The 20 “Rules” for Great Recruiting

If you want to dominate your competitors in the talent “war,” you need to act a lot differently than they do. If you expect to win more than a majority of your head-to-head “battles” for talent, you must take a deliberate approach to recruiting. The following 20 rules outline just such a “deliberate” approach. They were developed in response to a request by the Electronic Recruiting Exchange to identify the “secrets to success” of world-class recruiting for their recent recruiting conference. For those that could not attend, here are “the rules” for dominating your industry in the talent wars! Recruiting Rule #1:

You must declare war and act like warriors in order to win. It takes an aggressive approach to get the best talent. Aggressive recruiting starts with competitive intelligence and a strong desire to win. It ends with the goal of continually improving everything you do so that you can stay ahead of the competitors. You must continually improve your recruiting processes on the assumption that your competitors are continuously copying your best practices and as a result, they will soon catch up. Warriors hate to lose, so every time you lose a head-to-head battle for top talent, you need to do a “post-mortem” in order to identify the reasons why you lost. A fast-changing world with an uncertain economy requires an agile approach if you are to stay on top. Unfortunately, HR often changes “at the speed of rock” – so changing things internally requires expert knowledge, hard proof, and most of all, enormous courage! Recruiting Rule #2:

The war for talent is over. And by the way? guess who won? As long as the unemployment rate is low, managers need to realize that the power has shifted from the company to the worker. Top performers must now be treated like free agents and all applicants must be treated like customers if you are to get them to leave a perfectly good job and accept yours. This means you must do extensive market research into identifying what these “customers” will and won’t accept. Because there are niche markets in recruiting just like in product marketing, chances are that you will have to “mass personalize” their jobs and their offers if you expect to sell them. Recruiting Rule #3:


Talent matters and top talent matters most. Just like in sales, there’s an 80/20 rule in recruiting. 80% of the profit comes from the efforts of 20% of the employees. This means recruiting must prioritize its efforts and focus on the managers, divisions, and jobs that have the most business impact. Instead of treating them all the same, it is essential to put your resources into the ones that make the most difference. You don’t have the time or the resources to do them all well. Recruiting Rule #4:

Prove it works or stop doing it! You can improve what you don’t measure. As much as 50% of the traditional practices in recruiting don’t work during high employment times. Be sure to include a feedback loop in everything you do to see if the practice results in hires that become top performers within a year. It is a continuous process to identify which tools produce performers and then to drop the tools and sources that don’t…like a hot potato. You waste scarce resources and you lose credibility with managers when you use tools that don’t produce results. World-class recruiters use metrics in everything they do. But if you can only measure one thing, measure the performance of those you hire (after six months and again after a year). Measuring speed or costs without including quality is just silly. Recruiting Rule #5:

Do it differently to create and maintain a competitive advantage. Many recruiters benchmark which results in a “sameness” that guarantees you’ll have no competitive edge. If you want to win big you have to take chances and do things differently than the other firms. That means innovation and taking chances. The road “less traveled” may be empty, but it may also be a shortcut! Incidentally if what you do is unique, be sure and keep it a secret! Recruiting Rule #6:

Speed is everything in hiring top talent. How long is top talent in the job market? Normally the top 10% are gone within ten days, so if you want the best you have to act quickly. Top talent may even be gone in one day. Bureaucracy, approvals, and processes are the antithesis of speed hiring. When you find top talent that exceed your qualifications… make incision, make an offer and make the sale and do in one day! Recruiting Rule #7:

There is no shortage of talent? only bad tools designed for low unemployment times. For any individual firm there is actually no shortage of talent unless you’re in the middle of the desert. Corporations in big cities can easily find an excess of talent, if they stop looking at unemployed people. There is a wealth of experienced talent working across the street if you have the courage and the tools to “poach” them away. Incidentally, if the ethics of poaching bothers you, go visit your sales staff. They spend every day trying to steal your competitor’s customers without a twinge of ethical concern. Consider other firms as your farm teams and lure away their already trained productive people. Recruiting Rule #8:

