Back in the day, Tandem Computers, one of the top companies in Silicon Valley, had such a sterling reputation that it didn’t need headhunters like me to recruit new hires. Much of the company’s recruiting was done the old-fashioned way: through personal contacts and employee referrals.
But Tandem did this with a twist. Its Friday Beer Busts, held around the company swimming pool, were legendary in Silicon Valley. Employees were encouraged to invite their friends. Engineers, marketers, and other professionals from around the Valley thus pollinated the ranks of this innovative company. Tandem’s top managers always attended and spoke openly about problems and challenges the company faced. Personal interaction was the coin of the realm, and it was how Tandem hired the best talent.
But recruiting was not the focus of these Beer Busts. It was a time for employees to chill, talk, have a beer, and hang out with peers and unexpected visitors. Guests were under no pressure to apply for a job. To trot out an old ’80’s term, recruiting was “organic.” The point was to enrich Tandem’s culture.
Today, “social” recruiting is a lot easier—you don’t need a pool, and you don’t need to buy beer. Your human resources department posts jobs on social networks like LinkedIn, tweets to interested followers, maintains a Facebook page, and keeps up a rapid dialogue across social media.
But you’d probably rather get invited to a beer bust next to a swank swimming pool. I know I would.
In “Recruiting, Millionaire Matchmaker-Style,” recruiting industry watchdog Joel Cheesman reports that Box, a cloud storage company, is rekindling Tandem-style gatherings to do its recruiting. I applaud Aaron Levie, Box’s CEO, for putting face time back in “social.”
While I think Box is doing something right, I also think it’s missing a great opportunity. The company has a good idea—and Cheesman says it seems to be working—but rather than expanding its company culture around a social event, Box seems to be building a recruiting method around parties. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Tandem’s strength was that it invited outsiders to experience its culture so its employees and managers could identify guests who fit. Box seems be using a “shooting fish in a barrel” approach.
To start with, Tandem’s guests had a chance to hang out casually. Box’s guests are almost immediately subjected to the personnel department: “. . .recruiters performing passive candidate outreach used the event to start conversations.”
Again—don’t misunderstand me. This is much smarter than surfing LinkedIn and inviting links from people you don’t know (see “To Reid Hoffman’s LinkedIn Network-niks: Bug Off”). What Box is doing is both clever and effective. But it’s a one-company job fair that smacks of all the slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am behavior of a “speed-dating” event. Everyone knows what they’re there for—and it’s just one thing.
“For the first 30 minutes the candidates get to know one another. This was done to relieve interview stress. Then, the candidates were taken into a room where they each had their own table.”
After some quick socializing, “attendees that caught the recruiting team’s attention were funneled into actual interviews.”
What’s good about this is that an online business is investing in engagement with people in a real, live setting. But I think Box would get a lot more out of this investment if it encouraged its employees to invite friends to visit—but not specifically to get recruited. Tandem’s poolside gatherings didn’t just generate hires. The company made new friends, influenced the industry, and developed valuable relationships distinct from any recruiting objectives. Its managers learned a lot about what was going on around the Valley from guests who might appear just once, and it cultivated a reputation as a hub of industry and professional dialogue. This made Tandem the most desirable place to work in the Valley.
Face-to-face recruiting is a good thing, and I’d much rather go to a Box “Drink N Sync,” as Box calls it, than send in a resume full of my keywords. But Box could turn this into a whole lot more, while its competitors grovel (quite unsocially) for links and applicants on LinkedIn.
If your company is looking for better ways to recruit than buying access to people’s keywords in some applicant database, then Box’s approach is a great start. But to really stand out, use in-person social recruiting to turn your company into a hub of connections in your professional community. That’s what Tandem did, and the hires followed.