Finding The ?Names? Of The Best In Your Field (Develop a ?Who?s Who? list of top talent)

Part II of a II part series Recruiters classify people they ?look at? into a hierarchy that goes like this:

  1. Suspects ? Names of people that might have a good skill set but that need to be further assessed.
  2. Prospects ? Suspects that have undergone some basic assessment that determines that they be a fit to our firm. They may or may not have shown an interest in our firm.
  3. Candidates ? People that have shown an interest in us by applying for a position.
  4. Finalist ? Candidates that have made it to our ?short list? (and can be classified as ?someday you will/ can work for us? even if they don?t get an offer this time around).
  5. Offered finalist ? Finalists that actually receive an offer letter.
  6. Employee ? A finalist that accepts but that can immediately become a referral source.
  7. Customer/ Future Hire ? All applicants that we need to treat well because they may be (or become) customers or referral sources for our firm. This category also includes currently ?under-skilled? people that may someday ?become a fit? with future training and experience.

Building a ?Who?s who? list

The early part of the food chain is the suspect/ prospect area. These are people we may know little about and that may have shown no interest in us. Many companies ?skip? this area and only look at people that have actually applied (candidates) with a resume. This is a major error. Advanced firms (Cisco is the champ here) and advanced executive search firms spend major resources on building a ?name? database of suspects and prospects. Even though the ?currency? of most recruiting is the resume it is wise to supplement them with a ?pre-resume? approach, which is starting with just the names of top talent. The pre-resume approach is called ?name capturing.? The resulting list is often called a ?who?s who? in the industry list. It starts with just the names of people that have been identified (it can be from a business card or attendance at an event) as worthy of further examination. An example

An example may help illustrate the process. A business card obtained when an audience member asks for copies of a speech made by one of our ?employment branding? agents on the speaking circuit. Later someone reads a professional article in which the name is mentioned as a thought leader. Their name is entered again. A month later one of out top performers looks them up at a conference and assesses them as a prospect. As the name is entered the database cross matches the previous contacts and determines that this person needs to be called/ brought in so that we can show them our interest in them. The ?triangulation? with multiple sources allows us to proactively ?pre-identify? talent before they “find us.” HR?s role

Identifying the best names in a functional field is easier than you think. THERE ARE NO SECRET STARS in the business or technical fields. If you are targeting the very best in a field to recruit expect them NOT to be active job seekers, which means you must proactively find them. With hard work and some out of the box marketing strategies you can build a database of 90% or more of the people you really should be targeting. This name gathering process is NOT a HR task. HR can help maintain the list but most of the work needs to be done by managers and teams in each department. You might consider hiring a market research firm or just add someone with market research experience to your employment staff to help you refine your name capture system. HR can act as a coach and it can train managers and employees in the process of identifying the best in their field. Make it part of the culture and reward those that bring in the names of the best. Consider giving your employees a small reward (buck a name) for capturing the names of stars they meet. Also talk to your recruiters that used to be headhunters. They generally know the tricks of capturing names. Develop a ?how to gather names guide? for employees to use. The ?name capturing process? has added benefits in that it forces managers to define what ?good? is in this field! If, when managers and employees make contacts they also ask the individual about upcoming problems, best learning sources and the best solutions they will also be on top of the learning curve as well! Remember the one with the best list of names ?wins!? THE NAME ?CAPTURER?S? TOOLKIT Consider some of the following tools and refine them as you get more experience in the capture game. Be aware that there are ethical considerations in deciding which tools are appropriate for your situation. Hire a firm

  • ?Name only? research firms ? There are professional researchers that will supply you with a ?names only? list for different job categories.

