How To Hire Top Talent Without Paying Recruiters

As a Chief Business Hacker, one of the top things I love to do is recruit talent. The exhilaration I get from finding a team member who is going to help elevate everyone is like winning a race. Recruiting is hard; it is very hard. In my experience, recruiting the right team with culture and longevity in mind is even harder than finding a product-market fit.

But I do have a confession. I used to HATE recruiting. I thought it was a massively mind numbing process more fit for paper-pushers. I used to dread sifting through piles of resumes filled with endless clichés and small (or at times, large) lies. However, the process I just described is old-school recruiting; the kind of garbage still taught in many outdated HR programs. It took some major advancements in technology and moving to Boston, with its robust and vibrant entrepreneurial scene, for me to realize that recruiting can be exciting. Rubbing shoulders every day with people who make me feel like I have decades of learning to do before I will be on par with them, having coffee with talent I put on my list of “if I build my own company – hire at any cost”… well it is these experiences that make it darn hard for me to keep my excitement down. So if you spend enough time around gold nuggets, you will get the gold fever and go prospecting. I got the gold fever!

Time, mistakes, and learning opportunities have made me realize that talent recruiting is no different than what I learned as a talent agent (yes, I have a degree in Entertainment Talent Management and Record Label Management). Recruiting talent for your team is like prospecting for gold! You HAVE to look for “pay dirt” in the right places, you HAVE to be in the right place at the right time to be lucky enough to find your huge gold nuggets, and you HAVE to have “multipliers” who help you scale your prospecting operations.

So, with the pun intended, here are my top golden lessons:

  • No matter if you are an executive or even a young manager – you should always be in recruiting mode. It never stops! Sales people operate on ABC (always be closing), you should operate on AR (always recruit). There is no OFF button.

Tip: be genuinely interested in what people you meet do and what skills they have, even if you will never need them at your company. Why? If you become someone who always “has a guy/gal for you”, your connections become your currency. I always know at least a dozen open positions my friends are looking to fill, and I actively send candidates their way. In return when I need someone, getting the word out becomes a piece of cake. My network sells for me!

  • Here’s a fishing analogy. You are line fishing for tuna (this is how you land a $15K fish) and not trawling with massive nets for cheap fish. Having technology is not an excuse to get lazy and expect algorithms to do the work for you. Technology should be used to help you reach further and make the processes easier on your team AND your candidates.

Tip: buy your top candidates this StrengthFinder 2.0 book and ask them to take the test and show it to you. To keep things fair, if they agree to show you their results, then give them a copy of their future manager’s test report. You will be amazed what you will get from people when you are fair to them.

  • Most job descriptions or requirements do not survive past the first interview. Finding the right talent is a highly iterative process and this is why I highly advocate that the members of internal recruiting “tag-team” – the in-house (full-time or contract) recruiter-sourcer should work tightly with an actively involved hiring manager. Constant feedback loop is a must! And, yes, you could possibly work with contingency and retainer recruiters, but as this article eloquently shows with data, your in-house folks will whoop outsiders any day. Recruiting industry is hopelessly broken and until there is a massive change in it, I simply don’t trust it.

  • Recruiting talent is no different from sales! You have to have a funnel and you have to measure conversions. When I got my marketing team involved in our recruiting strategy and execution, I saw massive improvements in every metric.
  • Do not take “Hire Slow – Fire Fast” literally. When you find that Mr. or Mrs. “Right”, strike the iron while it is still hot! Talented people don’t have time to wait through bureaucratic, lazy, and stiff hiring processes. Candidate should be screened within 24 hours, the first phone interview should be scheduled within 5 business days, and the first in-person should be within 5 business days of the phone interview. Do not make people come back several times; have your whole team interview the same day. Scheduling is your problem, not your candidate’s. CEO can’t make it? Do a video chat with Skype! Your offer should come within 48 hours of the in-person interview.

Tip: “hire slow” is the first part of the hiring process. Carefully build the definition of the job and skill-set requirements, work through the iterations of the job spec, and perform sourcing and pre-screening diligently. Get all the info you can, call back-channel references (if you can find them) and then reach out to your top candidates. Recruiting is no different from the sales process – proper preparation prevents poor performance. All the info you garner will help you close the right candidates (it is no different from closing a sale).

  • Take recruiting away from HR! Why? HR is there to serve employees and act as internal concierges for them. It is a hard job, and they need to do it VERY well so you have a happy team. In addition, recruiting requires a very different mindset from that of the vast majority of HR professionals.


While prospecting for different types of talent requires certain specialized techniques, the basics I have covered today don’t really change. I hope these tips help you catch the “gold fever”.

 Photo credit: Daniel Brunner

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