Odd Jobs: Sourcing Trails Less Travelled for Niche Positions

By Bill Leonard Nov 17, 2014
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Just how would you go about recruiting for this job?

Wanted: Astrophysicist or candidate possessing related skills in rocket science for prosperous Wall Street brokerage firm.

“Odd jobs” can have a much different context in corporate recruiting. Many large employers hire people for niche or specialty positions that have nothing to do with the company’s core mission. These jobs, which can range from director of gerontology at a major bank to staff meteorologist at a well-known retailer, can challenge recruiters who have built networks and sourcing techniques specific to a business’s particular field.

“I really enjoy finding different ways to use the recruiting skills and techniques that I have developed and used for years,” Bill Wright, senior technical recruiter with TalentFusion, told SHRM Online. “When recruiting for the more niche jobs, which can require some very specialized skills, an old-school approach of networking, calling contacts and making connections in person often works best.”

Addressing Recruiting ‘Wrinkles’

One of Wright’s more memorable assignments was to find a mechanical engineer with a passion for fishing. The employer was a worldwide manufacturer of bicycle parts and fishing equipment.

“Its challenge enough to find a really good mechanical engineer who’s looking to switch jobs, but once you added in that extra wrinkle, then it got really interesting,” Wright said.

The job was in Orange County, Calif., which Wright said was lucky because “any area with a large population will have a larger pool of qualified candidates to draw from.” He ran several targeted ads in a variety of locations.

“Trade shows and fishing tournaments seemed like logical choices to me,” he said.

Sure enough, he got a reply from an engineer who worked in the aerospace industry and was an avid fisherman.

“The applicant saw it as a great opportunity to meld his vocation and avocation into one,” Wright said. The company hired him to research and develop new state-of-the-art fishing rods and reels. The fishing engineer ultimately had a very successful career, staying with the business for years.

“I used to hear from him from time to time, thanking me for hooking him up with this job. He even took a $10,000 pay cut to start with, but fishing was his passion, and he absolutely loved what he was doing,” Wright said.

While this recruiting feat happened more than 25 years ago, Wright said he continues to use the lessons he learned then.

“Much of what I did then is still applicable today, even in this digital and social media age of recruiting,” he said. “A big part of recruiting is all about making connections, and while the Internet certainly has made some of that easier, sometimes you just have to go old school and place the phone calls, talk to people and make those personal connections.”

Establishing a Connection

Alex Putman, founder and CEO of the Atlanta-based consulting group MUZE, also believes successful recruiting requires building a relationship and connecting with the candidate.

“I always say that recruiting is actually marketing. It’s making the connection and then selling the job and the employer to the candidate,” he said. “Technology certainly has made it more efficient, but you still have to do your research and understand what appeals to candidates.”

The marketing of niche jobs to qualified candidates typically requires a bit more work, and a recruiter cannot rely solely on web-based tools and search functions, Putman said.

“It takes much more research to recruit for a specialty job that isn’t a typical job in an employer’s industry or market,” Putman said. “So first off, you have to do your homework. And second, many candidates that may be in a high demand field like engineering typically stay off-line because frankly, they don’t want to be hounded by other headhunters and employers.”

So Putman, too, relies on the old-school techniques of making phone calls, talking to people and attending events.

“You need to talk to people who are familiar with the field of expertise that you’re recruiting for,” he said. “Often that means talking to professors at your local university or community college.” Other good sources for information on potential candidates are professional societies.

“Associations are a great resource, and you can learn a lot about a profession and who are considered the leaders in a particular field by looking at an association’s website or speaking with their staff,” Putman said. “The goal is to learn as much as you can, so that when you contact a potential candidate, you can ask intelligent questions and demonstrate that you understand what’s important to them.”

Networking in the Niche

Wright said building connections through professional and academic interest groups has helped him identify strong candidates for one of his toughest recruiting challenges.

“Lately, I’ve been searching for astrophysicists and rocket scientists to work for a large brokerage firm on Wall Street,” Wright said. “Sounds crazy, right? But it’s a real thing, because this brokerage wants people who are exceptionally good with numbers and [who] are good at using statistics to analyze and predict certain outcomes.”

According to Wright, the mathematical skills of these type of scientists are helping the brokerage to develop complex stock derivatives. They “have a much different way of looking at things than traditional stockbrokers or financial analysts,” Wright said.

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

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