Ask people

  • Ask applicants ? The references of candidates (they are usually superior to the applicant) are captured. References are also asked for additional names (this can be an ongoing process) of other great people when they are called for references.
  • Ask new hires ? On the first day new hires from “target” companies (or all firms) are asked on their first day ?who else is good there?? They are also asked who are good mentors, managers, ?up and comers? and trainers. The best we hire are asked to search their e-mail address book / daytimer for names.
  • Alumni ? Keep in touch with top performers that leave the company and ask them who else is ?good? at their new firm. Also if they feel bad about leaving ask them to help ?find their replacement? by giving us a few ?great names.?
  • Consultants ? As those we hire for names. Consultant?s names are also captured if there is a chance they may sometime return to making an ?honest? living (joke).
  • Headhunters ? Ask those we hire to provide the names of non-active people (since they are now looking and thus may not be a current revenue possibility). Also ask for names of junior people that don?t qualify for exec/ technical search consideration.
  • Almost qualified – Candidates that were ?almost qualified? (they just need another year of experience) as applicants to our firm.
  • Finalists – Finalists for our positions that either didn’t get an offer this time or that turned us down are also captured.
  • College recruits – The top 10% of college recruits (and interns) we identified but did not hire should be added to the list. Interns and recent grads should be asked for the names of mentors, fellow students or great people they have met in informational interviews, shadow days etc. University alumni lists, award winners and speakers are targeted.
  • Salespeople ? Sales people make dozens of contacts each week. Ask them to look for you and ask other salespeople who is good.
  • Customers ? People that buy and use your product may be valuable to capture. Frequent users of your consumer products are prime names. Suppliers employees may also be a good source.

Events and organizations

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  • Conferences -Ask everyone when they talk to other professionals (during benchmarking, at conferences, through e-mails etc.) to ?capture the names? of people that are impressive. Ask them to ask the best they meet “who is almost as good as them?” and “who do you learn from?? Have them keep a log, get a business card or just write it on their calendar for later transfer to the database. Ask our people that speak at conferences to get the business cards of people that ask good questions during their session.

    Remember that conference / trade show attendees have the second highest proportion of job seekers of any event (after job shows). FYI speakers at conferences that ?forget? to bring copies of their presentation often do that in order to capture business cards (on the premise that they will send you the follow up material).

  • Speakers – The names of speakers at conferences are captured from junk mail seminar brochures, catalogs, web sites etc. Talk to the conference coordinators for public seminar providers (like IIR, Linkage, AMA, IPQC etc) about names they have captured for potential speakers. They are masters at identifying the best.
  • Association leaders – Board members and officers are noted. Because they are also always scouting for future leaders for their association they are also asked for names of ?up and comers? in their professional organizations.
  • Winners – Award winners and runners-up at professional associations award events are captured.

Written sources<

  • Authors ? Capture the authors of articles, books and technical information pieces. Reviewers and editors for technical journals are added to the list.
  • Journalists ? Writers and editors, on occasion, will help with names of people that contributed to technical stories.
  • Announcements – Names from press releases, company newsletters and newspaper notices of promotions from target companies are captured. Also people that write articles or are cited in target company newsletters are noted. Anyone quoted in professional magazines or newspaper stories. Guests on radio and TV are added. Managers are encouraged to sign up for ?push? press releases, and customized news sources in order to capture names.
  • Clipping services ? News clipping services are asked to capture the names of key industry leaders. News of their accomplishments are added to their name in the ?who?s who? database.


  • Lists – Attendance lists at key conferences are scanned in to the data base.
  • Mailing lists – Buy targeted direct mailing lists (or e-mail lists) from associations etc. Some lists can be narrowed to only include names of people with __ years experience or ____ title etc.
  • Patents ? Capture names of recent patent holders.


  • Listservers/ chatrooms ? People that propose good ideas from electronic listservers and chat rooms/ newsgroups are identified. Occasionally questions are posted to draw them out.
  • Web pages – Individuals with WOW personal web pages on technical topics are added. People they visit our web site technical areas are added to the list. Computerized web search engines (sometimes know as spiders and robots) can identify people in certain jobs without much human effort. Hire interns or temps to surf the web for names you might have missed.
  • Yellow pages – Use four11 or similar name search web pages to capture e-mail addresses for key individuals.


  • Bowls -Give away gifts at conferences and restaurants are used to capture business card. The same technique works at conferences and trade shows. People are suckers for give aways. Filling out an information sheet for a contest is a variation of the name capturing concept. Using the bowl at a nearby luxury car dealership or realtor (or just asking the salespeople to collect the cards of potential high priced buyers) will also capture the names of well off/ successful employees.
  • Car rental and airline lounges ? Fellow travelers are also likely to be good prospects. Have employees ask for cards on the bus to the pickup spot, etc.
  • Contest ? For retail jobs have a ?contest? for your employees to search the city to find the names of the best clerks, waitresses, etc.
  • Detectives ? In extreme cases private detectives and consumer databases can be used to capture names
  • Beware -The all too common (but offensive) send a ?sick child an e-mail? ploy you often find in your e-mail in box is sometimes just a misguided ploy to capture e-mail names and titles.

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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