Selecting Your Employment Strategy

Imagine the head of the function that has one of the most strategic impacts on the business not even having a name for their own business strategy? Many employment functions operate strictly on a day-by-day ad hoc basis. As a result recruiters and managers often do not know the focus or “theory” behind their firms’ (or their competitors’) employment strategy. If there is an employment “plan,” it is usually headcount-based rather than being focused on giving the firm a competitive talent advantage over it’s direct competitors. This lack of focus and direction frequently contributes to the “talent” shortage many firms are facing. Having studied dozens of employment functions, I’ve compiled a list of the range of corporate-wide strategies that are available to firms. These strategies are seldom used alone and are often part of plan that has 2-5 program elements/ combinations. It is no longer acceptable for an Employment function just to be reactive to open requisitions and being satisfied with putting “butts in chairs hiring.” If an employment department is to be successful it needs to have a strategy that:

    1. Is aligned with the business strategy and it gives us a competitive advantage


  1. Fits the environment the company operates in
  2. Includes both attraction and retention components
  3. Is communicated and understood by all
  4. Has a corresponding set of metrics to check if the strategy is meeting its goals

Possible Strategies For The Employment Function The Range of Possible Employment Strategies (where do we put our focus, resources, and priorities) include:

  1. Hire The Best And Brightest – Variations include:
    • Hiring “Brain Horsepower” – Selecting individuals with intellectual capabilities clearly above that of others, in order to build up a company’s Intellectual Capital.
    • Hire Talent/Competencies – Find people with the most talent in the broad competencies that our firm has statistically determined lead to individual and corporate success. Then find a position for them or tailor our business strategy around them.
    • Top 10% (from the “top” schools) – Going to the “top schools” almost exclusively for talent. Then you use university admissions, faculty assessment, or grading assessments to identify the very best candidates.
  2. Cost per Hire/”Butts in Chairs” – Selecting “average” employees to fill slots which pay below the midpoint in order to have a low cost per hire. Targets “active” job seekers who are currently sending out their resume (also know as a “coincidence hire”). Assumes most employees are pretty much the same and that we need to hire low cost employees in order to be competitive.
  3. Target “Content/Employed Performers” (Passive job seekers) – Focus on currently employed people. Employed people are harder to recruit than unemployed people. This strategy based on the premise that the very best are almost always employed, are good in their job, they don’t have an updated resume, and they do not read want ads or visit job web sites either. Active job seekers in contrast are often unemployed people (those that have been rejected, laid off or fired) and people that are unhappy in their job (and are thus looking). This strategy raises our costs but produces better performing hires.
  4. Web and Technology Driven – This strategy puts all/most of it’s resources into the web and related technology based on the premise that this strategy sends a message to applicants that we are an advanced firm. It also allows us to attract different and “better” candidates because the best also “live on the web’ and change at Internet speed. Technology allows us to do things better and faster than using traditional approaches. Technology is THE competitive advantage. This strategy usually has three variations:
    1. Where our web site is the key “attractor”,
    2. where we search the part of the web without career or job sites and
    3. where we get candidates off or career/job sites run by others
  5. Continuous Relationship Recruiting (vs. Open Requisitions Only)- Traditional strategies focus on the premise that we only recruit when we have an opening and then the applicants are “strangers” (in that we don’t know them). Relationship recruiting is a continuous process of going out and “capturing names” of currently employed people and building longer term relationships with the best in the field before we need them. By courting them over time they become “friends.” A basic premise is that hiring people we have known over time gets us a higher acceptance rate among superstars and stretching out the screening process improves our assessment and thus results in less “bad” hires and retention problems. Because there are periodic shortages of talent we need to keep a constant, proactive look out for great candidates, pre-qualify them and hire the “best athlete” when they become available (sometimes even when we have no current openings).
  6. Employer of Choice (EOC) – By developing an image as “the” great place to work we can attract the best people almost automatically. By getting great “PR” and by developing an employment “brand” we will attract the best people.
  7. Integrated Recruitment and Product Strategy – Related to EOC, this strategy assumes all product advertising is recruitment advertising and vice versa. Marketing and recruiting integrate their efforts. All applicants are treated with special care, as they may be “current or future customers.”
  8. Targeted Hiring – Prioritizing certain jobs as key jobs that “make or break” a firm (often top management, design or IT jobs) and putting a disproportionate percentage of resources to fill these positions.
  9. Competency Based Selection – Targeting individuals based on their broad competencies that go across many jobs. His strategy can also look at future competencies we will need (as opposed to hiring individuals with an eye only on the skills currently needed for one job).
  10. Experience Based Selection – Recruiting and selection based on the number of years of experience a candidate has in this or related jobs (or our industry). The assumption is that more years are better as long as salary caps aren’t exceeded. The quality of the experience needs to be assessed if this strategy is to be successful. In fast changing fields experience often has a diminished value.
  11. Company Based Hiring – Assumes if you want to be the best you must hire people that have worked for companies we want to be like. This might include a “raiding strategy” and it also helps a firm gain competitive intelligence.
  12. Hire “Too Many” And Wash Out The Failures – Assumes errors will be made in the selection process and only on the job experience can cull out those not able to do the job.
  13. Promote Only/Hire at the bottom – This approach assumes our company is unique and that knowing our culture is essential for success. Outside hires must be at entry level because they must work their way up to succeed. By stretching out the assessment process over several internal jobs we assure a good “fit” before they move in to “key” jobs. In order for this strategy to be successful there must be strong internal placement and employee development programs. There are diversity issues related to this strategy and it isn’t appropriate when talent is needed right away.
