Peer-to-Peer: Besides placing ads what are some alternative ways to find employees?

Written by ProfitGuide Staff


“I am the CEO of a medium-sized environmental services firm. Over the course of the year we’ll need to hire three or four new people — at least two technicians and an account manager or two — but I don’t want to run the traditional newspaper ad. The last few times we ran ads, we were swamped with inappropriate resumes and wasted a lot of time sifting through them. And don’t even talk to me about employment agencies: Every time we’ve turned to one, the result has been disappointing. Can anyone out there suggest a better way of finding the best possible people?”

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Reader responses

Stephen Smith, HROI, Mississauga, Ont.:

We could go on all day talking about expanding your pool and identifying star talent. There’s a ton of work you’ll need to do long-term — here are a few short-term ideas:

  • Retry the ad — but be more specific in your wording. You might even try the ad, but then run all applicants through a pre-screening service such as Careerxact.com. There’s some upfront cost, but you’ll get a smaller and more qualified group of applicants.
  • Revisit the agency approach. First, you might not be giving the agency enough information to find the right candidate.
  • Referrals are always the biggest bang for your buck. Tap into your existing employee’s network. Pay them for leads. Pay them for new hires. Rather than an employee referral program that pays, say $1,000 per new hire that stays one year, try holding a lottery each month or quarter. Not everyone wins, but the impact is bigger. Imagine knowing your co-worker bagged $10,000 for recommending someone work at your firm?
  • The use of automated telephone ads
  • Direct mail flyer campaigns
  • Former employees
  • Radio advertising on appropriate stations
  • Billboard advertising outside of building
  • Alliances with educational institutions
  • Develop an e-mail newsletter to keep potential candidates interested in your company.

Phew, that’s it off the top of my head.


In my experience as a manager, there are other sources outside the traditional (ads and agencies) that have proven successful for acquiring great employees (some of the suggestions below include my own ideas for tapping alternative sources):

  • Employee referral:   Existing great employees are wonderful sources for referrals because they already know what it takes to get the job done, are trustworthy and loyal to the company. They also do a nice job of promoting the company as a good employer.
  • “Other” referral:   Similar to the employee referral, word-of-mouth referrals from colleagues, customers, friends and family is another great source. Because of the personal connection on both sides, a “testimonial” is readily available.
  • University recruitment:   Depending on the need, universities are a good source for future employees. Many soon-to-be or recent graduates make use of their school’s job recruitment offices. Some universities even have potential employers actively recruit on campus during particular exhibit weeks which typically occur in the spring.
  • Volunteer / work projects / summer students:   If the company has a student program which allows for students to volunteer, work on specific projects and/or work during the summer, it has a great resource for nurturing future employees. The ramp-up and training time is greatly reduced, and you, as the employer, already have a some performance record of the individual candidate.
  • Mentor program:   This could include student groups and/or older-age groups (why not take advantage of all their past experience … besides this group will become more important as the baby boomers age and leave the workforce!). Similar to the volunteer / work project / summer student category, the ramp-up and training time is less. Having a mix of students and older groups will also provide an eclectic mix of backgrounds which in turn, could foster greater creativity through “inter-mentoring.”

Glen Brown, G. Brown & Co., Custom Jewellery:

Advertising in trade publications is very effective. Any company that wants their staff to be up to date in their industry will subscribe to one or many trade publications that may be left in a lunch room or board room. Advertising here gets your position exposed to people not only of your industry but likely already trained as well. Many staff or even executives are looking to improve their position and like all of us there is no desire to go job hunting and it’s innocent enough just to be reading through a trade publication even at work.


I also work at a medium size environmental consulting firm which has enjoyed steady growth and I don’t recall that we ever ran an advertisement for staffing. I came to be here through referral and nearly everybody else did too.

One thing that we do is actively receive co-op students. They generally work hard, are willing to learn and the work term is a good mutual trial. A number have returned to come on staff after graduation.

I’ve worked at several firms over my career and it always seems as if some headhunting is going on. One idea might be to give any staff member who brings in a friend or former colleague from a similar firm, a bonus. Many of your staff obviously came from somewhere else and have a possible list of people who can be contacted. Your staff are also out there involved in projects with other firms, doing peer reviews, working on adjacent sites, etc. Make them into your best ambassadors and recruiters. While it sounds a bit like nepotism, it’s also a fairly quick and accurate reference check and avoids the mountain of appropriate or even spurious resumes.

