Sourcing Insight: Market Segmentation

The interviewee queried the Microsoft Hardware Interviewer: “What is Microsoft’s commitment to hardware?” The applicant continued: “While, Microsoft is known for software, what is your vision for the hardware business?

This scene played out over and over. Sometimes the candidate would even be looking over the interviewer’s shoulder without noticing the poster proudly displayed behind the Microsoft hiring manager. Yes, after 25 years, we were still getting those questions.

That was two years ago. Since then, we have changed the perception of Microsoft Hardware. We have changed the brand Hardware@Microsoft. Hardware@Microsoft has become a profession. The average “person on the street” may not know anything about Hardware@Microsoft. But a target audience of engineers who work in hardware will know about the importance of hardware in terms of Microsoft’s business vision.

ERE acknowledged our work with a “Most Strategic Use of Technology Award” and industry thought leaders like Dr. John Sullivan called our work “pioneering.” (In fairness, this award was shared by a talented group of colleagues who created View My World and incidentally just launched a new careers site.) While being recognized by one’s industry is flattering, the real success of our work was in solving a business need in our division.

The story of making Hardware@Microsoft a profession was an answer to a critical business issue.

As our division is the manufacturing part of Microsoft, we had a billion-dollar problem with respect to the quality of one of our key products. We needed to recruit world-class hardware and “reliability engineering” talent to solve some immediate issues and make certain this did not happen in the future.

The first thing we tried to understand was our target audience and how we could identify the individuals who we needed to attract — where they were employed; the best colleges for hardware engineers; what associations they joined; what they read … you get the picture. At a high level, the graph below illustrates the complexity of identifying hardware engineers. (It is at this point that I lament that IEEE has discontinued publishing a membership directory.)

Undaunted, we segmented hardware engineers from other types of engineers. The difference in our approach is that we use 17 to 20 different sources to identify the target audience. In this initiative we used competitive intelligence and competitive org-charting along with alumni associations, and every free and paid job board available. The filter that we apply to the talent is: would we be interested in that person over the next three to five years?

It is useful to illustrate micro-segmentation with a mini case study.

As the graphic illustrates, out of the 620,000 engineers (estimates provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), we have identified 18,900 hardware engineers. And we identified a micro-segment of 2,500+ reliability engineers from the various aggregated sources.

We had eight openings in reliability engineering and needed to fill those roles with the best of the best. We employed a strategy that we call a TalentStream (a continuous flow of prospects) to make certain we met our business challenge. We targeted this group with four emails over six months. By the fourth email, nearly 40% of the target audience looked at our jobs. This rate was two and one-half times greater than the audience response to one email. By the final email we had three and one-half times more prospects than we had from the first email. The end result was we filled eight positions with candidates from eight different sources of hire. Thirty-eight percent of the hires came from referrals, so the viral aspect of the campaign was evident.

Now we have 2,500 reliability engineers and no openings. These prospects are passive and represent some of the best organizations in consumer electronics. We were faced with the challenge that every recruiter faces. How do you keep talent in orbit when there are not any positions? We choose to create community with these reliability engineers.

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We created a LinkedIn Group that is for technical professionals only. Reliability Engineering on a Global Scale is a group (sans recruiters) designed to allow this premier group of professionals communicate and network with one another. Initially, 10% of the target group accepted our invitation. Since that time the membership in the group is increasing at about 5% per month. We do not brand this group with Hardware@Microsoft (although it is obvious Microsoft Hardware is involved). The two reliability engineering roles that our division had this year were filled quickly with high-quality individuals from the efforts described above.

We have just created a hardware@microsoft Facebook page and a hardwarejobs Twitter page. We will invite members of the original 2,500+ reliability engineers to become a “fan” of this Facebook community and also offer them the opportunity to “follow” us on Twitter. One of the discoveries that we learned during this talent community pilot was that we need to take a “community of communities” approach because, not all people will join the same groups. That caused us to rethink our original “uber talent community approach” as it turns out only a percentage of a targeted group will join.

