5 Ways to Build a Crowdsourcing Strategy to Uncover Hard-to-Find Talent

Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 12.12.58 PMHard-to-find talent isn’t interested in submitting resumes or engaging with career sites. These are busy people, deeply focused on a project or idea. Reaching them is not only difficult — it’s often next to impossible.

Many do not have an online presence. Most will not respond to emails, Tweets, or phone calls — if you are able to find them. They are known to their circle of friends and colleagues only, and participate online primarily in technical forums, professional sites, and through emails with associates.

An engineer I know is top in his chosen field. He is highly sought after by a small circle of technical experts for his depth of knowledge and experience. He has no LinkedIn profile, no Facebook page, and does not Tweet. He only answers his phone when he knows the caller personally. Yet, he regularly changes jobs depending on how interesting the project offered. He has never spoken with a recruiter (other than me as a friend). He finds his projects through his narrow but powerful network of fellow engineers.

How would a recruiter ever find him — or the hundreds of others who are similar?

Crowdsourcing may hold the answer, but it is not a panacea nor is it easy. It requires the recruiter to have highly relevant, specific, and engaging content, a fast response time, and solid technical information. Most high talent candidates are tough sells.

Success requires a well-thought-out strategy that attracts and engages them and the talented people who already work in your firm.

Uncover Hidden Talent with Content

Ask the most talented of your employees to take part in an online forum about a topic or area of interest to your organization and ask them to invite their colleagues to participate. If the content is targeted to the interests of these talented folks — whether they are engineers, doctors, nurses, auditors, investment bankers, or whatever – they will want to contribute their expertise, questions, ideas, and solutions. An example of a well-known site of this nature is Microsoft’s Channel 9. It has videos and forums showcasing experts, and allows participants to ask questions and discuss issues. Microsoft recruiters use it as a source of top talent.

Engineers are roughly five times more likely to turn to a person for information as to an impersonal source such as a database, according to Rob Cross, et.al., in The Hidden Power of Social Networks.

If you do not have the resources or ability to create your own forum, find one of the public ones and ask your internal experts to take part in it and recommend it to their colleagues while you “lurk” and learn. You can encourage them to place strategic content that will generate potential candidates with the knowledge and skills you are looking for. While this may be time consuming, it will create a steady stream of potential candidates.

Create a Partnership With Internal Talent for Engagement

Whether it is your own firm’s forum or a public one, get your top employees to do more than just ask people to join it. Ask them to actively participate in the online dialogues, identify exceptional contributors, and recommend people for your consideration. Ask your experts to rate various people and build your knowledge of who’s who is a given field. Your internal folks are more credible and better able to understand what interests a particular potential candidate. You should act as a partner to the expert, moving into action when they have identified someone exceptional.

Build Interest Subtly; Engage Over Time

Crowdsourcing can be efficient, but it is often a slower process of discovery and relationship-building that pays off downstream. Talented people will come to the forums or participate in webinars when the content interests them. The biggest challenge is to make sure content stays current, is targeted, and has subtle hooks that generate interest. Ideally recruiters do not own the forums. Your in-house technical experts should be the owners and primary participants, while recruiters act as the catalyst to get them started, organize and operate them, but otherwise remain in the background.

Engineers, in particular, but probably most professionals, have large networks that they tap into for help and information regularly. “We learned that individual expertise did not distinguish people as high performers. What distinguished high performers were larger and more diversified personal networks,” says Rob Cross, et.al. in The Hidden Power of Social Networks.

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Sell Projects, Not Jobs

Talented folks already have jobs. They are looking for work that is exciting, engaging, and different. They want to make a difference, get a patent, and become better at things, whether it is in using a new piece of equipment, being offered a change to experiment in some new ways, or just having a larger role than they currently have.

The new way of working is to be part of projects and move on when the project is finished or no longer interesting. Fewer people are focused on a lifelong career in one firm, but move readily between firms as new ideas and development take place. You need to be ready to capitalize on this, predict when interest is waning, and take advantage.

Your forum will need to bring up whatever new project is being discussed, even if only in a general way, or create excitement about a new development or area your firm is exploring.

Create an Easy Way to Express Interest

Crowdsourcing often fails because it is too difficult for people to express their interest. It should be crystal clear that if anyone is interested in exploring the possibility of being part of a new project or activity, there is a simple, confidential, and efficient way to apply or be contacted.

Talented people often have no resume or CV. They do not have social profiles. They have reputations and colleagues who know them and often recommend them. They are also frequently concerned about keeping their interest quiet.

The application process should be as simple as is legally possible and, initially, just enough to get them into conversation with you or a hiring manager. Once they are excited and committed, they will then be much more likely to fill out any required paperwork.

Crowdsourcing is not as simple as some make it out to be. It is a powerful and sophisticated way to trump traditional referral programs and online sourcing efforts. It requires effort, planning, and salesmanship and the result is a better quality of hire.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.


13 Comments on “5 Ways to Build a Crowdsourcing Strategy to Uncover Hard-to-Find Talent

  1. Thanks, Kevin.
    If this friend can’t be found on the web, then pay Maureen to find him. He sounds like someone most companies wouldn’t be able to hire anyway (if he picks and chooses what he does), and even if they could, he sounds like someone who isn’t available NOW, which is the kind of person what most of us are paid to find. As i often say: figure out and go after the people you can realistically get (https://staging.ere.net/2013/02/15/recruiting-supermodels-and-a-tool-to-help-you-do-it/), as opposed to the ones your hiring manager/founders/execs thinks s/he deserves.


  2. Yes, Keith, I agree. This is a long term approach to improving quality of hire. All of the people are very hire able, just darn hard to find and talk to. But when you land one, you’ve got a superb talent.

  3. @ Kevin. Yes indeed. It’s a great pleasure hiring an outstanding candidate.



  4. Kevin,

    Great article. A time consuming process but once it is rolling the rewards are great. Best and most targeted candidates yet. You have to be very creative and your content has to have great appeal.

    Gary Steeds

  5. This is excellent advice. Someone once asked me about strategies I would use as a head of talent and one was to empower the people in the company to become talent scouts. Interesting how outside recruiters often utilize people’s networks for recruiting more than their own companies do.

    The lurking idea is a great one. There are already tons of forums and blogs that recruiters can lurk on.

  6. @ Gary: “A time consuming process…”
    The reality for most of us in recruiting is if we aren’t putting in 50 or more hrs/week on a couple of dozen or more reqs that have to be filled NOW, we’re worrying about when they’ll lay us off.
    A thoughtful staffing organization would do one or the other of these:
    1) Devote spe0icfic staffers toward longer-term efforts without them having the schizophrenic pressures of also filling immediate needs.

    2)If a company doesn’t have headcount/bandwidth to do this, avoid layoffs by having staffers with reduced hours devoted to immediate hires work on projects like this.


  7. I very much like the ideas in the article and in the comments. I’m new to recruiting and it is definitely difficult to have a long-term approach in mind in terms of a sourcing strategy in addition to developing relationships with people with the pressures of being fired or producing results. But it is too necessary, it seems, to not include the long-term approaches and efforts in our work.

    Thanks for the article and the comments!

  8. @ Aaron: Welcome to recruiting.
    I’ve been recruiting since before the earth cooled, so *if I may advise you:
    It is increasingly the case that “long term” means anything longer than 90 days, as we largely live in an “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone, let’s do the deal!” Business World.

    Best of Luck,

    Keith Halperin

    * Listen carefully to what I say, do the opposite, and you shall thrive!

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