The World?s Most Effective Recruiting Tool ? Have The CEO Call Them!

I am often asked by managers and recruiters… “What is the most effective recruiting tool?” As a data driven person I know immediately that the answer is… referrals from top performing employees within your own firm is the best source for quality hires. However, if you push me hard, I come up with what is technically a better answer. The recruiting tool that has the highest success rate (it is 100% at some firms) is having the CEO personally ask the recruit to join the firm. I have tried this at several firms with 100% success and we are currently using it at Agilent Technologies. Bill Gates has been known to do it and every top recruiter that I have ever asked about it responds almost immediately with the same mantra “it works every time!” Why does it work? Obviously being aware that the top executive of the firm knows who you are is a WOW just by itself. The fact that he/she wants you as an individual to join the firm and work directly with them is also a powerful motivator. In addition having the CEO call them works because:

  1. The candidate now has a unique story to tell their friends and family (especially for college hires)
  2. The fact that the CEO called means you are likely to have exceptional influence and access if you join the firm
  3. Your offer will stand out because few firms use the tool and the shock value alone will make your offer stand out
  4. CEO’s generally became successful because they are very convincing individuals and can make a great recruiting pitch
  5. When you ask top professional level candidates why they accept a job you almost always get an answer that includes:
    • Challenge
    • A great manager
    • Some degree of control over their job
    • Rapid learning and growth
    • A chance to make a difference
    • The necessary tools and resources to be successful

    When the CEO contacts them directly it is relatively easy for the candidate to make the assumption that knowing and having access to the CEO will assure that they will get more than their share of each of the listed items

What do you need to do?

It takes more than a simple phone call to ensure success. The most effective CEO contacts include these elements:

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  • It’s a face-to-face visit (phone calls are okay but they come in a weak second to a visit)
  • The CEO thoroughly knows your background and interests
  • A pitch that outlines how important you are to the firm’s future success as well as an inference that the CEO will be working closely with the candidate
  • The CEO asks you to say yes immediately
  • The CEO asks you to come directly to their office on your 1st day
  • The CEO shows excitement and enthusiasm and is able to anticipate and answer each question on the spot (without having to “get back you”)
  • When appropriate, have the CEO also call the spouse and welcome them to the team


Having a CEO contact a candidate directly makes your firm stand out. It requires some up-front preparation on the part of the CEO but it’s nearly 100 percent success rate tends to make the preparation worthwhile. If the CEO isn’t available having a senior vice president, a well-known manager or the GM make the call can also be effective. Try it, you will be amazed at the results. As a side benefit, as a recruiter you’ll also get to know the CEO quite well during the process of preparing them for the phone calls!

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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