The Two Ponds (How
Companies Can Identify and Recruit the Best)
By Alan Darling
- originally published in the MIT Enterprise Forum.
Jack Mullen, the Vice President for Human Resources
for a major Route 128 manufacturer, decided to hire his company's first
senior training person (this is a true story, but the name has been
changed). After some exploration, he determined that there was one
person he wanted to hire the most - the senior training manager at IBM.
After having his secretary confirm that this man would be in his office
at IBM that day, Mullen flew to New York, and somehow wrangled his way
right into his prospect's office at IBM headquarters. At first, his
prospect squawked, "How the heck did you get in here?", and threatened
to call security. But Mullen persisted, and explained that he wanted
him, and only him, to come to work for him at his company. And, after
several meetings, he did.
In today's free-for-all, full employment job
marketplace, what appear to be unreasonable recruitment tactics like
Mullen used are necessary if a company truly wants to fill itself with
gamebreakers. There are two ponds that companies can fish from to find
candidates. The first is easy to reach, but has few fish, small fish,
and many fishermen. The second pond has many fish, bigger fish, and few
fishermen, but is hard to reach.
The FIRST POND is the one where most companies
concentrate their recruiting time - it's the one that contains the
people who are looking for jobs. Research indicates that these people
make up 8% of the employed executives (plus the unemployed), turn over
at high rates, and generally aren't of the same quality and caliber as
those who are not looking for jobs. These people are reached through
advertising, the internet, employment agencies, and other traditional
The SECOND POND contains the 92% of employed
executives who are not looking for jobs. These are generally the best
people out there, and they're the ones you need to go after if you're
going to build a highly-effective organization. They also cannot be
reached with even the best print and internet advertising campaign,
because they’re not even thinking about changing jobs. There are a
variety of techniques any manager can use to go after these people -
the ones who aren't in the job market. A few basic techniques follow:
1) Develop An Organization That
Constantly Thinks Recruiting: The best recruiting
starts years before the position is filled. Whenever you meet a good,
interesting person who could some day help your organization, grab his
or her card, and get it into a file with some notes. If you're not
bashful, and are active in your industry, you will regularly be meeting
these people at industry conferences, trade shows, and trade
organizations. Keep in contact with the people in these files at least
annually (plus a Christmas card, of course), and when you have a need,
go to this file first. You shouldn't have to beat around the bush with
them by this time - you know them well enough by now - so ask them
straight out if they're interested in discussing coming to work for
you, and if they're not, ask them who they know who is a rising star.
2) Internal Referrals:
Work with the people working at your company to see who they can
identify from their past lives, and ask them to contact them directly.
In and around Route 128, employee referrals are driving the recruiting.
The best people come this way, because no one will refer a bozo if they
know they'll have to work with that person later. Referral bonuses of
$500 to $2,000 are typical, and $5,000 (or more) bonuses for
hard-to-find people like software engineers are not unusual.
3) Contact Candidates Cold:
Many companies are bashful about doing this, but this is the heart of a
good search process. In a typical executive search, a retained search
consultant will contact over 200 employed executives, cold, at their
offices. This is more contacts than most executives should handle on
their own, but you can do a miniature version of this. If you are
looking for, for example, a VP of Research and Development, you could
start by making a short list of companies who would employ the kind of
person you’re interested in, and then identify the people at those
companies who are doing that job. This can often be done by using
directories, or by calling the target company receptionist up, and
asking who is in charge of R&D. Then, you can make a series of
quick phone calls, and you may be surprised at what develops. At the
lower levels, you can get your own technical people involved. If, for
example, you’re looking for an additional chemist with a particular
specialty, after you’ve identified a key prospect, have one of your
chemists call up the person, and have him start by asking a technical
question or by congratulating him on his latest article. Then work the
conversation around to whether he or she knows someone who would like
to come to work for them (and, of course, if that person is interested,
he or she will suggest himself). Microsoft, by the way, has a
department filled with people making cold calls to competitors all day
long, and that's how they get their superstars.
4) Recruit the Star Candidate Like Notre
Dame Recruits A Quarterback: Other than those people who
have been recruited by college coaches, very few people have ever truly
been recruited. If the candidate has even a germ of interest, go after
him or her with wild abandon. Just after the first contact, send a
Priority Mail package (the cost is only $3.20, and the impact is huge)
filled with information on the company and the area.
At the interview, impress the candidate. You can do
this at the same time you're gathering information about the candidate
and determining whether he or she will fit in your organization. The
key is to make every candidate leave wanting the job. You can decide
whether to offer it to him or her later.
After an interview, leave a message on the candidate's
home voice mail about how impressed you were with him or her (if you
truly were). Send the area newspaper to his or her home for a month or
two. Keep the dialog going, even if there are other candidates you're
considering. The worst thing you can do is leave the candidate in the
dark for weeks. Ultimately, you want to choose the best candidate,
rather than hire the only person who'll take the job, and this is the
best way for you to be able to have that choice.
These are a handful of basic techniques. The
recruiting marketplace is wild and complex, and needs extensive
attention these days. Both traditional and non-traditional approaches
are necessary if you truly want to develop into an organization that
operates at the highest levels.
1999 by Alan Darling