There's a difference between hiring people and recruiting talent.

As an interactive agency, our biggest expense is our people. Hiring a new employee is a big investment, and potentially a risky one as well. This is made more difficult because the interactive industry is growing, and is highly competitive. There are lot of good companies vying for a limited number of exceptional people. Over time our approach to hiring has evolved based on a rather unlikely template. We've decided to approach hiring new employees more like college basketball programs approach recruiting talented players.

Why? College basketball is highly competitive. In fact, it's more competitive than most industries out there. Plus, everyone has to play by the same rules. This means that the biggest differentiator a team can have versus it's competition is the talent-level of their players.

So how do the great teams go about getting more talented players than their competition? College basketball teams don't post ads on websites and wait for the applications to flood in. They scout, identify and recruit talent that fits their needs. Great companies used to do the same thing with corporate recruiters. But, with the advent of tools like linkedin, it's easier than ever to proactively scout for talent. Companies can identify potential employees with nothing more than a few minutes searching.

But, changing from a hiring mindset to a recruiting mindset also shifts the way you approach the interview process. Each touchpoint with a potential hire is an interaction with your brand. It's the business equivalent of a high school athlete making a campus visit. If the applicant has to answer a series of generic pre-interview questions by email, is blown off by a distracted team member when they come for the in person interview, and has to sit uncomfortably in the lobby for an extended period of time; then the chances are the applicant is going to judge your company based on those interactions. And if those interactions are negative then you're at a disadvantage from the start. Talented people aren't really "hired" by companies, they "choose" to work there. If you give them a reason to say no, chances are they'll take it.

Written by Adam Harrell on July 22, 2009


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Great post. I often advise/warn clients that they are "opening the kimono" when they recruit talent. It is amazing to me how many companies damage their valuable brand by running cattle calls for vital, visible roles within the organization.

Your approach is unusual, although it really should not be. What greater competitive advantage could there be than recruiting the best talent???

In today's world it's easier than ever to connect with people. Industry events, social media, etc. But, I think the key thing to consider is that it will be difficult to target companies if you don't have the track record to attract their interest. If you have the skills, the track record and are active in the community then you'll draw their attention.

Shannon Jones says:

This is a really great article and I intend to share it with some of my peers because it makes a lot of good points. I've always felt that recruiting exceptionally qualified individuals was more important than just hiring someone that looked good on paper.

However, in today's economy how would a potential jobseeker target companies that practice recruiting these types of individuals as opposed to hiring? From what I've seen very few companies practice this and hiring is based on "who you know".

Very true. It's one thing to identify polished talent, and a completely different skill to develop raw talent. But, both are important. I think one of the biggest shames is internships where companies have the interns doing nothing, but fetching copy. Why even bother.

Clay S says:


Great post. Another thing that great teams (I went to UNC, so I should know, ha) do is identify talent and start nurturing it very early. A top level recruit now starts getting letters at the beginning of high school or even before.

We've seen this same strategy carry over into our company as most of hires came up through our intern program. So, we identify great talent early, nurture and continue recruiting them through the internship, and then offer them the "full scholarship" to become a permanent fix on the team. This obviously mainly applies to new hires and not C-level recruits.

Thanks again for the post!

Never tried RealMatch, but looks interesting. I think the tools are important, but what's more important is shifting the way you think about hiring employees.

Rachel Artelejo says:

Three best sources of identifying candidates are Linkedin, Realmatch and google. All other services either dont work or dont work and are too expensive.

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Adam Harrell