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A Job Fair With a Sports Playbook And Hollywood Hype

Apr 10, 2009
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Think there’s not much about recruiting you haven’t seen or heard? How about a NFL-style draft of experienced corporate leaders and MBAs?

That’s what a small group in Washington State is proposing and for no less a location than New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, where the National Football League draft is conducted.

Here’s the game plan, according to Corporate Draft and its organizers, Nolan Wheeler and Mike Gazdag:

Fifty companies are to pay $30k each to have a crack at 2,000 fully vetted veteran senior corporate managers and executives and 500 MBAs. There’s to be two days of “meet and greet” followed by two days of draft picks, during which the participating companies get to “draft” one of the hopefuls sitting in the Music Hall audience.

The companies, who also are present in the Music Hall, get five minutes to make a pick. When they do, they telephone their selection to the draft staff which delivers a custom stitched jersey to the master of ceremonies while the lucky job seeker is escorted to the stage as their 30 second video backgrounder is shown to the assemblage.

“We’re getting the talent based on hype,” Wheeler explains when we ask why any successful, seasoned corporate leader would pay their own way to New York City to go through such a spectacle. “They are going to be looking at this as an ego stroke.”

He likens the experience to “The Apprentice, but professional.” The show, he says, will “bring a bit of Hollywood to recruiting.”

It’s already brought a certain amount of illusion. Mention of Corporate Draft popped up a few weeks ago as a comment posted by Nolan Wheeler to an ERE article. In the comment, Wheeler doesn’t disclose he’s the organizer of Corporate Draft, instead writing, “A friend of mine who works at Amazon.com told me about these guys.”

Why didn’t he identify himself? “To be honest, I didn’t want people phoning me or emailing me,” says Wheeler.

Corporate Draft has no contract with Radio City Music Hall, though the booking agent there is familiar with the name and has had conversations about reserving the facility.  Wheeler Industries, the company organizing the corporate draft, lists its address as Seattle’s prestigious Bank of America Fifth Avenue Plaza. But, it’s a Mailboxes Etc. maildrop.

According to Wheeler and Mike Gazdag, who said he’s the Corporate Draft’s director of communications, Wheeler Industries is a strategic HR consulting firm. Wheeler described the HR work as “a mile wide and an inch deep,” explaining that he specialized in bringing operational solutions to HR problems. Gazdag said that since the early part of the decade Wheeler and Wheeler Industries have been focusing more on recruitment, which is how the idea for the draft came about.

“He (Wheeler) uses the sports analogy in hiring, ” Gazdag says. “The idea sort of came out of that.” Wheeler, adding more detail, says drafting employees was suggested jokingly when he would liken hiring a CEO or corporate leader to drafting a captain of a football or hockey team. One day, he says, “I wondered: Why don’t people do that?”

The reason, as any good football fan will tell you, is to level the playing field to some extent. That’s why expansion teams and the teams with the worst record get to pick first. Corporations, which don’t depend on evening up the talent pool in order to keep up fan interest, want to hire the best. All the better if they can spirit away top performers from the competition.

Wheeler says two staff recruiters are working now sourcing candidates for the draft, while he has been reaching out to search firms seeking partners and inviting them to submit candidates. Corporate Draft promises that each of the executive candidates will be “screened, interviewed, tested, and referenced.”

“I can’t name names, of course, ” Wheeler says when we asked what search firms have signed on. Nor would he say what companies have come up with the $30,000 to participate in the draft. “I don’t want to share that,” he says.

We asked if he could at least provide the name of some of the clients for whom Wheeler Industries has done work. Wheeler declined. “You have me on the spot here,” he said. “I feel I am being attacked. This is not a scam.”

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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