In the November 15, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a hiring manager offers a profound recruiting tip for employers.


recruitingMost professional associations have “X helping X” groups (e.g., lawyers helping lawyers). These groups consist of people being rehabilitated from disabilities of one sort or another (including a number of recovering alcoholics). It never hit me before, but such groups can be great sources of hires. When we brought our latest aboard and she worked out extremely well, I asked where we found her. I got to thinking after that.

A guy in my company goes to just such a “helping group.” (He joined Alcoholics Anonymous 20 years ago and has been sober since.) A while back he started recruiting the occasional employee from the group. The success of our hires from that group, compared to hires from the general population, is about 4 to 1. Why? I think it’s because at these meetings you get full disclosure of a person’s problems, a good feel for the degree of their recovery (just being a member is a good sign) and the people are generally competent, humble, loyal, and grateful as heck to be employed.

Anyway, I find it an interesting approach to hiring. I attend our industry’s “X helping X” group whenever I can now. Afterwards, people go to dinner together, and I’m usually the last to be left out of a group!

Nick’s Reply

I have corporate clients who pay me a lot of money to provide them with recruiting ideas like the one you just described. It’s so obvious, it’s almost silly, isn’t it? Real recruiting by getting your hands dirty — going out to meet people!

Recruiting: I doubt you are!

Employers get so stuck thinking about hiring the traditional way that it never occurs to them to make it personal. That means having managers stop and think about social, professional, and community settings where potential job candidates congregate. You’ve hit on a particularly interesting one, where you’re not only getting what you want, but helping the kinds of people who make great employees.

Think of all the other possible sources of job candidates, all of them essentially free, where you can observe people in action:

  • Local chamber of commerce meetings
  • Church groups
  • Professional associations and meetings (like the one you describe)
  • Job search clubs
  • Professional training programs (e.g., marketing, programming, finance and accounting, etc.)

I do workshops for some of the top business schools around the world (and I charge them a fee), but I also regularly conduct pro bono Ask The Headhunter workshops at the Somerset Hills YMCA in New Jersey. Very talented “downsized” people gather to learn how to job hunt. I’ve never met an employer at these events! Why don’t employers jump on these? Maybe because they’re too busy reading through dopey resumes on LinkedIn and Indeed!

Managers have forgotten how to circulate and meet people! (See Smart Hiring: How a savvy manager finds great hires.)

Recruiting people where they learn

Think about professional training programs especially. This is where people are building skills that you want to hire! Why don’t companies routinely send a few of their managers to these? The students at these programs are great potential hires, and it’s a comfortable setting in which to recruit. Like the “X helping X” groups you talk about, these classrooms are also a revealing environment in which to observe prospective candidates.

Clearly, you already get the idea, and it’s paying off. I’m not at all surprised that your hires from that group are four times more likely to succeed than other hires. When you find people — especially people who’ve overcome problems — where they’re helping one another, you’ve hit a gold mine.

Sheesh — What do people think employers did before the Internet? For that matter, what do people think any of us did before the Internet? (See Network, but don’t be a jerk!)

Thanks for sharing a great tip from the employer side! My compliments!

If you’re a hiring manager, where do you find your hires? Ever invest time in your professional or social communities to meet people you can hire? Have you ever gotten a job this way?

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  1. As an HR person who has also attended Helping Groups. These groups are where it is at if you want to better understand the human condition and heal.

    Great idea (!) and you can add two additional qualities to those who have frequented them: self awareness and resilience.
    People who have managed to rise after being gutted by one of life’s biggest blows make great emergent and/or transformational leaders.

    Thought leaders will tell you:
    Hire for resilience
    Create organizations that are change ready
    Reward & train for change capability

    But when it comes down to it, many employers are too afraid and too close minded to do things differently than status quo. And when it comes to what they miss out on in terms of great hires, I pity them.

    • I love it when an HR pro breaks ranks and rules!

  2. This is a terrific post which I hope will be widely circulated to recruiters and hiring managers. There are job seeker support groups available through your public library, churches, and professional associations.

    Because of the turmoil in our economy, there are lots of people in them who are highly qualified, and unemployed through no fault of their own. Seek them out. You’d be surprised by who shows up and the benefits that will accrue to your firm for recruiting from these places.

  3. This is so true.

    Many treat recruiting as a 9-5 job and say that they are “too busy” after hours.

    People forget that many of the people that you want to talk to are not on the standard job search sites, or are buried so far down in the search results.

  4. The problem is widespread age discrimination and its associated values. You aren’t going to find those naturally brilliant “digital natives” at job clubs.

    And America has no use for people who are at all discouraged from long-term unemployment. Only the relentlessly cheerful need apply.

    • “America has no use for people who are at all discouraged from long-term unemployment.”

      I can attest that America has no use for me. Pretty certain I don’t even exist anymore in the eyes of most…:(

  5. Being one of those folks who have been part of the recovery network for 20 years, I can honestly say most of my best job leads as an employee and as employer have indeed come from this community. Thank you, Nick, and HR Hybrid, for recognizing the gifts in our diverse and talented group.

  6. This seems so obvious to me but I came up when social skills were used/valued. Of course, that’s how u can find new hires. Duh! Are we reinventing the wheel?

    • So did I, as well as writing skills and spoken communication skills. Today, it seems that too many would rather let an ATS or a computer do the recruiting for them. Or they prefer to outsource that task to HR, to someone in India. Then they think there’s a talent shortage or a skills gap.

    • @Marilyn: Social skills in recruiting have been supplanted by social media, which require no social skills and no social presence. Diddling a keyboard is not social. And this is costing employers dearly, while they blame their recruiting failures on “the talent shortage.”

