4 Unconventional Recruiting Tools That Every Startup Can Use

There’s a war for young talent raging among America's startups right now. All the best companies have booths at college job fairs, and help-wanted postings are sprouting like daisies on career websites. What this means is easy: if a startup wants to attract “A-list” candidates, it's going to need the best recruiting tools around. The problem, of course, is that every other small business in America is using them too.

That's why your company must stand out from the crowd. If you want to make a quality hire for your small business, you’ll have to get creative, and you’ll need recruiting tools that simply rock. Here are a few we think you’ll find useful.

1) Application Puzzles

As we’ve discussed before, a candidate’s skills should factor more heavily into a startup’s hiring decisions than anything else – because when you’re bootstrapping a small business, a competent staff that can deliver results immediately is an absolute necessity. So how can a startup test for the specific skills that it needs? One guy had a pretty cool idea. Seth Gottlieb turned his company's job application into a puzzle.

Gottlieb’s application for a technical project manager at his company requires candidates to use their browser’s web developer tools to correct a display issue in order to make the application’s “submit” button appear. It’s a simple but powerfully effective hiring tool, because it serves as a filter. The most qualified candidates will find the solution. The others? Well, they might just give up.

2) Gonzo Advertisements

Though there is no formal definition for “gonzo advertising,” advertising executives often use the term to describe marketing campaigns that break from convention and directly insert themselves into customers’ lives in surprising ways. If used properly, these types of ads can also be powerful recruiting tools.

For instance, when Volkswagen was looking for new mechanics, undercover representatives dropped off “broken” cars at repair shops across Germany. The thing was, these cars had ads on their undercarriages. It was a fun and memorable campaign, but it also brought a lot of talent into Volkswagen's hiring system. Give the company props for creativity, and ask yourself whether your business is taking advantage of unorthodox but potentially useful hiring solutions.

For example, a software firm could buy digital billboards in popular Xbox Live games. A company that needs people for unskilled positions could print help-wanted ads on pizza boxes and donate them to local pizza delivery parlors. Hey, the TSA is getting some good mileage out of that one.

3) Invitations to Quit

The best candidates for a given position are sometimes already employed by a competitor. Help them see how much greener the grass is on your side of the fence by sending out clever invitations to quit their jobs and join forces with your company instead.

Print help-wanted ads on empty moving boxes and deliver them to candidates at competing companies. Pay the people who wash your competitors’ windows to wear shirts that advertise your vacancies. Sometimes a little push is all it takes to lure a candidate away from his or her current company and into a better position at yours.

4) Outstanding Incentives

Go the extra mile with your star candidates by offering them something the competition can’t. Tell them that, as a signing bonus, you will fulfill any wish they might have, no matter how ridiculous or silly it may be.

A famous example of this sort of wish fulfillment is the LEGO Desk. Late in 1999, a Seattle-based company contacted LEGO builder Eric Harshbarger with a bizarre request. The company had just hired a new star employee, and the contract stipulated that the man was entitled to a desk made entirely out of LEGO bricks. A few months and 35,000 bricks later, Harshbarger sent the desk out in the mail, thereby allowing the company to honor what we imagine to be the most awesome contract ever.

Incentives don’t have to be this extreme, of course, but don't underestimate the power of quirky incentives: when the goal is to attract star candidates, there may be no better way to demonstrate that a company has a sense of fun, that it respects the individual and that it has a heart. If a candidate loves music and the hiring manager knows a famous musician, an autographed guitar could be a nice welcome gift. If a must-have candidate wants to play around in a Zorb, why not have the next company retreat in the Smoky Mountains?

In today’s competitive market, a few classified ads won't land you the next Bill Gates. If you want to hire the best talent for your company, get creative with your recruiting tools. Make a statement. Leave an impression. Do what you can to show the industry’s top talent that your company is the coolest thing in town and the world's best candidates will flock to your doorstep.

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