Build a Tribe

image from Sweden govt websiteGreat people don’t make a job change for money. Great people have to be enticed to talk to a great organization. How I overcome this is by arguing that my “tribe” is a better fit for them than their current tribe. My tribe is cooler, funner, more interesting, faster, more successful, and contains less management-by-spreadsheet than their company. Come jump ship and work with us. This is the difference between “sourcing as selling” and resume mining.

I chose the word tribe because it is a good, short noun for the idea that “birds of a feather flock together.” And top managers can be a destination. They have their own posse and peeps who follow them wherever they work. I know: I work for one. But even the most incredible managers eventually run out of people to call when rounding up the usual suspects. This is where I come in. I sell the manager and the team. I look at the group that I am headhunting for and try to find some common denominators.

  1. Get the existing team’s resumes. Use LinkedIn, resource managers, or go to their portal and search the bios. Look for common schools, themes, associations.
  2. Ask the manager where he found them. Who is his best hire? How did he find them?
  3. Take a look at the companies they worked for, and when. Is there a theme?

You figure out that Java developers in Europe like Twitter, W.O.W., Ruby games, and Stockholm. To get them to leave their company to come to yours, build your own tribe’s membership theme. To get a pitch, figure out what membership privileges are:

  • Ask the people who work for your “chief” why they worked at three companies for him.
  • Ask them what they like about the company.
  • Ask them how it was different than the company they came from.

You can build a message from this, like “we still have Peet’s coffee! We still have Thirsty Thursdays! Conference Calls longer than 17 minutes are forbidden!”

That is the message. Not “Java Consultant — EMEA.”

  • If they are doing the exact same thing, why would they leave one software company to come to another? To come back to a tribe like them.
  • Examples of common denominators might be, “worked in start-ups,” “went to MIT,” “plays W.O.W.” or “brags about Platinum status.”

Here is a thumbnail of my tribe:

Bay Area Software Company. Managers who are Java experts. Peet’s Coffee. Thirsty Thursdays. “It’s-It” ice cream bars. People from Cal and Stanford.

I get that tribe. It’s the tribe of the Bay Area software engineers.

If you have ever been a worker bee or a headhunter in the Bay Area, which I have during several waves (1990, 1999, 2009), you know that there are companies with handbooks containing phrases like, ‘Managers must wear shoes. Beer Me Fridays are mandatory, and don’t get Folgers or you’re fired.” They stock Peet’s coffee; everyone is a Stanford and Cal grad; and now, It’s It (a Bay Area ice cream bar with a cult following) is in the breakroom. These people swarm to the new “it” company and they don’t stick around when Folgers makes its debut.

Call them and/or connect with them on Twitter, LinkedIn groups, user’s group meetings, industry associations, however, whenever. I may even ask an Internet sourcer to find some profiles to add to the pile. I look at my Rolodex. I put the whole lot of them into one big pile and I begin to air out my message that “we want you eventually and this is why.”

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This is where the Tweetups come in. If I can get the manager/chief to ask the real qualifying questions that I mention above, it is not a stretch to get to the next piece. “If I find someone from Cal working at XYZ company, would you buy him a coffee in Stockholm?”

Or even better, “Tweet me before you go to Stockholm … and let’s find a place to meet … and if you have time, let’s send out a TweetUp to all of the Java developers in Stockholm who are following me on Twitter, and get them to meet you somewhere. We’ll Tweet that the first round of Guinness is on you at The Rusty Nail pub across the street from our client.”

That way I can put real live candidates who don’t have resumes in front of a real, live “chief” and without a lot of wasted time. Sounds expensive? Twenty five rounds of Guinness is a helluva lot cheaper than 35% of an annual package which the agencies are charging us, and you get to meet a real live person and do the puppy dog close.

For those of you with ADD, here is the upshot:

  1. Analyze the tribe. Who are these people and what do they do and care about?
  2. Evangelize the message of the tribe through your grapevine — Twitter, LinkedIn, your company’s career page, user group meetings — heck, anywhere you can.
  3. Sell the manager on selling his job on the fly.
  4. Always be closing the candidate on why your tribe kicks their tribe’s ass. Ask: “When they can come have a look see?”

There are going to be accountants and HR people who read this and say, “how does that fit into $10,000 cost per hire, and how do we know that this will work, and why do we have to do anything since everyone is unemployed and is dying to work here?”

But top-tier people are always taken out of companies. There are some things that just can’t be automated and outsourced and cost-optimized, such as building a A-team, building a tribe, and building loyalty.

Allison Boyce is a senior recruiter/global field services at Cloudera. She is a former  international sourcer/recruiter at Guidewire Software.


10 Comments on “Build a Tribe

  1. Nice Article. Selling Culture/Work Environment/Tribal fit sounds interesting, but if your staff is chasing coffee and perks are they really passionate about the goals and objectives of your organization. Or is that too old school? Eventually, companies either get Folgers, or fade out of business. But I do like the what you are trying to say and your approach.

  2. Allison- great article- I recruit sales professionals at NetApp, the #1 place to work in America in 2009 (according to Fortune Magazine. Some of the people we hire earned more selling last year and the year before than they will this year when they come here- and they are employed. Simple question- would you take 10% less in total cash to really love what you do and be energized each day, knowing that you are really impacting people’s lives? Could you live without the new car this year in order to coach your kid’s soccer team?

  3. I like this article for the following reason. It gives you a great example of the thought that goes into an effective sourcing campaign. It also shows why it’s important to know your target audience and tailor your message accordingly.

    However, too many companies fall into the trap of not putting every potential hire thought the same level of guidance because of an existing relationship or association. As long as the out of the box sourcing effort is combined with a rigorous and relevant selection process, you will see results.

  4. Thank you, Allison. In times of 17.5% un/underemployment, the vast majority of folks are easy to find. If you’ve got someone out looking for work, or in an unstable or MAJORLY dysfunctional company, you don’t need to offer much to get them to come running. On the other hand, if they ARE in a fairly stable, not-too-dysfunctional place, you’ll probably need a lot more than It’s Its and Peet’s Coffee. Why do I hear that hiring managers are unable to find the “A-players” with the right skills when they aren’t prepared to offer a three year employment contract with a one year severance package for “the best of the best” that they cry for? It’s because the want “the best of the best” on the cheap. If that’s what they’re looking for, maybe they SHOULD pay 35% to a world-class closer who can close an A-player in a good situation on a low-ball offer.



  5. I think this is a good article, but I’m wondering if this fits the exact definition of ‘disparate impact’? Seems that like would be hiring like … HOWEVER, if the like is centric around a mission, that makes sense to me. Being centric on a mission allows for a diversity of thought and backgrounds. There should be room for non-coffee drinkers and people who like Folgers. By hiring people from the same college or who hang out at the same places seems to me to be limiting … am I wrong here?

  6. Thank you all for the comments – I am very excited to learn about Seth Godin’s work – I had no idea that he had used that term. I learned about another thought leader’s work with the word tribe, Leon Richards (Global in UK) – It reminded me of the Hundredth Monkey Effect..
    And by the way, people will leave a company over Folgers. We actually have a more compelling value prop than hacky sack and Peets, but I am the person – “Don’t Hang Up, Just Listen…it starts with Peets…”

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