Add Competitive Intelligence Gathering to Your Role as a Recruiter!

Many recruiters look at what they do in an extremely narrow perspective. One glaring example of this is the failure of most recruiters to realize that a key element of their success is based on how well they gather “competitive intelligence!” WHAT IS COMPETITIVE INTELLIGENCE?

Competitive intelligence is the process of gathering valuable information about our firm’s direct competitors including strategies, plans, practices, or people. Competitive intelligence (a.k.a. CI) enables us to better anticipate and counter our competitor’s next recruiting move. In the area of recruiting, CI specifically means identifying or finding out one or more of the following things:

  • Why do top candidates choose to apply at our competitors, rather than with us?
  • Why do potential applicants visit our competitor’s web site?
  • When candidates turn us down, where do they go (to what firm)? What is the salary differential?
  • What are the elements of the competing offers that our finalists get? Which ones cause the candidate to select the competitors offer? What were the “deal breakers” at our firm?
  • Who are the competitor’s best recruiters that steal our top talent away?
  • Which of the competitor’s ads, web sites, or other recruiting tools had the biggest/least impact on you?


The most common ways to gather competitive intelligence information is with focus groups or with a direct one-on-one with the candidate the first day they start a job with our firm. Post exit interviews 3 – 6 months after a candidate resigns are also effective. One particularly effective CI gathering tool simply entails having the recruiter interview the candidate on the first day that they start and then just ask them simple questions like:

  • What other offers did you receive (will you show us)?
  • Who else is excellent at your previous firm and will you help us to convince them to come here?
  • What caused you to leave your last job?
  • Who else looks good (but really isn’t) at your last firm?
  • What are the negative aspects at your previous firm that caused people to quit?
  • Will you help us refine our recruiting and offer process so that we can improve our acceptance rate when we go head-to-head with your previous employer?
  • What did we do during the recruitment process that turned you off or that almost caused you to reject us? Can you rank order our key selling points that convinced you to say yes?
  • What are your former employer’s best management practices? Biggest weaknesses?


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In addition to learning about your competitors there is other valuable information you can gather. Some of that includes:

  • Help us understand how to motivate you and how to get the most out of you?
  • How well were you treated during the recruitment process? What frustrated you the most? What elements had the most positive impact?
  • How long do you expect to be with us and specifically what do you think your next job will look like?

You can also ask the candidate after three months how we treated them during the initial orientation and do they have “buyer’s regret” (this is known as a post exit interview). “Many recruiters fail to understand that recruiting is simply marketing with a crummy budget!” SUMMARY

If you are to be effective as a recruiter you need to do continuous market research and intelligence gathering in order to identify why people leave jobs or accept jobs. By knowing “up close and personally” exactly what our competitors are doing, we can then develop a counter strategy. These counter strategies might include giving managers comparison offer sheets so that they know what other offers candidates are likely to get from our competitors when they negotiate our final offer up to “poaching” away their best recruiters. If you are to win the “war for talent,” you must realize that it actually is a war and an essential element of warfare is gathering intelligence about what the other side is doing. You don’t have to be James Bond, to break any laws, or to invade someone’s privacy to do effective CI in recruiting. You just need a simple but periodic process to gather the information, a “blocking” process, to keep them from learning about our secrets and a “back-end” system to insure that our processes and strategies change as a result of the information you gather.

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," 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 and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



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