Strategies for finding qualified personnel

Finding qualified personnel can be a daunting task, particularly in times of low unemployment.  My team was often tasked with the same challenge over the 16 years that I was part of a global manufacturer in the Chicago south suburbs.  The Chicago market isn’t one where you would expect to have difficulties finding highly qualified engineers, software developers, project managers, marketers or sales people, but when you consider that our facility was 35 miles south of the city, and not in the highly desirable and increasingly professional northern or western collar counties, you might realize we were sometimes at a disadvantage.  More than once we had potential candidates call up the day of the interview to tell us that they had just checked their GPS and realized we were farther away than they were willing to travel for work.

So, whether you are in a highly competitive market or in a geographic location that might be considered a disadvantage for attracting highly qualified personnel, the following strategies might be helpful for you.  And while you might believe you’ve already tried everything possible, I’m found that even the best recruiters can get a bit myopic occasionally, so hopefully even you can find a good idea here.

  1. Okay, hold on. I saw that eye roll. I know, networking seems either cliché or obvious, but I’m still convinced it’s the best way to find qualified personnel. Let me explain two different ways you should be networking:First, you should be networking with your employees.  Current employees are always your best source of new qualified personnel because they know the culture, won’t recommend slackers, and have connections to others doing similar work.  No one wants to suggest a potential candidate who won’t do good work. If their hired, it will only reflect poorly on them and often lead to others having to pick up the slack. When we talk about hiring in my management classes, I always ask how many could name someone they really enjoy being with who they would never recommend for a job.  Nearly every hand goes up. Why? Because we all have friends like that.  We all know people who we like being with but would never want to work with on a daily basis.  It might be painful to admit it, but if asked, we would find some reason to convince that friend that working somewhere else would be best.

    So, how do you access this network? In my opinion, every growing company should have an active program for rewarding employees who recommend others that are hired and make it through the 90-day evaluation period.

    The second way you should be networking in with other leaders in your geographic area. Colleagues and friends in the community are likely to know of qualified candidates who they might even wish they could hire but would be willing to share with you if they do not personally have an opening for them.  Again, other business leaders you have gotten to know and trust aren’t going to steer you wrong. The risk to their own reputation for being good judges of character and skills is just too important to most leaders.

  1. I’ve often found that customers can be excellent sources of qualified candidates. Your customers know the quality and character of your business and they also know the kinds of people with whom they have enjoyed working.  Technical and service personnel, project managers and salespeople have all been recommended to me and other within my organization by customers. Sometimes even unsolicited, but especially after we have shared that we were looking.  Of course, you will need to vet these candidates well as your customers may not always know exactly what you need, and at least occasionally you might have someone’s brother-in-law or cousin foisted upon you. But more often than not, if you customer respects you, their recommendations are definitely going to be worth a hard look.
  2. I’ve often found qualified salespeople and other field-related personnel by looking at competitors.  Linkedin offers a really valuable method for reaching these candidates without having to utilize a recruiter to do that work.  Of course, some companies, such as Southwest, refuse to hire employees who have worked for competitors believing that they will just bring their bad habits and pre-defined attitudes with them, but for many positions, I think competitors who understand the competitive landscape can be a huge advantage.  One word of caution, I’m hesitant to hire competitive salespeople as I sometimes worry about their loyalty and commitment.  I’ve known salespeople who have worked for every major competitor in a market. I think it can be difficult for customers to believe that the person who was telling them that company XYZ was the best solution last week is all of a sudden trying to convince them that company ABC is now the better offering.
  3. While it certainly is great if you can find qualified candidates directly and do not have to use a recruiter, I have found them to be very effective and they usually can source the role much quicker than your internal staff. The fact that they are motivated to identify these resources helps a great deal.
  4. Industry trade shows or other local events. We’ve found product managers and salespeople who were marketing complimentary products and solutions to our offerings at industry trade shows.  These environments are difficult at best. When you find someone who makes an impression, they might be worth a harder look.  For that matter, I’ve hired people who were selling mobile phones, recruiting for a college, and taking a class I was teaching. When you identify thoughtful, well-spoken, and ambitious people, you should be asking yourself how you get them on your team.
  5. Nearly every major discipline has an association: Marketing, Engineering, Finance, HR.  Members of associations are often serious about their profession, seeking to connect broadly, and wanting to stay abreast of the latest thinking.  While not everyone in a functional association fits that bill, local chapters of these organizations are worth considering.

One final point to consider when seeking senior leaders. In my experience, market and industry knowledge is helpful, but many skills are transferable to new industries.  Don’t discount people who have strong operational, sales, project management, HR, finance, marketing or engineering skills, but have worked in other industries.  Smart, creative, successful people can transfer their knowledge rapidly.  While you might prefer people with industry experience, I’ve found that many can move from one industry to another.

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