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The Best Way to Find Top People Is Still Networking

by
Lou Adler
Jan 3, 2002

If everybody knows that one thing is true, why do so many people try something else? Most companies will tell you that their employee referral program is the best way to find top talent. Most recruiters, including me, will tell you that networking with former and current candidates is the best way to find top talent. So if we all know that networking in some form is the best way to find top talent, why do we waste so much time on things like advertising and Internet data mining? The hard truth is that advertising works well only if you can move quickly and you have compelling and highly visible ads, and that Internet data mining is too time intensive?? unless you can network exclusively with a targeted group of well-connected people you find online. We were promised that the Internet would solve our problems. All we had to do was post ads, search through resume databases, or cleverly find some names in other electronic ways. For a wide variety of reasons, it didn’t work out quite this way. And in the process we seem to have lost the real art of recruiting. For those who have forgotten, here are some basic networking rules:

  1. A few good names are all you need to get started.
  2. You need to create instant interest when you first connect on the phone. So don’t describe the job first, or ask how the person is doing. Instead ask, “Would you be open to exploring a situation that’s clearly superior to what you’re doing today?” If the answer is yes, tell the candidate you’d like to first review their background before you get into any details about the job. This prevents the person from saying they?re not interested. This is a very critical step. Getting the candidate to respond first establishes credibility and leaves the recruiter in the driver’s seat. Don?t ever discuss the job first, other than in vague terms. Something like, “We?re looking for a senior project position in marketing,” is okay. Even if the candidate is unqualified or uninterested, the initial five to ten minute dialogue increases the likelihood of obtaining a good referral.
  3. Whether you?re networking with a current employee, a candidate or some other contact, the objective is to get a few names of some top people from each person. Never ask the person who she knows who?s looking. You won?t get anybody good this way. You don?t want people who are looking; you want great people who are open to exploring a better situation. Instead, get the names of previous best coworkers in the same department, or a previous boss or subordinate who the person thought was great. Try to get three names from each person. Ask for names of people who might know someone else. Once you have the name, ask the candidate to describe the person. Find out why she considers the person highly qualified. Asking questions this way allows you to pre-qualify the candidate before you even make the call. You can save lots of time when you?re only calling top people to begin with.
  4. Backtracking is a creative way to find more good candidates. It’s based on the concept of one degree of separation. To start, ask yourself who would know the person you need. Then network with this person. This type of networking is quite effective, because people will more openly refer a good person to you if they’re not working in the same company, or if they know of the person in a non-work related way. To obtain lots of ideas on where to network, conduct a brainstorming session with all members of the hiring team. Start with this target list of categories:
    • Competitive and source companies
    • Customers
    • Vendors
    • Trade and professional associations
    • Academic relationships
    • Potential social connections including hobbies
    • Online discussion groups
    • Conference presenters
  5. When you first contact a person to network, make sure the job is compelling. No one will refer a person to a boring job, unless it?s someone they don?t like.
  6. Don?t forget to include your suppliers, professional service providers, and even your customer in your network. Suppliers know experts in their field. A lot of companies ask their accounting firms for leads when they want to hire financial people. Expand this to include your bankers, legal advisors, consultants and business associates. One of our clients, a large chain of furniture stores, asked their customers to refer their children. We got the names of good medical device sales people by calling local clinics and asking for the best sales reps who visited them. We found some top marketing people by calling ad agencies.
  7. Call or join the trade associations of people you want to attract. Material control people belong to APICS. For electrical engineers, it’s the IEEE. Financial managers belong to the Financial Executives Institute and the CPA Society. Property Managers belong to IREM. Get in touch with the local chapters and start spreading the word. Send letters to the officers of these groups. We?ve discovered that these are some of the best people. One way to narrow down the list quickly is by targeting industry-specific trade conferences as a source of names. These people are already recognized as experts in their field, so it?s a terrific way to network with top people. The Encyclopedia of Associations is a great place to start to get the names of appropriate trade groups and professional societies. You can also get these names from the resumes you receive from your ads.

Networking with the best people is the best way to find top people. Employee referral programs should be formalized and expanded. Recruiters should start calling their best candidates and rebuilding their networks of top talent. The recovery will soon be here. Don?t get seduced by the latest new Internet solution. Instead, go back to old-fashioned networking. All you need is a phone.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

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