Posting, spraying and praying in Silicon Valley’s talent wars

First there was “post and pray.” Employers would post a job advertisement and pray a qualified applicant would respond.

Next came “spray and pray.” Companies like LinkedIn would reach out to a lot of people and a small percentage would respond.

Now, as recruiters vie for top talent in Silicon Valley’s recruiting wars, they are engaged in trench warfare to find the “best fit.”

With the youngest employees — those between the ages of 17 and 29 — expected to stay at each job for less than 2.2 years, according to the Bureau of Labor, the war for talent is especially fierce in Silicon Valley

The mobile workforce now, in turn, demands a new generation of recruiters who focus on and excel at speed, relationship building and even artistry.

“I think the industry of elite recruiting is the last undiscovered country in terms of maximizing companies because it is so fundamentally tied to the success and cohesion of a team,” said Jason Lohretnz, recruiting manager at Shopkick, a mobile-based shopping and rewards application.

When Internet recruiting first emerged in the mid-1990s, the initial hype was: “There is no faster, simpler, more convenient or more cost-effective way to reach hundreds of thousands of qualified candidates, 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week,” according to “The Basics of Internet Recruiting,” published by the Medzilla staff.

But the sheer volume of responses to these postings was hard for any recruiter to get through and the majority of them greatly missed the mark.

Since then, the landscape of recruiting and hiring has changed drastically. The rise of LinkedIn — launched in 2003 — as a critical tool in the recruiting process has meant that recruiters could take a much more active role in sourcing new talent, both for active and so-called passive job seekers. A passive job seeker is someone who is currently employed and is open to hearing about new career opportunities, but does not actively seek out specific positions or apply.

Daniel Shapiro, LinkedIn’s vice president of talent solutions & insights, stated in 2013 that “through regular surveys, LinkedIn has determined that 20 percent of its users are actively seeking new positions and 20 percent couldn’t be happier in their jobs. The remaining 60 percent fall into the passive job seeker category.”

Lohrentz points out that years ago people would sit in their jobs for 10-to-20 years because they were afraid to move. With LinkedIn, he says, “People realize it is not so much of a gamble to move jobs because you are getting so frequently contacted.”

The real trick for talent acquisition managers and heads of human resources is not finding candidates but finding who is more likely to respond and who is more likely to get hired.

Tools like Entelo, Connectifier and LinkedIn can help with that, but recruiters have to think outside the box to be the best. As Lohrentz says, “Very quickly tools run out of answers. You have to be able to differentiate your company as a recruiter.”

In his interview with the Peninsula Press, Lohrentz spoke of the need to build a new framework for identifying what stage a candidate is in. Farouk Dey, associate vice provost for student affairs & executive director of Career Services at Stanford University has developed one that Lohrentz supports.

“A candidate is generally in one of three stages: Exploring, Acting or Growing,” Lohrentz said. “In the ‘Explore Stage,’ they are exploring what’s out there, just casually looking around and hearing about companies but are not active candidates. These people are open to other possibilities.”

He continued: “In the ‘Act Stage,’ candidates are actively applying into jobs. Acting also applies to people who have been pinged by a recruiter and are actively engaged in thinking about a specific opportunity.”

Otherwise, he said, “they are in the ‘Growth Stage.’” “Growing would be that they are hired into a position, their career is moving in a good direction, they are learning a lot, the company is growing a lot at a good pace and they are going to stay,” Lohrentz said. “If at some point they are not growing anymore, they are not learning, or the company slows, they are more likely to go back into the exploring phase.”

The ‘Explore, Act, Grow’ framework redefines the job seeker and is useful for both those seeking to acquire new talent as well as potential candidates seeking new positions. The framework also highlights current challenges on both sides of the hiring process.

For recruiters, speed is of the utmost importance, as are strong and lasting relationships, and new, creative experiments and ideas.

Lohrentz said: “You can’t make the mistake of using the same tactics as everyone else. Recruiting is a war for talent like you will not believe and if you are not reinventing your whole game every six months, it is going to be much harder to succeed.”

He continued: “Speed is critical. My opinion is that the best way to compete with other companies is to not compete with them, to move so fast and give an offer that they cannot even get their act together.”

To Lohrentz, speed means having all the prep work done, especially research. “The more you know your role,” he said, “the more you know the trends of where to look and you can move out of simply playing the odds.”

Relationship building is especially important given that young employees tend to only stay in jobs for about two years.

Recruiters are under pressure and hard sell candidates, said Lohrentz. “Getting the candidate invested in the company, product and mission is critical because if you can get a candidate to buy in on a deeper level they are much more likely to stick it out in good times and bad for the next three or four years.”

Cultural fit has become one of the most difficult — but crucial — aspects to figure out in the recruiting process. A company needs to figure out if a candidate agrees with its mission, is interested in the product, and fits well with the team.

From a candidate’s perspective, it is challenging to unearth the right opportunity. Finding a company where you are aligned with the mission, care about the product and are invested in the company can be a challenge.

Lohrentz said, “Candidates should be looking to figure out three main things. They should want to know what it is like to work at the company on a day-to-day basis, why the company and its culture are different from the other companies, and what is the adventure? (why is this going to be meaningful for my life?)”

When all else fails, recruiters can often simply cherry-pick from other companies.

Most recruiters know which companies set a high bar when it comes to hiring: Google, for example.

If one company’s culture is similar to that of a company with a high bar for quality in hiring, recruiters find that is a great place to go and look for candidates, experts say.

Jennifer Boulanger of Opower, a provider of customer engagement solutions for the utility industry, is a savvy recruiter who employs this technique.

Boulanger, who was profiled last May by The New York Times, uses LinkedIn to create “folders for various technology companies, each containing links to the profiles of potential candidates that the team is planning to approach through LinkedIn’s internal ‘InMail’ system,” the Times said.

She is far from alone. The talent poaching phenomenon has been so widespread that a class-action lawsuit accusing Silicon Valley tech industry executives of agreeing between 2005 and 2009 not to poach one another’s employees has been filed, according to a Feb. 28 report in The New York Times.

“The case involves 64,000 programmers and seeks billions of dollars in damages,” according to David Streitfeld, author of the Times article.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of startup Entelo.

Homepage image courtesy of Flickr, Revol Web.

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