“Recruiting in Tough Times”

Use innovative ideas and guerilla tactics for hiring excellent talent to your firm. This Quick Read Solution offers new ways to think about hiring.


One reason entrepreneurs launch businesses is to free themselves of corporate constraints and grow without limits. But they may soon realize that despite a strong business plan and sound financing, they face a barrier that impedes their growth: staffing. In this tight labor market, recruiting is the great equalizer. Companies of all sizes compete to attract top candidates. Yet as companies evolve from startups into viable enterprises, their owners must pump up hiring to keep pace with the firm’s rapid growth. Many entrepreneurs report that they’ve turned away business because they couldn’t find enough workers to meet their needs.

Today’s entrepreneurs can no longer run a classified ad and wait for resumes to pour in — or host a booth at a job fair and expect dozens of qualified candidates to apply for every opening.

In this Quick-Read you will find:

  • Steps to lay the groundwork to recruit efficiently.
  • Strategies to uncover top candidates through low-cost “guerrilla” tactics.
  • Ways to maximize the Internet as a recruiting tool.


Giant corporations with big budgets can outspend a fast-growth business on recruiting. But you can level the playing field by conducting an efficient, targeted, word-of-mouth search.

Successful recruiting involves three steps: defining your needs, spreading the word and using the Internet.

  1. Define your needs. Know what kind of candidates you want even before positions open. Move beyond the obvious prerequisites, such as the person’s education and salary history, to consider the individual’s previous budget responsibility, operational experience, decision-making authority, capacity for flexibility and growth (vital for many fast-growth firms) and familiarity with technologies ranging from spreadsheet programs to e-commerce. For more on conducting interviews, see “Optimizing Your Hiring Process.”Don’t overlook practical issues. Examples: Can you hire foreign nationals? If so, what documentation do you need? What’s the range within which you can negotiate salary and benefits? Check Web sites like www.salary.com and www.salaryexpert.com to find competitive pay rates and benefits for your industry and market. Addressing such matters ahead of time makes recruiting easier.
  2. Spread the word. While large companies might blanket newspapers with splashy ads to attract applicants, smaller firms cannot afford such a scattershot strategy. That’s a blessing in disguise. An expensive recruitment campaign usually reaches only a handful of qualified candidates, while diverting the company’s H.R. staff as they screen incoming resumes, field phone calls and send rejection letters.A smarter approach is to identify pools of promising applicants — and focus your outreach on where they congregate. Example: A retailer finds that seniors make excellent “store greeters,” so it posts job openings at nearby senior centers and retirement communities.

    Turn your employees into recruiters. Offer them a referral bonus and solicit their advice on how to reach candidates. Ask them what businesses they patronize, what publications they read and what steps their friends take when job hunting. Incorporate this information into your next word-of-mouth campaign.

  3. Use the Internet. The growth of resume-posting Web sites has led job seekers to consider working for smaller companies that they might otherwise overlook. Better yet, “e-cruiting” can save you $8,000 per hire and cut the hiring cycle time by 60 days, according to a study by Creative Good Inc., a New York-based research and consulting firm.When writing your Web ads, don’t just sell the job — sell your firm. Studies show that after salary and benefits, a company’s reputation and culture rank second and third to job hunters. Play up the smaller-is-better theme: more flexibility, autonomy, career advancement, telecommuting opportunities, etc.

    Evaluate resumes by using a search-and-sort tool to identify applicants with the desired skill set. Many Web posting services provide this service, along with letting you record notes, manage interviews and rank candidates.

    Examples of online recruiting services that are especially useful for fast-growth businesses include Monster.com, Headhunter.net, GoldenParachute.com and Net-Temps.com. Also check major metropolitan newspapers’ Web sites; they often include links to online classified ads and resume databases.

