants,” to also:

  • Maintain contact with the new recruit, provide encouragement, and reduce premature dropouts.
  • Involve the new recruit in physical training to properly prepare them for their upcoming boot-camp training.
  • Ask the new recruit if they have friends, family, or acquaintances who might be interested in joining the Guard.
  • Mentor them on life as a soldier in the Guard.

The program has received widespread acceptance and now boasts 107,000 part-time recruiter assistants. Talent scouts earn a $2,000 bonus, and individual recruiting assistants have earned as much as $20,000 per year under the program. The Guard’s program is administered by a contractor (Docupak, Inc.).

Possible Program Questions and Some Answers

Will it take away from an employee’s current job? In every successful organization, it’s everyone’s job to be continually looking out for talent, so the concept of involving employees in recruiting is nothing new. The designated talent scout program has design elements that aid in keeping the time spent recruiting to a reasonable level.

First, it’s made clear to everyone that the designated talent scout position is a “spare time” position. In addition, because these trained scouts are in a position to influence a large number of people, they can produce significant results without putting in a lot of time. If you’re concerned about employees going to excess, limit the maximum number of recruits per quarter. However, these employees are already used to balancing competing tasks on a daily basis, so it’s highly likely that they already know when enough is enough.

Is the talent scout program a replacement for, or a supplement to, the employee referral program? It can be a supplement, but if you are currently getting high-volume or low-quality referrals under your existing process, the talent scout program can, in fact, replace a poorly performing employee referral program.

What are the costs? Much depends on your program’s design, but expect extra costs from creating a screening process for your designated talent scouts (this can be automated using a point system on your website) and developing a training seminar for your new talent scouts (self-directed online program guide). The National Guard reports that its “cost per hire” under its program is a quite reasonable $4,300, which includes the optional referral bonus.

Is the program limited to employees? It can be, however, I recommend that it be open to a broader audience. The program could also include retirees, selected former employees, vendors, and even employee spouses.

What are the downsides? If you are selective in whom you designate as a talent scout, people who are rejected are likely to be unhappy. You might also have difficulty convincing your busiest employees to participate. Once you get a few of the “movers and shakers” to join, the others will follow. If you get the CEO or other senior people involved early, you’ll get more volunteers.

22 Action Steps for Implementing the Program

  1. Develop a talent scout program team within HR, but include participants from outside the function to broaden support and to ensure that the program meets each of the potential concerns of line managers.
  2. Make the business case for the program with the CFO.
  3. Get the CEO to participate publicly as the organization’s “chief talent scout.”
  4. Designate program goals, timetables, and the expected program results. Develop specific metrics for each program goal.
  5. Determine what percentage of your employee population will participate. To keep the program elite, limit enrollment to less than 25% of your employee population.
  6. Develop your talent scout selection criteria.
  7. Develop the program’s training program.
  8. Post an online application on your corporate website for volunteers to apply as a talent scout.
  9. Design a website where talent scouts can submit their recruits.
  10. Name your designated recruiters. The National Guard has “recruiting assistants,” but I find the term “talent scout” resonates more positively throughout all levels of the organization.
  11. Limit the number of recruits individual talent scouts can make per quarter to ensure that it doesn’t distract from their day job.
  12. Develop a process for initially “counseling” and then “dropping” talent scouts who violate program guidelines or submit low-quality referrals.
  13. Pre-test the selection criteria and the training program with some potential talent scouts.
  14. Decide on the appropriate bonus to be given at time of hire (Do not under any circumstances delay payment). Incidentally, provide a “give the money to charity” or an “opt out” option for those who feel uncomfortable receiving a specific talent-scout bonus.
  15. Develop the administrative procedures to successfully handle talent scout recruits. Because these are “A+” quality candidates, they must be handled with great customer service skill and in a short period.
  16. Consider a trial program in one business unit or region and then fix the problem areas that you identify.
  17. Develop the marketing materials and the PR approach.
  18. Admit a smaller number of designated talent scouts and then later expand as you build your expertise.
  19. Distribute quarterly reports that show talent scout participation rates by department in order to stir competition.
  20. Develop a reward and recognition program that highlights and celebrates both talent scout participation as well as the results produced by individual talent scouts. Consider holding an annual event, sponsored by the CEO, to celebrate the program’s participants.
  21. Monitor results and then convert them into dollars. Demonstrate to all the dollar impact of the program on revenue, customer satisfaction, product development, and business results.
  22. Finally, ask for a raise…you will have earned it.

Final Thoughts

For decades, I have been one of the strongest proponents of referral programs, but now there is hard evidence that a narrower and more focused variation can produce amazing results.

If you work in an organization that has a large percentage of externally visible employees, consider adding a designated talent scout program. Here is your chance to build a competitive advantage and to separate yourself from your talent competitors.

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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