40 Strategies for Finding, Screening, & Hiring the World's Best Talent

By Luke Renner

Have you felt the frustration? Logging into your Indeed candidate pool, only to be let down?

Mediocre cover letters. Mediocre work experience. Mediocre candidates.

If it sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. In fact, according to Wasp Barcode’s Small Business Report, finding and keeping great talent is the single most difficult part of running your own business. In light of all the hassle and the frustration, we’ve got good news.

There’s a way out.

In fact, there are 40 ways. For the last few weeks, we’ve combed the Internets, read the books, and reached out to top recruiters at Fortune 500 companies to figure out their top recruitment strategies, secrets, and tricks.

This article is over 4,000 words, which means it’s epic — and comprehensive.

We recommend you bookmark it, because we’re sure you’ll come back over and over again. And in a few years, after your latest hire scores your company a big win, feel free to buy us tickets to Cancun.

At its core, finding and recruiting great talent is a marketing problem. You put leads at the top of your recruitment funnel, and through a carefully designed (and optimized) path, you bring them to the point where they want to convert.

In this case, the conversion is an application, a resume, and a professionally-written, oh-so-clean “To Whom It May Concern”.

If you want to be great, you’ve got to work with the greats. So let’s figure out how to find them.

Part 1: How to Find the World’s Best Talent

Recruitment Strategy 1: Build a Strong Employee Brand

When it comes to hiring new talent, work culture and candidate fit is the number one thing startup CEO’s consider — more so than experience.

In other words, it’s more important to find someone easy to work with than to find someone with the right credentials.

But to determine whether someone is a match, you need to be able to identify what you’re looking for in the first place.

For the small business or startup, defining your work culture — the style in which you conduct your business — can go a long way to signaling to applicants the kind of company you are and letting them decide if they would fit in.

Your company’s style gives rise to nearly every other aspect of your business. It defines how customers are treated, how employees interact with each other, how people are expected to do their jobs. It gives rise to the design of your website, the layout of your office, and even the text of a job post.

A strong employee brand will signal to hirees — the right hirees — that yours is a great company to work for.

Recruitment Strategy 2: Start Early

The worst time to start looking for a new employee is when you need them.

Starting early offers many advantages. It allows you to take your time and find the right candidate. It also gives candidates more time to find you.

Recruitment is a skill, one that will take practice. Your first job post won’t be the best you’ll ever write. Your first interview won’t be the best you’ll ever conduct, so give you and your company plenty of opportunities to get good in these areas so you’ll be ready when you really need to be.

Recruitment Strategy 3: Get Your Website Ready for Applicants.

Whether or not candidates will apply directly on your site, most will use it as a resource to learn more about you and decide whether they want to work for you.

In light of this, make the “careers” section of your site more than just a list of opens, but a pitch to potential applicants. It should be the digital equivalent of giving viewers the Grand Tour.

Maybe you offer employees a fantastic work environment, complete with a pool table or beanbag chairs — or maybe your benefits are more traditional. Either way, be sure to make those benefits clear on the page, which brings us to our next tip:

Recruitment Strategy 4: Favor Transparency

Did you know job postings that include salary information receive up to 30% more applicants?

With information ubiquitous these days, job hunters don’t have time for companies that play their cards close to the chest.

In light of this, communicate the benefits of the position early, not just in job posts, but throughout your website.

Recruitment Strategy 5: Ask For Referrals from Your Network

Your existing professional network can be a powerful source for finding great talent. Everybody knows somebody and who better to communicate how great it is to work for you than those who already do?

Your financiers or investors likely know people too, so don’t be afraid to ask them.

Hell, you can even ask applicants who are sitting down for an interview.

Recruitment Strategy 6: Ask For Referrals from Your Employees

Most top-tier organizations offer their existing employees commissions for new candidate referrals.

For the scrappy startup or small business, you might not have the budget to launch such a program. There are, however, low-cost perks that you can offer to encourage referrals. These perks may include an extra day off, lunch, or movie tickets.

You can even make referral generation a company value and a part of performance reviews.

Recruitment Strategy 7: Recruit Out of College

The majority of Fortune 500 companies have a great ground game when it comes to recruiting applicants out of college.

While you may not have the resources to be on every campus in America (I’m looking at you, Chase Bank), you likely have the resources to send a quick email to a counselor in a department at school you respect.

College students are particularly seduced by informal business cultures, which means that although you might not be able to offer them as many brick-and-mortar benefits as a larger company, they may be sufficiently enticed by other perks.

Recruitment Strategy 8: Offer Internships

When conducted correctly, internships are a fantastic way to screen entry-level applicants before bringing them onboard.