It take a marketing/sales approach to win. Recruiting is just sales with a crummy budget. It’s essential that you do a detailed “discovery” of your recurring “target” in order to identify their demographics and their “profile.” By doing a profile of your own top employees (what they do, read, and want) you will identify the keys to finding other top performers. Odds are that the candidates you are trying to attract have the same interests, hobbies and reading habits as your own top employees (in marketing it’s sometimes called pattern buying). Then by focusing on the same media, websites, magazines, and other sources that your employees use you are likely to find great recruits in the same manner. Branding is another important area to focus on. First, it is essential that you know and manage what your employees say about you. Then you need to make a conscious effort to build your image through PR, getting on “great places to work ” lists and getting written about in targeted magazines and web sites Recruiting Rule #9:

If you don?t have to fight for them? they are not superstars. Top performers are in high demand, regardless of the economic situation. Managers and recruiters must be aware that the best must be “fought over.” The reverse is also true, in that if a candidate is easy to attract and sell, odds are they are not a top performer. When it comes to recruiting talent, the easiest ones to get are the ones you want least. Focus your efforts towards hiring away employed top performers rather than those who are actively looking for a job. The best are currently employed and have multiple offers, a counter offer and they expect more exciting jobs then those outlined in most traditional job descriptions. If you’re attracting people with no other offers, odds are these are “ugly candidates” and they will become bad hires. Send them to your competitors. Recruiting Rule #10:

If you expect to win? everyone must be a 24/7 talent scout. There are never enough recruiters in a company to find all of that talent in the world. The key to recruiting success is to shift the responsibility for recruiting to the managers and employees. Employees, because of their frequent contact with other people, become the largest sales force you have. Having them speak out to friends, acquaintances, customers and people they meet about their exciting job and their company is the best sales tool you can ever have. Employees must become 24/7 talent scouts through the use of sophisticated employee referral programs. In addition, you need to solicit customers, suppliers, former employees and references to be talent scouts for your firm. Recruiting Rule #11:

If you expect to win? managers and employees must ?own? recruiting.If you take the burden of recruiting away from managers they will inevitably “get lazy” and put little effort into it. The real key to success is to shift the responsibility of recruiting to managers and employees. They are the ones who suffer when a position is left vacant and when bad hires are made. They also get the “reward” and increased productivity when a great hire is made. Because there’s ample research that shows that the candidates want to talk directly to managers and decision makers, it becomes even more essential for them to be involved early in the process. Recruiting must make a strong business case to convince managers to spend the required time and effort on recruiting. Because of the rapid change in technology and information it is becoming almost impossible for recruiters to maintain their ability to sell applicants in technical positions. Recruiters can do their part but managers must make the final sale. Recruiting Rules #12:

Stop hiring strangers. Pre-identify and pre-qualify talent. It is not uncommon for 30% of the hires not to work out. One of the reasons for this is that we are primarily hiring strangers. Other then through employee referral programs, most candidates are relatively unknown. A few emails, phone calls, and two hours of interviews do not really allow you to know the candidate. The secret to great assessment is to start early and to make identifying and assessing prospects a continuous process (regardless of whether you have openings). If you continually identify top performers you can build a “who’s who” database of your prospects. You can then assess their abilities over time and in a variety of ways. This makes the possibility of a rushed assessment error a lot less likely. Pre-qualifying candidates before you actually need them (pre-need) also gives you time to sell them on the company and the job. Recruiting Rule #13:

The very best require WOW?s. Top performers already have a job, so it takes a WOW to get them to consider another. A WOW is an extraordinary management practice, benefit, or job feature that is so exciting that they will tell their friends about it. Top candidates don’t want to work for mundane companies. A firm has to do something that “everyone talks about” if you expect to be in the top tier of the employers of choice. Examples of WOW’s include sabbaticals, onsite gyms, valet and concierge services, a “cool” CEO, as well as free soft drinks. Recruiting Rule #14:

