The only certainty in today's world is uncertainty. That's why many forward-looking companies are implementing new ways to attract, interview, onboard and retain a  new set of employees with untraditional backgrounds. What better way to anticipate what can't be anticipated?

At my firm, Peppercomm, we've cast a net far beyond the traditional public relations pool and, as we transform ourselves into a digitally driven consultancy, now routinely hire employees with backgrounds in quant physics, engineering, and behavioral psychology.


We look for highly unusual ways in which prospects package themselves to demonstrate their ingenuity. These have ranged from a fake BuzzFeed article announcing why Peppercomm had just hired John Smith to a video featuring Jane Doe rapping the theme song from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air but altering the lyrics to demonstrate she understands who we are, what sets us apart, and why she'd be an ideal hire. (Note while we didn't hire that particular woman, we do ask her to sing the national anthem before major client meetings).

Sue Quackenbush, Chief Human Resources Officer at Vonage, a leading provider of cloud communications services for business, finds recruits in interesting ways. They hold a number of meetups throughout the year where they invite members of the tech and developer relations community to their offices to share knowledge and insights. They also attend a number of meetups within their global locations to keep a pulse on the talent within the industry, and frequently attend and sponsor hackathons to share experiences and best practices and meet new talent.


We ask a different set of questions nowadays to determine if the prospect can fit our rapidly changing business model:

  • Tell us about any near-death experiences you have had, how you survived and the lessons learned? (Note: What better way to ascertain how a person performs under pressure?)
  • If you, and four colleagues were lost at sea, and one was clearly dying, would you toss her overboard in order to assure the survival of the others? (Note: This gets to the heart of doing what is best for team).
  • Tell us about your most embarrassing moment, how you dealt with it and how it made you a better person? (Note: The answer to this question is key since, while we take our business very seriously, we do NOT take ourselves seriously at all. If someone can't display the vulnerability necessary to share such a tale, she won't cut it in our culture).

Laura Presnol, senior director of talent acquisition & development at White Lodging, invites soon-to-be-college graduates and new recruits twice-a-year to two-day interactive summits. Presnol purposely mixes the recruits with WL executives to expose them to the real-world scenarios they would likely face as a full-time employee.

White Lodging will also ask recruits such individual questions via their Topgrading interview process:

  • Tell us when (and why) you went above-and-beyond what was expected?
  • Have you received awards or industry recognition? (Note: I really like the latter question since it identifies the true, high-achiever).

At the end of the 48-hour immersion, company executives re-group to evaluate the pattern of response from each candidate and weed out the individuals who don't fit the culture, and didn't respond as top performers at the immersion.


Assuming a candidate passes with flying colors, Vonage then sees how well he'll perform in open office environment where flying ping pong balls can become a hazard and dogs are more than welcome (Note: I do hope the dogs don't catch and swallow the ping pong balls. That could get ugly).

Vonage also has a cool onboarding program called The Academy that includes working on the support desk answering customer inquiries. This program is designed to give newly hired employees a sense of what it takes to provide consistent, superior customer service. While it can be demanding, it preps employees for the range of possibilities they may encounter during customer service interactions.

(Note: I once handled the receptionist chores at Peppercomm for a full-day and it nearly killed me).


Last, but not least, I stumbled across a most unique retention program. Corporate Creations is the third-largest provider of registered agent, incorporation, and compliance services nationwide for Fortune 1000, Forbes Global 2000, and private companies.

Since being founded in 1993 by Chairman Frank Rodriguez, Corporate Creations has only "lost" one employee! How? Corporate Creations rewards employees for providing advance notice of their desire to move on. The more advance notice provided by employees, the more Corporate Creations will reward the employee. Therefore, if a Corporate Creations employee decides it's time to seek greener pastures and provides four weeks notice, he will receive $1,000 for doing so. If someone else gives Corporate Creations 12 weeks notice, she will receive an eye-opening $2,600 bonus.

Why? Because the bonus gives Corporate Creations time to retain the departing employee for extra weeks until a new employee is recruited without any business disruption whatsoever.

I may join Corporate Creations just to be able to give 12 weeks notice. I could use a spot bonus right about now.