I Bet You Can’t Name Your Firm’s Recruiting Strategy; If Not, Pick One From This List

Whenever I meet with recruiting directors, I routinely ask them to name their recruiting strategy. Unfortunately, I usually get no answer or something like “well, we hire great people.” These are the same people who say they want to “be strategic,” but they can’t even put a name to their own recruiting strategy.

In fact, when you ask them to name any recruiting strategy, you pretty much get the same blank look. So if you’re curious about what recruiting strategies are available to choose from, read on.

I’ve been doing some research in the area of recruiting strategies and as a result, I’ve updated my list of the available strategies. I’ve grouped them into four basic categories:

  1. Basic strategies
  2. Advanced strategies
  3. Aggressive strategies
  4. Long-term strategies

Obviously, some of the strategies overlap, and it’s not uncommon for companies to combine several elements of independent strategies into their own unique corporate recruiting strategy. Below are 20 recruiting strategies to choose from.

Basic recruiting strategies

This group of strategies isn’t particularly exciting or new. But these strategies do offer viable options for less-aggressive talent functions.

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  1. Butts/bums in chairs: This strategy emphasizes hiring the cheapest and then releasing them when their pay-level makes them too expensive to keep or they themselves get frustrated and quit. Cost reduction is the only focus here.
  2. Hire at the bottom: Hire at entry level where the competition is lower and then over time, develop and promote these individuals as their skill level allows.
  3. College hires: This strategy is related to hiring at the bottom except that it hires at the bottom of entry-level professional jobs. Using this approach, you hire a significant percentage of “actives” from college as entry-level professionals and then promote and develop them over time. An advanced element of the strategy focuses on hiring targeted students as interns first and using that process to weed out the less desirable.
  4. Flexible workforce: This strategy is effective in industries and companies where demand fluctuates quickly and dramatically. Hiring a large percentage of your workforce as contractors or temps allows you to quickly “ramp down” or up to meet changing business needs. Sometimes called the Shamrock approach, its emphasis is on flexibility.
  5. “Best source” strategy: This strategy is based on the premise that if you use the right source, you’ll get a great hire. You start by identifying the sources of your best hires and then focus on them. Because the best sources are usually “we find you” (also known as passive sources), this tends to be a passive strategy.
  6. Active strategy: Using a “they-find-us” approach, the primary focus of this strategy is seeking out the easy-to-find-and-sell “active job seekers” using mostly tradition ads, job fairs, and walk-ins.
  7. 100% “Passive” strategy: This strategy targets only “employed top performers” who you must fight for using various we-find-you approaches (usually referrals and events).

Advanced strategies

We’re now shifting to advance recruiting strategies that require higher skill levels to develop and implement. I estimate that less than 25% of Fortune 500 firms use even a portion of the strategies.

  1. Prioritization: This is a very focused strategy which assumes upfront that recruiting can have the biggest impact by prioritizing the jobs it recruits for. The strategy also works well in fast-growth businesses or when there are limited resources. Using the strategy, recruiting might put 80% of its time and resources into just 20% of a firm’s mission-critical jobs.
  2. Best and brightest: Hire the smartest most talented people you can find (aka: best athlete) and you will succeed is the underlying premise behind this strategy. It is borrowed directly from sports, where hiring the “best athlete” is quite common. It is a strategy that is partly used by recruiting powerhouses Google and Microsoft.
  3. Pre-need: This strategy emphasizes continuous hiring or at least beginning the hiring process long before a req is opened in order to build a talent pool. An excellent strategy for companies that need to fill openings rapidly.
  4. Magnet-hire strategy: Hire well-known people in key jobs and use them to attract others is the underlying premise of the strategy. It’s certainly true that if you hired Tiger Woods on your golf team, most of your recruiting problems would go away almost immediately. This is another strategy borrowed from the sports world.
  5. Narrowcasting for skills: Searching for skills (narrowcasting) rather than experience (broadcasting). The strategy works especially well when experience is less important than the particular skills that the individual has. Recruiters target public organizations, clubs, and events to find individuals with these skills or values (examples include rock-climbing clubs for risk-takers, ex-military for disciplined individuals, etc.).
  6. Low-wage, country-specific hiring: Placing your facilities and work in one or two low-cost countries is the basic premise of the strategy. Global organizations use it for high-volume hiring concentrated in a single country in order to cut labor costs.

Aggressive strategies

These are unique and effective strategies but they require some degree of courage and boldness to implement. I estimate that less than 5% of major corporations use them because most HR departments lack the “cajones” to implement these powerful approaches. In contrast, I have found that most CEOs love these approaches when they are made aware of them.