Applicants like it too because they get to learn about your company and decide whether they want to work there.

In addition to building relationships with potential applicants, an internship program offers you a fantastic connection to a great department at a great university. Counselors and professors can then be tapped as future resources for referrals.

Recruitment Strategy 9: Gameify Your Recruitment

Remember that scene in the Social Network where all the intern applicants were sitting around a table, typing into their laptops, taking shots along the way — all to win a coveted Facebook internship.

This is what we mean when we say make a game of it. Whether or not alcohol’s involved, gameifying your recruitment is a powerful Recruitment Strategy that’s being used all over the tech industry these days.

Creating a game out of the application process can increase the interest in the position and therefore bring in more applicants.

Google is notorious for doing this. They hide programming challenges all over their website, which they use to identify and screen new talent.

Recruitment Strategy 10: Host Take Your Buddy to Work Days

Sometimes getting great people interested in your company is just a matter of getting them through your doors. You can build upon your existing referral program by encouraging your employees to bring their friends.

The idea here is that you are converting these visitors into future applicants or advocates. In either case, they will add to your applicant pool and bring more great talent your way.

Recruitment Strategy 11: Go to a Job Fair

In the world of targeted online advertising, job fairs might at first glance seem too broad and unfocused to be worth your time.

In most cases, you’re right.

On the other hand, some job fairs might be narrowly focused enough to be of value to you. This is especially true for job fairs that are hosted in conjunction with professional conferences. In those cases, your participation might just be worth it.

Recruitment Strategy 12: Hire Remote Employees

The majority of the workforce is just not willing to move in pursuit of a new work opportunity.

In light of this, companies that require their employees to be onsite are greatly narrowing their applicant pool to people who are already in the area.

By allowing your employees to work remotely, you open yourself to the possibility of working with stellar people, no matter where they are in the world!

Recruitment Strategy 13: Hire an Agency

After online job listings, hiring a recruiter is the second most popular way to find new employees.

Doing so has many advantages, particularly if you don’t have time to find the right candidate yourself. Agencies, for instance, often come armed with a roster of great talent.

Recruitment Strategy 14: Don’t Hire an Agency

One of the greatest assets you have as a small business is that you aren’t a wildly spiraling corporate machine.

It is the fact of your smallness that makes you attractive to potential employees. In light of this, many small companies consider it vital to take a hands-on approach to recruit new talent.

By staying active in the process you’re able to offer applicants something that the Apples and Costco’s of the world cannot: the opportunity to build a personal relationship with the applicant.

Recruitment Strategy 15: Design Creative Perks and Benefits

Benefits have always been an essential chit in the recruitment game. In the modern startup environment, however, benefits have evolved far beyond the standard healthcare and vacation days.

Think of benefits not as a cost, but as another opportunity to communicate company culture. Just as Casual Fridays were hip in the ’80s, ski weekends, free lunches, and/or telecommute Tuesdays can serve a similar purpose today.

A benefits package doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive so long as it lets your applicants know who you are and why they should care.

In some cases, benefits can also be profitable. When Google allowed its employees to spend one day a week working on whatever they wanted, not only were they giving their employees valuable freedom, they were also creating pipelines to future profitability.

Recruitment Strategy 16: Write Appealing Job Descriptions

You have to approach writing a job ad with the same grace you would a personal ad.

Sure, you could write forever about what you’re looking for in a partner, but unless you’re willing to get into the nitty-gritty of who you are and what you’re about, you can’t hope to attract a mate.

We’ll be going into the details of how to write a great job ad in a future round-up, but the short of it is this: be specific, be detailed, and be transparent.

The goal here is to get people interested in you. Later in the process, you will have plenty of time to decide if you’re interested in them.

Recruitment Strategy 17: Offer Equity

Unfortunately, when it comes to recruiting top talent, the biggest way you lose to the biggest companies is compensation. They simply have way more money than you, which empowers them to pay top-tier talent a stratospheric salary.

While you may not be able to compete in pure dollars, you might be able to trade in equity.

Common wisdom tells us you should guard your equity like a totem in Indiana Jones. However, we believe that your equity is your most valuable asset and can be a strong incentive for finding talent and getting them to accept lower-paying jobs.

It is far better to own 99% of a 7 figure company than it is to own 100% of a 0 figure one. Investors aren’t the only ones on which a company lives or dies.

Recruitment Strategy 18: Don’t Forget About Passives

Passives are candidates who aren’t necessarily looking for a job at the moment, but might be wooed to a new one should a good opportunity present itself.

Here’s where professional social networks like Linked-in can be particularly helpful, as it allows you to search and reach out for candidates based on skills and experience.

