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How small companies recruit star performers

Published in the Rochester Business Journal

Is your small company still basing its recruitment strategies on job boards, newspaper ads, career fairs and mailed-in resumes? If so, you may as well classify yourself as a recruiting dinosaur, doomed to attract only mediocre applicants.

For companies of all sizes, hiring the right people is one of the top business challenges. And hiring A players – those who will have an immediate and ongoing impact on the organization’s movement forward – is even more difficult.

Successfully attracting to your small company the best candidates – ideally, the 5 percent of the workforce known to be innovators and game changers – requires a radical change in thinking, recruiting experts say. Consider:

  • The best talent is probably not actively looking for work, and therefore will not be viewing job boards or using traditional job-search venues. Research offered by NAS Recruitment Communications shows that, of the 177 million people now using the Internet, only 24 percent are looking at job boards.
  • Savvy candidates conduct lots of research on the companies they're considering applying to - easily unearthing the lowdown on what it's like to work there. They will quickly dismiss prospective employers who receive bad reviews or whose Internet presence is unappealing.

Technology solutions

HR experts like John Sullivan, professor of management at San Francisco State University and former chief talent officer for Agilent Technologies, and Len DiSalvatore Jr., director of business development for NAS, urges recruiters to begin immediately embracing several of the following tools:

  • Blogging. Clever corporate recruiters use blogs to give potential applicants an unfiltered message about the recruiting process and what it's like to work at the firm. Blogs also provide an opportunity for applicants to comment and to ask questions before submitting a formal application.
  • Search engine marketing. In each month of the first quarter of 2007, Yahoo! recorded 9.2 million career-related job searches, NAS reports. An employer that's serious about recruiting must ensure - through the effective use of meta-tags and other tools - that its website appears near the top of the list when its industry and geographic location are typed in.
  • Social and business networking sites. In hopes of attracting recruits who are not actively seeking work, progressive recruiters post their profiles on Facebook, MySpace and other social sites. Business-oriented sites like LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, Plaxo, Jigsaw, Spoke, Wasabi, GoLeads, SalesTrax, Craigslist, 6FigureJobs, Weddles, TheLadders, Ziggs, and Ryze also use a non-resume-based search approach to identify applicants.
  • Video and podcasts. Sites like YouTube illustrate the power and appeal of using moving pictures to tell stories and deliver information. Effective recruiters post online videos or send podcasts that visually demonstrate a company's attributes. They also encourage video interviews and resumes.
  • Text-message-based marketing. Because young people rely on cell phones far more than on laptops for communication, DiSalvatore and others recommend text-message-based interactions using keywords. An employer may provide a mall kiosk or airport poster describing opportunities; a passive job seeker can text the employer's name with a short numeric code and receive a web link and other information via cell phone.

Putting your company's best face forward

Most job seekers end up on a company’s website when they decide to apply. It’s vital, then, that your website provide as satisfying an experience as possible – and not simply serve as a front end to an applicant tracking system.

Sullivan and colleague Master Burnett have found that job seekers tend to look for the following information:

  • Insider opinions on the organization as an employer.
  • Tips regarding the hiring process.
  • Any legal action against the employer.
  • Analyst opinions about the company's strategy.
  • Background on those involved in hiring.

Those who do not find this information on a company’s website will look for it elsewhere, on blogs, message boards or sites like Vault – making it more challenging for an employer to identify and try to manage the information out there. Every employer should monitor blogs or subscribe to news alert services that flag each time the company’s name appears – providing an opportunity to respond or at least to know what’s being posted.

The personal connection

While technology plays a crucial role in effective recruiting strategies, several personal contact methods remain important:

  • Encouraging employee referrals. Offering a monetary incentive to employees who refer a successful recruit encourages everyone in a company to take an active role in finding the best talent. Such incentives can cost far less than paying headhunters.
  • Sourcing from competitors. A great way to reduce the learning curve for new employees is to hire employees away from rivals. This requires recruiters to conduct effective cold calls and/or bypass gatekeepers.


To recruit successfully, an employer must connect with as many qualified candidates as possible. That involves revising your company’s approach toward face-to-face networking as well as making a commitment to leveraging rapidly evolving technology. For small companies, which struggle to gain visibility, adopting productive and cost-effective strategies is particularly urgent.

If your organization continues to recruit in the same ways it has always recruited and is disappointed with the results, it’s clearly time for a shakeup. Only by understanding better how your target pool of workers thinks, what motivates them, where they can be found, and how they prefer to communicate will your small company make progress in the war for talent.


© HR Works, Inc.

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HR Works, Inc., headquartered at 200 WillowBrook Office Park in Fairport (Rochester), New York, with an office in East Syracuse, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.