Non-Traditional Recruiting Methods, Revised: Some Ideas and Examples

As we reach end the year, I am going to reprint a few articles, with updates, that I think recap the messages of this first year of the 21st century. This one is still as relevant and important as the day it was first printed, and not enough of you are using the methods described to make your life easier. So you’re exasperated, tired and confused? Every time you bring in your sourcing net, you feel like Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump when he pulled in his shrimp nets — except there’s only a few shrimp and lots of other stuff you really weren’t after. Here are a few alternatives to the usual sourcing methods. I classify advertising, employee referral, Internet searching and job boards in the “traditional” category. Some of the non-traditional things may require you to stretch your corporate policy a bit — may even require you to ask for forgiveness instead of permission — but may land you that great candidate you need. 1. Event Recruiting. Cisco pioneered this approach and it has brought them success. It is very simple: go to the events that the people you are seeking go to. In the case of programmers in Silicon Valley, the choice spots have been microbreweries, marathons, and bike races. When you go to these events, become involved in some way that promotes your name and cause. Sponsor or co-sponsor the event. Pass out refreshments. Give away a prize. Give everyone who participates a gift. Just be sure that they KNOW you are recruiting and have a good idea of what you are looking for. This is where you build a brand and create an image of the kind of company you are. Cisco quickly became known as the company with “cool” recruiters and, therefore, must be a “cool” place to work. Everyone was aware of them. Even if the participant wasn’t interested, he or she knew someone who was. It became obvious to lots of people that companies such as IBM and HP weren’t there, and, therefore, couldn’t be “cool” places to work. And “cool” is BIG for these particular employees. They want an atmosphere of youth, of excitement, of growth and perhaps most of all, an environment where they have PERMISSION to experiment and make mistakes. 2. Re-Recruiting. Again, a simple concept: find those reasonably good people who left your company for a new challenge, more pay, or whatever, and try to recruit them back. HR Magazine just had an article with a graphic depicting an office with a velvet rope across the door carrying a sign that said “RESERVED”. This was to indicate how many firms are telling employees who leave that they are always welcome back. From a recruiter’s perspective, it is important to get through the internal issues that may exist over re-recruiting a “disloyal” ex-employee. This may require some internal marketing, but it is also a place where the forgiveness instead of permission rule may be useful. Experience in high-tech Silicon Valley has strongly shown that employees who leave and come back are good contributors and stay longer than many of those hired for the first time. They produce quickly, are familiar with the environment, require less assimilation time and effort, and may already have an internal “network” of associates in place. Of course, as a recruiter you will have to get a list of everyone who has left and you may have to spend some time figuring our where they are. It also should trigger the HR department to get higher quality information about employees who resign than they typically have today. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*> 3. Make Every Employee A Recruiter. Many firms are enlisting the average employee to be a recruiter. This is not the same as asking employees to refer friends to the company and this is not “paid” for. Rather, equip employees with simple business cards that do not have anyone’s name on them. These cards just say something like: “We are always looking for great XXXXX. To find out more, log onto our website at” These cards are to given out at parties, sports events, family gatherings, picnics, the park, or wherever an employee goes. They are used to let people know that your company really does want people to apply. Employees can use the cards as a way to talk about what they do and about how wonderful your company is to work for. They can be accompanied with some literature for the employees and suggestions on how to use them effectively. Encourage employees who do use them to share how on some sort of internal Intranet suggestion board or via email. Make the fact that recruiting is critical to the success of your firm known to every employee and enlist them all in the war on talent. 4. Gather Competitive Intelligence. This requires at least a two-step process. First of all you have to determine who the most important and valuable people are in your firm. These can be individuals, but more likely you are looking at types of people who contribute the service or product you sell. These are the programmers who write and maintain the software you sell, or they are the consultants that meet the clients and get the work. The second step after you have figured out who these critical people are is to set up a group to start locating all the people who do this for other companies. They should try to locate and evaluate these people. They should poll some of the experts and see what the reputations are of these people and they should have a very good idea of which ones are worth pursing. Really strong competitive intelligence groups also try to start building relationships with these people. They go to conferences, invite them to events, and do whatever makes sense to get to know them. Obviously, they also maintain lists and know how to contact each of these people at any time. After a while, you have valuable knowledge about these people and know exactly who could replace someone in your company should they choose to leave. This can cut down hiring times by weeks and even months and provides your firm with a continuous stream of information about what’s going on with competitors. 5. Cast A Wider Net. Expand your recruiting to include some people who do not have all the skills you would like, but who have potential to contribute if they are trained. Again, Cisco has an excellent trial program underway called the IT Apprenticeship Program. This program offers undergraduates with degrees in music or math an opportunity to learn HTML programming. They are hired as programmers, are given intensive training at the same time they are handling basic customer service issues, and then are assigned a programming job. So far this program has had superb results and success. If there was ever a time to look at a wider set of skills and devote more effort to development, then this is that time. Recruiters need to be strategic enough to suggest these programs to management and to push the traditional ideas of what makes good recruiting. Of course we would all like to hire the cream, but reality says we can only get a share of it. We will have to make some cream of our own and these kinds of programs can work well. Hope that some of these will work for you!

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Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at