Recruitment Strategy 19: Go Mobile

A majority of job hunters search for positions using their phone, so you want to be sure your ad is getting posted to mobile-responsive sites or — even better — sites that have connected smart phone apps.

Additionally, you may want to integrate messaging services into your recruitment efforts. One idea is to partner with a service that texts interested applicants when a new job goes up.

Recruitment Strategy 20: Build a Recruitment Consortium

One way to increase your reach without increasing your costs is to share your recruitment efforts and expenses with other companies.

For example, you might not be able to afford a booth at South by Southwest, but you might be able to afford a shared one with another company.

Partnering with other companies who are also looking to hire creates a powerful network that you can leverage to find the candidates you need.

Recruitment Strategy 21: Prioritize a Great Position (or a Great Team)

Sometimes it makes sense to hire (and pay for) a top tier candidate to lead a department, even if it means diverting compensation and benefits from other positions.

Other times it makes sense to build a great team, wherein there is no “superstar” but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Quantity and quality are not mutually-exclusive but they lie on a continuum whose pros and cons should be considered.

Part Two: How to Screen the World’s Best Talent

If everything goes as planned, the strategies above should leave you with a massive pile of applications to consider. This, of course, is only the beginning.

Read on to learn how to continue the process of finding the best person for the job.

Recruitment Strategy 22: Issue Aptitude Tests

These days, companies of all sizes are using a data-driven approach to pre-screen candidates.

Whether you are looking to hire someone in the warehouse or the next director of marketing, many firms out there can design aptitude tests to help you determine whether your candidates’ qualifications are indeed qualifying.

Recruitment Strategy 23: Internet Stalk Them

A candidate’s social media presence can give you a strong indication of the kind of person they are.

For the most part, the days of the drunken publicly-available Facebook photo are over. Still, going through an applicant’s LinkedIn profile or Twitter feed can give you important insights into how they tick.

In the past, this Recruitment Strategy was employed to root out alcoholics and slackers. Today, it can be an opportunity to compare candidates’ “private” lives with your company culture.

Recruitment Strategy 24: Make Candidates Complete Pre-Screeners

Interviews are time-consuming, which means you want to conduct as few of them as possible. For this to happen, you need to find ways of narrowing the field.

Pre-screeners are an easy way to do this. A simple form that you set up on your site can be used to gather more information beyond whether or not they’re qualified.

Recruitment Strategy 25: Make Candidates Create Video Introductions

If Malcolm Gladwell taught us anything, it’s that we can trust our snap judgments. It’s in this spirit, that we love the video introduction.

Video introductions give employers a concise window into a candidate’s ability to communicate, their familiarity with technology, and their professionalism.

Why sit down for a 30-minute interview, when you can determine in the first 60 seconds that you don’t want them?

Recruitment Strategy 26: Focus on What They Did Not Where They Worked

A good applicant knows that he needs to tailor his resume to every job position. In light of this, it’s important to suss out exactly what a candidate did at his previous job.

By forcing a candidate to get specific about his work experience, whether during the interview or a pre-interview screener, you can sift through the B.S.

Recruitment Strategy 27: Ask the Right Interview Questions

According to the dating website, OKCupid, those who like the taste of beer are extremely likely to also enjoy one-night stands. And so, they reason, if you’re at a bar and want to see if you have a chance of getting lucky, you should offer to buy your target a beer.

All of this is to say, learning how to get the information you need is important and sometimes requires subtlety. Sometimes you have to ask Question A to get an answer to Question B.

If you’re new to the interview process, we recommend you approach it this way:

  1. Write down a list of 10–20 qualities your ideal candidate will have.
  2. Create questions (and backup questions) that will identify whether or not your interviewee has those qualities.
  3. Try out different creative ways to getting at the truth as your candidate will likely tell you everything you want to hear.

It may take you several interviews to test out possible questions until you find great ones to ask. Also, you may have to ask the same question several different ways to get to the truth.

Recruitment Strategy 28: Peer Interview

Most small businesses are very team-oriented, which means bringing those other team members into an interview a great way to see if a candidate is going to gel.

Letting your current employees interview future ones can offer you valuable insights. They’ll ask questions you never thought of and give you insights into group dynamics you might not otherwise be able to anticipate.

Recruitment Strategy 29: Check References

It’s a good idea to check references for all of the reasons you might imagine. For us, the best reason is to get answers to questions the candidate would be reluctant to give.

That being said, previous employers may be also reluctant to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth as going negative may expose them to litigation.

For the referral phone call to be of any use to you, you may have to get the information you need indirectly.

