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

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