If you are experiencing great difficulty in convincing a reluctant superstar or magnet hire candidate to say yes to a job offer, there are few more powerful convincing tools than a “buddy hire” program. If you haven’t heard of it, the buddy hire approach is where you offer to hire your target star candidate and a close colleague or friend of theirs as a package deal. This option is amazingly effective simply because most of us do have a close colleague or friend who we’ve always wanted to work with. And as a result, most would jump at this rare opportunity to work together with them.
Now before you dismiss this approach as too radical or expensive, realize that all of the military services have at some time offered a variation of what they call the “buddy enlistment program.” In the corporate world, we call it a buddy hiring program or a hire-them-both option.
Hiring two exceptional individuals as a package deal is a strategy that frequently allows you to get even the most difficult-to-convince top recruit to say yes. It’s the ultimate candidate-convincing tool that will not likely be offered by any competing firm. Using any standard, this type of buddy offer is certainly a WOW that is guaranteed to get your target candidate thinking!
Why the Hire-them-both Option Is Compelling
Two buddies frequently decide to attend the same college, because they can share the experience together. In a similar way, employee referral programs work so well because they allow employees the opportunity to work alongside or at least at the same firm with someone they consider to be among the best. The hire-them-both approach is simply a logical extension of these two concepts.
Prominent firms like Apple and Google have found that one of the most impactful and compelling attraction factors is “working alongside great coworkers.” If you use a data-driven approach to recruiting, one of the first and most important steps is to conduct market research in order to find out what factors would trigger an extremely-difficult-to-convince” applicant to shift from a no to a yes answer. When you compile a list of candidate dream job or compelling convincing factors, quite often you find among those factors references to:
- Working with my best friend
- Working with people just like me who I am comfortable with
- Working alongside people who I’ve always dreamed of working with
In order to show the candidate the quality of their future coworkers, firms like Google have presented candidates with a list of employee profiles or resumes showing the quality of the team that they would join. Although this approach is effective, it falls short when the individual who you’re targeting wants to work alongside someone who doesn’t currently work at your firm.
A Buddy Hire Program Allows Them to Select Their Perfect Colleague
And that’s where a buddy hire program has a huge advantage because it allows your target candidate to personally select the individual who they want to work with. Many top prospects are initially shocked when they are told that they can have the opportunity to work alongside someone they select. However, when they realize that you’re serious, many instantly realize that this is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.
The buddy offer can be compelling for a variety of reasons, including that it provides a chance to create something together, to work with someone you are totally compatible with, to work with a treasured colleague, or even to commute to work with a best friend. The buddy who they select varies, but it is usually their mentee, a spouse, a son/daughter/parent, a college buddy, a past team leader, or a former cherished colleague they would love to work with again.
During a Growth Period, Hiring Them Both Creates a Positive Result
Currently with such a shortage of highly skilled talent, the hire-them-both approach provides an opportunity to simultaneously add two top employees. If you work at a rapidly growing firm, you should consider this approach as a form of pipeline hiring where you “early identify” future hires, but in this case, you simply hire a second candidate earlier than you expected.
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While some may view hiring two individuals as an additional cost, view this as an opportunity to get one additional hire, without any added recruiting effort or costs (because the primary hire will do the work for you in selecting and convincing the buddy hire to join your firm).
A Buddy Hire Program Raises the Comfort Level of the New Hires
We also know from candidate research that one of the prime resistance factors to changing jobs is the negative thought of leaving a team where the candidate is extremely comfortable, because they know everyone. The uncertainty of joining a completely new team where everyone is a stranger can be minimalized if the candidate knows that they are guaranteed to be compatible with at least one coworker, their buddy. Even if the two hires don’t work together on the same team, merely having the opportunity to share breaks and lunches, as well as commuting together, may be enough to excite them.
The Important Design Components of a Buddy Program
Buddy hire programs work best if they are designed to avoid the naturally occurring problems associated with hiring any friend. Some of the key program actions and components to consider that can minimalize conflicts and problems include:
- Start by making sure that working with great coworkers is a deal maker — don’t assume that “working with great coworkers” is a powerful convincing tool. Make sure by surveying a sample of your top candidates to see if they rank it as a top compelling reason to accept an offer (it often ranks No. 3, behind “having a real impact” and “doing the best work of your life”). Next try floating it as a possible option with a handful of exceptional candidates in order to see if it is in fact “a deal maker.”
- Only offer it for high-priority jobs — for the primary hire, this opportunity should be restricted to mission-critical and high-priority jobs and teams. That is where the hiring of an exceptional talent will have the highest impact.