      Gimme a break.

      • Give u a break . . . for what? U apparently missed my point. I agree, Nick. Social skills, which used to be useful, are not required while “diddling a keyboard”.

      • Social media ain’t so social. The first thing companies do with their Fakebook page is disable the message feature and the ability for visitors to post (other than as a comment on one of the company’s posts)…

  7. …and, (as I keep pointing out to search committees and hiring managers etc.) due to years of discrimination, neglect, denial of opportunity, and HR propaganda (i.e. best and brightest, high performers, great man/woman theory etc.) oftentimes the resumes (and CVs) of people who have been marginalized look differently than those who have benefited from years of privilege, opportunity (i.e. speaking, managing projects, publishing etc.) promotions, and grooming. BUT, as mentioned above, these individuals often have incredible resilience, character, transformational leadership abilities, in addition to exceptional knowledge, skills and abilities and should be “weeded in” not “weeded out.”

    • About this:
      “oftentimes the resumes (and CVs) of people who have been marginalized look differently than those who have benefited from years of privilege, opportunity (i.e. speaking, managing projects, publishing etc.) promotions, and grooming.”

      I once spoke to a highly successful executive about this. He had worked for a number of well-known high-tech firms leading large scale projects. I asked him about his career growth.

      He changed his tone of voice at one point, downward. In a very low volume sort of way, he told me he really attributed much of it to one thing: luck! Sure, he could say it was his GPA, skill and knowledge. Yet he told me so many things had to go “right.” He said it was a matter of being at the right company, working for the right boss, being part of the right product, etc.

      All those “right”‘s made him question himself many times. Yet because he was associated with such household names of companies and products, people thought success was inevitable by hiring him. (He admitted he had a few duds too, making him wonder if his luck was running out.)

      I’ve seen times where someone did work on something really well that looked promising, yet a competitor released a product just weeks before they were ready to launch. They just couldn’t stand out in the marketplace. (That happens a lot in hit-driven industries like video games.) They don’t have much that’s impressive to show for it, unfortunately. Sometimes, they’ve even been asked, “Wasn’t that a flop?”

      So many times these requests for experience and proven track records are nothing more than a fear of taking a chance on the unproven. It’s one of the reasons I really like Nick’s ATH. If you can really do the work, it doesn’t matter where else you did it or where you’ve been. Or that you’ve never done it before, you can do it now!

  8. My current employer is looking for an intern. In the past, under the previous dean (who retired after 36 this past June), library schools were contacted, and she used both people here (for their contacts) as well as her own. But she was a recruiter at heart, and wasn’t one to squander an opportunity at the gym, in line at the post office or movie theatre, etc. The current interim dean is waiting for someone to fall out of the sky and land on his desk, the perfect fit/match. One of my colleagues even put forward the name of a friend of hers who is in library school (and thus the kind of person they want for an intern), and still crickets….

    What the former dean knew and did was that recruiting wasn’t something magically happens, that it is something you have to think about and do ALL the time, not just when there’s a vacancy or when someone has given notice to quit.

    • @Marybeth: Keep looking up lest you get hit by falling unicorns ;)

      • Ha! Rainbow colored unicorns with glitter!!! :)

  9. My daughter, half=Samurai, 120% American, and licensed to practice law, has a different approach than her daddy when it comes to operations, but we do one thing the same—we talk to candidates after hours because many of them are trying to keep their job search discreet so that they don’t jeopardize their current jobs. Our best and longest tenured people often come from this group. I’d like to think my daughter learned this from me, but she figured it out all by herself.

    The second part of this story goes back nearly nine years. I can’t remember if it was before or after I fell into depression, but I was well enough to feel indignant about the occurrence.

    I was doing the things people do to get work after getting tossed out of my 30-year gig. Not having tested the market for twenty years, I carefully researched the goings on, updated my resume, and went into the wild.

    It was a job fair slash networking event. I thought that I would be circulating and talking to people, but the people who were there did what people normally did and stood in line at the kiosks instead of circulating. I was determined not to stand in line, but to learn how to do this here new-fangled networking stuff. I found a recruiter not tethered to a kiosk and tried to strike up a conversation. Turned out she was with the organization that I had solidified my career with 36 years earlier.

    As I began to tell her all this, I was getting ready to hand her my resume. Before I could pull it out it’s folder, she exclaimed: “Oh! You should visit our website and see what we have available!”

    So much for personal interaction.

    • That’s the response I often get, be it at those kinds of events, or even trying to sign up for temp work. It seems like they’ll do anything to avoid talking to you. And that’s a shame.

    • That’s happen to me way too often at events and gatherings. It seems you’ve made a connection with somebody and then talk about potentially working together. They then speak with glee about why you need to apply online.

      The worst part is when you’re talking to an actual hiring manager. It doesn’t dawn on these people that one big thing they’ll be evaluated on is the quality of their hires.

      The reality too is that many who become managers never get any training in management. They became managers because they were the best at something, e.g., the best salesperson, programmer, etc. There’s this erroneous belief that just because you’re good at something, you can lead others at it. Not necessarily.

      It was really odd for me at one company speaking to a VP of Marketing who I seemed to connect with really well about industry matters later point me to their Web site if I wanted to pursue employment. She then said that if I passed through their “eScreen,” I would be contacted. (I didn’t have the guts or heart then, yet I wanted to ask, “Is that how you got your VP position, you passed the eScreen?”)

      I think one thing that really shackles these people is the company’s focus on process above all else. Even if they got hired through personal contacts, they couldn’t imagine building their team that way because of how HR intimidates them.