Keep Your Couch Full: Interview All the Time
Chris Burkhard is a friend and colleague of mine and is president of CBI Group in Delaware, a full-service recruiting firm. Chris tells a great story about the importance of interviewing all the time if you are serious about consistently hiring A-players. Chris started his company about the same time that I started mine, about 14 years ago. CBI has grown tremendously over that time, but recruiting was a tough business back in 2008, when the financial collapse caused almost all hiring to come to a grinding halt. It was the first time that CBI had to lay people off.
Right in the middle of one of these tough periods, one of Chris’ executives came to him and said, “A buddy of mine who is in our industry wants to interview with us — and he really is an A-player. Should we interview him?” Chris had constantly preached to his people that they needed to be looking for A-players to join their team — and this manager had chosen the middle of a recession to begin taking his advice!
So now it was Chris’ decision: Should he take the time to interview his manager’s friend amid such a bad business environment? He had just laid someone off that morning. The chances that he would hire this guy were almost nil. The last thing he wanted to do, or felt he had time to do, was conduct a job interview.
Yet Chris, to his credit went, ahead with the interview. Why?
He later told me that he learned this lesson early on from working in his father’s business. As his dad would say, “You always have to keep your couch full.” His father meant that you always have to know where your next hire is going to come from. If you can’t picture in your mind the faces of several A-players who are qualified potential new hires, you have no one “on your couch.” This means that when an employee leaves your business (and sooner or later someone always leaves) you have no one to take his or her place. You have to start from scratch to find a new person. And often, when companies have failed to recruit before they need someone, they hire a warm body rather than an A-player just to get the position filled.
Did he hire this particular guy? I don’t think so. But Chris demonstrated a commitment to hiring A-players as well as modeled great behavior to his management team. Even in the midst of the toughest economy in decades, he was committed to keeping his couch full. He made sure that he and his management team interviewed job candidates all the time, whenever they could, rather than waiting until they had an open job to fill to get into hiring mode. Now that the economy has turned back around, and CBI’s business is back to its usual strong growth, those habits are helping the company to hire more A-players.
Picture that couch in the waiting room of your business. From a recruiting perspective, who is sitting on it today? Can you tell me by name the A-players who are sitting on it? These should be currently employed people with whom you have established some kind of relationship and at least broached the idea of working for you one day. These are people who work for someone else today but with whom you have discussed the idea of coming to work for you either formally or informally.
You don’t have to hold formal job interviews in order to keep your couch full. You can meet people at a bar, at a trade conference, at a continuing education event. Anywhere qualified people hang out is a potential recruiting ground for you. If you have established a relational connection, discussed someone’s past accomplishments and future goals, and discussed what would entice them to make a career move, that qualifies in my book as someone who is on your couch. It’s a lot more fun to have that conversation on the golf course than in your office anyway.
With that, what does it look like to interview all the time? Here are some ideas.
Personally commit to interviewing (formally or informally) at least two people per month.
Have your management team make the same two interviews per month commitment.
Hold your managers accountable for this two-interview/month goal. At your regular managers meeting, have each person discuss the new people they interviewed as well as where and how they could fit into your business.
Keep your couch full by networking and referrals. Let your referral sources know that you are always interested in meeting A-players.
If you are impressed with someone but don’t think they are a fit for your business, make sure to refer them to other executives for whom they might be a good hire. This obviously sets the stage for you to ask for their help in recruiting people who are a good fit for you.
Take notes on people’s goals and experiences during or after every interview and record them in your database. Then you can go back and refresh your mind on what it will take to recruit them to your business.
Use your company’s electronic newsletter or other existing communication tools to stay in touch with people after you interview them. Just as in marketing and sales, regular reminders that you are around will prompt A-players to contact you when they are interested in making a career move.
Most business people view recruiting as an interruption to their job. The ones that always seem to be surrounded by A-players believe that recruiting is their job. If you’re part of the latter group, your competitive edge comes in part from the habit of keeping your couch full.
Originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal.