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9 Tips for Poaching Top Talent The key to luring executive talent is knowing where to start searching and how to keep them engaged after the hire.

By Zac Carman Edited by Dan Bova

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Recruiting is like hunting. When ConsumerAffairs has a leadership role to fill, I poach the best talent. Why? Because executive workers will be the ones to carry out the company's mission and goals.

Follow-through is worth its weight in gold, but most enterprises don't have formal systems in place to help staff execute key strategies. In "The Execution Premium," authors Robert Kaplan and David Norton reveal some disheartening truths:

  • Only 40 percent of companies link budgets to their strategies,
  • Just 30 percent of businesses tie compensation incentives to strategy, and
  • Fewer than 10 percent of employees report they understand their company's strategy.

ConsumerAffairs reviews thousands of employment applications each month, and we're super picky about the candidates we select to bring aboard. Once we do extend an offer, we retain these executives by engaging them and keeping them informed of progress toward organization-wide goals. Vacancies are rare: With an annual employee retention rate of 98 percent, we must be doing something right. The key to our success is consistently articulating why we do what we do as an organization.

Related: 4 Smart Moves for Winning the Competition for Top Talent

If our company was based in Silicon Valley, we'd have a larger pool of prospective new executives -- but we'd face a lot more competition to recruit top talent. We'd also have to accommodate the cost of living in San Francisco.

We believe our process can work for other businesses whose leaders boldly stepped out of the box and chose to headquarter themselves in middle America. Here are some tips to see it through.

1. Build a list of names around the role you're hiring for.

Suppose I'm hiring a Vice President of Client Success. My recruitment ground starts with staff members at companies building Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses similar to our own.

2. Follow leaders on social media.

Scroll through social-media accounts belonging to thought leaders and influencers in your field. Top talent often groups around them on Twitter or LinkedIn. And because thought leaders tend to be extroverts who broadcast their every move on social media, it's easy to befriend these specialized experts and technologists.

Related: Here's How You Can Get Close to 5 Top Business Leaders in 2017

3. Be out and about -- everywhere and consistently.

As a general rule, CFOs go to the same audit conference annually. Marketing professionals attend the same communications summit every year. That's why, when I'm looking to fill specialized roles, I seek out niche-industry conferences. I get access to top talent from all over, congregated in one place.

I also make it a point to take part in trade shows and meet-ups, which are posted publicly online. Once there, I introduce myself to thought leaders not because I'm offering employment but because I want to immerse myself in their milieu.

4. LinkedIn is your best friend.

Facebook is a bit on the creepy side for cold-messaging a new contact. I stick to LinkedIn, where I scour leaders' connections and look for ways to potentially build a relationship with them. Then, I write a list of potential candidates I can envision joining the ConsumerAffairs team. In my mind, a person I want to hire is a customer whom I seek to understand and cultivate.

Related: Attract Top Talent: Show Them You Have What They Want

5. Saturate LinkedIn with InMails daily.

When I'm recruiting for a specific position, I send between 20 and 25 InMails each day. They follow along these lines: "I'm the CEO of ConsumerAffairs. I'm writing because I want to connect with you regarding your area of expertise and to learn a little bit more about your experience. Do you have time for a coffee?"

6. Make good on that mochaccino latte.

Whether it's a coffee, a long-distance phone conference or a Skype video call, we will relocate the perfect person if they're not already living in Tulsa, Okla. The response rate to my LinkedIn InMails is north of 20 percent. Once a candidate agrees to coffee or a phone call, the table is lined up.

Like NBA and NFL star athletes, the people we scout are awesome at what they do and serious about their careers. They're always willing to connect and expand their network. My job is to persuade top talent. I'm passionate about what we do at ConsumerAffairs, and that makes my message hard to resist when I'm sitting across from a candidate (more on that, next).

Related: To Build Your Dream Team, Study How 'Coach Pop' Recruits Talent

7. Never hire an unemployed executive.

We've never hired anyone who didn't have an existing job. It's simple: 99.9 percent of truly talented workers already are employed somewhere else. They know they're talented. They also know they aren't married to their current companies. That's the rest of the reason I have a nearly perfect record of hiring already-employed talent after I've treated them to coffee.

8. It's easier to keep top talent than to find it.

After we make the hire, we keep that staff member engaged, inspired and focused on our shared goals. Ongoing success depends on the ability of a firm's executives to build teams and execute the company's vision. To make sure we're all in the right mindset, every new employee watches Simon Sinek's "How Great Leaders Inspire Action" TED Talk, based on his book "Start With Why." Then, during training, we talk about why we do what we do as employees of ConsumerAffairs.

Related: Focus on Your Top Talent for Maximum Staff Development ROI

9. Stay involved in the recruiting process.

When a CEO first acquires an enterprise, talent -- or lack of it -- can make or break the business. Our Human Resources department identifies and hires our front-line sales associates, customer-support representatives and client-success workers. This frees me up to remain deeply involved in the executive-recruiting process. While our Oklahoma headquarters mean we have a smaller range of specialized talent from which to choose locally, it does make it much easier for me to play a hands-on role in finding quality people for leadership positions.

Related: The 10 Unmistakable Habits of Irresistible People

Like hunting, recruiting can be messy (especially when you're luring talented executives away from established companies). Employee retention is de facto Darwinian: The strong survive.

Zac Carman

CEO, ConsumerAffairs

Zac Carman has served as CEO of ConsumerAffairs since 2010, when he purchased the website from founder Jim Hood. Previous roles included Entrepreneur in Residence, Senior Associate and Associate at Mainsail Partners, a private equity firm in San Francisco, and roles in engineering and sales at IBM and Hitachi. 

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