Get Paid To Sell Your Boss: More Outrageous Recruiting

Without a doubt, one of the worst things people have to endure sometime during their career is the pain of working under a horrible boss. Up until now, as an employee under the thumb of a horrible manager, there was little you could do to rid yourself of their tyranny.

However, one recruiting organization has come up with an idea called “sell your boss.” The concept is a simple one that includes a bit of irony. The recruiting firm, will pay a referral fee (bounty) to an employee if their current boss gets hired away to another firm as a result of their referral.

What a concept! Employees earn a chance to get paid for ridding themselves of a bad boss. An entertaining video outlining the “sell your boss” concept can be found on YouTube.

Obviously, the concept is a bit of a marketing ploy to make the recruiting firm better known, but it also demonstrates a significant amount of creativity and innovation, which is becoming a necessity in the continuing global war for talent. You might be interested in knowing that the firm is based in India, which further highlights that country’s leadership role in bold recruiting practices.

Talent Management Practices Don’t Have To Be Dull

A recent Robert Half survey of CIOs and CFOs found that their top business (not HR) challenge is to “find skilled staff.” Recruiting was a bigger corporate business problem than meeting customer demands, government regulation, and even battling competitors.

In spite of that significant need, most corporate recruiting is still pretty conservative. There are occasionally examples of what I call “guerrilla” or “outrageous” recruiting that can serve as a wake-up call for the timid in corporate recruiting.

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In the past I’ve highlighted some of these outrageous recruiting practices that can help retool your employment brand image as an innovative firm. Previously cited examples have included the Army’s use of a video game for recruiting, recruiting in the virtual world of SecondLife, paying for interviews using NotchUp, and placing videos portraying “what it’s like to work at a firm” on YouTube.

Now I will highlight prime examples of innovative “best practices” in different areas of recruiting and talent management:

  • Rewarding employees for living close. Facebook is certainly gearing up to become a powerhouse in corporate recruiting. It has successfully hired several former Googlers, not to mention all-stars from other leading Web 2.0 companies. However, their major breakthrough is a $600-a-month subsidy and a free parking permit for those who agree to live within a mile of their Palo Alto campus. Together with its offering of free breakfast, lunch, and dinner, these combined benefits are a brilliant strategic move that make it quite easy for employees to spend lots of time at their work site, further blending work and life for those people who are passionate about what they do. The $600 housing subsidy encourages employees to live close, which in effect, makes it quite easy for employees to “drop in” whenever an idea enters their mind. The fact that colleagues are also likely to be there serves to increase opportunities for both formal and informal collaboration. Studies have shown that telecommuters can often be up to 130% more productive than their office-bound counterparts, a number Facebook may just prove is tiny to the exponential gains in productivity the community concept may deliver. (Imagine all of the productivity they gain just by eliminating all of the decompression time needed by people who commute regularly).
  • Videogame on-boarding. Sun is making a comeback toward its former leadership position in HR. Its latest bold move is to integrate exciting and entertaining video games into a powerful, online on-boarding program. The new-hire experience covers five critical areas “accelerate, participate, learn, explore, and play”. The 30-minute video games are Dawn of the Shadow Specters and Rise of the Shadow Specters. Other firms that have successfully used videogames as part of their recruiting approach include Deloitte and the Mitre Corporation.
  • Speed dating as an interviewer approach. Anyone involved in recruiting already knows that interviews can be time-consuming. So in an attempt to hurry up the process, the Travelodge in London has adopted the well-known “speed dating model” to candidate interviewing. This approach takes advantage of the concept of instant or first impression decision-making that was popularized in the best-selling book, Blink. By limiting interviews to three-minute question-and-answer sessions, they hope to take advantage of this first-impression theory in order to significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to interview and hire 30 senior staff. (If you think there is no way a three-minute snapshot interview could be as effective as the longer, more laborious process currently used by most, think again. Pick up the book and you may just realize the subconscious can analyze things must faster than the often irrational conscious mind.)
  • Moving pictures replace words. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a moving picture must be worth at least 10,000 words, and Microsoft has taken the lead among normally dull corporate websites by demonstrating the power of videos for illustrating “what it’s like to work” at a top firm. A visit to Microsoft’s “view my world” website will reveal not just one powerful video but a series. My favorite is “Microsoft perks,” a compelling video demonstrating how an employee spends an entire day trying to use all of the many perks offered by the firm. Other videos on the site allow you to get to know the company’s superstars, learn about employee freedom to take risks, and a chance to view how their teams have a start-up feel. By providing compelling videos and information for each of the major job acceptance decision-factors, Microsoft’s recruiting management has demonstrated its deep understanding of what it takes to attract the highly prized currently employed top performers. Their execution even exceeds the work of the previous leader in this category, Google. Unlike most corporate recruiting videos, Microsoft’s are not scripted; they are full of candid commentary but do not focus on telling a story. Microsoft has long been a “work hard, play hard” kind of company, something no applicant could doubt after visiting this site.
  • Recruiting on the beach. Although it’s certainly not a new concept, it’s refreshing to see spring-break recruiting make a comeback. For a month during this year’s spring break, the U.S. Navy has set up a recruiting exhibition at a beach club in the popular spring break destination city of Panama City, Florida. The Navy is operating an interactive exhibition site that allows participants to learn about the Navy SEALS, as well as an opportunity to participate in numerous physical challenges, which include boxing, jousting, a race up a cargo net, or opportunities to compete in pull-up or push-up battles. Using competition to attract potential recruits is also a common practice at the recruiting giant Google.
  • Exploding bonuses. In order to take advantage of perhaps the only major recruiting weakness at Google, a few competitors are offering exploding bonuses to candidates that are waiting for an offer from Google. By rapidly reducing the bonus amount the longer a candidate delays their acceptance, you can “encourage” candidates to quickly accept your job and give up on the long drawn out Google hiring process. The U.S. Army uses a similar exploding offer approach to encourage enlistees to begin their military service almost immediately.
  • Diversity index. Most corporate recruiting organizations use a large number of metrics, and when taken together, can confuse most recruiting management and corporate executives. Sodexho has long been an innovator in recruiting, but their latest best practice is one that everyone should copy. Rather than reporting out a large number of metrics to assess the effectiveness of the diversity effort, they have begun to use a single “diversity index” that combines several metrics into a single number. Using a single number makes it easy for everyone involved to quickly understand how well they’re doing in this important area.
  • Poker recruiting. Harrah’s offers a charity poker tournament/recruiting event in Las Vegas targeted at MBAs. This recruiting event attracts over 1,000 people. Firms recruiting at the event included Harrah’s, Dell, Microsoft, and Nationwide. The idea of leveraging poker as a recruiting/assessment tool isn’t a new one. In the late 1990s, Trillogy Software often flew new recruits to Las Vegas from their headquarters in Austin, Texas. Once there, each new hire got a significant sum of money, which they had to place on one bet. The move let managers see how people handled risk, how they analyzed the options, and more important, how they handled failure.