Seven guerilla tactics for recruiting:

  1. Always be recruiting even if you are “fully staffed.” If you find someone who would be perfect for your company and you think they would add value, create a position for them. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until you have an opening before you start the recruiting process.
  2. Recruit previous employees who were good workers but left for “greener pastures.” They may have discovered those pastures weren’t so green after they left. They may be willing to come back.
  3. Recruit people to whom you made job offers, but who took positions at other companies. If you call them back after a couple months, they may find that they regret their choice and would happily come work for you.
  4. When sales people come calling, ask them to suggest names of prospective employees. Sales people have contacts at the offices of your competitors, and they may know of talented people who are looking for a change.
  5. Have a list of recruiting prospects — even if they work for your competition — just as you have a list of sales prospects. Make it a point to “touch them” weekly, monthly, etc. with a call, an e-mail, a card, a note, a fax or some sort of communication that reminds them that you are there and interested in hiring them.
  6. Attend conferences like Inc’s Growing Your Company Conference with other CEOs. Sometimes other CEOs are ready to sell their businesses, and you can hire some of their staff — maybe even hire the CEO.
  7. Join a CEO roundtable like the ones listed at the edwardlowe.org Find a Peer Group page. As the other CEOs become your virtual board of advisers, get them to help you stay on the lookout for good employees who would work well in your field. You might decide as a group to pool some of your recruiting resources and act as a referral network.

Philosophies of recruiting:

  • Hire for talent, not for experience. Talent builds companies. Ask yourself if the person has 15 years of experience or just one year of experience repeated 14 times.
  • Hire slowly, fire quickly. Low turnover is only good if you have a great staff. Get rid of the non-performers, and bring in the best talent you can find.


Rene Diaz, president of Diaz Foods in Atlanta, struggles to hire truck drivers to deliver his products. Even though entry-level drivers earn upwards of $50,000 a year plus a retirement plan and health insurance, Diaz says there are simply not enough candidates to fill openings at his fast-growing company.

Diaz’s solution: Lure drivers to give up their independent-contractor status and join his firm. How? He distributes a checklist of advantages. This includes a promise that they’ll spend every weekend at home — rather than hitting the road three weeks straight out of every month as they usually do when self-employed.

While Diaz sometimes runs ads in Atlanta newspapers for “$300 to $400 a pop,” he has found it more cost-effective to use temp agencies. “They find drivers who often work out well for us,” he says. “If the temp drivers do a good job after four or five weeks, we may buy them out and pay between $1,000 and $2,000 to the agency, depending on our agreement. It’s worth it when we know we’ve found a good match.”

DO IT [top]

  1. Include key details in your recruiting ads. Example: Rather than post a job for a “systems analyst” with little elaboration, describe the kind of environment in which the candidate should have experience working (for example, mainframe or client-server), the number of years’ experience you seek, etc.
  2. If a Web-based resume posting service charges a fee, negotiate a free trial as a test. Ask to post one job for free so that you can see who’s in their database, evaluate their customer service and assess the results.
  3. Ask your public library if it will post a link from its home page to your company’s Web site. Many libraries like to support local entrepreneurs. They might welcome a chance to help job seekers learn about your firm.
  4. Meet with career-planning directors at nearby colleges and universities. Explain your recruiting needs and offer to host information interviews with interested students or recent graduates.
  5. Chart key hiring statistics so that you can run a cost-benefit analysis of different recruiting methods. Examples: number of hires from employee referrals, Internet/non-Internet ads, time-to-hire, cost-per-hire.
  6. Welcome new hires — in a hurry. When candidates say “yes” to your job offer, use the Internet to hold onto them until their first day on the job. Immediately assign them their own special ID and password so they can log onto your company’s Web site. Send them a personalized greeting online and provide a summary of their benefits.



CareerXroads, 5th ed. by Gerry Crispin and Mark Mehler (MMC Group, 2000).

Directory of Executive Recruiters, 2000, 29th ed. (Kennedy Information, 1999).

The Recruiter’s Bible: The Best Guide to Free Internet Recruiting Sites Vol. II, 6th ed. by Christina Bultinck (InfoKey, loose-leaf update June/July 1999).

Business Builder

How to Recruit and Hire for Better Results (Edward Lowe Foundation, 2000).

Journals and Newsletters

Management Review, available to American Management Association members, publishes several articles per year on recruiting.

WEDDLE’s Newsletter published by Peter D. Weddle (203-964-1888).

Success in Recruiting and Retaining published by National Institute of Business Management (800-543-2054, no Web site).

Internet Sites

Career.com offers a range of online recruitment services.

CareerPath.com collects jobs from the major U.S. newspapers.

Dice.com is useful for finding technical workers.






Article Contributors

Writer: Morey Stettner