Does Your Recruitment Need to Be More Proactive?

One of my friends was working for an Internet start-up in the late ’90s before the tech bubble burst—or maybe just as it was about to burst—and she got lucky. Just as the bubble got the air sucked out of it, a recruiter called. The company had stopped paying employees on time, and her only friend left at the company was a self-described witch who worked at the front desk. My friend was lucky because she was still living with her parents at the time, so she could endure the tardy paychecks. But, still, imagine how she must have felt when out of the blue, without her doing a thing, a recruiter called her, and asked if she wanted to join another Internet start-up—one that wasn’t going out of business any time soon. Five years later, that second start-up also went out of business, but the moral of the story remains the same: It’s nice to be asked, or to be recruited.

Have you been recruited before in your career? I got a recruitment call out of the blue once about three weeks after starting my job at Training in the fall of 2005, and the prospective job offered a higher salary, but being content with my new position and too psychologically tired to make another switch, I declined. It’s funny how those recruitment calls work for most of us, isn’t it? Where are they when you really need them?

How does recruitment work at your company these days? Are you passive, and in a wait-and-see mode, in which you post a job and wait to see what trickles in, or do you look online at resumes, and urge managers to develop relationships with business contacts outside the company with the thought that some of those contacts eventually (or sooner rather than later) may be open to jumping onto your payroll? If you’re not doing that, you may be missing a good opportunity to hire promising employees.

I often think to myself that even as I sometimes apply to jobs online, and follow referrals from friends, there are many companies I would accept a job with if they courted me. These are companies I wouldn’t necessarily be excited to apply to if I saw the listing online, but if a recruiter, or hiring manager, called me, expressed interest in my work, and painted an appealing story of what my life would be like at their company, I would probably say, “Yes.”

New research from Lever shows that many jobs simply go to those who have a referral from a friend. That would explain why the last two entry-level marketing employees at my company are former girlfriends of the CEO’s son!

According to the research, on average only one in every 100 candidates is hired, but the odds vary dramatically between candidates who are referred to the company (one in 16), submitted by an agency (one in 22), proactively sourced (one in 72), or apply via a company’s careers site or job postings (one in 152).

What do these findings tell us? The first is the need for companies to be proactive in courting, rather than just posting and hoping for, good applicants, and the second, is how at a disadvantage a job seeker without connections is. And “connections” can be incredibly competitive. A few years ago, I applied for and almost got, a dream job at my company. I was about to be offered the job when a former employee of the magazine (who vexingly ended up leaving just a year later) came out of nowhere to apply to the position. I thought I was well connected—I knew the editor I was applying to for the job and knew he liked me, plus I was already an employee of the company that owned the magazine. It just goes to show you, there will always be a person with better connections than you.

What if your company created opportunities for those without connections to your managers to make those connections? You could host annual job fairs that take place both online and offline, but you also could do something more conducive to the building of relationships, and create a mentoring program between your company’s mid-level managers (those doing the majority of hiring) and entry-level, or even mid-level, potential employees. The way it would work is you would set up a Facebook page devoted to the project in which anyone interested could apply to be matched up with a manager at your company for mentoring. The manager would guide the mentee on his or her career development, including how to obtain needed skills and how to endure workplace difficulties. They could meet once a week online through Skype, or another online video mechanism, and then once a month, could meet in person. It would be made clear to mentees that there would be no promise of a job, and that the mentor-mentee relationship was just that. However, it also would be understood that something could develop in the future—that if the mentor and mentee hit it off, and there was a job the mentee was qualified for in the future, the mentor might seriously consider hiring him or her.

I would love to participate in a program like that myself with an editor at a magazine I’ve dreamed of writing for, or with an accomplished creative writer who could guide me on getting my short stories published. Even if no job at that publication ever emerged, I would enjoy learning from an editor who was in the kind of job I aspired to. If nothing else, it would be great to talk about how best to handle the boss I don’t enjoy (or think competent), and what next steps I should take in getting me where I want to go.

Would a mentoring program that would reach outside your company work for your organization? How does your company take a proactive role in reaching the best candidates for each open position?

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