Are you a Hunter, Fisherman, or Farmer? (Or maybe all three?)

In essence, life is food gathering. As our world becomes more complicated and the issues more confusing, there is an inner calm when you remember it all boils down to gathering food to feed our family, our tribe, or our social collective. However, as we have become more complicated, affluent, and prosperous as individuals, species, or culture ?food? has come to include: summer homes on Cape Cod, 25 foot Chris Craft bow riders, a Lexus or Infiniti (or both), an aggressive stock portfolio, and a family (or tribal) vacation in Paris (where I am certain food will be gathered). The ?food? may have become a metaphor for whatever sustains us or pays us a salary, but that is the logical extension of mankind?s development and suits the purpose of this author in general, and this article in particular. If you are a agency headhunter, a contract staffing specialist or an internal HR staffing professional, recruiting is in essence, food gathering. We are seeking the sustenance we need to maintain our corporate or personal strength, growth, and survival. There have always been three basic components to food gathering: hunting, farming, and fishing. Each with different approaches to food gathering, certainly different diet requirements, and motivated by different needs. However, all share a common outcome, survival. But, each uses different tools. If you are going to work in the garden, keep the bow and arrow in the game room. If you are going fishing, you have little need for that bag of mulch. If you are going to go hunting, what are you doing with that spade shovel? If you are going recruiting, shouldn?t you first decide what it is you hope to find? Because it makes little sense to plant turnips in the morning, if you want Codfish for diner tonight. My motivation for this little piece? I guess I have sat in too many meetings where the topic was the best resources for recruiting. Opinions were stated before the goal was mentioned. For example, are you planning a long-term strategic hiring program with a diverse requirement for several skills at various levels of experience? On the other hand, do you have a specific position with specific requirements? Are you on a hiring hold, but want to maintain a market presence for the future? Are you staffed, but there may always be a better ?mousetrap? out there? How can you possibly choose the best method or methods of recruiting before you know what you are recruiting for, or how much time you have, or how important the position is to the company? The answer ? you cannot. So let?s first discuss the three basic elements of recruiting: farming, hunting, and fishing. Farming is a long view approach to recruiting. This is what a business planner would consider strategic. You know what you are going to need to sustain your growth and development for a sustained period of time. There may be changes, alterations, and unforeseen variables. However, with past practice, in-house knowledge and experience, a reasonable business plan and marketing forecast, and general ?gut? knowledge, you have a panting season to prepare. Hunting is recruiting for the moment. You have a targeted or specific requirement that needs to be found and found today! You have several options as a hunter in the long term, you are not restricted in the strategic sense. Nevertheless, you start each day with a specific requirement in mind. If you were sent for deer, you do not bring your duck call. Fishing is a little of the previous two modes of recruiting. You have a diverse need like the farmer, but you have an immediate goal, like the hunter. You cast a net and hope for the ?catch of the day.? A farmer is going to be more open to college recruiting. It may require a greater investment in training, a function of both money and time, but it allows a company to be more selective based on a candidate?s potential rather than immediate value. It is low cost hiring with a greater back-end investment. It allows diverse recruiting for all areas of modern companies proposed needs. A farmer is also more likely to go to trade shows, professional organizations and networking-orientated activities. Few if any of the candidates will have their resumes. Most of the contact conversations will end, ??well, you can always give us a call if things change for you!? A certain percentage of these contacts will call?eventually. You also may need to plan to stay in touch, follow up. You see a farmer not only plants seeds, the farmer also has to tend the fields while waiting for the first signs of growth. The key elements to farming are low cost, moderate resume flow, a wide range of requirements, and limited urgency. A Hunter is most often a third party. The need is immediate and specific. It may even be a few ?chosen? specific targets that are sought. However, like any customized product or service, it is also the most expensive, relatively speaking. If you have to pay a 25% – 30% fee for your new SVP of Marketing, that is a lot of cash. If the new SVP launches your new 25 million-dollar product line into the wrong market due to lack of experience, you have to wonder why you tried to save money on that particular hire. An agency recruiter will use many sources, resources, and tools. But they are targeted on a specific need, or group of needs. However, a lot of paper and emails go into the wastebasket because candidates lack the specific skill set, or skill sets, needed today. Now, agency recruiters are not the only ?hunters? out there. However, they have represented the largest percentage of ?orange vested? recruiters in the past. The essence of a good hunter is they find the skill specific candidates that are not looking, fast. The key elements to hunting are: high cost, slight resume flow, specified requirements, and time urgency. A Fisherman is looking at a variety of needs like the farmer. Nevertheless, they also face immediate goals like the hunter. Therefore, you are more likely to find them at a career fair, running a newspaper ad, using the WEB, or casting other ?nets? for those candidates currently seeking a new career. They differ from the farmer in that they are less likely to wait for the ?crop? to come. But, unlike the hunter, they are more likely to wait and see what?s ?in the net.? The key elements to fishing are: moderate cost, heavy resume flow, diverse requirements, and several diverse levels of urgency. Although I mentioned specific ?likely? tools to be used by all three types of recruiting methodologies, the tools can be interchangeable. It is the method of application that can sometimes determines if the hunter, farmer, or fisherman is using them appropriately. A recruiter buys a database of professionals from a professional organization and sends an e-mail to each of the names, inviting them to view the company WEB site to consider potential career opportunities. This is farming, as you are not certain if these professionals are searching for a job at this time. To make it fishing, you would have bought a database of resumes, or access to a database of resumes, knowing they were all looking at this time. To become a hunter, you would have reviewed the resumes, looking for the needed skill sets. You then would call, and call, and call, until you spoke to the candidate and gave them your best pitch. If you go to a career fair and sit in your booth inviting every candidate walking by to submit a resume, based on your long-term needs, you may be fishing or farming. But you are not hunting. Unless, you are seeking a Sales and Marketing professional in the high tech industry and this career fair is part of COMDEX and you are ?hitting? the other booths. A quality and well thought out hiring program contains all three elements of staffing and uses all, or at least most, of the available recruiting tools. Does it make sense to use an agency to fill eight entry level positions in the first quarter, when the need was forecasted for over a twelve month period and a lot of training money had been set aside? Is it the best use of time, money, and tools to go to a career fair in the hopes that a skill profile you desperately require ?swims by?? You farm for the long term hoping to reduce the need for fishing and hunting. You fish to compensate for the lacking in your farming program and you hunt to fulfill urgent or unforeseen needs. The best way to plan you recruiting year is to look at the past. Determine the types of needs, how many, and how often they have appeared. Then formulate a staffing plan based on those previous needs. Pick the recruiting modes and the corresponding tools that have best supported those needs, or would have if properly identified and the right recruiting tools applied. So the next time you are tempted to mention the ?best method of recruiting? make sure you know what?s for diner. Then decide if you should hunt, fish, or farm. After all, in the staffing world of the 1990s, the needs are critical, the challenges are real, and food is scarce.

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Ken Gaffey ( is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services ( and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE,, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


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