A Strategy for Recruiting for Niche Roles

If you grew up along the Front Range in Colorado like I did, you know why it’s a big deal that Casa Bonita is reopening. Yes, the food was disgusting and the decor was a Disney-esque fever dream of what Mexico might look like. But the experience…off-the-charts memorable. From Black Bart’s Cave to the waterfall to the tiki hut, Casa Bonita, with its bright pink facade somehow at home in a strip mall, earned its place as a Colorado icon.

Reopening such a large facility means hiring a lot of people — approximately 550, in fact. Given the state of the service industry today and the challenges associated with staffing that many positions, I know what a heavy lift that will be for the restaurant, even if the only positions it was filling were typical restaurant roles — servers, cooks, hosts, etc.

But Casa Bonita is not a typical restaurant. It also needs to hire performers, up to and including cliff divers. Yup, you read that right. Casa Bonita’s famed waterfall empties into a very deep indoor pool into which cliff divers leap during three or more shows a day. And they sometimes dress as gorillas while doing it.

Recruiting is challenging in the best of times, let alone in an uneven market plagued by massive layoffs in the tech industry yet incredibly low unemployment and jobs growth elsewhere. So when you must recruit for roles that require cliff diving experience, it’s enough to make you want to quit and retire to Costa Rica.

This got me thinking about all the non-cliff diving but still niche positions that recruiters fill every day. If you’re new to recruiting — or recruiting for a new industry — there are a few things you can do to be successful:

Understand the Role

It’s one thing to read a title and job descriptions. It’s quite another to really understand what the person in the role will be expected to do. For unique positions, or any position you are not familiar with, it’s worth spending some time observing the role in action. We used to call this “ride-alongs,” but whatever you call it, it means going out into the field and talking to the people who are doing the job today.

My teams would go and ride in a boat with hydro-surveyors, follow installation techs who work in 110-degree heat, or climb a wind turbine to understand the physical and mental demands of servicing windmills high above the ground.

This inside knowledge helps build credibility with hiring managers and candidates alike because you can speak the language of the role and truly describe “a day in the life.” It may not be realistic to get to do all these things — maybe you just do some extensive interviewing of incumbents — but regardless of how you do it, spend the time to understand the role.

Leverage Hiring Managers

There’s a good chance that your hiring managers have been sourcing unique roles far longer than you have, so don’t walk into the intake meeting like you’re the expert. They probably did the job once upon a time and remember what it was like to look for work.

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These hiring managers are a valuable resource as you put together a sourcing plan for niche positions. They’ll tell you if the potential talent pool looks at traditional job boards, social media, trade publications, or simply uses word of mouth. They’ll let you know if a job posting would catch the eyes of candidates. They also talk to other people in the industry and can be an extension of the recruiting team by getting the word out.

You can learn a lot from these hiring managers, so keep an open mind and incorporate their job knowledge into your recruiting experience.

Listen to Candidates

Recruiting for something like a cliff diver is less a linear process and more a journey of trial and error. Along the way, you have the opportunity to talk to potential candidates about what their expectations are, how they reacted to the job posting, what they’re worried about in the role, and how they approach their work.

Throughout the process, use these conversations to adjust your approach. Keep a dialogue going with your hiring managers, your candidates, and your comp team so everyone is aligned on potential real-time adjustments to your approach, even if that means pausing the recruitment to revise and repost.

While recruiting unique and niche roles will push you out of your comfort zone, it can be a lot of fun. It forces you to think in new ways because you won’t always be able to rely on your tried-and-true approaches. You get to see how work gets done in roles you’ve never been exposed to. It expands your toolkit and builds your empathy muscle as you start to see candidates as individuals rather than a mass of applications.

So the next time you have a chance to recruit a cliff diver, do it. And then head over to Casa Bonita to see them in action. And always get the sopapillas.

Mary is a principal with IA, a boutique consulting firm focused on HR transformation. She is also a talent strategist and business leader with almost 15 years experience in helping organizations achieve their goals. After working on the operations side of start-ups and small companies, Mary landed in HR by way of learning and development, with extensive experience in leadership and organizational development, coaching, key talent planning, talent acquisition, performance management, business partnering, HRIS, process and policy creation, and instructional design.

In addition to her work within companies, Mary authors a leadership development blog called Surviving Leadership to continue the dialogue around the challenges of leadership – both being a leader and being led. 

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