Final Thoughts

I call the approaches outlined above “outrageous” because most of the conservative individuals in corporate recruiting will invariably label them that way. The fact is that each one is based on a sound foundation and makes sense for the organization leveraging them. Combined they illustrate the dramatic increase in aggressiveness that is occurring within the recruiting function not just in the United States, but around the globe.

Day after day, leading companies are realizing that retooled practices initially developed during the Industrial Age no longer work effectively. If your firm isn’t doing something “outrageous,” you may in fact be hurting your employment brand and your image among potential recruits as an innovative firm.

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.



3 Comments on “Get Paid To Sell Your Boss: More Outrageous Recruiting

  1. This is not new at all! In 1994 while working at Source EDP- I had been dealing with a hiring manager who was actually getting kick-backs from another staffing firm (yes I know you’re ‘shocked’ by this- and actually told me and another staffing firm this was ‘how he does business’).
    His job (besides working as an FTE of the company) was to place people using ONLY his ‘buddy’ from another firm so as to lock others out (and yes get his little hourly cut).

    Well, since we thought this could be a great client who was doing a lot of contract hiring- we (my friend and I) placed a call into a FTE firm who was looking for ‘management’ talent, and gave this hiring manager’s name to them.

    We asked for nothing in return (except if you think everyone should have the same opportunity) and about five weeks later this ‘manager’ just seemd to somehow find a new ‘job’ at another ‘technology shop’. So with this ‘departure’ so went this relationship and opened the doors to the rest of us!

    Again, those of us who are in the trenches daily have to think outside the box-when dealing with those who want a little bit of the ‘prize’ IN the box.

  2. I can see it all now?

    Yes in deed??what a concept!? I can visualize employers beating a path to engage the services of a search firm (on the other side of the globe) that embraces the ‘sell your boss’ candidate acquisition model. In fact, the concept is so appealing that should consider franchising it as a business model. After all India?s entrepreneurs must know that franchising makes up eleven percent of America?s economy. Imagine the economies of scale in a hiring process that relies on referrals (by disenfranchised subordinates) in U.S. companies; referrals then sourced (to become a department?s next manager) at another U.S. based company. Think about it?all this happening with the help of enterprising partners in India; and best of all at deep discounts to the fees charged by domestic search and staffing firms.

    To compete, U.S. domestic search firms licensing this model (from the franchisor in India) could dispense with assertions about candidate qualification?quality wouldn?t matter?after all, what would be the point in advertising an oxymoron? Better yet (for hiring entities) by using this novel approach, HR departments could dispense with the costly and time consuming tasks of background checks and interviewing; after all performance standards (as noted) would be irrelevant in hiring from the lowest common denominator?faster than speed interviewing (faster, better, cheaper). Moreover?if it didn?t work out, no worries; the CPH element in the hiring process would approach zero. Of course metrics for impacts on employee relations and corresponding production levels would eventually have to be considered. This is truly?innovation at its best!

    Final thoughts:

    Once upon a time?(as fairytales often start) American innovation was once the most powerful force on the plant…the American workforce the most productive. But then America stopped making and producing things; and then American companies became global, multicultural enterprises; and then America stopped hiring Americans preferring offshoring, outsourcing foreign talent educated in American schools (indentured for a couple years at lower wages…until their visa expired); and hiring illegal labor that Americans mysteriously decided they no longer wanted to do;?all this to save a buck or two; and then Americans stopped thinking altogether (does anyone out-there know the definition and implications of ?turning point? in a historical context?) The End.

    Sometimes I wonder John, if you don?t write these vignettes out of shear boredom; or simply for the reaction you?ll get.

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