12 best recruiting practices to copy

by 15 May 2007

A recruiting function can become excellent merely by identifying, copying, and then improving upon what other firms have already proven to be effective. Theres no shame in copying from the best, writes John Sullivan

I recently attended the biannual ERE Expo recruiting conference in the US, the premier event for identifying best practices in recruiting and talent management. The expo revealed many examples of practices others would want to emulate. It also reminded me of several best practices that occur throughout the recruiting profession.

Unfortunately, not all companies are allowed to talk in public about their best practices, and almost all are reluctant to brag about them in the media. Fortunately, one of the things I specialise in is tracking best practices and what I call “next” practices. Below you’ll find some of my favourite best practices that you might want to consider emulating.

12 best recruiting practices to emulate

Valeros business-case model. Using basic statistical regression models, the recruiting function identified the gaps between what the business would need to continue operations and what talent they could bring in via their current model. They then converted that gap into a dollar impact and used that result to sell the executive team and the board of directors on the need to invest heavily in recruiting. Valero’s investment in recruiting and talent management has doubled not once but twice as a result of this business-impact business case. The case had such a large impact that the chief executive officer publicly announced that talent management was the firm’s number one business (not just HR) problem. Another firm that has made a similar excellent business case includes recruiting powerhouse Google.

MGM Grands employment branding. With the CEO’s full involvement and buy-in, this organisation has quietly become world class with regards to employment branding. Their approach is comprehensive and has included quantifying the organisation’s promotion rates, publicly thanking those who have excelled and been promoted via newspaper ads, and publicising internal contests for chefs and bartenders to extend visibility of performance beyond job titles and send a message that opportunities are open to all within the organisation. In addition to winning numerous awards for being a top place to work, the director of branding has developed a “compelling stories” inventory for use in spreading differentiated stories about the excellent management practices. She convinced the executive team to become more visible both inside and outside the organisation by speaking at conferences and universities and having everyone on the executive team write a blog to keep employees informed and enable them to tell their story in a genuine way.

The US Armys use of video games for recruiting. Although many of their other recruiting practices are dated, there’s no one that even comes close to the US Army in using video games for recruitment. The strategy is great because many of the individuals they seek to recruit are avid gamers. By providing an exciting job preview or simulation, they are informing and exciting potential recruits. They are not only the best, but they are also the only large organisation that has used simulations to both recruit and train employees. They even added a little tongue-in-cheek by incorporating a “virtual recruiting station” within the game. Truly visionary.

Googles employment branding. Recently, a major survey by BusinessWeek noted that Google was the number two choice among college students as a place to begin their career. This is an amazing accomplishment for any firm and unprecedented for a firm less than five years old. All of the brand recognition around Google has been developed without employing any of the formal advertising approaches that many other firms rely upon. While Google does have some outrageous benefits and management practices, what truly establishes their great brand is their ability to get their management practices talked about in such a wide range of media outlets.

Booz Allens boomerang recruiting effort. One of the highest-quality sources of hires are boomerangs, or employees who have left your firm and then return. Booz Allen, which is also world class in employment branding and the rapid internal redeployment of current employees, has implemented a special team known as “the comeback kids” to recruit this type of top talent. Incidentally, Deloitte has also produced world-class results, recruiting as many as one-third of all new hires from boomerangs. That is an amazing statistic.

Allianz Lifes service-level agreement. I’ve seen dozens of recruiting service-level agreements, but there isn’t one that comes close to the comprehensive agreement developed by Allianz (printed in the September Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership). It covers in detail not just what recruiting will do, but also what managers are expected to do.

Starbucks workforce planning. Most recruiting managers are deathly afraid of metrics and statistics. However, Starbucks’ director of recruitment, Jason Warner, has demonstrated through his convergent analysis that recruiting organisations can prepare for the future by identifying statistical correlations between external environmental factors like unemployment rates and the turnover rates of an organisation’s managers and employees. It’s a simple but compelling concept. Doesn’t it make sense that as fewer people are unemployed, others realise that there is less competition and begin a job search?

Bank of Americas retreat from outsourcing.Even though every consulting firm on the planet seems to be pushing recruitment outsourcing, Bank of America has chosen to pull back after realising that outsourcing can negatively affect the quality of applicants and hires, which in turn impacts organisational performance. As an early adopter, they gave outsourced models time to adapt and refined established processes. Ultimately, though, they decided that driving efficiency was not the answer and concluded: “It’s the quality, stupid.” It takes great vision to measure the effectiveness of outsourcing, and even greater courage to drop it when you find it’s not as fast, cost-effective, or focused on quality as you might have hoped.

Dells measurement dashboard and superior measure of quality of hire. Less than one in four organisations I encounter use a quality-of-hire measure that is not, for lack of a better characterisation, laughable. While Dell is known for employing world-class supply chain analytics, they have recently demonstrated that their great metrics extend throughout the business and into recruiting. By looking at the number of new hires that become top performers within 12 to 18 months, they are hitting the nail right on the head. Great recruiting is not about hiring a large number people or hiring them cheaply; it’s about hiring individuals who become top performers and who stay with the organisation.

JP Morgan and the Athletes Alliance for hiring athletes because of their discipline. To say that most college recruiting programs are uppity would be an understatement. They look only at top schools and demand outrageous grade point averages. In addition, they shun athletes and cheerleaders as “dumb jocks”. But it turns out that athletic competition builds discipline and the willingness to work hard to succeed. These two organisations have realised that individuals with these traits and a history of winning can carry those behaviours in the business world. Bravo to these companies for bypassing the school name, major, and GPA and instead looking directly at skills, abilities, and a track record of producing under intense competition. Also worth mentioning is Catholic Healthcare West, which has successfully recruited cardiac nurses at craft events by asking their current nurses where they hang out. Cisco started this approach by recruiting at wine festivals in the late 1990s.

Valeros college recruiting. The recruiting team at Valero has turned college recruiting into a true competitive advantage. They start their recruiting a month before any planned activities from their competitors, court potential recruits by transporting them in style to corporate headquarters during the academic year, and use grad assistants to identify top talent without having to visit campuses. The numerous practices they combine to create their approach deliver unprecedented success. A close second to Valero’s effort is Google’s brilliant program for recruiting current students to distribute pizza during final exams and using cookies to identify and change their homepage to recruit individuals at target schools.

World-class corporate recruiting websites.Unfortunately, the ERE event reminded me that these websites are all bad, most to the point of embarrassment. When will companies realise that whatever employment branding or advertising you do is instantly lost when 70 per cent of your applicants judge the credibility of what you said based on what they find on your website? Without exception, candidates find dated material, dinosaur technology, and copy that’s about as exciting as reading an accounting textbook. When will corporate websites customise the information based on the person visiting and include exciting profiles, interesting job descriptions, “wow” graphics, and specific information that addresses each of the criteria that top applicants use to select an employer?

Final thoughts

It’s time to realise that a recruiting function can become excellent merely by identifying, copying, and then improving upon what other firms have already proven to be effective. There’s no shame in copying from the best.

I hope my listing these best practices will spur you to copy a few and maybe develop some new ones on your own. The real key is to be continually learning, identifying what works elsewhere, and then adopting it to fit your culture and situation. Lose your fear, because copying from these world-class organisations is an expected practice at industry giants like GE. Most industry heroes I know view copying as the sincerest form of flattery. Don’t be embarrassed: copying should be part of the foundation of what you do.

Dr John Sullivan is professor and head of the HR program at San Francisco State University, and is a noted author, speaker and advisor to corporations around the globe