Better ways to recruit

Jun 14, 2010

It’s commonly said that a design or environmental firm is only as good as its staff. That’s why I always felt recruiting was so critical and one of the MOST important functions of any firm in this business. That said, most companies really don’t treat recruiting like it is as important to their future success as it really is. They spend little time or money trying to make their recruiting more effective. Instead, they make it an afterthought— a catch-as-catch-can effort— with limited involvement of the top people. Big mistake— and it has long-term implications for the firm’s success. Recruiting is critical to your success, especially now when a key difference-maker or two can have a huge impact on the firm’s performance. Here are some better ways to recruit the kind of talent that will help take your firm to its next level of success: Enlist the help of your existing staff. Go to your best employees directly and ask them who are the good people they used to work with. This is NOT the same thing as sending out a list of openings via e-mail and asking for referrals. Nor do you need to pay recruitment bonuses. I have always felt— for a variety of reasons— that this was a bad idea. Use a temp-to-perm model. For support staff, and even for some technical and professional staff, it is always nice to “try before you buy.” I have always been a firm believer that this is the only way to hire support people. If we had a temp receptionist who couldn’t pronounce the company name, I sure would like to know that before that person was on our payroll! With a growing pool of temps in technical fields, it is becoming easier to see what someone can do before you hire them full-time. Buy another company to get their people. With some firms out there that have not planned for transition and poor financial performance, it is possible that you’ll find a bargain you can buy for 10 or 15 cents on the revenue dollar. It may be worth it just to get their people— a team that is used to working together and one you can look at the output of and decide whether or not it meets your standards before bringing them on-board. Recruit directly from other firms in your business. Call them. Ask who is in charge of a particular discipline, who runs an office, who pays their bills, or whatever you are looking for. Then get that person on the phone and ask them if they would be willing to sit down with you confidentially to explore opportunities at your firm. It works. What kind of people do you want to hire anyway— successful ones with relevant experience or someone who is unemployed and doesn’t have the right experience? Recruit from potential clients. If they are large enough organizations and you can hire one of their key people, you may have a real inside edge when it comes to getting work, not to mention someone who understands the client’s culture and who will be able to provide valuable insight once you actually do get a project. Grow from within. Always the best long-term strategy. Use ’em as interns and co-ops, and hire upon graduation. Only start with the smartest and best workers who have no bad habits, and mold them into your future leaders. Go outside our industry. Sometimes, particularly in staff positions such as marketing or IT or finance, it’s a good idea to look for some talent outside of our industry to other types of businesses that are further along than we are in these functions. You may leapfrog competitors in the process! Re-recruit past employees. Who used to work there who was good? Call them! See what they are doing now. Recruiting is really worth talking about and trying to improve. What else is more critical to your long-term future? Originally published 6/14/2010

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