Poaching Kills Relationships. Instead: Consider Mining a 'Business-Relationship' Graph. Before becoming president, Donald Trump had one. Why don't you?

By Heather R. Huhman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Keep this number in mind when advertising an open position: 1.2. It's the United States' current ratio of job-seekers to job openings, according to the August Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In June 2009, when the economy was in the middle of the Great Recession, that ratio was an impressive (from a hiring perspective) 6.6.

Related: How to Hire Like a Pro

While low unemployment is good news for the economy, it makes finding the right talent more difficult. This forces employers to get creative.

One solution is utilizing business-relationship graphs, or visual guides which depict relationships of professionals and organizations. For example, before becoming president, Donald Trump established a vast network of business contacts, mapped with this business-relationship graph.

At Owler, a San Francisco-based business insights platform company, chief operating officer Jeremy Bellinghausen faced the unique challenge of finding engineers in Silicon Valley, a notoriously competitive talent market.

He said the company responded by using its competitive relationship graph, a tool it made for mapping companies and their competitors within its industry network. The company uses the tool to refine its search and identify professionals at similar organizations.

"The competitive relationship graph provides more granularity than traditional industry-mapping tools like [standard industrial classifications] and has been incredibly effective in helping us build a world-class engineering team," Bellinghausen said via email.

Business-relationship graphs present a great opportunity for employers to find new hires in a fast, effective way. Unfortunately, many don't know how to mine this type of resource for useful insights. So, here are insights from employers that do:

Probe, don't poach.

When looking within your company's relationship network, the temptation might be to poach from your partners or vendors. However, this sours relationships. Instead, look within partners' networks to find talent from their competitors.

"Seeing their competitors expands your breadth of places to find promising hires," Bellinghausen said. "For instance, say you love your PR firm and want to hire your account strategist [employed by the PR firm] to join your in-house team, but you don't want to sour the relationship or break your contract terms. You can look to your PR firm's top competitor and source an account strategist from their team."

To maintain positive relationships, establish ethical guidelines with your hiring team about which companies are off limits.

Then, automate your search through tools like Google Alerts. Set up an alert for targeted companies -- competitors of those on the "do not poach" list. If a targeted company announces it's undergoing a merger or downsizing, for example, that's the perfect time to reach out to top candidates on its team.

Related: 4 Strategies for Hiring the Right People at Your Startup

Stick to "six degrees of separation."

Erika Van Noort, the senior director of talent acquisition at Softchoice, an IT solutions provider in Toronto, told me her company uses a simple technique to tap its business-relationship graph: She called it "six degrees of separation."

The term is the name of the theory that every two people on Earth are connected within six other relationships -- or less. To determine the value of potential candidates, research every connection within your business-relationship graph to find out who has the skills and knowledge that you need and that are relevant to your company and role.

"We want to understand not only the candidate, but what they are, what they have applied for, where they are working now, who they know and past working relationships," Van Noort said via email. "These days, so much of what a candidate can offer goes beyond the resume. Building out relationship models helps to bring this all together."

This same strategy helped Softchoice hire a candidate who had applied years earlier and since then had built the skills the company needed. When relationships are built and maintained, candidates feel valued and are therefore more likely to be interested in the position.

Develop a communications strategy to stay engaged with any candidates who might not be a good fit in the moment -- but might be in future. Use a scoring system to rate each passive candidate on his or her skills and knowledge, and update that person's score after reconnecting.

Then, once the candidate reaches a score that indicates role fit, let your hiring team determine the best course of action.

Consider cultural fit.

Skills are crucial, but a bad cultural fit means the new employee won't last long. Mai Ton, the vice president of human resources at San Francisco-based OneLogin, an identity and access management provider, said she taps into the networks of her employees to help find the right people.

"Because our employees know and understand our ecosystem, they become the greatest sources of finding the passive, hard-to-find talent," Ton said via email.

She noted the value of experimenting with professional graph tools, like LinkedIn. Each professional's profile provides more data and a clear picture of his or her accomplishments and skills.

First, integrate every employee's network through employee-referral software. Show employees how the hiring team assesses each referral and uses the business-relationship graph to get a full perspective of the entire talent pipeline.

Then, consider appointing a "referral society" of passionate employees to start a grassroots approach to educating and encouraging employees to participate in the program. To effectively teach employees about building and maintaining relationships within their networks, host workshops on improving communication and active listening skills and establishing trust.

Finally, take the referral program to the next level by using a "candidate scavenger hunt" to teach employees how to rate their referrals in a fun way. This game includes a list of specific aspects for employees to look for on a candidate's online presence, like professional certifications, endorsements and relevant interests.

Related: The 3 Most Common -- and Costly -- Hiring Mistakes

"Six degrees later," you'll have found your perfect next hire.

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

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