Recruitment Strategy 30: Try Them Out As Temps

A job interview and a cover letter may not be the very best way to determine whether your candidate is great for the job.

Another Recruitment Strategy you might try is to hire them as temps through an agency.

By bringing them into the office for a few days, you can get a much deeper understanding of who they are, how they work, and whether they’re a good fit for the job.

Part Three: How to Hire the World’s Best Talent

Once you’ve decided who you want to offer the job to, you still have to get them to agree to come and work for you.

This is the point where an applicant has the strongest bargaining power. He knows you want him and is going to try to get as much as he can out of the deal.

Regardless of whether your candidate plays hardball, below, you’ll find the strategies for getting to yes.

Recruitment Strategy 31: Don’t Lowball

When it comes to salary requirements, most candidates won’t ask for the moon. They’ll ask for what they think they deserve plus or minus a little extra.

Most applicants assume there are hundreds of candidates competing for the position, and if they ask for too much you’ll just go to the next guy.

The best way to get the candidate that you want is to pay them what they deserve.

Recruitment Strategy 32: Hire Them and a Plus One

While Recruitment Strategy 31 may seem obvious, in some cases, you simply don’t have the budget to pay them what they deserve.

One way to bring great people into the fold anyway is to offer to hire them and a plus one. If a candidate can work with a friend or a spouse, it may make them more inclined to come onboard.

Recruitment Strategy 33: Have Your CEO Make a Personal Call

Personal calls from important people can go a long way toward getting the talent you want. The President of the United States uses this tactic all the time.

Even if your CEO isn’t particularly famous or influential, having him make the phone call signals to the applicant that she matters and will be a noticed asset if she joins the company.

It’s an easy trick that costs zero dollars!

Recruitment Strategy 34: Hire Them on a 90-day Basis

Hiring a new employee on a trial basis turns the tables. Wherein before, it was your job to earn their acceptance, now it becomes their job to earn yours.

This is a subtle manipulation that puts downward pressure on their negotiating abilities because it indicates that even this late in the game, you still haven’t made up your mind about them.

Recruitment Strategy 35: Listen To What the Candidate Wants

It’s easy to assume you know what will make a candidate accept a position, but you could be wrong, which means you need to ask.

At every stage of the application process, you need to listen to their needs so that you may be able to provide them.

Ask your candidate to create a wish list for their next role. Get them to explain it to you and write it all down.

Ask them everything: what kind of manager they want, what hours they want to work, what flexible arrangements they desire, what additional training they may be looking for, etc.

The more you can align the role with their desires, the more chances you have of getting them.

Recruitment Strategy 36: Create Dignity and Meaning

Most employees would prefer a meaningful job that pays less to a less meaningful job that pays more.

In this case, we consider a meaningful job one that offers career progression, challenge, and the sense that the work matters.

When you’re hiring, be sure to articulate how a role can progress through a company (if it can).

What challenges will the position face? How does the company, and that position, in particular, have an impact on the world?

These are all aspects of a role that you can sell when trying to land a candidate.

Recruitment Strategy 37: Give Them the Royal Treatment

Make sure the candidate has a chance to see himself in the role. To do this, invite them to lunch, give them a tour of the office, show them their work space.

Believe it or not, most interviewers never see their future workspace before their first day.

Introduce them to other key people. Show them the fantastic areas for staff relaxation or the inspiring production floor where products are coming off the line.

You want to convey the energy of your office and make your candidate want to be a part of it.

Recruitment Strategy 38: Have a Backup Plan

Increase your confidence in a negotiation by having a strong backup plan. You know that if things go south, you have other options. That confidence will be clear to the candidate, which means it subtly weakens their negotiating position.

Recruitment Strategy 39: Host a Battle Royale

While it may be a very efficient way to narrow the field and identify top candidates, most jurisdictions outside of Westeros and Panem regard battles to the death with some skepticism.

If a battle to the death does make sense for your company, we suggest you add an optional supermarket sweep element to the challenge.

For example, most companies these days give candidates a full 60 seconds to run through Home Depot and select a weapon (or weapons) of choice. It will allow you to assess a candidate’s creativity and grace under pressure.

Note: before implementing Recruitment Strategy 39, we suggest you consult with legal.

Recruitment Strategy 40: Choose the Right Candidate

All joking aside, we’ll leave you with a final tip: it is better to wait than to hire the wrong candidate.

This may seem obvious, but in the rush of running a small business, sometimes it might feel better to get someone into the position than to waste any more time on it.

Trust us, this is a flawed recruitment strategy.

When it comes to finding the perfect fit, what’s another couple weeks? Your future self and the future growth of your company will thank you — and so will we when you send us those tickets to Cancun!

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