- Only offer it only to exceptional talent — hiring two individuals at the same time can obviously increase your salary costs, so use this option only for exceptional candidates who would simply say “no” without this available option. Don’t be surprised when you find out that it is frequently a positive deal maker that can shift a “maybe” candidate answer to an enthusiastic yes!
- Don’t lower your hiring standards for the buddy hire — because you are hiring exceptional talent for the primary hire, you don’t have to worry about their qualifications. However, you should never lower your hiring standards for the buddy hire. You won’t often face that issue because top talent simply don’t select buddy hires who aren’t also well qualified.
- Don’t worry about any drop in performance from the buddy hire — the contribution from the primary hire is likely to be extremely powerful; in fact, so impactful that it will clearly override any potential drop in performance that would occur in the rare case where the buddy hire turns out to be an only average performer.
- Don’t be overly concerned about nepotism or favoritism — although most don’t select a spouse, some do select a son, daughter, or close friend. You can help to minimalize any friendship or favoritism concerns by not allowing the buddy hire to be a direct report to the primary hire. It is of course a good idea to educate both new hires about the need to avoid even the appearance of favoritism. But once again, the high level of professionalism of the primary hire almost guarantees that they will be proactive in avoiding any favoritism controversy.
- Limit the duration of the working arrangement — not all primary hires expect to work directly on the same team and project with their buddy. But in the cases where they initially work on the same team, because of changing business conditions, don’t guarantee that they both will stay in the same assignment for more than 6 to 12 months.
- Don’t be overly concerned that the buddy hire won’t work out — obviously, you must make sure that both new hires realize that their continued employment is contingent upon their performance. Fortunately, in most cases the primary hire will mentor and coach the buddy hire in order to ensure that they have no performance issues. And in my experience, even if the buddy decides to eventually move on, in many cases the primary hire will stay because they at least experienced the opportunity to work alongside them for a reasonable time.
- When relocation is required, providing a spouse with a job may be essential — especially when relocation to a high cost of living area is involved, the exceptional candidate who is part of a dual-income couple simply may not be able to afford to accept a job unless their spouse/partner is also guaranteed a position. This “hire the spouse also” variation is a fairly common and successful option because it removes the stress of worrying about whether their spouse/partner can quickly find a job in the new location.
- Consider letting them influence the job — a buddy hire provides a compelling reason to accept the job, but the job opportunity can be made even more compelling if the primary hire is allowed to provide input into their new job. Allowing them to at least partially design their own job will make the job opportunity even more compelling. In addition, allowing exceptional talent to focus on the aspects of the work that they like and do best is almost guaranteed to improve their results. Another alternative to consider is to let the primary hire select the project (or team) that they will initially work on.
- Consider letting them hire their own boss — in the Silicon Valley, we have learned that innovators and exceptional talent are often weak managers. In addition, serving in a management role may distract them from the technical work that they do really well. As a result, the best way to ensure the effective management of these often hard-to-manage innovators and exceptional talent may be to allow them to select their own boss. They may choose their buddy as their manager but you can also allow them to select their own boss from among your current employees. Although this idea may sound outrageous on the surface, when the primary hire selects their own boss, they can’t complain about the quality of their manager. The odds are that they will select someone that knows precisely how to get the maximum performance out of them.
- They don’t have to be simultaneous hires — in most cases, the primary hire simply won’t accept the job until their buddy also gets their job offer. But in cases where the buddy can’t start immediately, offer them a delayed starting date. I do not however recommend allowing the buddy to start first and the primary hire to join the firm at a later date.
- Program metrics are essential — because the program is highly likely to cause some internal controversy, use metrics to demonstrate to cynics that the program results in measurably better quality hires and a positive ROI. Use metrics and feedback from the new hires and their managers for continuous program improvement.
I first encountered a buddy hiring program over 15 years ago, when it was used on me to get me to accept an offer at Agilent Technologies and I am still an avid supporter of this approach. I wouldn’t be concerned about the program’s effectiveness, because buddy hire programs have proven to be successful for decades both in the military and in the corporate world. Now is the ideal time to implement them, because of the shortage of talent and the difficulty in getting exceptional talent to say yes.
And yes, you should expect some resistance and concerns, especially from HR. But fortunately I have found that every concern and issue can be overcome with a little creative thinking. I have also found that once hiring managers find out about this option, they are enthusiastic about using it. And incidentally, if you want to go up to the next level in hiring people who have can effectively work together, consider “team lift outs,” where you hire an entire intact team at once, and acqui-hiring, where you buy a small firm primarily for its already cohesive talent.