Corner Office: Creative Recruiting

When Chrysler was creating its new auto/minivan hybrid, it would have been easy to play follow-the-leader and design it to look very much like all the other family-size vehicles out there.

Instead, Chrysler took the space and versatility that customers wanted and put it in a retro-styled package that looked like nothing else around. The result, the PT Cruiser, was the hottest American car in years. Chrysler couldn't make them fast enough, dealers were selling them for more than sticker price, and buyers found themselves greeted by oohs and ahhs and requests for pictures. Sometimes, different is better.

That holds for recruitment, too. Most of the time, the traditional sources work just fine. But sometimes, they don't — and then it's time to get creative. As long as you stay within the boundaries of the law and good taste (no providing college kids with free beer, please), there are no limits to what you can do. These ideas aren't by any means exhaustive; they're just intended to get your mind racing. Go ahead — have fun. And keep these ideas in mind.

Practice 24/7 Recruiting

Legend has it that teenage Lana Turner was having a soda at Schwab's drugstore when a studio talent scout spotted her. A screen test followed, and a movie queen was born. Turner herself insisted that the story wasn't true. But it has a kernel of truth: Casting scouts were on the lookout for talent and did routinely sign performers — just as baseball scouts do today.

There's no reason that such a proven technique should only be used in the so-called glamour professions. Does it really make sense to assume that the perfect person will appear at the precise moment we need her? Why not improve the odds by acting as a scout and recruiting 24/7?

Train yourself to notice potential and be willing to make your pitch when you do. To improve your odds, think about the qualities you need; think about where the best candidates are likely to be; talk to your top prospects; and make candidates a top priority if they respond to your interest.

Ask Employees for Referrals

If Hillary Rodham Clinton were a corporate executive instead of a U.S. senator, she might have said, "It takes a lunchroom." That's because her basic idea — shared responsibility — turns out to be as true in business as in raising children. And shared responsibility at work can be especially valuable when it comes to hiring.

The idea is simple. Employees — who know your business better than anyone — refer people (friends, relatives, neighbors) they feel would make good employees. Then employees are rewarded if one of their referrals is hired. Study after study has shown that employees hired through referral programs perform better — and stay longer — than employees hired through any other source.

Use Your Network

There's a theory of sociology — popularized by John Guare's hit play Six Degrees of Separation — that no more than six people separate you from anyone else in the world. Think of it as a chain: You know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone else. Based on how many people we each know, there are no more than six people between you and Queen Elizabeth or you and the pope or, yes, you and the perfect hire. The trick, of course, is finding the right six people.

There's no sure way to do it, or we'd all be lunching with our favorite TV stars. But networking substantially improves the odds that you'll connect with someone you otherwise would have missed.

Use the Internet

The Internet is the greatest invention since the printing press, and maybe the greatest invention ever. It has revolutionized recruiting. In fact, Internet recruiting is the only way to go. Blah, blah, blah. The hype — mostly generated by marketing kingpins at dot-com start-ups — argues that all the above is true. It's not. Yes, the Internet can be a valuable recruiting tool. But it isn't a panacea. Be smart about when — and how — to go online to fill jobs.

Think about the people most likely to apply for your job. Do they have access to the Internet? Which recruiting sites are they visiting? The top sites can give you information about their audience. Find a good match.

Find out whether your organization has a preferred site or sites. If you work in a large company, HR may have already contracted with one or more recruiting sites. If so, follow their lead. If the company has no formal policy or agreement, network with other managers to see if they've had good luck with a site.

Get information from several sites that match your needs. Find out: Job posting options; pricing; audience demographics; traffic; currency of resumes; site reliability. Get references.

Post your job and track response. Track: How many responses you get; how quickly you receive responses; how qualified the applicants are; how many you interview; how many (if any) you hire. If you use more than one site, compare how each performs.

Hang Out Where Your Candidates Hang Out

Be the employer that candidates see when they do whatever it is they normally do. You want them to think of your firm when they think about job opportunities.

For example, where do disenfranchised software programmers hang out? The Dilbert Web page! So that's exactly where Cisco Systems placed job ads. The ads linked directly to Cisco's job page. Because research showed that most people were visiting the site between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (when they were supposed to be working), Cisco made it possible for candidates to profile themselves in just 10 minutes. And, in case they were caught in the act, a single keystroke brings up a disguise page that reads "Seven Successful Habits of Great Employees."

Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill

If you were looking for an information analyst, you'd go to the Juilliard School and hire a violinist, right? That's just what EDS did after realizing that it was duking it out with competitors for the same small pool of high-tech grads. It makes sense if you think about it: Any violinist who gets to Julliard is driven and detail-oriented. He can learn information analysis.

Take College Recruitment a Step Further

Going to college career fairs is swell, but to really stand out on campus think big. EDS became the primary sponsor of the U.S. Sunrayce, an intercollegiate competition to build and race solar-powered cars. The company provided scoring and timing devices, location-tracking systems and even technical engineers.

While students were winning races, EDS was shaking hands with several bright engineering graduates who eventually accepted job offers. But the race only happens once a year. What else could EDS do? Shush down the ski slopes with fliers and T-shirts to recruit students on their winter break.