Question

Hiring great people is a noble goal but it raises two challenges: how to attract candidates with those rare, valuable qualities into your pipeline, and how to identify them in the interviewing process when everyone is telling you how talented, motivated, curious, and ethical they are (yada, yada, yada). Desperate recruiting doesn’t work! How do we get past all that so we really know who we’re hiring? How do we avoid hiring in desperation?

Nick’s Reply

desperate-recruitingLet’s talk about two fatal flaws in the entire recruiting and hiring process. First, we try to attract people when we need them. That limits us to rushed “just in time” recruiting methods that don’t work well. That’s desperate recruiting.

Second, these methods elicit rote responses from candidates who apply for jobs almost indiscriminately. We’ve all seen it — candidates with the “I’m your (wo)man” smile on their faces.

As you note, that’s the “Yada, yada, yada” interview. You can spend the entire time talking interview in your office when you could be talking shop in the real world.

Find and enter their pipelines

To find the few right candidates (rather than search through the entire universe of candidates), we can try to “attract people into our pipeline” all day long. But the ones we want are living in their own pipelines, or professional communities.

Here’s the problem. You can’t assess someone in a job interview. You need to see them in action. That takes time  because we must go to them.

To recruit effectively, we need to attract good people long before we need them, so our relationships will be based on common interests, not common desperation. That means we must go to them and enter their pipelines, long before we need to hire anyone. We need to create relationships based on shared experiences that have already revealed the right skills.

Recruit people you have already gotten to know that know you. That takes time and there is no shortcut to that kind of quality.

Desperate recruiting: Chasing people chasing jobs

The people we want are all around us on discussion threads on work-related forums all over the Internet, talking shop. They’re at conferences and in education programs. Talk shop with them, get to know them, establish your own cred and you’ll always have someone to turn to when you need to hire.

People make career changes only at certain points. We must meet them on their career tracks, and be present at the critical points in their work lives. We can be there to talk to the best because they already know us, or we can be out chasing people who are chasing jobs.

The Zen of it is this: You can’t really identify the people you want in the interview process. At that point, it’s too late, and it’s all too scripted. That’s desperate recruiting.

Every year, the world spends billions for “just in time hiring” through online job boards, but precious little on circulating among the narrow, relevant communities these folks live in. How silly.

Yada, yada, yada

If your pipeline is full of applicants and resumes, that’s desperate recruiting. The best you can do is Yada, yada, yada through 20 interviews pretending you’re getting to know someone. You can’t assess someone in a job interview. It can’t be done. You have to mix it up with them in their own real world. Really getting to know who’s the best takes time. If you want to hire them, you have to start last year.

How does your company hire? Do you “Yada, yada, yada” through your interviews? Or do you cultivate relationships? Tell me why it takes too long to do it my way…

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30 Comments
  1. The only real problem I see with cultivating relationships as a recruiting method is that when a relationship candidate becomes available, your company has to be ready to hire. Purple Squirrel becomes available, and most of the time some HR functionary, CFO, or other bean counter replies with “Welll … I don’t think we are ready. Maybe next quarter, and with a candidate who will work more for less?” Getting the whole of management on board to consistently back the hiring manager when the time to hire is NOW will be the challenge.

    • The ideas is not to passively waiting until people in the network are fed up, laid off, or fired.

      It is letting people in the network know when there is a role available, and knowing who would consider this a positive step in their career.

      • @Gregory: Bingo. Cultivating and recruiting people, on the one hand, and advertising jobs, on the other, are two entirely different things. Most people have a very hard time understanding that for a simple reason: Job seekers and employers would really, really, really rather somebody or something (automation) else do it for them.

        Trouble is, it works best when you do it yourself and make it personal. I don’t buy the excuse that it’s just not possible because we don’t have time, we have too many openings to do it that way, etc.

        It’s a choice. VP Sales picks up on your point below. The best do it right. Everyone else doesn’t.

  2. Along with networking (and that it works both ways), develop in-house talent.
    Create entry-level roles with a career path in the company.
    Create an environment where someone does not have to quit to get paid as much as the new guy.

    And form an Alumni Association.
    Note: This will only work for healthy companies that nurture their people, and consider those who move on to other opportunities as an asset.

    • @Gregory: Great ideas. If companies aren’t pushed to try more methods like this, they’re never going to solve their hiring problems.

