How to Hire Great People Who Don’t Need a Job


  • Employed “top performers” are different from other candidates and must be treated that way.
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  • These candidates are not in the job search mode often, and are certainly not likely to be on the day we happen to have an opening.
  • People who are currently employed are “harder to find” because they are not actively looking and they are less likely to “help” you in the recruiting process. They do not read want ads or go to job boards.
  • We need to shift from recruiting unhappy/unemployed people and focus on employed people who are well paid and relatively happy in their jobs.


  1. You must find the names of the best without any help from them. They won’t actively apply for jobs so getting their name (and resume) takes some work. It should be the manager’s job to know the names of the best and what makes them better than the rest. Use your current “A” employees to help you identify other “A” players.
  2. Assume you need to build a long term relationship with the best in order to get them to say yes to any offer. Most of the relationship will be electronic and not face to face. They will not talk to “strangers” and probably dislike recruiters. They don’t read want ads or go to job fairs.
  3. You have to WOW them continually to get them to even consider you. Whatever you do, it must be unique if you want to get their initial attention and to keep them interested. If your firm isn’t well known and if it doesn’t have an impeccable reputation, they will not even consider you (which is why you must build your great place to work brand first.)
  4. Assessment of a candidate’s abilities will be done subtly over time BEFORE they enter the job search mode. Assessment must often be done remotely, without the candidate’s help or knowledge. Assessment will be done primarily in non-traditional ways (at conferences, through e-mail, in chat rooms, seeing their work/ideas on the web, in casual phone calls etc.). They probably don’t have a current resume, dislike formal interviews and will refuse to “fill out an application”.
  5. Employed “stars” need a “triggering event” (usually a negative one) to get them to leave their current job. We need to be have built a long term relationship in order to learn what their “job search triggers” are. You need to be in constant touch with them or their friends if you expect to know when they begin looking for a new job. That generally means we must rely on their “friends” to let us know when they are becoming unhappy with their current job.
  6. We need to do a “candidate profile” of what they need to excite them enough to leave their current “good” job for our new job offer. This will be done mostly without their help by talking to their “friends” and from previous “market research” in what top players demand.
  7. You will need “help” from others to get them to work for you. Their “friends” or mentors will need to encourage or OK the move to your firm before it will occur. They will not make the decision alone.
  8. Assume having to “look” for a job is a bit of an embarrassment to them. Any element of the process that makes them look like the “need” a job will cause them to flee!
  9. Both the assessment and the offer process must be “fast and easy” if you expect to get a yes. Expect them to be on the job market one day or less! If you are not available and prepared to make an offer the day they decide to leave, you will lose them. Assume your own internal managers might not share your sense of urgency about the need for a super fast hiring decision. Also assume your firm will NOT have an opening that day…so you will hire them even though you have no current position, requisition, compensation approval, or job description!
  10. You must have an offer that is such a WOW that they will not even consider the inevitable counteroffer they will get from their current boss. Get it right the first time and do not “under bid.”
  11. “Turn-offs” like drug tests, filling in forms, or “death by interview” will not be tolerated by these candidates.
  12. Once they accept your offer they will expect you to keep every promise you made during this lengthily process–or they will leave you also!

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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