Consider allowing suitable representatives to attend trade shows, industry association dinners etc. with recruiting as a part of the agenda. In my experience, I’ve been to a number of these only to ever see people from about half the firms I knew existed. Encourage your people to continuing education. Expand your networks.

Another route to consider is to have a very good relationship with your service rep from your analytical lab. I had a very good friendship with one who was a constant source of industry news — she always knew who was coming, who was going. Other suppliers might be useful.

One last thought. Read resumes with an open mind or recruit from other vocations that might have a lot of transferable skills. For example, I’m trying to talk an acquaintance into a career change. He is what is called in the military, a Preventative Medicine Technician or PMed Tech for short. That job description covers occupational health and safety, building inspections, public health issues and inspections, first aid and WHMIS and a fair bit of other stuff. This fellow could be trained in short time to be a very productive staff member.

If you’re having trouble with recruiting and retention, maybe you should examine your own corporate culture. Some environment firms have a reputation of chewing people up and spitting them out.

I worked at one where staff members put in onerous hours in the field, slept at their desks and worked through the evenings and weekends to complete a project. The reward for hundreds of hours of overtime by salaried personnel, was dinner at a medium rate restaurant. This particular employer was well known for how their engineers treated non engineers — that is to say, rather poorly.

Try an anonymous internal survey to gauge staff sentiments. That should give you some idea of how you’re perceived. Friends of current staff members aren’t likely to jump ship to you if conversation over beers consists mostly of complaints.

Environmental consulting is actually still a pretty small community, with an increasing number of younger workers. Younger workers tend to be more easily encouraged to move on if they perceive unfair treatment or lack of growth opportunity and it’s generally harder to engender loyalty. Reputations travel fast and they count, if not in terms of recruiting — as many people will take a job with any employer — then certainly in terms of retention. If you want to be stopgap employer, then you’ll have no problem recruiting, but just make certain you manage your time time to accommodate regular interviews.

If you can make your company a decent place to work and build teams without giving away the store, it should go a long way toward your recruiting and retention goals.

Joanne Cripps, James Allan Associates, www.qcare.ca:

We hired our first programmer / client support person for our software company through our local university (Trent) where my partner is an alumni. We approached the dean of the computer and math departments early in the spring and asked for a list of who he felt was the top 10 students to graduate that May were. We made it clear we wanted this decision to be based on more than just marks we wanted to choose the ones he felt could think outside the box, willing to learn and showed greater than average communication skills and initiative. The person we hired, and is still with us to this day, has proven a valuable asset to the growth of our company and shown superior programming and design skills. We tried the ad route and employee route with our next 2 programmers but were unsuccessful. We returned to Trent and followed the same process of obtaining names and had the department secretary post an internal ad directed at the current year’s computer science / math graduates. We were very successful once again. The bonus to this approach, in our case, was that before we hired our grads we asked they agreed to sign up with the local employment planning office and we were able to have their wages subsidized for a certain time period which eased our budget while we grew the company. If your employees are happy that are hired this way, we found they will talk to other friends who are soon to be graduating and recommend applying with you. We obtained our outstanding operations manager, who happened to have used our software for over 14 years in field, through a long association with her at one of our clients. We admit this can be sticky and fraught with ethical issues but if you proceed with caution it can work. And yes, they are still our client and happy to be so.

Murray Bailey, The Corporate Coach Consulting, Humboldt SK:

Hiring “good people” starts with firm definitions of what “good” means. Attitude is important, but the skills, hard and soft, required for the position must be defined and measurable. The question: “HOW will they do that?” must be asked, for all the major tasks to be done.

The best referrals are from existing employees, assuming they are happy to work here … they will bring people who look like them. Great source, if you have congenial staff relationships.

Industry contacts who may be downsizing — suppliers or customers — are the second best reference point.

Speaking of references — what an employee did is not as important as HOW they did it, and HOW they got along in the corporate culture. Ask the right questions, to get the whole picture from reference. Do more than one.

