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End Your Recruiting Problems … Without Spending a Dime

June 30, 2006
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Almost everyone now realizes that the so-called "next war for talent" is already well under way. In some industries it has only recently heated up, while in other areas, like health care, law enforcement and construction, the battle to attract top talent has been ongoing for years. Making the fight even more difficult is the fact that budgets in most recruiting departments have been cut to the point where there is no extra money to try new recruiting approaches. But here’s the secret: If you want to attract the very best talent, it doesn’t take a lot of money or technology. All it takes is the courage to try something new. So if you’re looking for almost foolproof no-cost recruiting tools, here some of the ones used by leading firms.

    Targeted employee referrals. Every bit of research that I’ve seen comes to the same conclusion: Referrals consistently produce the highest-quality candidates of any recruiting source. However, most companywide referral programs cost money, and because the Homer Simpsons of the organization know people too, these companywide programs can attract lower-quality referrals as well as higher-quality ones. However, there is a more focused referral approach that produces spectacular results with no out-of-pocket costs. I call this "Give Me 5."

    It starts by identifying the top performers that currently work in the job family for which you are recruiting. The next step is to send an individual recruiter directly to a regularly scheduled management meeting that these top performers attend. You could simply ask them during a break to provide you with the names of the very best people they know. Unfortunately, what often happens when you do that is that people will draw a blank. Instead, use "name stimulators." These might include a request to name the best team player they know, the best innovator they have worked with, or the best manager they know within 50 miles. Invariably, you will find that by approaching them directly and asking for their help, they will provide you with the names of the very best people they know--without any expectation of a reward.

    A variation of this approach that has been utilized by Eli Lilly and FirstMerit Bank is to hold a "Rolodex party" and invite these top performers to a conference room to help identify the names of the very best. After identifying the names, it is also wise to ask these individuals to help you in contacting these individuals and persuading them to formally apply for a position.

    Use employment references as referral sources. A reference referral is quite simply asking the references that were given to you by previous successful hires to act as a referral source for the names of other top performers that the references also happen to know. The process is really quite simple. You call the references of your top-performing employees in the job family you are recruiting for. Identifying them is really quite easy because you already have their names and phone numbers in your recruiting files. Identify the ones that made accurate (and positive) comments about the candidate that you hired. Next, call the references and say something like, "I want to thank you for giving us a reference for Mr. XYZ. Based partially on your recommendation, we hired him, and he turned out to be an excellent employee." Next ask, "Would you be willing to help out again by giving us some names of some other equally or better-qualified candidates?"

    You’ll be surprised at the number of times that they know the names of other individuals who are equally qualified—or even better qualified. Next, ask your current employee if she knows the newly referred individuals, and if so, use her for the initial contact. Incidentally, you should also consider targeting the references directly, because the people that individuals use as references are almost always superior individuals.

    Learn to "boomerang." Boomerang is a term that was coined to identify top-performing former employees who are purposely targeted and brought back. Boomerang recruitment is a high-ROI activity, because you are bringing back proven top performers who already know your culture. In addition, boomerangs are highly valuable because they bring back great external experience, as well as a fresh perspective.

    Major firms that have utilized the boomerang approach include McKinsey & Co., Ernst & Young, Bain & Co, Deloitte and Gensler (one firm has been written up for having boomerang rates as high as 12 percent of all hires). However, the best-practice leader, based on my observations, is the management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. It has gone the extra step and developed a unique team known as the "comeback kids," who have proved to be very successful in getting former employees to return.

   Some of the former employees you should target include individuals in key positions, top performers, people with key skills and even recent retirees. Begin the process by looking for the targeted individuals that during the past three years have left the job family you’re recruiting for. The benefits department will often have their contact information if it’s not in their employee file. Next, call and let them know there is no animosity. Then ask them if they would be open to a conversation about the possibility of returning. If they express an interest, identify any possible concerns they might have about returning and don’t be surprised if more than a third of the individuals that you have targeted express an interest in coming back.

    New-hire referrals. Consider using your new hires as referral sources. That’s what FirstMerit Bank and Quicken Loans do. The basic premise is that new hires, because they generally come from other firms, know and can successfully influence top-performing colleagues from their former firms to consider your firm. The approach itself is really quite simple. On the first day, during orientation, you ask each new hire, "Will you help us identify others like you?" If they agree, you ask, "Who else should we recruit from your former firm?" After getting the names, you should also ask them if they will make the initial contact, and if they will help sell these individuals on your firm.

    CEO calls as selling tools. While the previous approaches focus on identifying top candidates, this final cheap-but-effective approach focuses on persuading the identified candidates to apply and to say yes to your offer. When you have identified a must-have individual for a mission-critical position, you have the CEO of your firm call that individual up and sell them on your firm. The CEO call is so effective because most recruiting processes are impersonal and have no "wow factor." Nothing about the process is designed to get a candidate’s attention, make them feel wanted or build the impression that they will have senior executive access. A personal call from the CEO changes all of that.

    The process begins by getting the CEO to agree to call a small number of candidates each month. Give the CEO a profile on the targeted individual. The call should be scripted to the extent that it includes something like "We really need you. Please join me, and together we will build the future of this firm." Other variations of this approach include a CEO meeting at an industry convention or simply inviting the candidate to lunch. Having a CEO contact a candidate does require some preparation, but its nearly 100 percent success rate tends to make the preparation worthwhile. Try it. You will be amazed at the results.

Workforce Management, June 26, 2006, p. 66 -- Subscribe Now!

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