I’m a little surprised that anyone would have a problem with John Sullivan’s stand on aggressive recruiting tactics. In my opinion, once you’ve made the decision to poach another company’s employees, you’ve already crossed the line. Other than misleading a candidate about the merits of the job, everything else a recruiter does to find and recruit top people in my opinion is fair game. If you’re targeting a candidate who has not first expressed an interest in working for your company, you are poaching. This is what recruiters do. It’s why corporations decided to develop in-house recruiting departments and to compete head-to-head with third-party search firms. So if you’re not poaching candidates, you’re not recruiting. And if you are recruiting, then you’re already stained, so to speak. If your company uses third-party recruiters, then your company is implicitly accepting the practice of poaching and ruses. I don’t know any good third-party recruiters who don’t do this. Once you’ve decided to poach, who really cares how you got the person’s name? This is a subset of poaching. You are already an accessory, so don’t try to self-righteously stand above the fray. How come no one is outraged that Fortune 500 companies are stealing other companies’ recruiters at ERE’s conferences or software developers at the .net users conference in Santa Clara? Of course, if you call it networking, then it’s apparently okay. This seems like nothing more than word-smithing to me. How come some sanctimonious people aren’t suggesting that the FCC should bar people from using the telephone because they are leaving misleading and ambiguous phone messages to try to get people to call them back to consider another career opportunity? How come people aren’t complaining about recruiters or hiring managers who walk into competitors’ stores, restaurants, or branch offices to poach? These are all ruses in my mind. Maybe the word “ruse” is the problem. Let’s call it something less sinister, like competitive intelligence (CI) gathering so it doesn’t sound as bad. Getting names through “competitive intelligence” has a more sophisticated aura about it. [To further stake my firm belief on the importance of CI, I am offering my own personal best practices award to the best non-Internet name-generating technique. The award will be presented at ERE's ER Expo 2006 Spring. To apply, all you need to do is send me your best, most creative (and of course legal) technique for generating names without using the Internet. I'll then review them with a small committee of judges to determine which one is the most creative and outrageous. I'll even make the call with my attorney friend to see if any of them are illegal. The best legal and most outrageous technique will get the award, and I'll personally pay for the winner's entrance fee for ERE's spring conference in San Diego.] I believe that using CI techniques to generate names is appropriate and essential. It should be part of every recruiter’s tool box. Furthermore, I don’t know of a single great (pre-Internet) recruiter who was in the top 10% of his or her group and who didn’t do it like an expert or expect their researcher to do it. If you couldn’t creatively generate names of top passive candidates, you were either destined to the average pile, or you weren’t too interested in finding absolutely the best people available for your client. If you want to find more passive candidates who haven’t been scoured over yet by the Internet data-mining experts (whom I applaud), you might want to consider using some non-Internet CI techniques. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Attend the annual ball. This is the technique where you call up the department admin or secretary and ask for some names of people to invite to a workshop or conference. Of course, most people won’t just give you the names without some convincing information. For one, you need to mention a real conference, e.g., the .net West Coast users group. There are some common objections you’ll need to address when you try this. Here’s one: “Just send me the information.” The response to this is something like, “I get paid for actual names, and each conference brochure is personally mailed to a person. Our company has found out that the highest response rate is when a personal invitation has been sent.” When the admin says she’s not allowed to provide names, ask who the supervisor would likely send to such a conference, and say you’ll just send the info directly to that person. Dropping a real name here is useful. “Would the supervisor send Bill Jones to the conference again?” is a great way to get the name of the best person in the group, since the admin now thinks you are legitimate. By the way, this is the method which conference marketing companies used to use to get names of potential attendees. They probably still do.