The social networking laws that explain involvement (or lack thereof) by potential members of community caused us to rethink our strategy. Some important thinking on people and community was developed by Jakob Nielsen, who suggested that only 1% of a community were heavy contributors. Nielsen advocated that another 9% were intermittent contributors, while the other 90% were just lurkers. Jake McKee, a thought leader on community, build on Nielsen’s “Participation Inequality” theorem and carried it into the 21st century as the 90:9:1 as a way to describe people’s behaviors in a single online community. More recently the Groundswell folks at Forrester use Social Technographics to explain behaviors of population over multiple online communities. What Forrester Research discovered is that Forrester’s Social Technographics surveys show that when it comes to social content, 21% of online U.S. consumers are Creators, 37% are Critics (those who react to content created by others), and 69% are Spectators.

So what do these studies have to do with talent communities for recruiting? What it means is that if you expect to get a large group of people to join another community that we have formed, even if we are Microsoft, it is just not going to happen. We need to connect with the micro-segmented target audience on the leading communities (Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter) as well as our proprietary community that is part of our vendor partner, Jobs2Web. So, if we think about our micro-segment of reliability engineers, in order to fully engage the 2,500+ target audience, we may have to form communities on 5 to 10 different social networking and/or community sites.

Micro-segmentation and community go hand in hand. I noted in a previous article that sourcing is marketing. And if we look through our marketing lens we see in this “new world of social media, networking and Web 2.0, much of segmentation occurs naturally” as communities are formed. Micro-segmentation has been built into the DNA of our approach to developing talent communities. And it is the backbone of our Web 2.0 recruitment marketing engine provided by Jobs2Web.

A purpose of this article is a preview of a presentation for the Fall 2009 ERE Event, where our talent community pilot will be discussed in the broader context of Web 2.0 Beyond the Social Recruiting Hype: Microsoft’s Approach to Building Talent Pipelines and Communities. While the presentation will be much broader than a discussion of “micro-segmentation,” this strategy is a cornerstone of our community development workstream.

Marvin Smith is veteran talent acquisition practitioner who focuses on strategic talent sourcing, talent community building, social recruiting, employment branding, and the use of technology to drive talent identification and engagement strategies. He has been on teams that were at the forefront of resurgence of talent sourcing as a strategic weapon in talent acquisition. These teams piloted groundbreaking programs (ERE-Media-award-winning) work that used business intelligence, data, and technology to segment the target talent audiences and build talent pipelines and communities. His current role is a strategic talent sourcing consultant with Lockheed Martin, where he is responsible for talent pipeline building for critical skills talent; project management of a RMP (recruitment marketing platform); and driving corporate-wide, talent community initiatives. Previously, he served as senior research recruiter on an internal executive recruiting team with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; a strategic sourcing program manager with Blackberry (Research In Motion); and a talent sourcer/program manager for Microsoft. He is a writer and speaker on the topics of talent communities, strategic talent sourcing, Moneyball sourcing, and talent acquisition strategies. You can follow his blog or join a community that he created on talent community development or follow him on Twitter.


9 Comments on “Sourcing Insight: Market Segmentation

  1. Terrific article. We face similiar challenges with some of our hard to fill positions. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  2. i also liked the how-to aspects of this…what works (taking advantage of existing networks) and what doesn’t (trying to get people to join a new network) – nice. offers good contrast to the usual gestalt stuff on recruitment.

    Question: why is Microsoft messing with hardware? Seems like something Jim Collins would call a great thing to not do. Poaches on ‘partners’ who do it better. Bored executives in Redmond?

  3. John: thanks for the kind words.

    Gregg: I appreciate your perspective. I am a little confused by the “poaching” comment. Microsoft created the space for PC Hardware starting with the famous mouse 27 years ago. I am not certain where Xbox 360, Surface, or Sync encroaches on our “partners.”

  4. Hi Marvin…xbox or surface?

    if a prospective engineering candidate goes to the microsoft hardware home page (, she sees mice and webcams – not Xbox.

    Who can blame her then for scratching her head in wonderment as to why microsoft is doing mice instead of design specs? You have a sisyphean recruitment task to get her to think otherwise.

    As for the poaching, please see my post

  5. Sisyphean–great word Greg.

    A couple of quick comments and but first an apology–I misunderstood your “poaching” comment. We do not recruit from our partners–we have a definite corporate “hands-off” list.

    One thing your analysis of the engineering candidate overlooked is that we are inviting a target audience to visit an Entertainment & Devices web page . And that web page is clearly branded appropriately. From this vantage point that same perspective candidate could join our social networking communities It is because of what your observations about your hypothetical candidate experience that we developed the hardware@microsoft profession.

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