Put the work where the talent wants to be/is. In a global economy it’s essential that you realize that a large majority of the top talent probably does not live within a hundred miles of your facility. When talent is in high demand, smart firms think out of the box and put the work “where the talent is” or “where it wants to be.” This means flexibility on the part of managers. Options might include working from remote locations, working at home or putting facilities where there is a surplus of talent. For recruiters, this might mean recruiting around the globe and it certainly means recruiting outside the geography that you are the most familiar with. Recruiting Rule #15:

Treat candidates like customers. Because the power has shifted to the talent, it is essential that we learn to treat them in a customer service manner. This means responding to inquiries rapidly, giving them feedback on how well they’re doing and doing post mortems to identify why they failed to accepted our offer. Candidates need to be asked during and after the process “how well did we treat you?” Manager satisfaction also needs to be assessed. Remember to think in a broadest sense as a businessperson would. We might not be able to hire them all but we certainly can turn many candidates into our future customers if we treat them right! Recruiting Rule #16:

Managers must be measured and rewarded for great recruiting and retention. HR often says that people are our most important asset but this often turns out to be a shallow phrase. In fact, few HR departments even bother to measure and reward managers for great hiring, retention or worker productivity. The most important factor in changing management behavior toward recruiting is to distribute ranked metrics to all managers on a regular basis. This has the double impact of educating and occasionally embarrassing managers. The next step is to include great recruiting and retention as part of their bonus. Add metrics and rewards and you will see a rapid change in their behavior Recruiting Rule # 17:

You have to learn at internet speed to survive. The world is a rapidly changing place where tools and strategies are quickly outdated. If you are going to win the war for talent you must continually be on the leading edge of knowledge. This means continuous and rapid learning about recruiting on chat rooms, list servers and through benchmarking. I have found that the best way to stay ahead of the recruiting game is through “parallel benchmarking”, which means that you look outside of recruiting and HR in order to learn the most. Some of the best recruiting practices actually were derived from outside of recruiting. You can learn a great deal from outstanding business practices such as product branding, customer response management, customer service and supply chain management. In a rapidly changing world fast learning might also include forecasting the economy and anticipating the future actions of your competitors Recruiting Rule # 18:

You must have a well defined and communicated strategy in order to succeed! Recruiting is one of the few business areas that have no clearly defined strategies. Most recruiters just do what they do without a written plan. This can confuse managers because they don’t know the goals or objectives of the plan. Recruiting strategies can range from focusing on: experienced people, hiring bright people,” cheap people” to a strategy of hiring raw talent and then developing it. Whatever your strategy is, if it is to be effective it must first be communicated effectively to the managers and second periodic measurements must be taken to ensure that it’s working and meeting its goals. Recruiting Rule #19:

You must use technology if you are to win. Because of globalization and the need for speed most paper based recruiting practices are bound to hinder a company. If you need to move fast technology becomes the #1 tool. Whether you use it for recruiting on the Internet, for market research, for gathering metrics or just for communicating with candidates technology allows you to do more, faster and cheaper. Incidentally top candidates, almost without fail, use technology extensively and they will judge your firm by how well and how often you use technology on your web site and during the recruiting process. Recruiting Rule #20:

You must use mass experimentation to find new things that work.Recruiting is actually very conservative and has changed little in the last 50 years. There are few corporate research and development programs and almost no academic research on what works and what doesn’t in recruiting. As a result if you are to be successful you must encourage your recruiters and managers to do mass experimentation. The key to innovation is to continually try new things and then to include a feedback loop that allows you to rapidly check to see if it resulted in a high performance hire. If it fails rapidly capture the lessons learned and move on. Is unlikely you’ll get all of the innovations right but without trying new things you can never be the recruiting leader in your industry. Conclusion In this piece, I’ve outlined the critical success factors in advanced recruiting. They come not just from years of experience but also from looking at the data that firms collect on what works and what doesn’t. In case you feel these rules are just “common sense” I would urge you remember that in recruiting, just like in life…common sense isn’t all that common!

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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