  3. I’ve had a few hiring manager at potential employers say that they’ll keep my information on file — and I’m sure, other candidates’ info as well — in case other, similar opportunities open up in the company. Want to bet how many times they contacted those people? (Hint: the safe bet is “none”.) I know that in a few cases, it was HR that got in the way of that ever happening—and wouldn’t surprise me if HR thwarted many of those attempts to reach out to previous applicants.

    • @Rick: Yup. That’s why managers need to wise up and realize hiring is a competitive edge, and in the long run they are sunk if they don’t take it on themselves. Some do. They’re ahead of the game.

    • Here’s the irony in all of this, I’ll illustrate with an example that happened to me recently.

      About 4-5 years ago, I applied directly to a start-up/small company. I had an interview but didn’t receive a job offer. No big deal.

      I get a call this summer from a recruitment agency that’s hiring for the same position I applied to 4-5 years ago. I was honest and told them I applied to them 4-5 years ago, they didn’t want me then, so why would they want to hire me now especially since they will have to pay a finders fee (which would be well north of $20K based on the salary and what local agencies charge)? They couldn’t answer it and never heard from again.

      The kicker is, according to LinkedIn, the folks I interviewed with are still working in the company in the same/similar positions. Additionally, when I interviewed with them I was unemployed and would have taken significantly less. The number that the recruiter floated was 2x what I would have taken -5 years ago.

    • @Rick: Keeping people on file is really no different from running ads from scratch. A manager/employer must stay in touch with them and keep the connection “live.” It’s not as hard as it might seem to some, and the payoff is well worth it. Good headhunters all do this, because each of those people they stay in regular touch with is worth loads of money when they place them.

      So follow the money. Does HR or a hiring manager make a whole lot of money every time they fill a job? That might sound silly, but it’s really the crux of the matter. It’s why I advise employers to pay their HR recruiters by the hire, like they do headhunters, and to heavily bonus any employee that personally refers a good hire. It’s so easy it’s stupid.

      • One of my copywriting coaches is amazed at how many companies have an email list that hasn’t been looked at in months, maybe years. If you are going to stay current with your customers, your prospects, and anyone who has taken the time to let you contact them regularly, you have to keep in contact. It’s the easiest and most productive marketing of your department/firm you can do.

        I’m no email expert, but I can just see the average (or below-average) hiring manager with an email list of prospects from the last “job fair” (just check out our web sit’s careers page). They haven’t taken the time to send out an email about open positions, new projects, the elk hunt they were on last May … ANYTHING … in forever.

        If you don’t have to time to do it yourself, retain a freelancer copywriter to do it for you. One who can encourage a response. Then your list may be worth something.

      • My initial comment was referring to companies that keep your application “in their system” so you can be alerted about future job openings. I’ve only had that result in a single contact about an newly opened position but it was a job that only resulted in a “What?” and a chuckle—in no way a match to my experience and background.

        I /have/ had a recruiter contact me years (10+) after I’d originally worked with him. That took some effort on his part as I’d moved a couple of times since we’d last spoken. He didn’t really have anything that would have been a good fit but I was impressed that he’d thought to touch base. Some years after that experience, one of his colleagues got in touch with me and we set up an interview with one of their clients.

  4. Nick’s answer is bullcrap.

    NOBODY EVER does that.

    NO ONE does ANYTHING to get to know Candidates in advance.

    Ever.

    Get real.

    EVERYBODY does JIT jitbag hiring.

    Theory doesn’t work in reality here.

    I lead a double life. I’m both a full time Pro Musician and full time IT’er at technical AND functional levels.

    If I’m Composing, Writing, Arranging, and/or Orchestrating a Song, or piece of Music, and the Modulation, Pass-Through, or simple Chord change, calls for a change to a Dm6dim, the lazy/ignorant limitedly talented Musician will simply Compose a D and be done with it. Although a Dm6dim was called for in The Compositional Transition, either through ignorance, idiocy, or VERY limited talent, the poor Composer will take the IMMEDIATE easy way out.

    Same with all hiring authorities. Most hiring authorities simply shouldn’t be hiring. They don’t have the insight, talent, nor acumen to do the job. They are narcississtically doing it out of self-aggrandizement … LOOK AT ME, I’M A HIRING AUTHORITY, IN CHARGE!.

    Although McCartney couldn’t read Music, if one studies The Chordal Structures of The Beatles, you will definitely find stirrings of greatness from a Compositional aspect. No Mozart, or even Genesis, mind you, but smatterings of genius.

    A great hirer has an innate talent of simply knowing people. Almost no one hiring these days has anything NEAR that.

