Ben Gotkin: Recruiting for a Great Unknown

ERE junkie Ben Gotkin (he’s on his sixth straight conference), the national recruiting director for the accounting firm RSM McGladrey, led a discussion today about what it’s like to attract candidates to a company that’s “a great unknown,” as he puts it.

Among those in the ERE Expo audience was a recruiter from another tax firm, Crowe Horwath, a company name that also doesn’t roll off the tongue like Coke, Pizza Hut, Nike, and Google. Also in the audience was a defense contractor in San Diego without the name-brand of Northrop Grumman.

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Gotkin’s company has to compete with the biggest four accounting firms for talent. (McGladrey’s the fifth or sixth biggest.) Here’s a rundown of suggestions not only from Gotkin, but from others in the crowd. Yeah, some aren’t new, but they’re good reminders that other recruiters who aren’t working for Google have the same challenges.

  • Do things differently from competitors. Best practices are all fine and good, but they’re not always the answer. Companies should be creative enough to find their own novel ways of getting attention.
  • Use interns. At McGladrey, they’ve made good bloggers. One did a series of six candid posts that delved into the goods and bads of her gig, including the mistakes she made and what she learned.
  • Be more flexible than big companies. “We can typically respond more quickly” than big firms, Gotkin says. Smaller and mid-size companies should take advantage of their (hopefully) lower amount of bureaucracy compared to larger competitors.
  • Play up what you do well. Imagine a basketball team with no one over 6’7” trying to compete with an opponent with two 7-footers at the power forward and center spots. The shorter team will try to win with quickness, rather than trying to out-jump the pogo sticks on the other team. Similarly, Gotkin tells recruits they can get a broader range of skills, more quickly, than they can at the bigger firms.
  • Don’t waste money on the wrong things. If your problem is resume volume, spend your time and energy on getting more people interested in your company. If your problem, on the other hand, is the quality of resumes, offer incentives (such as skewing employee referral bonuses toward actual hires, not just names of potential employees) to improve resume quality. Make sure you’re spending your dollars and time where they’re needed.
  • Don’t assume that spending more money on outside vendors is necessarily better than using your own brains on staff. Gotkin said his company hammered out a referral campaign in a couple of hours of brainstorming. “We didn’t need to hire an expensive ad agency to figure it out.”
  • Use social media. OK: this is nothing new, Gotkin says. He jokes that people could spend most of their time just attending conferences about social media. But, he says, there’s still the perception that social media recruiting is a time-suck. He says you’d be surprised how much you can do, and in “not as much time you can think.” McGladrey is into blogging, among other things, but also podcasts, using an in-house studio, which are marketed through his blog posts. “We do it all internally and it costs us nothing. Not a dime.” Gotkin’s blog posts take him maybe 1/2 an hour. He thinks of the blog as  a “virtual brochure, updated often, with dynamic content.” Along these lines: The defense contractor mentioned earlier is jazzed about TweetMyJobs. “If I don’t do it, I’m left behind,” says the defense recruiter, referring particularly to younger employees. “This is what they’re using now.”
  • Don’t stress out about attracting people who aren’t for you. If you work at McGladrey, your clients will be mid-size companies, and as mentioned earlier, you’ll get to work closely with them pretty rapidly. If your goal is to be servicing the biggest companies in America, traveling like nuts, a McGladrey job may not be for you.
  • Open your house. At his previous job, at MITRE, Gotkin said the company used its own facilities to bring in 150-200 candidates, and would get 20-25 hires out of it. The costs included cookies, finger food, and drinks. “Other than that, the expenses were minimal,” he says. Job fairs cost $2,000 – $4,000, Gotkin says, and of course involved not just MITRE but its competitors, too. Meeting people in person helped overcome the weaknesses of resumes (they can make poorer candidates seem better, and better candidates seem poorer). Candidates referred by employees  provided the plurality of open-house attendees.

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5 Comments on “Ben Gotkin: Recruiting for a Great Unknown

  1. Ben and I will joke about what it’s like recruiting for a monster (Eric W., I didn’t say Capital M-onster)…

    Employment brand awareness…check
    Recruiting budget…check
    Analysts talking you up…check

    With most of us who recruit for the second-tier, for the non-social media startups, for the turnarounds, we have to be more creative to survive. Other things you can do when you’re a great unknown:

    …Be active sponsors of local user groups at your place (one year of finger food, drinks, swag can be had for the price of one open house)

    …Enlist a key executive to write a monthly column in the local/regional business journal

    …Use bumper stickers (“Honk if you want to work with me at RSMM”) and gym t-shirts (“My CEO can kick your CEO’s ass; work for us and see!”) to help spread “the word” in a quasi-passive manner.

    …Sponsor the business card bowl at the restaurant frequented by people you want to recruit (aw heck, you know what I mean).

    (Ben, you know me; I have so many of these and the costs are minimal)

    Want to hear more?

  2. I’m really surprised more medium sized and larger companies don’t use open houses more.

    Some other ideas:
    1) Make it part of each employee’s duties that they will refer 1-2 people each year who get hired. Pay them a few- to several $k/each hire, netted out. (It’s cheaper and more effective than a 3PR in most cases.

    2) Don’t worry about branding or marketing. Getting people to come to you is a Passive Recruiting approach- sourcing, contacting, developing, and closing candidates is Active Recruiting. Spend your money on some high-quality $11.00/hr virtual phone sourcers instead and pay your recruiters $100k+/yr to develop candidates and close them.
    Bottom line:
    If an activity isn’t worth paying $100k+ yr to do, your recruiters shouldn’t be do it. If your recruiters can’t do $100k+ yr work, find some who can.

    3) Make sure ALL applicants have a pleasant and professional experience. If it’s too expensive to automate the process, you can hire virtual assistants for $2.00/hr to telephone each applicant to make sure they have been well-treated. The word will “get around” aka, http://www.glassdoor.com.

    4) As Ben said (in a different way): instead of paying outsiders for their advice, ask your own recruiting staff how to improve the recruiting process. After all- THEY ACTUALLY DO THE WORK.

    Cheers,

    Keith keithsrj@sbcglobal.net

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