  14. Temporary to Permanent Hire – Where recruitment is done by others (contracting firms and temp agencies). This strategy assumes “on the job assessment” is the most valid way of assessing your skills and “fit”. On the job performance determines who we hire on as a long term employee.
  15. Buy/Merge with Firms for Talent Acquisition – You can hire “intact” talent relatively fast through the acquisition of other firms with proven talent. You might also get customers and products as an added benefit.
  16. Speed Hiring – A strategy to improve the quality of the hire. It is based on the premise that the very best recruits are on the job market for such a short period of time (less than a week) that quick finding, assessment and decision making is the best (only) way to get the best performers. This differs from “time to fill” which tries to make the process faster but hiring is still measured in weeks vs. days.
  17. Hire the very well known and others will follow – By hiring very visible “icons” of the industry in a few key positions we will automatically become known as a great place to work.
  18. Fresh College Hires (that challenge the system) – This strategy assumes that recent grads are “better” because of their new ideas, “energy” and their willingness to challenge the system. Hire “fresh” brains or “entry level” brains that continually ask “why” and “why not” to force our current employees to rethink the way we do things.
  19. Outsourcing – Admitting the function is not strategic (or at least the initial phases) and hiring others to do part or all of it for you. Using Executive search firms for top positions and temp agencies at the bottom are common strategies.
  20. Hiring for “Fit” – Assuming that most skills can be taught but “fit” (or “attitude”) to the organizations/teams values are the most important selection criteria. A related approach is hiring for “attitude” and training for skills.
  21. Intra-Placement/Intra-Sourcing Focus – Assumes that the rapid movement of talent (proactively) within the corporation is at least as important as external sourcing.
  22. Pygmalion Approach – Recruit and hire “below average” candidates and then train and develop them because training and development can make stars out of almost anyone.
  23. Agility Hiring (hire for the “next” job) – Emphasizes hiring individuals that can “multi-task” and rapidly shift from job to job is the most important thing in a world of rapid change. Hiring “whitewater thinkers” and selecting for this and their “next job” are also common features.
  24. Target Problem Solvers/Winners – Assumes that successful people succeed at almost everything they do and that past success at solving complex problems is the best indicator of future success. It emphasizes hiring people that have “won” or produced results no matter where they worked.
  25. “Connection” based recruiting – Where you target recruits based on their connections in the industry. The premise being that in some businesses it’s “Who you know’ that matters. New hires use their established relationships to rapidly build your business (that would otherwise take years).
  26. Virtual Workforce – A strategy that focuses on hiring a large percentage (usually over 50%) of our needed talent as contractors and temps. The basic premise is that you can plug in and unplug talent in certain areas of business but not have to keep them around when they are not needed. Often a good deal of the work is done off site. The fact that the “virtual” staff does not have to come in to our office and that they are continually challenged by not being stuck at one firm excites workers to the point where we can attract talent that we could not get if they had to work on-site, full time or as permanent employees.
  27. Employees As Primary Sourcers vs. Professional Recruiters – This strategy is based on the premise that employees and salespeople can be primary sourcers because of their technical knowledge and industry contacts. Based on the premise that the “best know the best” and giving employees “ownership” further enhances their commitment to the organization. The more conservative approach assumes this method distracts employees from their jobs and can result in a shortage of diversity candidates.
  28. They Find Us Vs We Find Them – This strategy focuses on “walk ins” and word of mouth to find recruits rather than proactively spending money to target people that wouldn’t find us on their own.
  29. WOW Recruiting Vs Recruiting Ads Provide Information – Techies, Gen-Xer’s and others in our target audience judge a firm based on WOW’s and excitement (i.e. fun, creative, technology and our products). This means we need to WOW them with the extraordinary. The traditional approach views these ads only as information providers.
  30. Recruitment vs. Screening Priority – This strategy assumes selection/screening tools are flawed and that you can make hiring mistakes from a mixed talent candidate pool. Resources are focused on recruiting only the best and discouraging the average candidate from applying. The actual selection process is less important, if only stars are recruited.
  31. Select on Future Focus vs. What They Did in The Past – Traditional selection tools (resumes, behavioral interviews and references) focus on past behaviors. In a rapidly changing world assessing and hiring talent on their ability to forecast and solve future problems may have a greater impact on our competitiveness.
  32. Global Search (vs. US Only) – Is the best talent to be found in the U.S. or do we need to find talent wherever it lives? Are U.S. recruiting and selection tools sufficient in the International Business Environment? This strategy assumes that in order to be competitive in the global marketplace search tools and recruiters need to search globally for top talent in key positions.
  33. The Line Manager Is Responsible vs. HR is Responsible for Hiring – Who Should own the hiring process HR or Managers? Who is responsible for finding the best? DOES HR weaken our managers by doing “their” job for them and moving recruiting farther away from the customer? This strategy trains managers to do their own hiring based on the premise that managers need to be in touch with the “market” if they are to make good decisions on product as well as in people areas.
  34. Employment is THE Competitive Advantage vs. an Overhead Function – Do those with the best people win? This strategy shows that hiring talent is a superior option to training and motivational tools in improving the business. Great recruiting becomes the change agent for the firm? Does it give us a competitive advantage or is it’s ROI and business impact no higher than other functional areas? This strategy requires an employment “program by program” competitive assessment of them vs. us (our competitors) and then “beating them” in every area.
  35. Continuous Improvement Employment vs. A Status Quo Approach. – Must overhead functions evolve slowly to save costs. This strategy says employment must be continually evolve and obsolete it’s own products and tools at the same rate of all other business systems, if we are to beat the competition. This approach assumes employment tools have a limited shelf life.

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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