Where are the Best People? Competitive Intelligence as a Recruiting Tool

What makes headhunters and great executive search people successful? Their golden tongues? Their superior intelligence? No. It’s their network of contacts that enable them to find the best people in a field quickly. Most executive recruiters pride themselves on the network they have built over years of work. They know people who know people, and that is what keeps them going. These lists are carefully guarded and are considered proprietary information. It’s the stuff that makes the difference between finding the ideal candidate and failing. But, there is one downside to executive recruiting: they seldom know your business as well as you do. And they rarely have the depth of knowledge about a particular person’s abilities that comes from being both an expert in the field and as good judge of people as you might be. Only the hiring manager or a person closely connected to the manager knows exactly what they want. This makes the in-house recruiter the best person to use to locate talent but the limitations of an in-house recruiter are also significant. They don’t have the depth of network in a particular field that the executive recruiter has nor do most of them have the time to focus. They are fielding too many candidates in too many fields. Some progressive companies – albeit mostly in high tech – have begun to deal with this in a much more systematic way. Here are some of their ideas (I can’t mention who these Companies are because this technique is considered a trade secret):

  1. Start your own internal competitive intelligence group. This usually means that someone (or a few some ones) focuses on finding and getting to know everyone in a particular field. Their charter is to be aware of significant players in a field or in a particular geography. For example, they may get to know every microprocessor designer in Santa Clara, California or every person with an interest and background in an area of interest to their company.
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  3. Maintain a database of all these people and ask selected people in your company to refer others to this database and comment on the people they know. In other words, build a distributed knowledge system that anyone in your company can access. Some of them enter every business card gathered from a conference and then seek out information about each person. This information can be placed in a Lotus Notes/Domino database or some other type of knowledge management system for widespread distribution. The distribution is password protected and controlled, of course.
  4. Join every society where people like this hang out. Subscribe to journals and note who writes the articles and whom others refer to. Create events at your company (or attend events sponsored by others) to meet people and get to know them and their interests and abilities. Every events, social or professional, is a networking event.
  5. Test yourself monthly by asking: if a manager asked me for a particular type of person how long would it take me to find someone for him or her to talk to? If you come up with non ames, get to work. You should have three names for every key position in your company. Key position is defined as any position where the incumbent directly impacts the product, the customer or who has key information about the core technology of your firm.

Today’s labor environment requires these seemingly expensive and time-consuming methods. When you add up the cost of not filling a position for a month or two, the expense involved in maintaining a competitive intelligence system is very small.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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