Recruiting is Marketing (and Other Dumb Ideas on Finding Top Employees)

Jun 24, 2004

In a recent article I made the contention that too much time and effort is wasted finding top candidates, when the real focus should be on finding top employees. Top candidates work hard on getting the job. Top employees work hard on the job. There’s a world of difference, and the implications are huge. If you want to improve your metrics (reduce time to fill, increase quality, and reduce cost), you need to start by finding more top employees using a technique called semi-sourcing. Note: When you read the above articles (which you should if you want to find more top people in a few hours), you’ll see a reference to a free online course I’m conducting in August. Please don’t respond and ask to attend that course. It was for a course conducted in August 2003. However, I am willing to conduct another course in August 2004 if there’s enough interest. The only people who should attend this course are those who want to dramatically improve their performance. These are people who go the extra mile, meet commitments, won’t quit when the going gets tough, know how to work with and develop other people, and take pride in the quality of their work. Surprisingly, this is also the definition of a top employee. Those are the only people who should attend this course, and I’m willing to make personal time to help recruiters who fit this profile get better. So if you think you’re this type of person, send me an email ( and explain why. There’s no reason to respond again if you feel your earlier response was satisfactory. About 50% of the responses received already were quite good. So if you took a little extra effort to respond, you’ll probably get an invitation to attend this unique course. If you just sent in your name with a quick note, you didn’t make the cut. Sorry, but getting better is not just about showing up. Now of course if you’ve read this far you know the above paragraph was not a note at all. It was an example of how an ad should be written to attract top performers. Since the note is really a targeted ad to a specific audience ó you, if you’re a top performer ó you’ll respond if you fit the bill. I write these articles to present practical ideas, not to advocate untested academic theories. The point here is that recruiting is marketing ó not advertising, nor selling. You might want to read the above note/ad again and see if you can find the key techniques used to get your attention and to separate the best from the rest. If you’re a top recruiter, you’ll be able to spot them all. You can put them in your email response to me. If you get at least three, you’ll receive an automatic invite to the August 2004 online course. More important, you’ll be able to use the ideas in your next ad or phone call to a candidate. Let’s translate this concept to real recruiting. Let’s say you need a strong software developer. Typical ads won’t work; we all know that. All you’ll get is a bunch of active candidates who are looking for a job. But think about a top software developer who just had a bad day. His boss got aggravated for some dumb reason, or someone in marketing, for no reason at all, changed the spec on how the online order-entry system needed to function. As he finishes up an unnecessarily grueling day, he decides enough is enough and goes to Dice and CareerBuilder to see if there is anything else available. For an hour or so, wonder boy has just become an active candidate. In the semi-sourcing articles noted above, I call these wonder boys and wonder girls semi-active candidates. These are the people you want to attract. They don’t look all of the time, but when they do you want to attract them with compelling advertising. These are strong people who are over-worked, under-paid, and under-appreciated. When things go particularly bad, they get frustrated and look for an new job. If they don’t find anything they go back to work, and in a few days forget about the temporary setback. Now imagine what would happen if among all of the borings ads, this title stood out right near the top of the listing: “Flash Developers: Can You Unlock the Secret of Aeneas?” Eyes widen. Click. In the copy itself, the ad goes on to explain that Aeneas is the code name for a new software program to provide early warning detection of credit card fraud, or whatever. If he wants to be considered for the job, he needs to include a quick write-up in his response about how he solves tough software problems using the Roman hero Aeneas as a role model. The ad also asks for an example of something wonder boy accomplished that best demonstrated his strongest skills. (Note: You can do this too, in your response to attend the class. The class will cover more ideas on how to attract this type of person.) Do you think an advertising approach like this, if seen by a top flash developer, would pique his or her interest? To prove it, try it out for yourself and see what happens. Now think about Julie Wonder-girl. She’s the business development manager for a top national ad agency and has been traveling way too much. She loves her job and has no intention of leaving. She wouldn’t even know how to look on CareerBuilder even if she wanted to. Then, as she arrives in Nowhereville one night, she gets this professional voicemail message on her cell phone: “Julie, I just got your name from one of our top new salespeople, and I couldn’t wait to call. He told me you were the best in the business. I’m responsible for finding a top person for a senior-level marketing position. I’d like to find out if you’d be open to exploring a new career opportunity if it was clearly superior to what you’re doing today.” What would you do if you were Julie? Julie is a semi-passive candidate. She is hoping you will call. These are people who will listen to your offer of evaluating a superior opportunity. There are two parts to attracting these types of semi-passive candidates. One, who you call (Julie, in this case), and two, what you say next when Julie says yes. While virtually everyone will say yes to an offer to explore a superior opportunity, you don’t have time to call everyone. You can only call top people. A top person is someone who is either a potential candidate for the job or knows someone who is. Getting Julie’s name and pre-qualifying her before calling is the secret of sourcing top semi-passive candidates. In this case, some proactive recruiter met with Sharif, the new sales rep from G&P, and asked him for the names of the best marketing people he knew. Once he had Julie’s name, the recruiter asked Sharif why he thought she was so strong. With this information, it was now worth calling this wonder person, since she had already been pre-qualified. Top employees don’t look for work the same way top candidates do. For one thing, they are more discriminating. They will only consider opportunities that are clearly superior to what they’re doing today. You’ll be able to attract more top semi-active and semi-passive people when you begin to treat them as customers and not candidates. This means that job titles must be compelling and ad copy must be focused on what the candidate will do, learn and become. Even semi-passive people will look on your web site to see the job descriptions, so make sure they emphasize opportunities, not list requirements. For an added boost, make them fun. The goal of a recruiting marketing effort is to convert a passive or less active top person’s own energy into the active pursuit of your open opportunity. You don’t do this by selling. You don’t do this by writing boring ads. You don’t do this by over-talking and under-listening. You do this by professionally offering superior opportunities. This is why recruiting is marketing. This is why you must treat your potential new employees as customers every step of the way.

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