    Hiring is broken in America AND the world … and has been for a long LONG time. Jackassery like WHAT COLOUR IS YOUR PARACHUTE and crap like that is/was a testament to the malady of hiring. Things like THE OVERNIGHT RÉSUMÉ by Don Asher tried, in its small way, to combat the ignorance, but was widely ignored, as all Propheticism mostly always is.

    Yah, NO ONE does anything to get to know Candidates in advance. ARE YOU KIDDING?!?! That would interfere with their hiding in their cubicles, doing no work while collecting a paycheck, and hosting at jobs fairs for their companies just to get a free day outta the office while telling every Candidate that comes up to their booth/table, ” … yah, even though we’re here right in front of you, go to our web site … “.

    Write all you want about anti-desperate hiring. In the end, everybody’s going to fall back on the easiest laziest most ineffectual desperate yada yada yada hiring simply because they’re not talented nor insightful enough to see past the end of thei nose.

  5. @Annie: I don’t disagree with much of what you say. Except that no managers will change their hiring strategies. Some do. The rest need to hear this. If we don’t talk about it, and insist on it, nothing will change. Crying doesn’t change anything. Start somewhere — like talking about the problem or swinging from the rafters till employers look up.

  6. Annie

    The top performing business in every sector I know do this. Not the biggest , but the best.

  7. This is the most intelligent thing I have ever read about recruiting new hires. I’m not in charge of hiring at my company, but if I were this would absolutely be my strategy.

  8. 11:49 AM 10/26/2022

    @VPSales:
    Just to be clear,
    chasing passive (versus active) jobs seekers is NOT doing what Nick pens.
    Stealing other companies’ employe is NOT doing what Nick pens.
    Simply trying to hire/steal, based on the fact that someone is either already working or already working at a competitor, is simply an ASSUMPTION by “The Chaser” of existing POSSIBLE competence, albeit unproven, to “The Chaser”, and is NOT getting to know a Candidate … it is just THINKING/ASSUMING you ALREADY know them, and their acumen, basically based on the ASSUMPTION that, if they’re presently working, they MUST be good and reliable … an completely unproven assumption to “The Chaser”.

    @Nick:

    Facts and TRUTH are not “crying”.
    I am 61.
    I am probably older than you are, Nick. Maybe much older.
    I have been in day job IT ~39 years, as a day job, and been in Music, basically, a lifetime, since ~4.
    In Music, I’ve had two Record Contracts from Atlantic Records, a Major Label.
    I’ve toured the world as a pro Musician since the 70s.
    I’ve done FOH front-of-house audio engineering since ~15 for many pro bands, some who were formative at the mid-70s time, like Styx, Rush, Ted Nugent, Cheap Trick, Steve Forbert, others, etc. These bands were just getting established back then and blew through with live audio needs I was called on to provide.
    In IT, through ~39 years as a “day job”, I have worked for huge world-wide’rs like IBM, RockWell, HoneyWell, Johnson Controls, Johnson Wax, Honda, Fortis, etc. I “day job” build worldwide networks, worldwide networking infrastructures, and datacenters worldwide. I’ve also travelled the world in IT.

    Point being is, I only proffer opine based on facts and TRUTH, such facts and TRUTH based on experience of a world traveller/worker.

    I can agree with you, Nick, that many companies need 2x4s upside the head before their inertia is affected. I have been to ~46 jobs/careers fairs since August 2017 (I go to network, look around, for the tzchotczkes (SP(?)) and candy, and to see if I can make better “day job” $$$$ somewheres else). I only attend “quality” jobs fairs, “quality” self-defined as jobs fairs with ~70 employers or more. The average number of companies at every jobs fair I’ve attended has been ~100 and I make it a point to talk with EVERY employer, albeit for a limiting ~2 to ~4 minutes each, based upon time limitations. In the last several years, I’ve popped out ~17,000 résumés all over the world. Countless interviews. “Day job” employment in IT has been and is, as a non-H1B white male in America, feast or famine, hit or miss, as WashDC treasonously betrays American IT/STEM and criminally and corruptively sells off IT/STEM jobs to Indians, such Indians carpetbagging opportunists stealing American IT/STEM workers’ financial futures and retirements, all the while illegally discriminatorily hiring their own via caste when they get into positions of hiring authority. This is all PROVEN and legally unenforced by the .gov we are forced to pay taxes to, such taxes then used to subsidize our own “day job” demise.

