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May 9, 2014
Push Recruiting Limits to Get Top Talent
Let's face reality: 99% of the approaches used by corporate recruiters to attract the very best design, creative, and marketing professionals are simply dull and unimaginative. You might think that using these mundane approaches is okay because…everyone uses them, but you would be wrong! In order to successfully recruit the elite talent known as "purple squirrels,” you need to use advanced approaches that push the limits of traditional recruiting.
Creative and Innovative Processes Attract Creative and Innovative People
The primary reason why mundane recruiting doesn't work is that the very best creative people have a passion for leading-edge marketing and design. And because of that, they only want to work at places that share their love for great design and marketing. They expect design and marketing excellence to permeate the firm and that means that recruiting is not exempt from that expectation. So you can imagine the reaction of top creative talent when they come in contact with the recruiting materials and process used at most firms. Imagine their extreme negative reaction when:
  • The recruiter that contacts them has no marketing skills or understanding.
  • The job postings are poorly written and uninspiring.
  • The firm’s careers website was designed back in the 20th century.
  • The jobs are posted on Craigslist or a job board instead of a more creative outlet.
  • The entire hiring and interview process is void of creativity. 
The key lesson for hiring managers and recruiters to learn is that if you want to attract and hire the very best among creative, innovative, and aggressive people, your recruiting process must mirror their expectations. This means that the recruiting approach must also be both creative and aggressive.
An Example of the Required Recruiting Agressiveness
I was a speaker at a corporate event for a major advertising firm. The event itself was announced on the outside signage of the hotel where the conference was held. Part of the program was a session to recognize and reward the superior work of the firm’s top producers. The top creative people were rewarded with a free trip to Hawaii and a symbolic Hawaiian shirt to wear during the rest of the event. Imagine the utter surprise of the senior partners when recruiters from a major competitor showed up during a conference break in the hotel bar and they were of course targeting everyone wearing a Hawaiian shirt! Initially the top performers were shocked, but many were so impressed with the bold approach that they continued to talk with the enemy recruiters. Identifying the top performers to recruit could not have been easier if they had pinned a "please recruit me" sign to their backs.
Bold, Creative, and Aggressive Recruiting Approaches to Try
If you're frustrated with your current recruiting results, I propose that now is the time to "push the limits" and try some really aggressive but still intuitive new recruiting approaches. The top 10 most effective approaches that I have included here have proven to be particularly effective when you're targeting the very top design, creative, and marketing professionals. Most have also been proven successful when recruiting technologists that are in high demand.
The Top 10 Most Effective Approaches for Recruiting Creatives
I have broken down these 10 approaches into three distinct categories.
Aggressive Prospect Identification Approaches 

1. Targeted proactive referrals. Among all recruiting sources, it's a fact that referrals produce the highest quality hires. But because "great people know great people," not surprisingly, employees that are rated as top performers produce the very best referrals. Because great people are connected, the most effective referral variation is proactively approaching your top performers and asking them to identify the top five design/marketing/creative people that meet these criteria:
  • They admire, learn from and try to emulate them.
  • They are the best professionals working at your top competitors.
  • They are the very best emerging talent.
  • They are the most effective leaders of creative teams.
Once you get these "give me five" names, ask the employee if these individuals are part of their social media network. And if so, work with them to improve their relationships to the point where the targeted individual is willing to become a referral. Or if that is not possible, convince them to become a periodic referral source.

2. Ask for names during the hiring process. Directly challenge the industry knowledge of your best candidates by asking them (as part of the interview) to list the names of the outstanding design/marketing individuals that they know. If you ask enough interviewees, you will get a pretty good list of the top names in any field. In addition, make it a standard practice to ask all top new hires during onboarding, “Who else is good at their former firm and in the industry?" Next ask the new hire to help you recruit any targeted individuals that they know. After a few months, when you have determined that you have a highly successful hire, call their references and ask them, "Do you know anyone else?"