  1. Remote work recruiting: Attracting the very best individuals by allowing them to work remotely (at home or away from headquarters). Although it takes excellent management skills to manage people remotely, allowing people to work at home without having to relocate is a powerful draw. A global variation targets the very best one or two in every country? and lets them stay in their home country, much like the approach used in international soccer.
  2. Counter-cycle hiring: Purposely hiring when your competitor isn’t is the foundation for the strategy. Another option within the strategy is purposely hiring when the economy is down, because competition is low and the cream of the crop is available. This is an effective strategy for firms with weak employment brand names or in less-desirable industries.
  3. Hire to learn/hire to hurt: Hire to learn is a strategy that focuses on hiring in order to gain knowledge, best practices, or new skills. It is also used by more aggressive firms to target and to directly weaken a competitor. Another variation is “hiring them all” (all that are available), so the competitor can’t hire them. This aggressive strategy can slow product development at competitors because they lack the talent to pull off their plans.
  4. Guerilla recruiting: Primarily a poaching strategy, it focuses on hiring those trained by others. Most recruiting directors shy away from this approach but it is one of the most impactful and fun to execute. The approach requires the use of aggressive sales-like recruiting tactics.

Long-term recruiting strategies

Most recruiting strategies and tools are designed exclusively for the short-term. They focus on a single job opening and they do little to ensure a steady flow of high-quality applications over the long-term. These three long-term strategies are the most difficult to implement and clearly are the ones that should be utilized by companies that want to win the talent wars.

  1. Talent management: The broadest of all HR-based recruiting strategies. It attempts to integrate the traditionally independent HR functions like recruiting, retention, employment branding, internal redeployment, workforce planning, diversity, etc. into one coordinated function in order to increase its impact. It’s incredibly hard (I used to be a chief talent officer) to get all of the HR-silo-owners to work together, but once implemented, it produces amazing results.
  2. Employment branding strategy: Build your image as a top place to work in order to attract the very best is the underlying premise of the strategy. In my experience, this is the most effective of all recruiting strategies. It includes a focus on winning awards, being talked about in the media, and spreading positive stories about the organization through employer referrals. Once implemented, you are assured a long-term stream of top-quality applicants. In effect, recruiting becomes a sorting problem.
  3. Recruiting culture: Under this strategy, the motto is “every employee is a recruiter.” Organizations that use this approach expect recruiting to permeate every aspect of the organization. Under the strategy, everyone is expected to be a “talent hawk” or “talent scout.” This approach is also borrowed from sports, where talent scouts are expected to search as low as elementary school in order to find talent. In the corporation, everyone from the CEO to the janitor is expected to seek out talent 24/7. It uses referrals as its primary tool. Some of the organizations that strive to develop a recruiting culture include Southwest Airlines, 1st Merit Bank, Eaton, Google, Booz Allen, and Starbucks.


I hope you find these recruiting strategies and their categorizations both helpful and informative. Given the current raging war for talent in most industries and regions, now’s a good time to rethink and assess your current recruiting strategy. And if you’re one of those who can’t actually name their current recruiting strategy, this listing should give you a good starting point.

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," Staffing.org 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 www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



6 Comments on “I Bet You Can’t Name Your Firm’s Recruiting Strategy; If Not, Pick One From This List

  1. Sullivan,
    I don’t know where you get your advice from, but I really suggest that you get an EMPLOYMENT attorney once in a while to review your articles.. Better yet, maybe contact the FTC and ask them About the Legalities to Unfair Competition

    I wont’ even address anything but Number 16 – Hire to learn/hire to hurt: — well unlike what you said, hiring to hurt a competitor or to put them out of business, is NOT a strategy..

    A company who has to reduce themselves to that type of behavior is not a ‘COMPETITOR’ as you mentioned.. And deserves to be sued..

    Currently there are two great lawsuits about this Predatory type of hire, both are involving the Same Large IT company.. VERY Famous Web Based Company..

    See – I am not going to address ethics.. nah, just the flippin Law.. See this behavior is Illegal. Recruiting to retard business of your competitor is illegal..

    But, outside of that the word that comes to mind is class bully, scumball, unfair competition, and such like..

    Yikes.. if a company has to resort to that type of behavior, one should ask, what is wrong with this company? Why can’t they attract talent based upon reputation Alone? Why do they have to resort to such Gregarious behaviors?

    My 2 cents, Not really, thank goodness more individuals feel like I do, or they would never have made this a law near centuries ago..

    Addressing your other comments.. not worth my time.. The only reason I even address this is due to my concern of individuals gaining inaccurate information.

