Companies such as Google, Goldman Sachs, and GE have built incredible brands that attract A-player employees as well as customers. While your company may not yet have this kind of overpowering brand, there are things that you can do to attract more talent to your business.
One of the first things you can do is to promote your unique corporate culture during the recruiting process. I once referred a top young salesperson to a great client of mine. This salesperson - who had previously worked for a large, bureaucratic company - was feeling stifled by the bureaucracy. He agreed to meet the CEO at a coffee shop near the company's headquarters. The CEO told him, "I will be the guy wearing shorts and riding a Harley." Here was this gifted young guy who felt stifled in a big corporate environment, and he was going to meet with the head of a company who wore shorts and rode a motorcycle to an interview! The CEO was being absolutely authentic, but he was also being intentional. He knew this young sales guy would likely respond very positively to the laid-back, we-don't-take-ourselves-too-seriously culture of the company. He made sure that he communicated this non-verbal message to this candidate, and it worked.
Step back and ask yourself what it is about your business - your culture, your physical work environment, your people or your technology - that appeals to A-players. Who is the kind of person that finds your culture attractive? Then, play your strengths up during the recruiting and interviewing process. If you do this right, you will develop an "employment brand" that attracts more A-players to your company.
Another great step is to leverage the marketing and sales activities that you are already doing to find your next A-player. For example, I have construction industry clients who spend a lot of time in the offices of other contractors who are a good source of referrals for them. While you are looking for the next project, spread the word about the A-player profile for your company and the kind of person you want to hire. The same people who refer business to you should be a great source of A-player referrals.
You also run marketing events, deliver speeches, attend trade shows, and participate in community and industry events. The first step is to realize that these events don't just help you to attract new customers - they also help you to attract A-player employees. Go to these events with your recruiting hat on. Let everyone know about your company's desire to hire its next A-player. You have a great company and you have a great career opportunity for the right person. Make sure that does not remain a secret.
While you are taking these "indirect" efforts to find your next A-player, don't neglect the impact that more direct recruiting can make. I recommend that every executive create an A-player target list. You should always have a list of two or three people who work for your competitors who you would love to have working for you. I know a number of savvy executives who can always tell you the names of people at their competitors who they are trying to recruit. Who are these people for you?
Once you have people on your target list, find mutual contacts who can help you to schedule a meeting. Who are your common friends?* Who can help to set up an introductory lunch? Even if the person on your list is not actively looking for a new role, most people know that they have to take responsibility for their own careers. People are typically open to this kind of meeting as long as it is discrete, low-key and focused on building relationships as opposed to making immediate commitments.
To put this into action, talk with your leadership team about 2-3 "dream hires." Then put a plan in place to reach out to them. Even if people rebuff your advances, you will learn what makes A-players think about switching employers. Then you can consider making these changes to attract top talent.
If creating a team of A-players is a priority for you, you have to embrace the fact that recruiting is everyone's job - not just HR's. Over the long run, the best team wins in business. Creating a brand that attracts A-players does not have to be expensive, but it takes both time and attention. Let people know the advantages that your company offers as a place to work. Figure out how you can leverage your current marketing and sales activities to do double-duty as recruiting programs. Get the word out about your A-Player profile. And put the pieces in place to create a brand that attracts A-players.
Eric Herrenkohl is the author of the upcoming book How to Hire A-Players: Finding the Top People for Your Team - Even if You Don't Have a Recruiting Department. You can find free resources for creating a team of A-players at his website www.herrenkohlconsulting.com.
*Editor's Note: This is a great use for LinkedIn.com. Don't know who these mutual friends are? LinkedIn.com will show you who your connections are "linked" to and one of the services of the site allow you to request that person arrange an introduction with the person you are targeting.