Many employment agencies are great pre-screeners, when they know what you are looking for. Hire the agency … interview, inform, and reference them before you turn them loose. Tell them what you do, and do not, like. Work with them, don’t just say you “need a body.” The better the input the better the outcome.

Lastly, contract an experienced recruiter, who knows your industry, a retired HR person or consultant is perfect, and put them on an incentive plan. They can run the ad, screen the resumes, and save you a lot of time. The good people are out there; but, you have to attract them.

Best of Luck …

Hank Castello, www.WebsByTheMonth.com, www.CompuSolver.com:

In response to your request for a solution to this dilemma …

First, the answer is not to avoid classified ads. Anything you do to attract prospective employees is just as likely to get the inappropriate resumes, etc. that classified ads get.

It’s a bit like being a gold-miner: ‘you hate to have to sift through all that rock and worthless dirt, but if you want to get to the gold …’

OK, so the solution isn’t to avoid attracting applicants, the solution is to find a way to filter out those that you’re not interested in without wasting your current human resources.

How do you do that? Actually it’s simple: you do it with web pages designed to weed out the chaff and bring you only the ‘gold’. Your classified ad doesn’t have to include your company name, phone, etc. just a web address where a carefully programmed form leads the applicants through a series of questions, then collects their resume in text format. The web program sends you only those applicants who’s scoring would indicate that you’ll want to review their resumes.

Not only can your web program questionaire filter out inappropriate applicants, but the program can also ‘read’ through the resume and do further evaluation from that.

Interested? Oh, you think it would cost too much money? A web program like this could cost as little as a few hundred dollars (or as much as a thousand). Enhancements could be added to make an administration page so that it could be tailered for different job openings as your needs change.

There are thousands of experienced programmers who, considering the current economic situation, would be happy to build an app like this for $25/hr (er, USD, please). How do I know that? 😉 Um, because I’m one!

Bill Jackman, Jackman BrandMarketing Systems:

Lawrence Drayton has a “recruitment” system that is simply not getting the results he expects. His use of a highly effective medium like newspaper is not the problem. The message is the problem, not the medium used to broadcast it.

Like all good advertising — the quality and quantity of the results are based on delivering a relevant persuasive message to as many people as you can afford to reach. A generous use of “Specifics” will reduce unwanted responses to your communication.

Two months ago my client, “The Captain’s Table Restaurant” requested assistance with the development of a seasonal recruiting system. Here’s what we did:

  • Planning — define the benefits and responsibilities of the position(s). Define the requirements of ideal candidates.
  • Promote a “Recruitment Session” to as many people as your budget will allow you to reach.
  • Deliver a “Recruitment Session” at your location (if possible) with all of your current employees in attendance (if possible). At this session make sure to record the attendance (name, address, telephone number). During the session explain why your company does what it does. Allow your staff (in full uniform if possible) the opportunity to openly share their working experiences with the candidates. Ask for questions. Ask questions of them. Address pay scale and payment method, scheduling, vacation, staff functions, training, dress code, etc.

    Engage them in seeing the “Truth” of working for your company. Give them the information they need to make the right informed decision. Be sure to take them on a tour of the facilities (if possible).

    At the end of session, advise those interested take home an “application”, complete and return it within 24 hours. A resume, if available, should be submitted attached to the application form.

  • Interview as many “applicants” as time and budget allow. Use a “scoring interview” based on a 1-5 rating scale per required attribute.
  • Check the references of all acceptable “Interviewed Applicants”. Speak to past supervisors and/or clients.
  • Make “Conditional Employment Offers” to the required number of candidates with the highest scores.
  • Request new employees sign an employment agreement and/or non-disclosure agreement.
  • Create an “Employee File” that contains the Application, Resume, Interview Notes, Conditional Employment Offer, Employment Agreement and Non-Disclosure Agreement. Introduce the new employee to the person responsible for “Training” (if possible).

This process works!

22 Candidates attended “The Captain’s Table” Recruitment Session.
19 Completed and Returned Applications
14 Interviewed
7 Conditional Offers
6 New Employees

The Captain and First Mate advise that all 6 new employees are working out better than expected. All 6 of the new employees advise overall satisfaction with their decision to “come aboard” — better than expected. Successfully managing expectations is the key to finding the best possible people — and keeping them.

