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The Best Recruiting Strategy Is the “We Find You” Approach

by
Dr. John Sullivan
Jun 6, 2005

Not many people research or study recruiting strategies, but those who do realize quite quickly that all recruiting strategies fit into two categories: “you find us” and “we find you.” The “you find us” category is the most commonly used, where a firm essentially posts a notice that it is looking for someone to hire and then sorts through those individuals who respond. The more proactive category, however, is the “we find you” approach, where a firm instead attempts to identify the names of top performers as individuals and then contact them directly. The first approach almost by design attracts “the masses,” while the other is more targeted to minimize the volume of applications and maximize the quality of the applicants. If you were going to attempt to recruit Tiger Woods to play for your golf team, you would realize early on that it would require the use of a different approach than most corporations currently use. Tiger certainly wouldn’t respond to the traditional approaches, like ads in newspapers, or and he wouldn’t put his resume on Monster.com. It is also unlikely that he would attend golfing “job fairs” or respond to a “now hiring” banner. If by chance Tiger did respond, it is unlikely that he would endure the hiring process at most firms, because he wouldn’t be treated as special or as a “target individual.” The only way to hire top performers is to give up the notion that they are going to find you and instead adopt a recruiting strategy that proactively finds them. Tiger, much like other top performers, has so many choices that the only way you could possibly recruit him would be to target him individually and then build a relationship with him over time in order to eventually convince him to join your golf team. This relationship-based recruiting strategy is called the “we find you” approach, and if you want to hire the very best, it’s the only approach to use. Why “You Find Us” Generates a System Stressing Volume Perhaps an analogy would best highlight the differences between the two categories of recruiting. In the media, there are two basic choices to attracting a target audience: “broadcasting” and “narrowcasting.” The broadcasting approach uses far-reaching tools to attract the widest possible audience. It is the approach used by the major TV networks (e.g. ABC, CBS, NBC, CBC). Another approach, called narrowcasting, is used by cable TV stations to attract a very narrow but targeted audience, for example the Sci-Fi or the Golfing channels. The first approach gets you a large volume of viewers, while the second gets you a smaller but much more targeted viewership. If you wanted to recruit a golf fanatic, placing an ad on a broadcast network will get you a huge volume of candidates, most of whom will be unqualified or underqualified. If you wanted to attract only golf fanatics, you would place an ad on the Golf channel, and you would certainly get only golf fanatics responding, because no one else would ever watch a golf channel. The same holds true for the commonly used “you find us” approach and the superior, but unfortunately least used, “we find you” approach. If you’re currently inundated with a high volume of candidates whom you have little interest in, it’s probably because you are using a “you find us” approach. The “You Find Us” Sourcing Strategy The “you find us” sourcing strategy is used by 95% of firms, making it the most common ó but, unfortunately, least effective ó of all sourcing strategies. Using this strategy, all attraction efforts are general and are designed to find anyone who fits the broad category of your search. It is a “broad net” strategy, where no proactive effort is made to find people or prospects as individuals. Here are the common “you find us” sourcing tools, listed in order from least effective to most effective:

  1. Job fairs
  2. Ads in newspapers
  3. Job boards
  4. Billboards or “we’re hiring” banners
  5. College hires at on-campus career events
  6. “Walk in” applications at physical locations
  7. Corporate career sites (a passive approach where you hope that candidates surfing the web will find your site and have the interest and patience to follow through and apply)
  8. Employment branding (an excellent approach that causes everyone ó the best as well as the rest ó to want to work at your firm, which results in your firm’s getting on “best place to work” lists or having best practices talked about in business, functional, and industry publications)

As you can readily see, all of the tools that are used under the “you find us” approach are aimed at a broad audience. Job boards, for example, are designed to attract a wide range of candidates, from the barely qualified to the barely interested. Billboards or “we are hiring banners” attract anyone who drives by, with no delineation or targeting toward a specific skill set, performance, or interest level. Of all of the tools in this category, the employment branding approach is the strongest. It is a long-term approach designed to make candidates aware of why your company is an excellent place to work. Although this is an excellent long-term recruiting strategy, since it builds the interest and knowledge of applicants about your firm, it does, by design, also bring in a very large volume of every type of candidate. The next step in the “you find us” approach is the interview. Since candidates sourced using the “you find us” strategy by definition found you, most firms do nothing more than put them through the standard screening processes. Since they are essentially strangers, the best candidates can easily get lost in the volume of applicants. There is no real selling or relationship building, because it is assumed (wrongfully so) that a candidate’s interest is strong, since they found you and they took the time to apply. The “We Find You” Sourcing Strategy Only 5% of firms focus on this advanced but vastly superior approach as a name identification strategy. The “we find you” strategy is targeted toward currently employed top performers. These individuals are generally not looking for a job and they may not be interested in (or even aware of) your firm. (Note: Some many of us call these individuals “passive” candidates, but that’s a misleading label because these people are generally not passive at all). This superior sourcing approach is not designed to attract the masses. Instead, it uses a “narrow net” approach to identify the very best people and then recruit them. This is the approach that has been successfully used by executive search firms for decades. It is also used by recruiting powerhouse FirstMerit and other top firms like EA, GE, and Microsoft, as well as almost all sports teams and entertainment firms. The “we find you” approach is based on the premise that if you start recruiting before need (i.e., before you need to fill an open req), you have the time to identify the very best individuals by name and then build the relationship, so that you can, over time, better assess and “sell” them on your firm and the opportunities you can offer them. The key “we find you” sourcing tools are listed below, from least effective to most effective:

  1. Cold calls. Recruiters identify the best through periodic calls.
  2. Mystery shopping. Recruiters identify the best by buying products or asking questions of other firm’s employees (which works best in public-facing jobs).
  3. Credit lists. Recruiters find people who precisely fit your target demographics based on their job title, income, location, and diversity.
  4. Public records. Similar to credit lists, public records searches can identify specific individuals who fit a very narrowly defined demographic.
  5. Mentor recruiting. With this method, your recruiters seek out top performers and ask whether they have mentored others at your targeted firms. You then use the mentor relationship to recruit the “mentees.” (A variation tries to get top performing “mentees” at your firm to draw away their mentors from other firms.)
  6. Intern to hire or temp to hire. Although interns or temps may have been initially recruited using a “broad net” approach, converting them to permanent hires requires a “we find you” relationship building process to assess them and eventually sell them on a permanent position.
  7. Technical contests. Skills and problem-solving contests, generally online (e.g. TopCoder), attract and identify those with the best solutions.
  8. Scholarship awards. Top prospects are identified based on their scholarship applications.
  9. Professional association lists. Recruiters mine these lists to identify potential candidates based on where they work and their seniority in the field.
  10. Internet name generation. Using this approach, recruiters find individuals who write and speak by using “Google type” Internet searches based what they write and say.
  11. Hire to learn or hurt. Target the best employees working at competitors based on their ability to bring a targeted skill to your firm.
  12. Name generation firms. Pay researchers at vendor firms to identify the names of target candidates based on titles and firms they work at.
  13. Boomerangs. Using this approach, recruiters proactively seek out top former employees in an effort to get them to return to your firm.
  14. Event recruiting. Send employees to identify speakers (as well as those who ask questions and make comments) at seminars and professional events.
  15. Benchmark recruiting. Find the best people while researching best practices at competitor firms.
  16. “Magnet” strategy. Hire the well-known in order to attract other top people, even in other job families. (Hire Tiger Woods and the rest will come…)
  17. Referrals. Proactively ask top employees, former employees, and friends of the firm to find and refer others like themselves.
  18. Most wanted lists. Senior managers identify the best in the industry at the beginning of the year. Recruiters and managers then sell them on switching firms throughout the year.

The next step in the “we find you” approach is “relationship recruiting.” Unlike the “you find us” approach, this strategy adds a relationship-building step where trust building, assessment, and selling occur over a several month period. After finding prospects, recruiters, managers and employees must build a relationship with each of them in order to increase their interest and trust. Once the recruiter qualifies them, the next step is to then identify the job switch criteria of the very best and then use that information to sell them. Weaknesses in the Two Different Approaches A newspaper ad is a good example of the “you find us” approach. Your firm places an ad in a newspaper that attracts a broad audience, and people who are looking for a job will find you by sorting through a number of want ads. Initially, many recruiters think that the people that “find you” are superior candidates. Because they took the time to find you, recruiters assume that these candidates are the ones who are the most interested in your firm and job. Unfortunately, relying on that assumption might doom your firm to a endless stream of mediocre candidates and hires. Why?

  1. Loyalty and interest. First you need to understand that just because a candidate found you, that doesn’t mean that they haven’t simultaneously found a dozen other firms and jobs. You can not assume any degree of loyalty to, or even knowledge of, your firm.
  2. High volume. A second problem with the “you find us” approach is that it almost guarantees you will get a large volume of candidates, some of whom will fit your needs but the majority of whom will not. As almost any recruiter can tell you, want ads will get you a large percentage of unqualified people and a handful of qualified ones at best.
  3. High error probability. Because all broad approaches bring in a large number of barely qualified candidates, there is a high chance that a few “barely qualified” candidates will slip through and a number of highly qualified candidates will be passed over, unless your screening process is very accurate.
  4. Low acceptance rate. Because most applicants know little about your firm other than the fact that you have job openings, you are likely to get a low offer-acceptance rate. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that hiring managers often assume a high degree of interest and there is little attempt to sell the candidate until the job offer is made. This last-minute selling effort often fails, because these individuals are essentially strangers, meaning that you only know them and they only know your firm for the two- or three-week period of the interview process. Because the candidate was not identified and courted prior to the job opening, the firm has no long-term relationship, no reservoir of trust, nor even any vital information about the candidate’s job switch or job acceptance criteria.
  5. Low quality. The final, and perhaps most significant, difficulty with the “you find us” approach is that it cannot excite and thus attract people who are not actively looking for a job. Because most of the best candidates are top performers who are currently employed, they seldom have the time or even the interest to respond to “you find us” approaches. In addition, broad approaches like newspaper ads, job boards, and job fairs just don’t provide enough targeted information to fit the interests and the specific criteria that top performers have for switching jobs.

