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Ask the Headhunter/ General Management

3 Secrets For Recruiting, Without Paying Headhunters


by Nick Corcodilos
Contributing Writer

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Why would you pay a headhunter $30,000 to $50,000 to fill a $150,000 position on your team? What we headhunters do isn’t magic or mysterious. Any manager can recruit and hire great people. The difference between you and me is I actually do what needs to be done to fill the job. You assign the task to someone else and pay dearly for the service.

You’ve probably been taught that recruiting is a specialized job better left to your human resources department and to me. That’s bunk. You’d do a far better job of it than anyone else, if you realized this one point: Someone you already know probably knows the person you need to hire. You just haven’t asked them. Where do you think I find my candidates?

(Some of the best hires come through trusted referrals. But these hires are not people for your open jobs. They’re people you should create jobs for. Don’t believe me? Check “Ferocious Recruiting.”)

Here are three simple secrets to recruiting and hiring for your team—and for doing it better than I could for less money.

1. Start a recruiting war room. Recruiting is a critical management task. If you’re not spending 15% to 20% of your time doing it, you’re not honing one of your most competitive edges. But you don’t have to do it alone. To find great candidates, I turn to some of the best people I know in the industries I recruit for.

You should turn to your own team. Make them your recruiters. Start a recruiting war room. Once a week, meet with your best people for half an hour. Put one item on the agenda: Who do we know, and who have we met in the past month, who interacts with top talent in our field? Start a dossier. Keep track of potential candidates and sources of potential candidates. One trusted source is worth 10 referrals over one or two years. After a few months, you’ll have excellent sources of talent.

2. Put your recruiters on the ground. Every member of your team, and every employee in your company, should be a recruiter. If they’re not, they’re not yielding their full value. Of course, few people on your team want to call and recruit anyone. They feel awkward. So don’t ask them to do that. Instead, ask them to bring you names, business cards, references, and other information about the movers and shakers in your industry.

How do they get these? Start with the obvious. Who on your team attends industry events, training programs, or conferences? Add this task to their travels: When you meet someone who impresses you, ask him what he likes the most about his job (to break the ice), and who he knows and admires in the business (to identify talent). Then get his card, make notes on the back, and bring you the cards. Your job is to follow up with these contacts. Introduce yourself, explain that your employee met the individual and was impressed, and you just wanted to say hello. Tell them, “If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know.” (If you feel awkward, sign up for a local Toastmasters meeting to learn how to talk to people. They’ll help you. Your job as a manager includes talking to people and being effective at it.)

Now you're turning into your own headhunter. You just started recruiting, without soliciting. File each contact to use later. Or call back in another week and ask him if he’d like to meet with you to discuss a job.

3. Start filling your positions. Assemble the most important open positions you have. Convene your recruiters in the war room. Go to the white board and start listing people your team knows and admires—vendors, customers, consultants, and any “shining light” connected to your industry. These are not potential candidates (though they might be). These are your potential sources of candidates for the jobs you’re trying to fill. I guarantee you that they know candidates you should meet. Your job is to interview your team about each source and select the ones you think might be most productive. Your next job is to call each of them, explaining that you’re going to fill a key position. “You’re one of the shining lights in our industry. I’d like to ask your advice about who I should be talking with about this position,” you’ll say.

 That’s how you recruit like a headhunter, without paying headhunters.

 Join me on the Discussion Forum to learn more about how to be your own headhunter.

About Nick Corcodilos

Nick Corcodilos writes "Ask The Headhunter," a weekly blog on in which he shows you how to tackle the daunting obstacles that job hunters and managers face when trying to work together. From time to time, Corcodilos also will provide feature stories offering insights into various management career strategies, In addition, his newest books, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps, How to Work with Headhunters and How Can I Change Careers?, are available as PDFs.