That’s always an interesting prospect, isn’t it? After all, if you could go directly to your competitors and attract candidates to your company with a phone call, you’d be a real hero. In essence, you’d be acting as a headhunter for your own company without having to pay a fee.
Still, many companies opt not to directly source candidates from competitor firms for reasons of propriety. After all, if you’re perceived as stealing from the competition, they may respond in kind and target individuals in your company when they have job openings to fill. In addition, industry relationships will be at stake if old friends at competitor companies find out that your company is raiding theirs.
In general, it’s best to leave headhunting to headhunters. After six years in the search business myself, I can confidently state that there are simply too many risks that employers run in terms of damaging industry relationships and being perceived as overly aggressive by directly sourcing candidates themselves. As a matter of fact, it’s not uncommon for companies to strictly forbid any form of direct sourcing from the competition. Still, many employers ask about this option, so let’s evaluate how it could be handled if it were to be done.
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Let’s say you were looking for a director of finance. You would typically post the job internally, run print and online ads, and possibly engage the services of a headhunter. Before engaging that head-hunter, though, you might want to try a limited telephone outreach to other organizations in your industry or geographical area.
Your first step would be to line up companies that compete directly with yours. You have to decide whether you want to directly recruit the candidate (director) or network with the individual one tier higher than the candidate (vice president). You’d then contact the competing companies and ask the person answering the phone for the name of either the director or the vice president of finance.
At that point, you could ask to be connected to that individual. The secretary will act as a screener or gatekeeper and ask about the purpose of your call. Simply state that you work for XYZ Company, a competitor organization, and you’ve got a networking question for the director or vice president of finance.
Let’s look at how two calls would differ. First, let’s call the vice president to network. When the vice president picks up the phone, introduce yourself and your company, and state the purpose of your call:
Laura, I’m the vice president of finance at XYZ Company, and we’re not far from you in Tarrytown, New York. I’m calling you, Laura, because we haven’t had a chance to meet before, and I could really use your help. Is this a good time to talk?
Great! We’ve got about 200 employees and $50 million in revenues, and we specialize in manufacturing plastics primarily for automotive parts. Our director of finance is leaving the company after three years because his wife has just gotten a great job offer in Phoenix, and we’re looking to fill that position. We need someone with a strong background in finance, especially budgeting and forecasting, and ideally an MBA or CPA. The pay range is around $70,000 to $85,000, and the candidate would be bonus-eligible after the first year. The bonus would probably fall in the 8 to 12 percent range.
Is there anyone in your network you could recommend, Laura, either because they’re in career transition right now or otherwise feeling boxed in in their careers? I’d be happy to return the favor in the future.
That’s a fairly respectful call, and it’s certainly to the point. Rarely will others be offended by such an open and communicative approach. The added benefit is that the call will help you build goodwill relations with others in your industry. Remember, by calling the vice president one tier above the director-level candidate that you’re trying to recruit there’s nothing intrusive about the phone call. It really is a goodwill outreach at this point.
Although such calls are fairly simple to make, they’re usually not as effective as a direct sourcing call. In the latter case, you’d be calling the director-level candidate directly and asking about that person’s interest in exploring other opportunities. This call would begin the same way, explaining who you are and why you’re calling. Then you might say something like:
I don’t know if my timing is right or if you’re currently looking to explore other career opportunities right now. I guess my question to you is, Are you the kind of person who would sit down with a competitor organization for an hour or so to see if we could build a career path or develop a compensation plan for you that might be a little more progressive than your current situation?
And there you have it. A direct recruitment call to a targeted candidate that, on its face at least, is nonthreatening and almost casual in tone. After all, it is somewhat enticing to spend an hour with a competitor to see if a stronger career path or compensation plan could be at hand, isn’t it? Even the most satisfied employees might have their curiosity piqued enough to meet with you or at least want to hear more about it.
One final note: Don’t mention salary or bonus specifics during a direct sourcing call until you know the candidate’s current compensation package. If the candidate asks about pay, simply state, Louis, I’ll tell you all the specifics, but it really depends on the compensation package you currently have. I don’t like shooting in the dark or answering these types of questions in a vacuum, and I may have some flexibility in the salary or bonus depending on the person’s background. Once you have the individual’s salary information, feel free to give the compensation specifics of your package or, if you need to go back to the drawing board, call the candidate back at a later time.