Talent Arbitrage, or How I Find the Best People You Would Likely Miss

Talent Arbitrage - HoneypotAdmit it, it is hard finding talented people with a good attitude, who are not set in their own ways, and who are eager to improve their skills! Yes, we are already at a disadvantage since we don’t have the deep pockets of an IPOed company. But, we also tend to create several other self-inflicted major disadvantages:

  • Using a fishing analogy, we “trawl” instead of using our line to fish for candidates. If your recruiting team complains about too many resumes, they either need to be re-educated or fired.
  • We look for “Mr(s) Perfect Fit,” which is just about the dumbest way to lose out on incredible talent. An unwillingness to hire people with the right foundations and mentor/teach them into their roles is about as malice as using the company’s funds on lavish personal expenses.

Companies that are not truly innovative in their talent management and do not practice talent arbitration will likely shrink, if not go out of business, in 2013. Boston, NYC, Chicago, Austin, etc. do you hear me? The best products will never exist without the right people to build, sell, and maintain them.

So let’s talk about the crown jewel of business strategy – talent arbitrage. It is hard, it takes time, you have to learn a lot, and you can’t do it alone, but the return on the investment you get is phenomenal. And this is why I want to share with you how I do it! Let’s get to it!

The common views of talent are flawed! The best talent is never well-rounded.

As I have written before, you can’t be phenomenal at something and be well-rounded too. So let’s stop searching for unicorns! In the rare cases we come across a seemingly “perfect” individual, we tend to later discover he/she is a master of political games and cover-up and has more skeletons than the tunnels of Paris.

So instead of chasing unicorns, why not truly start recruiting for the talent strengths we need and can further develop. This is practicing talent arbitrage and you will be able to recruit those that you may have thought were out of your reach.

Candidates with a “chip on their shoulder” usually have an endless self-driven energy. Hook up this energy to your company!

What do these “chips” look like? You will know them when you come across them. For example, very seasoned individuals with a recent series of failure on their shoulders may want their good names next to some wins again and know they need a winning team to get there. If I don’t think these failures will be a problem to us, then I want to recruit these candidates, because they will hustle like no other and not give up easily. They just can’t afford to perform half-heartedly!

Another example is a parent who took an “extended” (in an American view) time off to raise their kids. My experience has shown that, if you were darn good before you took time off, then you will be back on top again soon since it is like riding a bicycle. But, most US employers and recruiters are extremely shortsighted, so my talent arbitrage opportunism gives me a massive competitive advantage! I want those who are determined. I want them to “ride” for my team! And I am willing to be flexible, because let’s be honest, I may only be able to afford such talent because they were off the market for awhile and I want them to stick with me for as long as possible. I’ve had several talent wins like this, but the case I like to mention is when I hired a bookkeeper/office manager who had four kids. I have NEVER seen anyone that efficient and present every minute of the 6 hours she spent with us every day. In 30 hours each week she would polish off the work of two full-timers I definitely could not afford. And both she and the company felt like we had a fair arrangement. This is talent arbitrage in action, because it isn’t ever 100% about money!

My secret weapon = talent honeypots!

This is actually a somewhat recent discovery of mine. In the last three years I have mastered talent honeypots. What are they? I look for candidates with a certain set of skills that are often not directly related to the job. My honeypots are usually in a series. Everyone is asking for X-years in certain stack for developer positions, or mastery of leadgen, segmentation, etc. for marketers. These signals are noise everyone else spews. I call it trawling for talent, and your “by-catch” will force you to deploy the most hated “blackhole” for candidate – the ATS (applicant tracking system).


Here are a couple of my sample honeypots (not going to expand into why, since that is a series of articles in itself):

  • For operations folks, I like to recruit people who speak 2+ languages, ideally 3+. And I like see at least a couple of years of experience as a server, busboy, pizza delivery person, or retail clerk (returns is my fave).
  • For inside sales folks, I like to see past call center experience (and the fact they hated it is a must). Having been a Girl Scout is a huge plus, and early experience making money (paper route, etc.) puts candidates right to the top of my list. If you have all these traits and have never sold on the phone before – PERFECT MATCH! If you have sold on the phone before, I must be sure I can “un-teach” you the bad habits most instill.
  • For junior marketing people, a psychology major with minor in English and at least a B+ in a statistics class are key (no statistics taken = no interest from me).

The most commonly used interviewing processes and techniques repel the best people!

Let me come right out and say that if you learned interviewing in your HR class or from a traditional HR person, discard these techniques like they are riddled with plague and infection! The best talent discovery process is one that immerses the candidate in the job they are interviewing for. You practice talent arbitrage by not engaging in outdated yet popular methods used by everyone else.

How else do you improve this process?

  1. Don’t just rely on resumes and cover letters. Always do an additional search on your candidates. I often reach out to back channels for references before I even contact candidates for the first time. The effort is worth it and keeps your “nose for talent” disciplined.
  2. Mind the context! Embrace introversion just like you would extroversion. Try to understand the candidate before you start judging them. If you have too many candidates, you did a poor job honeypotting – tweak the process continuously, until the flow is just right!
  3. Immerse your candidates in their potential role right after the initial pleasantries. It is your job to prepare problems you are actually facing and let the talented individuals show you how he/she would approach them.

And the most important part of talent arbitrage? Everyone mentors and teaches!

I have come across a few companies where members of the executive team have outright told me that they are either not interested or have “no time” for mentoring talent. Molding and mentoring your talented team members is the highest ROI activity. It not only should be expected of every knowledgeable member of the team, but also rewarded immensely. Mentor and teach your talent or your business is as good as dead, since smart companies will poach away every good employee you have.


This all said, I don’t hope, I KNOW what I shared with you in this article will help you find some incredible talent. Let’s go and improve our teams!

Photo credit: Shannon Holman

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