The list of weaknesses inherent in the “you find us” approach is long, but that doesn’t mean the “we find you” approach isn’t without its own set of weaknesses and challenges. The “we find you” approach requires some advanced knowledge of the habits of the target candidates. As a result, recruiters with no background in marketing, sales, or executive search often shy away from it. In addition, the “we find you” approach requires that relationships be built between the firm and the target candidates, which is a long-term process. Still the most common sourcing strategy by far is the “you find us” approach. Firms use it because it’s easy and it’s traditional. But if you want a competitive advantage, and also don’t want to handle a large number of under qualified and mildly interested candidates, I recommend you at least partially shift to the “we find you” model. This approach does require higher quality recruiters and, because the targeted candidates get individual attention, more time and resources. Most firms that use this approach also develop a customer relationship management (CRM) model for the critical step of building and maintaining the relationship with candidates. If you are reluctant to adopt this model, I recommend that you look at how executive search firms approach their business. They utilize the “we find you” model almost exclusively, because it results in higher quality candidates and in higher offer acceptance rates. If you don’t have the courage or resources to apply the model to all positions, I suggest you at least try it for your “mission critical” positions, where hiring top performers is essential. Once you shift to this model, you will wonder why you ever considered any other approach.

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.

  1. Maureen Sharib

    Once again, Dr. Sullivan challenges us to rise above our staid thinking on recruiting technique and soar with the eagles.

    He makes an interesting point about the ‘passive’ candidate. It’s true that there is usually very little passive about this candidate – the fact is, as Dr. Sullivan states, this person is usually one of the doers and shakers in any organization – when you run the numbers, in actuality, one in 5, maybe, on the outside, one in 10 (depending on the industry ad title)is actually looking for another opportunity and when you call he is most pleased to hear from you! try it – you’re likely to be pleasantly surprised.

    And on another note, Dr. Sullivan remarks that there are many approaches to the ‘we find you’model. All are meritorious and deserve your consideration. If you only used one or two you’d see a dramatic increase in the quantity, but more importantly, quality, of your rising pools of candidates!

  2. Anthony Haley

    Do you get a feeling of deja vu here?

    You find us – We find you
    Active – Passive
    Reactive – Proactive
    Corporate Recruiter – Headhunter.

    It’s the same discussion again folks. Even I’m getting fed up with this one, and I’m new to ERE.

    Come on guys, (Dr Sullivan, Lou Adler, Howard Adamsky)let’s have something new to argue about. (sorry, discuss)

  3. Karen Mattonen C.A.C., C.S.P

    Dr. Sullivan,
    Thanks so much for your tips, they were extremely informative and some insightful…

    There is an aversion to labels and titles regarding passive and non passive candidates, and this article does explain well that if as a TPR one wants to find more of one than the other here is why and how…

    Wonder why this topic seems to bring out so much opposition – Maureen hit it on the head, there was much to learn from this article, you may not agree with it all, but there are some very good advice there that we could all learn from. Take what you want and leave the rest.

  4. Abel Gonzalez

    This is a good article on something worth saying again. But you are right about repetition, Anthony, and you did not even mention his other article ‘Discouraging Low-Quality Candidates’!

    John also missed one other source of candidates-the ‘most placeable candidate=TMPC,and it’s offspring’ that comes with hundreds of marketing phone call from ‘recruiters’ from the big body shops.

    For my part, I have refused to put up a web site, which a corporate recruiter recently questioned. She offered that all ‘professional people’ should have a website, and asked why I did not. I explained that websites ‘attract resumes’. I could almost see her blank stare on my screen.

  5. Dr. John Sullivan

    Anthony

    People see what they want to in an article. This and the discouraging article are about developing a recruiting strategy. It’s not about ‘passives’. It doesn’t matter whether you are targeting employed or unemployed people, the key is to find them as individuals and avoid volume.

    BTW, do you get tired of baseball columnists constantly writing about ‘hitting’ because they cover it every day? :)

    Might I ask what else you would like covered?

    Regards

    John

  6. Bob Gately

    Do we agree that an employer’s best performers are the top 20% of the employees in the position of interest? Do we also agree that all employers have their own top 20%? If employers hired only other employers’ top performers, do you think we will have a shortfall of new hires? Won’t 80% of our open positions stay open while we wait to entice away other employers’ top performers? Why not hire and develop our own top performers? If we don?t hire and develop our own top performers, we must rely on other employers mismanaging their top performers. Both ways work but relying on other employers? mismanagement seems to me to be more time consuming, more risky and much less effective.

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