P.S.: As an added bonus, The Captain’s Table now has a documented recruitment system they can use each year — hopefully with continuing success!

Roch Tremblay, Star Choice Communications Inc.:

As managers, we all face this challenge and always wonder how we could possibly simplify the process and find the one and only candidate that will be the perfect fit for the position we need to fill. In our company, we have struggled with this for over 2 years as we have to backfill positions often. We have to agree with you that newspapers are not always the best methods and we share your feelings about employment agencies. One very interesting new development is job postings on the web. Costly? Not really if you consider the advantages. There is no paper as most people will apply on-line and you can then simply delete the resumes you are not interested in directly from your computer. This gives you the possibility of having a heads up on the computer proficiency of the applicant and provides you with the possibility of even visiting the web site yourself to find that special employee. In our company, we use Monster.ca, Jobboom.com and workopolis.com. So far, we have been surprised of the results and our applicants have been better suited to our needs. In addition, if you visit one of those web sites, you will notice that there is a complete section on HR processes, interview processes and more. You can also receive emails about new development and new studies on employment. On a final note, these web sites offer advices to applicants on how to find a job. One of those advices is to use your own network. We feel that this applies to the employers also. In our staff, the past years have proved that some of our strongest assets are the employees that were first recommended by one of our existing staff member. Hope that this will help you find the perfect candidate.

Karen Farrell, Canadian Cart Concepts Corp.:

My suggestion to Mr. Drayton is to try advertising on Freelance.com. It sounds as though part of his problem is the fact that the hires he needs are per project. This can be a difficult hire as people know they won’t necessarily be there long term. So you tend to get the lower realm of the available workers.

Freelance.com is a site where professionals who are available on contract basis can view ads from companies who needs them for a project. Some are short term, some long term. Some are in office; however, most are freelance at their location. Not sure if this would work for him, but it might.

This is my suggestion.

One other site he could check out as well … Guru.com. It’s awesome too!!!

Anne Markey, McMaster University:

Mid-size and smaller organizations often overlook a vital, and free, resource in their community, the local university or college career centre. I manage a career centre in the Faculty of Engineering at McMaster University; obtaining employment (internships, summer coop, and full time permanent positions) is one of our primary functions. Both undergraduate and graduate students access our system regularly as part of their job search, as do alumni anywhere from 3 – 5 years post graduation. Receiving an unsolicited phone call or email from a potential employer certainly makes my day.

Universities and colleges across Canada no longer post slips of paper on the wall advertising jobs. We use sophisticated systems for receiving and posting positions which are accessible 24/7 by students and alumni. Employers may elect to have applications sent directly to them, hard copy or electronic, or allow us to ‘bundle’ them and forward as PDF files. Scheduling of interviews may be managed by our staff or by yours.

Using your university or college allows you to target students and alumni from specific fields quickly, easily and with no or little cost. At McMaster the entire process is free. Should you wish to host a more elaborate Corporate Information Session for students, there will be a cost. If your company is planning to recruit this fall, register now for our annual Career’s Day, Thursday, September 18, 2003.

Another Canadian resource that works to link employers with university and college career centre staff is CACEE — Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers. Check out their web site www.cacee.com for more information.

For more information about how your university can help meet your recruitment needs, please contact Anne Markey, Manager, Engineering Career Services, McMaster University, www.eng.mcmaster.ca/ecs/.

Kenneth W. Jones, J. J. Barnicke Winnipeg Ltd.:

I’ve had years of experience in both hiring and relocating myself and by far the best way to find appropriate talent is through networking. Employees looking for new positions are always told this and it’s true. However, it is also very true for employers looking to hire new people with the right skill set and that fit their corporate culture.

I would suggest trying a two-pronged approach:

  • Get your current staff involved in looking for new people. There’s a very good chance that they have their own circle of contacts, many of which may have developed relationships while at college or university, training for the same type of positions. Some of them may also belong to professional organizations.
  • Secondly, use your own network of contacts, just as you would if you were promoting your business. People are more apt to recommend someone good if they know it involves a personal contact.

Networking provides the greatest success for those looking for a new position for themselves, and it will do the same in reverse.

Best of luck!

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Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com