    Point is, Nick, I’m penning from PURE experience. I have yet to meet ONE “day jobbing” corporate Candidate seeker that truly cares to invest time into human capital research beyond the cookie cutter approach to hiring, which is, if they have a need, THEN they’ll look, with little to no creativity, and use only normative derivative tools in play since the beginning of time, none of which step out of the box and try to “get to know” a Candidate and their fit. Even after all the hiring “strategy”, corporate hiring in America still has an ~50% failure rate meaning that ~50% of all new Hires quit or are terminated in the first year:

    See: https://www.ere.net/why-you-cant-get-a-job-recruiting-explained-by-the-numbers/ :
    ” … Up To ~50 Percent Of Recruiting Efforts Result In Failure: in case you’re curious, even with all the time, resources, and dollars invested in corporate recruiting processes, still between ~30 percent and ~50 percent of all recruiting efforts are classified by corporations as a failure. Failure is defined as when an offer was rejected or when the new hire quit or had to be terminated within the first year ( staffing.org ). Applicants should also note that ~50 percent of all new hires later regret their decision to accept the job ( Recruiting RoundTable ) … “.

    I know nothing about the SALES world so maybe VPSales has different experientials in his world. SALES versus IT/MUSIC are two different worlds. But I COMPLETELY stand by my synopsis. And I DON’T believe SALES recruiters are any more on the ball than any other recruiter. Hiring is broken in America. And its mechanics, HR, can barely “change an oil filter” much less “swap out an engine”.

    In ~39 years, I’ve yet to find one corporation or recruiter doing what you propose. I think it’s pretty safe to pen, if not in the last ~39, certainly not in the next ~39.

    In other words, never.

    • re: “~39 years, I’ve yet to find one corporation or recruiter doing what you propose.”

      I do.

      Not many recruiters make the effort. But the ones that do are gold. These are the people that give a call and say “I had a role come up. Are you on the hunt?” or “Wanna grab a coffee?”

      The same with a few manager types.

      The best was when someone I worked for in the past told me about a role in her company. For her team. Turns out she was one-third of the vetting/interview committee. Nothing quite like having an internal employee advocating for you.

  9. @Annie Y Mouse: Nick offers common sense advice to job seekers and those seeking to hire. He’s advised us to research companies/employers, not jobs, to go around HR, to network. This week, he’s giving advice to employers, who, for all their whining about “lazy workers” and about “too many people who don’t want to work”, aren’t doing what they need to do. Gregory had some common sense advice for employers re keeping in touch. And yes, you’re right–very, very, very few employers do this (keep in touch, treat applicants respectfully, etc.) so they’re burning possible future employees. Just because someone isn’t a fit for a particular job now doesn’t mean that that person wouldn’t be a good fit for a different job at the same company. If the hiring manager were smart, he’d maintain contact, and remember that person.

    I remember when I was in college, one of my jobs was working in retail. Back in the dark ages, applications were paper, and I remember one boss in particular used to keep the applications of those who weren’t hired. Why? Because, she said, you never know when you need to hire someone, and she never assumed that just because the applicant wasn’t hired previously didn’t mean that he wouldn’t be interested in the future. Maybe that applicant would be working elsewhere, and maybe not (and might be interested). She never burned applicants. Then she moved on, and someone else became manager, who treated applicants like the paper application forms–he’d throw them out after each new hire, and after two weeks. Each time we needed to hire, he’d run the ads in the newspapers, post “help wanted” signs, and hope for the best. I remember one time an applicant came in, asked to speak with the manager, then chewed him out–told him that he’d applied for a job, interviewed, then nothing, and now the manager was looking to interview him AGAIN. Not too smart (manager, that is).

    At least back then, managers read (okay, skimmed) the applications–didn’t rely on ATSes and computers to match keywords. ATSes won’t maintain contact with applicants, either, hence businesses starting over each time they need to hire, or outsourcing hiring to others.

    Yes, it’s frustrating. I’m frustrated too, and I’ve given up on job fairs. At one time, they were excellent ways to meet and talk with hiring managers at a wide variety of employers. Today, I can’t get the HR employees to look up from their phones or make eye contact with me, much less answer any questions (of course they can’t–they don’t know the details of an jobs), and they push you to their companies’ websites and tell you to apply online (and don’t bother me). The only ones willing to talk to applicants are the résumé writing business hawking their services. So now I avoid job fairs as I find them a waste of time.

    • @Marybeth

      “Just because someone isn’t a fit for a particular job now doesn’t mean that that person wouldn’t be a good fit for a different job at the same company. If the hiring manager were smart, he’d maintain contact, and remember that person.”

      As someone who has sat in on interviewing from time to time, not all candidates are terrible, contrary to popular opinion.

  10. Interesting! Don’t recruit anyone actually looking for a job.

    WTAF!

    • ^^^ +100. THIS 100x!

      Quant’s being sarcastic, but he’s dead on.

      HR’s got fully qualifed experienced Candidates knocking on their doors every day of the week/month/year yet they somehow manage to think they need to invent another “protocol” to cock up the process even further than it’s already eff’ed up.

      Yah, never let common sense and logic get in the way of “decision-making”, IF that’s what THEY call it.

      “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.” ? Mark Twain.

  11. There is no such thing as “ stealing employees” because employees are not property.

    If you can’t keep employees, it’s a YOU problem.

    • Actually, there is such a thing as ‘stealing employees’… back when I did a lot of prime contracting for a technical consulting firm we would bring in sub-contractors and we’d have agreements in place not to pilfer from each other. If we tried to hire from our subs or they from us there would be lawsuits in place…

      • Dennis. You will find those agreements unenforceable in many States, and if the new employer calls up the old employer and says we want this gal bad enough to litigate, it will go away.

        Early on I signed these with a six month time limit, and I also required the employer publish these terms to their employees. Most of them removed it rather than publish it, which tells you something.

  12. @VPSales:

    ” … there is no such thing as “ stealing employees” because employees are not property … ”

    Huh?!?! Whazzat?!?!

    Wow.

    With that “paragon” of “logic”, there’s no such thing as seduction either.

    Tell that to Helen Of Troy, or King David when he was stealing Uriah’s wife, or Judas selling Christ to The Sanhedrin for 30 pieces of Silver, or Elon Musk as he righteously, rightfully, and finally fires Twitter’s CEO/etc to begin the reversal of Cancel Culture. .

    Talk to an accountant.

    Employees are assets. Assets are stolen every day of the week.

    People/employees can be bought. That MAKES them property.
    Ex.: Judas, 30 pieces of Silver.
    Ex.: YOU. Your salary buys you every day.

    Anything that can be bought can be stolen.

    You’re a VP of something?!?!

    Huh. Hmm.

  13. I’ve refused consult agreements with any kind of hiring restrictions because it isn’t my place to tell people where they can and can’t work.

    1. I openly tell my employees if they find a better opportunity somewhere else they work for their family first , and my Company second

    2 My job is to make sure (1) doesnt happen.

    3 I’ve been successful at (2) for 19 years

    • @VPSales:

      Hmm … where to begin.

      I’ve been at it ~39 years, ~20 years more … a GENERATION more … more than double 19 years.

      Again, RE ” … there is no such thing as “stealing employees” because employees are not property … “:
      a “three-step personal policy protocol” defense of your statement does NOT create a worldwide standardized generally accepted tenet.

      In the US, in any at-will State, NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements), non-competes, even employment contracts, etc, are usually legally nebulous, many times not worth the “papyrus” they’re printed on, based upon contradicting a basic premise of at-will which, basically, proffers forward that nothing, and no one, can prevent another from making a living, a livelihood.

      If you still don’t think employees can be, and are, actively “stolen”, next time an employee “leaves” you for more money and/or a better offer, fight it. See how far you get.

  14. Everybody is all trapped by the newest useless fad in recruiting.

    Ask yourselves, “Why does the company ever hire anhybody?” Aside from the trivial we need secretaries, we hire our relaties, etc. the actual reality is that the employee is hired to make the company, or more money. If the reason we hire that they will make the company more money, then we should immediately hire ANYONE who crosses our threshhold whom we believe will actually make the company more money.

    Aside from the trash excuses that “We don’t have the room,” etc. Go rent a trailer. Give them your office if they will make more money for the company than you are doing right now.

    If the candidate can actually make the company more money, why would you not hire him immediately? I.e., make hob for him. Dun! Don’t let him leave without giving him a desk, etc., lots of money in all it’s forms, a photo ID badege, etc.

    If the candidate can actually make the company more money, why would you not hire him immediately? Don’t let him leave without giving him a desk.

  15. Medical employment contracts often have noncompetes in them. The rationale that hospitals and other “big box” healthcare entities use, is the doctor taking another job will have patients follow the doctor to the new location. The employer will lose “their patients” to a competitor.

    Not only do employers think they own employees, health care businesses think they own you as patients.

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