Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The tricks to recruiting top talent


When Jonathan Lister left his position as country manager at Google Canada to establish LinkedIn's first Canadian office, it wasn't because LinkedIn came up with some sort of killer offer.

What excited Mr. Lister was the chance to play a transformative role in LinkedIn's growth as it attempts to dramatically change the recruitment industry.

“We are going through this period of great revolution that's been driven by the Internet and by digital media. The chance to be a part of that, that's what it's all about,” Mr. Lister said from his uptown Toronto office, which will house 10 employees by the end of this year, double that next year.

The chance to make these kind of game-changing difference is what matters most to rising stars when they consider new opportunities, executive recruiters say. It matters more than money – although money is important – and more than big titles.

So when it comes to the art of the pitch, it has to be customized – and subtle.

Mr. Lister was at Google – a place cited by “best employer” lists as the to-die-for workplace – and not at all looking for another opportunity when he got an inquiry from LinkedIn, the world's predominant online professional networking site: Did he know anyone who might be interested in expanding LinkedIn's presence in Canada?

Mr. Lister provided a few names, but Arvind Rajan, vice-president of international operations for LinkedIn, gently persisted. “The more I learned about what LinkedIn was trying to do in Canada, the more excited I got,” said Mr. Lister, who assumed his new role in June.

Small- to mid-sized businesses with dynamic and intelligent ownership hold enormous appeal to some senior executives in large companies, said Tom Long, a Toronto-based executive recruiter with Russell Reynolds Associates. These candidates feel stifled by the bureaucracy or by the realization that they will never be chief executive officer no matter how talented they are, how smart they are, or how much time they put in at the expense of family.

“Typically, these [small and mid-sized enterprises] are higher-growth environments where you are going to see not just incremental change at the top and bottom lines, but you are going to see very significant change,” Mr. Long said.

And typically, part of the pitch is an equity stake, on the assumption that the star recruit will play a pivotal role in building the business, Mr. Long said. “They want the opportunity to really ride up on the increase in the value.”

However, one offer doesn't fit all, and with high performers in particular, the sizing-up process is very much a two-way street, added Katie Dolgin, founder of Toronto-based digital recruitment agency Dolgin Search Group Inc. The initial approach should be discreet and exploratory, because the sought-after “A-player” candidates are employed elsewhere, doing well and not cruising the job boards, she said.

Both Mr. Long and Ms. Dolgin said it is crucial to ascertain what motivates these candidates before making any pitches.

Ms. Dolgin specializes in recruiting rising stars. For them, she said, key drivers are challenging work, the opportunity to make a difference, professional development, flexibility and autonomy. Commissioned last year by online classified site Kijiji to recruit an Internet marketing manager, she found 27-year-old Bruno Roldan, a highly regarded up-and-comer at a marketing agency.

“I was doing well, but I didn't feel I was really making a difference to the bottom line of the business I was working with,” Mr. Roldan said in an interview. “This, to me, was the No. 1 thing.”

Mr. Roldan said he has far more scope in his new job, as well as more professional development opportunities – since joining Kijiji in January, he has been to Amsterdam for a course and to London for an Internet marketing conference. And then there's the fun factor – free lunches and foosball matches every Friday.

“We have a fully stocked kitchen. I always joke that had they told me that, I would have taken this offer without hesitation,” he said. “I didn't need to know about anything else.”

For younger employees especially, workplace culture matters, said Ms. Dolgin. “It's their home away from home.”

Stock options are an attractive part of the package as well, Mr. Roldan said.

Employment lawyer Stewart Saxe, a Toronto-based partner with Baker & McKenzie, said small and mid-sized business owners in particular should consider offering a piece of the action to prospective recruits – especially if they cannot compete with the salaries paid by large corporations.

“It may well appeal to exactly the person you want – a young, dynamic go-getter who is prepared to put some of their skin in the game in order to get a good return.” Mr. Saxe said.

Top desires of a job seeker

Money: “Most of us who deal with this have a rule of thumb that you have to give at least a 10-per-cent increase to move anybody,” says Toronto employment lawyer Stewart Saxe of Baker & McKenzie.

An equity stake: “The real upside is in the equity participation if you are at a senior enough level,” said executive recruiter Tom Long of Russell Reynolds Associates. “What they are looking for is the opportunity to participate … and have a home run.”

Work-life balance: “Three weeks of vacation is now pretty standard. In addition, some shops close between Christmas and New Years, and a lot of firms are also giving five personal days as floaters,” said Katie Dolgin of Toronto-based Dolgin Search Group. “Flexibility, being able to work from home occasionally if they have a sick child, is important.”

A safety net: This is particularly important for executives who leave big jobs for smaller, younger enterprises, recruiters say. Many candidates will insist on severance clauses to protect themselves if things go south.

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