Give Away the Farm or Hold Your Cards Close?

A few recent discussions with fellow recruiters made me want to write an article around the philosophical debate of the general sharing and swapping of tips, tricks, and strategies between recruiters. ERE itself is a great forum for the sharing of knowledge and the exchange of best practices, so I felt that it was an appropriate location to throw this topic out to a broader audience. The Question: How much information do you share with other recruiters within your own organization or your colleagues in the industry on the whole? Is it good to share the wealth, or is it potentially dangerous to give away your ‘secret sauce’ on how you recruit? When is a little too much or not enough? When is it right or when is it wrong? Is what you share a company’s intellectual property or is it yours? As you can see this is not a cut-and-dry issue. There are many paths you can take, and depending on who you are, you’re likely to look at the world a little differently. As we all know there are many people and companies out there that make a living out of training recruiters on strategies, tips, and tricks around all facets of the recruitment profession. But these people are getting paid to share their knowledge. For the rest of us, we generally have in-house programs, mentors, and training that cover a lot of these things as well, but we also gain the greatest insight learning from other successful recruiters on how and why they do what they do. In many cases, the sharing of this information is an informal process of networking in the right places, or asking the right questions of the right people at the right time. People seem to fall into two main camps, but for the purposes of this article, rather than aligning my personal opinion in one space versus another, I want to try and take an objective view on both sides of the debate. I am not prescribing a magical answer on when to share or when not to share, but rather wanted to raise more questions for you to ponder as opposed to giving my own personal opinions, which are not necessarily a reflection of the recruitment community’s. As always, I will add my little disclaimer now. No recruiter needs to be in just one of these camps. In most cases, we all have or have had a foot in both camps, either right now or at different points in our career. First, the “give away the farm” camp:

  • They share the knowledge and wealth as if it raises the overall ability of staffing within a company and the industry on the whole.
  • This kind of attitude shows you as a team player who is willing to help others become great as well.
  • Fundamentality as human beings, it feels good to give and see others benefit from our wisdom and knowledge.
  • By bringing others up to your level of expertise, you are seen a strong leader.

And then there’s the “hold your cards close” camp:

  • They share very little of their intellectual capital, believing that this is what sets you apart from other recruiters. As long as other people view you as the expert, then you have something to offer a company that other recruiters might not.
  • By not giving away your strategies and how you execute them, you gain a competitive advantage that might get you to a candidate first or close a candidate before other recruiters can, since they do not possess the same knowledge and expertise. As it becomes harder to find great candidates, you find yourself in a better competitive position.
  • People come to you because you are the expert and that can make you feel important and needed.
  • If the information you give out starts to bring others up to your level, then you might not stand out as one of the best anymore.

Both these approaches are not mutually exclusive to just the recruitment profession and how we deal with other recruiters in other companies. This issue exists as much in teams and departments within companies outside the recruitment profession. In larger organizations, you might have individuals or departments that focus on competitive intelligence who look not only at corporate structures and products but also at who and why individuals in that particular company successfully do what they do. Why does company X have a decentralized recruitment function while company Y outsourced all recruitment? Why is one recruiter successful at sourcing “purple squirrel” candidates (impossible-to-find candidates) and how does he or she do it? These are all questions that we ask ourselves, particularly management, and ultimately one of the ways to get the answers to these questions is simply to ask them. But for this transaction to be completed there must be someone on the other end of the questions who is making the conscious decision to share on not to share. What about the sharing of information with other recruiters who play in exactly the same space as you do, particularly when the companies or agencies they work for are seen as strictly competitive, so that sharing could lessen your completive advantage? This may seem on the surface to be a potentially dangerous activity. But there are advantages when recruiters who play in the same competitive space share candidates and knowledge with each other, since a candidate who might not be a fit for company A could be a perfect fit for company B (this practice exists quite actively today in candidate/fee splitting). Their view of the world is that they are being paid to find the right talent by their client or company, and if the sharing of candidates and knowledge helps them achieve their goal then they will gladly do it. The other side of this debate is whether what you share in a public forum is your knowledge or the confidential intellectual property of the company that you currently work for or a previous employer. This could be an article in it’s own right ó probably best written by a lawyer rather than someone who is just a recruiter ó so I won’t go into great depth on this final point. But it is still worth considering further. Since I could not think of an exceptional way of ending this article I will take the easy way out and leave you with a few quotes from some semi-famous people which you can use to draw your own conclusions on the subject. “Whatever we possess becomes of double value when we have the opportunity of sharing it with others.”

ó Jean Nicolas Bouilly “Keeping a little ahead of conditions is one of the secrets of business.”

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ó Charles M. Schwab “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.”

ó Margaret Fuller

Rob McIntosh is a talent acquisition leader at Honeywell’s Connected Enterprise business. He is a senior talent executive with 20+ years of global recruiting experience spanning four continents where he has consistently delivered results through building high-performing teams for Fortune 100 companies in senior leadership roles for McKesson, Avanade, Deloitte, and Microsoft. 

As a public speaker his articles, presentations, and case studies have been shared and downloaded over 50,000 times. He is one of the early pioneers of corporate sourcing functions and the co-founder of SourceCon. He is the primary content, strategies, tools, and case studies provider for the Human Capital Institute Talent Acquisition Strategist Course & Certification and ERE Media’s Talent Advisor course.

His strategic advice is constantly sought after for use of advanced metrics/analytics to help tell the business story around the value of talent acquisition, and how to scale delivery while improving quality of hire through optimal talent org designs; shared services, CoE, offshore, outsourcing, and hybrid talent acquisition structures.