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Extreme Recruiting Practices Emerging

In the land of Google, Apple, Twitter and Facebook, Silicon Valley recruiters are leading the way in introducing aggressive and extreme recruiting approaches.

Here are just a few:

Clever Captive Recruiting

San Francisco-based firm Uber is in a battle with Lyft for top drivers. Like Uber, Lyft is a transportation network company that uses an online-enabled platform to connect passengers with drivers who use their personal, noncommercial vehicles. Uber has figured out that if you lock up the good drivers, then you lock up the market.”It uses an ultra-smart referral program, which provides $250 for a successful employee referral. That amount doubles if the referred individual is from a targeted competitor (a Lyft driver). The bonus doubles again if the hired individual is a driver trainer at a competitor. Uber also towed a huge mobile billboard around San Francisco that read “Shave the Stache” in reference to the large pink mustache that Lyft drivers place on their cars.

Captive Recruiting at the Google Bus Stop

Google is well-known for providing luxury buses for its employees from San Francisco to its headquarters in Mountain View. With heavy traffic, it’s not uncommon for these “Googlers” to have to wait a good while for the next bus. The Tumblr arm of Yahoo figured out that this line of employees would be a great place to recruit, so it placed a free coffee stand there and used it as a recruiting station. Startup Bigcommerce also joined the raid on the line with coffee, invitations to a lavish party and poached-egg sandwiches (obviously not so subtly referring to the recruiting term “poaching”). Roku also recruited at the Google bus stop, where it gave away “Roku boxes” filled with Roku gadgets worth between $45 and $100.

‘I Love My Job’ TV Advertising

Everyone knows that TV reaches a wide range of individuals, so it’s not surprising that the recruiting function has begun to utilize it more. What is particularly bold is an approach that shares product advertising with “I love my job” recruiting advertising. Wal-Mart started the approach, but Sam Adams beer and the Coors Third Street brand have also utilized it. The Coors commercial includes attention-grabbing phrases like “I love my job,” “A story about loving what you do,” “When you love your job, you never work a day in your life” and “When beer is your calling, you never clock out.” It’s hard to miss the premise that if you love your job, you will produce a quality product.

Forget the College Campus Visit

Even conservative college recruiting techniques are becoming more extreme, so it was a major breakthrough when Nestlé Purina used “quality of hire data” to determine that the best college hires often didn’t come from schools that the company visited. Campus visits are time-consuming, expensive and problematic because many students now seldom visit their campus during the day, so the company shifted to a remote college recruiting model. Nestlé Purina now relies on a wide range of social media to identify college prospects, but the best prospects are still invited to their campus for a face-to-face discussion. As a result of this approach, the quality of applicants, the quality of hires, manager satisfaction and hiring costs have all moved in a positive direction.

Insulting Recruiting Video

Competitive recruiting reached a new level when game creator Kixeye put together an outrageous recruiting video that insults and pokes direct fun at the company’s product and talent competitors. The video suggests that Electronic Arts’ (EA) approach to gaming is old by including the logo “EAARP Games” (a reference to AARP) and an aging executive with an oxygen tank and heart monitor. It also mocks Zynga, another competitor, by transforming its famous dog logo into an inappropriate image. Kixeye’s CEO narrates the video himself, and he uses expletives (something that endears him to gamers) in the video. To most, this type of mockery would be in bad taste, but to candidates in the gaming industry, it may be considered cool and bold.

Videos have also been used in lieu of résumés for applications. For example, Snapchat only accepted applications by way of a Snapchat picture or video; it received an amazing 2,000 Snapchats in three days.

Transforming Employee Referrals

Referrals have been around for a long time, and they are popular because they produce the highest volume and the highest quality of hire. But recently, startups have taken referrals to a new level because they have found that offering outrageously high referral awards yields a great deal of media and social network buzz. Hubspot gave a $30,000 reward, and numerous other firms have given between $10,000 and $20,000. Other innovations include allowing nonemployees to refer candidates and adding equally as large sign-on bonuses to encourage the preferred individual to accept. Thumbtack’s referral program has awarded the referring employee an all-expenses-paid trip around the world; nonemployees who successfully referred candidates received a four-night all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii with a stay at the Four Seasons.

Debunking Traditional Hiring Criteria

Google, which has the world’s only metric-driven HR function, has conducted internal research to find that GPAs, test scores and brainteaser interview questions are worthless in predicting on-the-job success. It found that many of its best hires not only did not have a college degree but hadn’t even taken any college classes.

Mobile Phones Dominate Recruiting Communications

Because the mobile phone often has the highest response rate, it’s becoming the dominant recruiting communications channel. Smart recruiters use texting as well as games and recruiting videos to entice candidates. McDonald’s and Sodexo have also learned that you must develop an application process that allows prospects to apply from their phone directly to a mobile website.

Companies such as Starbucks and Carl’s Jr. are also placing phone card dispensers near their registers. These credit-card-sized cards contain a QR code that allows mobile phone users to instantly access job-related information about the company.

Big Data Impacts Recruiting

Although big data is still only for advanced users, many recruiting leaders have learned that if you can mine this data, you can discover potential hires from around the world. Using a combination of consumer data and social media profiles in complex Boolean Internet searches, you can find talent by building or buying profiles of almost everyone you might want to recruit. In addition, sophisticated algorithms can now help you identify the right day and time periods that a fully employed prospect may consider entering job search mode. The algorithms also allow you to discover when a prospect is unhappy or when his or her company may be in trouble, making the individual more receptive to interviewing with you—even if they may have said no to interviewing months before.

Virtual Job Previews

Recruiting has been slow to adopt simulations for attracting and assessing top talent. However, companies such as Starbucks and Marriott have begun to utilize online interactive exercises, which excite prospects because they get a virtual job preview of the work they will be asked to do. These exercises can also serve as an assessment tool. KPMG, for example, has utilized a form of simulation in order to assess prospects.

Video Job Descriptions: A Powerful Selling Tool

We all know that the younger generation loves videos and hates reading dry material, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that de-emphasizing narrative job descriptions and providing an alternative video job description is an emerging recruiting approach. Because the actual hiring manager and the team appear in the video, it allows outsiders to feel the excitement at your organization. Video job descriptions show applicants that your company is bold and that it is willing to use innovative approaches (even in recruiting) that utilize technology, video and social media. They also provide you with an opportunity to re-examine the painfully dull, all-text job descriptions that most organizations currently use and to improve them so they are more compelling than the competition’s.

Vans, a retail store, created a video job description for all possible retail positons. The videos, created by the vice president of store operations, walk potential applicants through “the life of a Vans employee” while highlighting the company culture, the job requirements and job duties. At the end, viewers receive a personal message of “I look forward to meeting you soon.” Video job descriptions help job seekers see, hear and feel aspects of the company that are not adequately communicated through plain text.

John Sullivan, Ph.D., an internationally known HR thought leader from the Silicon Valley specializing in strategic talent management, is currently a professor of management at San Francisco State University. He can be reached at

©2015. International Association for Human Resource Information Management. Used with permission.


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