12 Best Recruiting Practices to Copy

Last week I attended the biannual ERE Expo recruiting conference, the premier event for identifying best practices in recruiting and talent management. Attending it provided 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 specialize in is tracking best practices and what I call “next” practices. Below you’ll find some of my favorite best practices that you might want to consider emulating.

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12 Best Practices I Would Emulate

  1. Valero’s 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.
  2. MGM Grand’s employment branding. With the CEO’s full involvement and buy-in, this organization has quietly become world class with regards to employment branding. Their approach is comprehensive and has included quantifying the organization’s promotion rates, publicly thanking those who have excelled and been promoted via newspaper ads, and publicizing 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 organization. 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 organization 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.
  3. The U.S. Army’s use of video games for recruiting. Although many of their recruiting practices are dated, there’s no one that even comes close to them in recruiting using video games. 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 organization that has used simulations to both recruit and to train employees. They even added a little tongue-in-cheek by incorporating a “virtual recruiting station” within the game. Truly visionary.
  4. Google’s 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.
  5. Booz Allen’s 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.
  6. Allianz Life’s 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.
  7. Starbucks’ workforce planning. Most recruiting managers are deathly afraid of metrics and statistics. However, Starbucks’ Jason Warner has demonstrated through his convergent analysis that recruiting organizations can prepare for the future by identifying statistical correlations between external environmental factors like unemployment rates and the turnover rates of an organization’s managers and employees. It’s a simple but compelling concept. Doesn’t it make sense that as fewer people are unemployed, others realize that there is less competition and begin a job search?
  8. Bank of America’s 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 realizing that outsourcing can negatively affect the quality of applicants and hires, which in turn impacts organizational 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.
  9. Dell’s measurement dashboard and superior measure of quality of hire. Less than one in four organizations I encounter use a quality-of-hire measure that is not, for lack of a better characterization, 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 organization.
  10. JP Morgan and the Athlete’s 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 organizations have realized that individuals with these traits and a history of winning can carry those behaviors 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 ’90s.
  11. Valero’s 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.
  12. 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 realize that whatever employment branding or advertising you do is instantly lost when 70% 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 customize 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 realize 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 organizations 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, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



5 Comments on “12 Best Recruiting Practices to Copy

  1. Dr. Sullivan thank you for the distilled knowledge.

    Recruiting is metamorphising in to a profession and functional department in itself. It is high time we change the word ‘recruiters’ to Talent Management Professionals. The word triggers different forces. It is high time we update our MBA programs with new function Talent Management along with Marketing Management, Financial Management, operations management etc.

    Probably, by giving its due respect, Talent Management profession would get that much required context to compound to a body of knowledge.

    Services sector is growingly becoming the source of employment of the present and future generations.Services sector builds itself on Talented professionals who deliver the those services.

    After all documenting and reinterpreting the best practices by Dr. Sullivan is a similar exercise to what henry fayol or Maslow or Taylor have done dedades ago.

    Talent Management is a new age business practice.It needs a differnt kind of status.

  2. Back on the 18th July 2005 we were presented with a two part case study. The first one started by saying:

    ‘This is a case study profiling the benchmark best practices and strategies at FirstMerit Bank. After a six-month study, I have found it to be the best and most aggressive recruiting function anywhere in the world.?

    A pretty bold statement to make at any time as the world is actually quite a big place and to know all the companies and how they recruit in this world is some feat. It did set the tone for the article however.

    The article itself caused major controversy not just on ERE but on many other recruiting websites. It really fuelled the big ethics debate in recruitment today, or rather lack of ethics, and it still goes on in some quarters.

    Despite much criticism, the Author stubbornly defended the aggressive practices that the article promoted.

    Here we are a little over a year later with an article by the same Author telling us the 12 best recruiting practices to copy and guess what? Not even a mention of the best and most aggressive recruiting function of only 12 months ago to be seen. In fact not even the mention of the word aggressive. (Maybe things are looking up.)

    So what happened then?

    How did the best of last year not even get a mention on the 12 best of this year?
    Surely if they were really that good, they would still be up there wouldn?t they and if not why not?

    Have they stopped using their ?best in the world? practices or were they never really the ?best in the world? after all? I seem to recall a number of awards being made in recognition of their activity.

    Some of us were more vocal than others at the time and as a result received some stiff criticism in return. I do not wish to dig it all up again as some things are certainly better left buried where they belong. I?m also not passing comment on the content of this current article but surely it does beg the question; Was last year?s article on FirstMerit somewhat misplaced? Maybe those of that dared to question the dodgy tactics being promoted at the time were right to do so after all.

    I would guess that not many, if indeed any, companies emulated the activities promoted in that article back in the summer of last year so is there a change of attitude from the Author or just a change of client base?

  3. Dr. Sullivan, Google advertises ‘everywhere.’ DICE, Monster, hotjobs, magazines (Mensa for example) nelsonjobs, adweek, bla bla.

    Google’s machine is not its recruiting practice but it’s PR practice. You have to acknowledge the force.

    Meanwhile, companies such as a subdiary to Amazon are setting a pace without acknowledgement. A2Z Development Center.

    Check it.

    I have zip affiliation but admire A2Z’s simplicity and some sense of understanding as to a 50/50 relationship with the candidate, i.e., ‘Don’t waste my time.’

    Honest to pete.

  4. Anthony,
    Indeed, you bring up some excellent points. Gee my wounds are still healing from Last Year and earlier this year — by the way Anthony, that one of whom you speak of also won an award this year for most innovative employee referral program.

    I wonder where is he now? Last I heard he was Consulting (not selling) in real estate. How appropriate.

    Maybe indeed there is something to the point of ethics indeed do pay in business. Whaddya think?

    I often wonder if the recruiting industry is like the legal industry, financial industry, or mortgage industry if they had no regulations.. It makes one wonder.


  5. Dr.Sullivan,

    I stumbled upon this article during my research and i must admit that all the 12 next practices are relevant even today.

    In terms of impact India is racing against time to compete in a global economy and the vital ingredient powering organizations are talent and entrepreneurial enterprise.

    The MGM Employer Branding , Valero’s / Googles colleage recruitment initiatives ,Booz Allens boomerang and Dell’s tracking of successful hires after 12 months are exemplary standouts.

    It would be nice if you took time to study and recommend a suitable 10 next practices specific to a indian context. No where else in the world have a set of two dozen companies grown from 1000, 2000 to 75,000 to 1,00,000 people companies all in a span of 5 short years. And there is more to come?

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