All is fair in love and war... and hiring?

As it gets tougher and tougher to compete for A-grade talent, some tech companies are drawing inspiration from the original sweet talkers: pick-up artists. Here are three unusual tips for courting in-demand candidates. 

Scope the scene.

Sometimes identifying the best people requires a little creative digging on your end. It’s like Facebook stalking, er, "pre-date research."

When looking to beef up her staff of engineers at Meebo, the instant messaging platform recently acquired by Google, co-founder Elaine Wherry had an idea: To find the best talent, she needed the best recruiters. So she decided to lure the best ones to her.

First, she needed a talented developer for them to poach. So she set up an online profile for the fake developer Pete London, and gave him the same skills and engineering experience that she had--but without the crucial recruiter-deterring status of being a founder.

Then Wherry sat back and eyed her options. She learned a few disheartening things about recruiters in general--that many whom Meebo had contracted in the past, for example, were not above poaching the company’s developers later--but her test ultimately did what it was supposed to: separate the best from the rest.

For example, of the 382 recruiters that contacted the fictional Pete London, only one discovered that he was not a real person.

“He did one thing that no other recruiter did--he picked up the phone and called someone who should have been connected to Pete. That’s where the ruse unraveled,” Wherry recounts on her blog.

Wherry didn’t hire the intrepid recruiter--he turned out to be one of those who had contracted with Meebo and she felt it was a bit shady--but she did say this: “If there were one recruiter I would have partnered with during my toughest hiring crunch ever, it would have been him.”

Make a bold move.

This Valentine’s Day, the online infrastructure company Gigya made an offer to unhappy workers in the Bay Area: Break-up with your crummy job. Come work for us.

Gigya employees gave out crème brulee coupons on the back of business cards and set up a mobile billboard urging passersby to consider a break-up with their job. A street musician blasted classic break-up ballads from the sidewalk nearby. The theatrics worked.

According to Gigya CEO Patrick Salyer, the company received dozens of résumés as a result, and ten of those candidates are currently involved in the interview process.

“Far and away, this has been our most successful action,” says Salyer of Gigya's guerilla hiring tactics. He believes that dramatic gestures, like the break-up party, are crucial in establishing the company as a fun and compelling place to work.

In order to win--and keep--talent, he says, “You have to have a great place where people want to work.”

Start early and stay committed.

When it comes to relationships, both personal and professional, nothing proves you care better than lasting commitment.

Jason Freedman, co-founder of 42Floors, believes that investing in talented individuals--whether they work for you yet, or not--is always a good idea.

Take Dan Shipper, for example. Last April, Freedman penned an earnest--and very public--job offer to the University of Pennsylvania student, then only a sophomore in college.

“Please join us,” Freedman wrote in a letter posted to his company's blog. “This offer has no expiration.”

This public display of admiration kicked off a bidding war for the then 20-year old Shipper--he received dozens of job offers from other start-ups, all during his college finals week. But Freedman wasn’t concerned about the competition.

“If we get someone and no one else is competing for them, that’s a red flag,” he says. According to Freedman, 42Floors employees regularly receive poaching offers from other companies. That’s how he knows he’s got the right team.

In Freedman’s mind, recruiting the best employees requires a long-term strategy. The most important thing, he insists, is to be supportive and up front about your intentions. It may take months, or years, to get the person you want on your team, but he believes that if you are the most supportive company out there--read: most likely to invest in your employees’ personal growth--eventually those talented individuals will want to work for you.

“[Your] first prerogative should be to support the person, not to sell [the] company,” Freedman says. As for talented individuals being courted by other start-ups, he adds: “If for any reason it doesn’t work out with [those companies], I hope they give us a call.”

Published on: Mar 11, 2013