Tips for CEO’s: How to Avoid the Clichéd Recruiting Tactic

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, dur...

Mark Zuckerberg - Image via Wikipedia

Getting and keeping great talent is one of the biggest jobs any CEO may have.

So why (the subject of this post) can the getting part be so tough?

It’s hard for any number of reasons. Here are some of them:

  • CEO time for successful CEOs is measured in microseconds; lots to do, not much time. That includes time with candidates.
  • Being a good recruiting closer frequently requires a decent degree of familiarity and understanding of a candidate. It’s tough to reel in decent candidates (e.g. candidates that are not fooled by spin, title or reputation) with just a drive by.
  • The candidates who spend time with a CEO are folks the CEO mostly does not know well; somehow the charm needs to be communicated effectively to a stranger, and done in a way that is done well in little time.

Good luck; make a silk purse from a sow’s ear might be easier.

So when the rumbles hit that Mark Zuckerberg’s recruiting closer is a walk in the woods that’s now characterized as clichéd, you could hear the sniggers from New York to Palo Alto. Busted for a smart idea delivered in a cliched way.

Zuckerberg, who has shown remarkable growth in his CEO role, could have been served better (his exec coach? his great #2 Sheryl Sandberg?) with a little simple advice.

If you’re going to do something that’s a cliché, call a spade a spade. Call it out, make sure you and the recruiting target knows it’s the recruiting move you use with key recruits. Have fun with the cliché. It will actually cause you to connect better with the candidate. As Jim Kouzes‘ tweeted, “Self-aware leaders are better performers.” Likely better recruiters too.

The other way – the subject of the subtle barb in the New York Times piece – is that every candidate thinks they’re special because they had that (one and only one) walk in the woods with Mark Zuckerberg. And when they find out they’re not, they feel a little duped, and a little stupid.

Zuckerberg is not alone; I can think of a long list of “special” things senior execs do with candidates they’re trying to close ranging from the favorite dinner spot to an afternoon sailing. And like Zuckerberg’s walk in the woods, word gets around that the special treatment is uncommon, but not unknown.

Far better that Zuckerberg (or you too, as the case may be) says something to the effect of “I don’t get a chance to spend much uninterrupted time with key candidates like you; when I get that chance I like to take a walk in the woods where we’ll avoid anyone disturbing us and where I can tell you why Facebook just might be a great place for you. Call it clichéd – it just works.”)

Sometimes the easiest solution is the one right in front of you. And it’s often, by the way, the most transparent and matter of fact.

So good luck recruiting. And it’s OK to use the same recruiting tactic that you’ve been using. Just have fun with cliché.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.


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