Recruiting Strategies — Proximity Recruiting Using a Taco Truck

Dec 15, 2008

During tough economic times there is intense pressure on all functions within the business to re-think their current approach in an effort to become more competitive and aggressive all while containing cost.

Unfortunately, many recruiters and recruiting leaders choose an opposite path, becoming more conservative in their approach. When markets head south and fear about economic issues grip the populace, consider a counter-cyclical recruiting strategy that sends a clear message to everyone inside and outside your organization that talent truly means something to your organization.

One controversial yet extremely public, effective outside-the-box recruiting approach you might consider is “proximity recruiting.”

You Must Do Internet and Physical Recruiting

Even with the tremendous growth of Internet recruiting, not everyone is actively surfing the Internet looking for a job or combing through their email in anticipation of your generic form letter introduction.

Reaching a greater percentage of the population relevant to your job searches often requires using at least three channels to reach them, one of which should be physical. The underlying concept of physical recruiting is a simple one, just as robbers target banks because that’s where the money is! Recruiters need to target physical locations where a large number of potential hires can be found.

While nearly everyone in recruiting is familiar with the dreaded job fair, there are numerous other approaches to physical recruiting that are far more effective and fun. One such approach is “proximity” or event recruiting. Proximity recruiting at professional events (tradeshows and seminars) is clearly becoming more mainstream, but one location in particular really elevates the visibility of your efforts and qualifies as “outrageous.” The location? Across the street or in the parking lot of talent-competing firms in trouble.

Proximity Recruiting with a Taco Truck

If you have been paying attention to the business press lately, you are probably aware that Internet giant Yahoo! was planning to lay off approximately 1,000 employees worldwide, the greatest percentage of which would come from its Silicon Valley headquarters in Sunnyvale, California.

What you may not know is that despite a multi-year trend of notable voluntary exits by key employees, Yahoo! is still considered by many to employ some of the greatest engineering talent in the industry. This talent is extremely valuable to hundreds of upstarts working on next-generation technologies.

Yahoo!, like many organizations planning a reduction in force, kept its plans secret until the day when the axe actually swung. Because employees knew pink slips were coming, but no real guidance was offered as to who would be impacted, more people were concerned than would actually be cut.

Seizing on that fear and the actual swinging of the axe, Tokbox, an upstart enabling free voice and video calling over the Internet without any software download, engaged a proximity recruiting strategy that some may consider outrageous.

While pink slips were being handed out, Tokbox executives were setting up a taco truck across the street from Yahoo’s corporate campus, offering employees affected (and anyone else that wanted to chat) a hot lunch and information about employment opportunities.

Their approach was a simple one. They leased a taco truck and driver for the day, set up across the street in plain view, and offered a hot lunch to any Yahoo! employee who wanted to talk. Company executives were on hand and the atmosphere was light.

In order not to make anyone overly nervous, the conversations were kept short. While proximity recruiting has become more common in the Silicon Valley, Tokbox’s efforts still garnered a great deal of press both on the Internet and via the mainstream news media, earning them hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free PR and employment advertising.

Other Proximity or Event Recruiting Opportunities

If you are not ready to offer free food or display a banner, consider additional proximity recruiting approaches:

  • A van with a recruiting banner. If there was a most commonly used form of outrageous proximity recruiting, it would have to be the use of the recruiting van (usually with a large banner) that is parked within easy view of a large corporate site or a commuter site frequented by target talent. The “banner van” parked across the street approach has been used both in high-tech and healthcare to target firms that are currently going through acquisitions, union problems, and workforce reductions.
  • The “across the street” bar, restaurant, or gym. Almost any firm with a large number of employees has a bar or restaurant close by where a significant number of the site’s employees go for a drink or meal with a colleague. These locations are packed with employees wearing IDs, who incidentally, often have their guard down. Health clubs and gyms are also great spots to target.
  • Award events. You’re almost guaranteed to meet the best and brightest at events that offer awards or prizes for excellence and innovation. Not only should the recipients be targets but you should also look at award presenters as both potential targets and as referral sources.
  • College recruiting approaches. Because college students love to attend events, proximity recruiting should be a major part of your university recruiting effort. Place a “banner van” key across the street from college campuses. Consider recruiting at campus club meetings, at college sports events, at music concerts, on the beach during spring break, and even at both on- and off-campus college poker events.
  • Conventions. If you’re trying to hire a nurse, it only makes sense to recruit at a bar inside or outside a nursing-related convention, or where nursing continuing education is being offered. Here again you have the advantage of almost everyone having a name tag with their own and their company name on it.
  • Clubs and groups. If you are seeking individuals with certain skills or attributes, consider recruiting at clubs, societies, or organizations where individuals with these attributes are common. For example, if you’re looking for risk-takers, target rock-climbing clubs. If your search includes disciplined individuals, consider military groups, math societies, and music groups.
  • Hotels where company events are held. When you think about it, companies do send their very best people to meetings, seminars, and events. Occasionally, corporate events are announced on the hotels marquis for everyone to see, making it easy to schedule your next pub crawl. This time of year, immediately before a firm’s holiday party gets underway, is another time to begin building relationships with potential targets.
  • Corporate training centers. Many firms send their best employees to corporate training. Because a good deal of corporate training can be long and dull, there is a high likelihood that a large group will go out for cocktails in the host hotel or at a nearby bar. So, if you have large corporate training centers near you, consider them prime targets.
  • Shareholder meetings. The bar across the street from the location of the annual shareholders meeting will almost always include a number of company employees and leaders. Go before or after the event to make contacts and build relationships.
  • Miscellaneous. Firms have practiced “proximity recruiting” at other events and sites including wine festivals, home shows, in shopping malls, and at charity events.

Final Thoughts

If you are put off by the concept of boldly “raiding” other firms, you should realize that “stealing” another firm’s customers is already an accepted and common practice. Both sales and recruiting are competitive functions where the most desirable targets have already been captured by your competitors. As a recruiter, your job is to provide your coworkers with the best teammates that can be found anywhere, period.

No matter what you do, you can never successfully recruit a firm’s employees unless the firm that the employee currently works at has already failed to offer them opportunities that are superior to yours. If you are even slightly hesitant about raiding firms like GM, Ford, Chrysler, Citigroup etc. that have clearly failed their current employees, don’t be surprised when you are replaced by a recruiter who is more aggressive, bolder, and more willing to try something new.

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