3. Online competitions and awards. The most difficult aspect of recruiting is attracting individuals that are happy, successful, and already have a job. Because the very best are extremely competitive, a compelling online contest (covering a real design or marketing problem) can attract these currently employed professionals as well as those actively seeking a new job. Not only is a contest a great attraction tool, but it is also a superior assessment tool. In the same light, you should also target award winners that are recognized by functional and industry organizations. And finally, you should also search Internet and social media sites where actual examples of an individual's design and marketing work can be seen. Some effective "see their work" sites include YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, and Dribbble. 

Conduct Your Own Marketing Research to Fully Understand the Creative Candidate

4. "How would I find you again" profile. In order to identify the best recruiting sources for design/marketing professionals, turn to your own top employees and ask them, "If I were recruiting you today, how would I go about finding you again?" This means that you have to put together a profile covering "where they hang out.” Do that by asking them what industry, professional, and social events they attend, what magazines and journals that they read, and what social media and Internet sites they frequent. Assume that other top professionals "hang out" in the same places, so use the gathered information to identify the places where corporate branding, company information, and job announcements are the most likely to be seen and read.

5. Ask for their “job acceptance criteria.” Elite design and marketing candidates that are in high demand must have each of their specific job expectations met or they will accept other offers. You can determine a candidate’s expectations (and any "deal breakers") by asking them up front to list their job acceptance criteria. Using this information, you can then tailor the recruiting and closing process so that you end up providing them with compelling information demonstrating that you meet each of their acceptance criteria.

6. Ask new hires, “Why did you say yes?” You can dramatically improve your recruiting "sales pitch" if you ask all new marketing and design hires during onboarding, "Which specific elements of our firm’s recruiting and branding pitch had a positive influence on your decision to apply and accept?" Use this information to improve your marketing materials, interviews, and the offer process.
When and How to Recruit Creative Talent

7. Recruit on the "right day.” When recruiters initially contact individuals that currently have a good job, they often respond with a resounding "no.” However, these same individuals may change their perspective almost immediately after they experience a negative "triggering event" at their current firm. This negative event might include the fact that their boss/friend just left, their budget has been cut, or a major project proposal has been rejected. In the same light, when a competing firm is undergoing cutbacks, staff reductions, mergers, or other turmoil, it makes sense to immediately increase your recruiting efforts and to target all of their best people.

8. Utilize the mobile platform. It's no secret that creative types love their smartphones because they carry them along 24/7. Smart recruiters take advantage of the power of the mobile platform by tailoring their recruiting approach to take advantage of its features. Make sure that your corporate website is compatible with smartphones and then use its text, voice, and video capability to communicate your recruiting messages.

9. Assigned referrals based social network relationships. When a top candidate has already been identified, company recruiters can utilize "network connections identification software" in order to find out which employees have the strongest social media relationship with that target. The most strongly connected employee is then given the assignment (along with some coaching) to use their connections to contact and to build a recruiting relationship with the target.

10. Hold design and marketing seminars. Top talent is always seeking out advanced learning opportunities, and they are quite likely to attend a high-quality technical seminar that involves a well-known expert. If your organization sponsors the event and holds it on-site, you can easily identify top talent in attendance through their questions and interactions during the event. A tour of your facility can also be included to allow them to interact with your team. Asking top talent to speak at the event makes it even easier to assess them and build a relationship with them. Invitation-only evening open houses that highlight your new approaches and technology can also be effective.

Final Thoughts
If you're trying to recruit the very best in the marketing, creative, design, or technology fields (the equivalent of a superstar like LeBron James, Gabby Douglas, or Angelina Jolie) with traditional recruiting approaches and tools, not only are you naïve but you need to realize that you also hurting your company. If you expect to have a recruiting advantage over your competitors, you simply can't use the same tools. If you expect to hire creative people that work on the "leading edge," you have no choice but to utilize recruiting tools that are also creative and on the "leading edge" because creative people can spot a "safe" and bureaucratic recruiting process in a heartbeat. If you decide to make the transition, it's important to note that the recruiting tools and approaches outlined here have already proven their effectiveness, so all you need is courage.

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Dr. John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact strategic solutions. He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 8 books covering all of Talent Management. His articles can be found on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ERE.Net 
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