    Karen Mattonen

    Karen Mattonen
    NewHire Solutions.
    TEL 858-668-3111
    FAX 858-668-3011
    Personal, Convenient Training on Recruiting, Labor Law, EEOC and FMLA current practices

  2. Burnett,
    the ‘infamous’ case you speak of is NOT the same I speak of.. and THEY (more than 1) is NOT settled.. NO I was not speaking of Microsoft!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    this case is totally different — it is about directly poaching and predatory recruiting and Predatory hiring/recruiting.. THIS is NOT the same as Hiring a competitors recruiters because we are Doing business as usual..

    AND again you miss my point – telling someone to RECRUIT TO HARM OR SLOW DOWN A COMPETITOR is indeed unfair business practices.

    Please consider looking up unfair competition, tortious interference, business interference, impeding business profit, contractural interference,
    Lets’ use an example from Colorado that writes it really well. Sherman Antitrust Act (federal law) – The Tenth Circuit, which helps determine law for Colorado, has held that predatory hiring practices are illegal if they (1) impair opportunities of rivals and (2) aren’t competition on the merits or (3) are more restrictive than reasonably necessary and (4) the conduct appears reasonably capable of contributing significantly to creating or maintaining monopoly power – (well GEE wonder if you when recruiting to impede someones busines is considered doing such)

    But the Tenth Circuit has noted that ‘the hiring of a rival’s employees is not ordinarily exclusionary.

    Oh, and whilst you are at it, look up also Inevitable Disclosure – which was what the case you were probably discussing was going with, which has nothing really to do with the topic I am discussing —

    Hiring to HARM Competitors – Recruiting to harm competitors.. UNFAIR competition..

    Based upon other quotes from Sullivans Articles- Cut and Pasted – ‘Raiding during a traumatic event, Recruiting an entire team, A poaching emphasis, Warlike tactics, hiring to slow down the rate of improvement of your competitor’ would you not find it a fair assessment that this would be what the FTC would consider UNFAIR competition? Especially as these Practices can and will restrain healthy business competition

    Karen Mattonen

  3. Karen,

    It is always interesting to hear your perspective on such issues. My comments in response are thus:

    1. The infamous case you reference has been settled, both parties realized that it was in their best interest not to push the issue. (Nothing sends a bad employer branding message than an employer suing a former employee who accepted a better opportunity!)

    2. Corporations do not OWN their employees, they provide them with opportunities. If one organization can provide an individual a better opportunity, it is that person’s right to choose the situation that best rewards them. Non-compete agreements are interesting, but get tossed out more often than not in most states!

    3. The FTC does govern unfair business practices, and hiring to uncover the ‘trade secrets’ of another business would certainly qualify, but that is not what this article is advising. Hiring for skill depth and capability is within any organizations right. If the hire comes from a competitor, and the absence of that individual hurts or retards the competitor’s business, all the better.

    The HR profession is full of individuals who scream legal impropriety when in fact none exists. We live in a free market system, one where competitive business practices can and often are more brutal than what appear in our articles.

    Our work is targeted towards corporations. We view it as our responsibility to advise organizations how they can do something to build capability and capacity, not how they can’t do something. Incidentally, most labor attorney’s view this as their responsibility as well!

  4. in addition to my other comment below, would also like to add something..

    In regards to companies not owning employees — gee, hmm.. Well that may be a case of semantics..

    Cause you see, Contracts and a term Intellectual Property, inevetible disclosure, and suchlike can put a damper on what an employee does, where they go, and how they leave…

    They may not own you, but they do own their information and they do own the right to their information, including the information that is in their employees computer, Ipod, blackberry, notes, and even in their head.. And they can have rights to that information or even what you do with that information for several Years..

    So, I guess, they may not own their employees, but they sure can mandate their Actions… As long as they are working for them, or even after.

    Don’t like it, then I guess you don’t have to sign the agreements. Ah shucks, sometimes you don’t even have to sign an agreement, guess that is when an Implied contract may come in..

    Oh well.. I guess one doesn’t need to worry about it, isn’t it worth your ROI, and set aside money as insurance for lawsuit?

    Ah, but then I guess, is there an explanation to the Shareholders and the board when the massive lawsuit becomes public and the stock starts shooting down the tube?

    Hey, didn’t that recently happen to H.P.. in their recent scandle.. Guess the Chairperson thought she was justified and was worth the ROI of H.P to hire private investigators to Pretext and obtain illegaly phone records of other directors and even 2 employees based upon recent documents..

    Okay, she is being asked to step down, there is enough evidence to indict.. and yes HP’s stock dropped 13 cents, or 0.36 percent, to $36.24 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange Today alone- due to this fiasco..

    Lawsuits get expensive, even to defend when you are ‘right’ — so, why encourage behavior that can cause damage? Is it really worth the ROI? Do you think the StockHolders, the Board, the employees who may get fired due to the expense.. do you think the General Public will all think so?

    Oh, by the way, that is not the two lawsuits of which I speak of.. H.P is not the company either.

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