I’ve been in the recruiting business for almost two decades and the question always arises: “How can we hire better and more efficiently?” I would venture to say that most of my clients believe that they have a strategic hiring process in place; however, when asked “why” they are looking to hire, their answers are typically based on their immediate needs, instead of the future of the organization. Basically it’s usually a reaction to new or lost business and/or retention issues, rather than planning for growth.

There are three key types of hiring in business: strategic, opportunistic and reactive. Knowing when and how to differentiate between them can mean the difference between high performance and underwhelming ROI.

Strategic hiring

Strategic hiring is part of your vision. It’s not what you have today, but where you need to be tomorrow, and who is going to be on your proverbial bus. Strategic hiring needs to be an integral part of your business planning process. In a recent conversation with Chris Powell, CEO of Blackbook HR, he said that he believes that “strategic hiring is being intentional.”

As you carefully look at the markets you intend to enter, expand, or exit, you should define the pivotal strategies required to enhance your market share, and the key resources (talent) available within the firm. If they are not available in-house, then you need to define the strategic hires necessary to support you. Powell believes that you must “know what skills, knowledge, and attribute you need to achieve what types of outcomes.” Adding on to this, Powell wants to understand “what’s the performance expectation; what do you need a person to do; what you want them to achieve, and how they should do it?”

When you have clear intent and purpose around these things, that is strategic hiring. When you’re ready to explore the market, don’t leave it up to an inexperienced manager, who doesn’t understand your strategic business needs and goals, never mind understanding the intricacies of today’s demanding skill sets. Hiring talent is usually your most costly investment and if you’re going to rely on your junior staffers, at least help them prepare a list of qualifications, including position responsibilities, education, years of experience, technical or business strength requirements, and salary range.

Investing in today’s uncertain world of economic ups and downs, leaders need to pay attention to their growth strategy. When hiring your top performers, it’s also equally important to invest in their success. Bruce Budkofsky, vice president of dales at Vindico, a video ad serving platform for agencies, said that he implements a number of things that he personally believes in to make the most of his talent investment. “I recognize that I’m paying someone for their skills and their past performance regarding accomplishments; however, the more I can invest in them through training, and helping them build their own relationships in the market place by sending them to conferences or having them join different associations and important boards, the better their chances of success.”

Strategic hiring is especially important when your company is experiencing an economic down turn. We all hear about massive lay-offs and cost cutting, but often I fear that trimming the bottom-line doesn’t always take into account the top line.  Powell states that “some talent trimming is reactionary (e.g., “Hey, we’ve hit a blip in productivity or performance in the business and we have to shrink down…”) and then they do it without really being strategic about it.” Powell believes that while you are “trimming down, there’s still an opportunity to be strategic. There are business and market cycles, and two years from now things could change, so how are you going to calibrate and modify your business practices to be able to retain and grow talent?”

Opportunistic hiring

I make it a point to meet these stars, the outstanding candidates, “achievers,” “rock stars.” Often these stellar candidates are passed over, because he or she doesn’t fit the open job spec or the person recruiting has a narrow understanding of the profile and is unable to see the value. However, many of these rainmakers can bring clients with them, find opportunities where most never know they exist, and keep other peoples’ plates full by bringing value. If you’re not thinking strategically and/or opportunistically, you’re at a disadvantage. And as I always tell people, when opportunity knocks, open the door.

When market leaders thoughtfully plan and execute strategic hiring plans, it transforms the company. When your team’s bench has key players, a list of multi-talented future stars, your current state of business and future will grow. Your employee brand will be laid out and you will be able to attract the best people to your door. Before you embark on a human resources strategy, you must have a consistent philosophy about how you will manage your people. Although many leaders try to keep costs down, don’t cut corners on new hire screening and selection tools.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Keenan Beasley, cofounder and managing director of The Strategy Collective, a boutique agency. I asked Keenan if he ever hired opportunistically: “Absolutely. A producer I met was a rock star, I had seen his work with other agencies. We were having a conversation and I didn’t have a role available, but when he said he was interested in joining, I just jumped on it and brought him in. I knew from a strategic standpoint the value of production for our group, so that’s an investment we are willing to make on an individual because we know that returns will be there.”

Keenan is a rare breed of entrepreneurial leaders who “don’t hire just positions, we hire people who are poly-disciplined.” And Keenan can’t afford to hire narrow-minded, one-trick pony individuals — he doesn’t just hire “a copywriter or just a designer, you are a creator…everyone in our company creates.”

Reactive hiring

Most of us are guilty of reactive hiring, and most of the hiring that we see is reactive. Reactive hiring is when hiring managers react to needs rather than plan for them. Senior executives often find themselves in desperate straits because, while their key people are overworked or behind schedule, your client nevertheless expects the schedule to be maintained. Only when we are in the crisis do we alert the human resource team, and the recruiting process begins.

Unfortunately, as we all know, it takes time to hire key talent. While in the reactive mode, we have the tendency to hire someone to fill a specific need and often rush the process or potentially ignore someone who may bring more value to the firm in the long run. There will always be reactive recruiting, and sometimes being able to react quickly is essential — however, I would venture to say that strategic and opportunistic hiring are much better approaches.

What are leaders doing to ensure that they hire only essential talent? And the question really is about essential people.  If they are not adding, then why are they working at your company? A hiring manager’s number one job is to increase the number of market leaders, client leaders, and top-notch doers in order to attract new clients and secure more of your existing clients’ business.

The future…

Since hiring is an essential part of your vision, I recommend that you bring in your most respected leaders at your company and have them be part of your plan. Define a vision and communicate that vision to your human resources. Evolving a high-performance organization is difficult, but the payoff is huge. By focusing on the quality of people, rather than body count, you not only increase your company’s profits, but you will develop a corporate culture that reflects your business vision.

Recruiting, recruiting, and repeat…

    • Be personable. Relate to the candidates within their world and not just within yours.


    • Be cultural. Let them know what sets your firm apart culturally, as a collection of unique and talented individuals.


    • Be a listener. Engage them by letting them interview you as part of the conversation.


    • Be open. Discuss how they can be contributing members in accomplishing the bigger picture, the firm’s vision.


    • Be visionary. Let them see your passion for pursuing the firm’s vision. People are looking for more than a job or even projects.

Successful companies recruit through their most visionary leader(s). Your clients are attracted to them, and potential staff will be, too. It’s not something to be taken lightly, and it’s definitely not something to be delegated. Filling your company with quality people requires a streamlined process for identifying, interviewing, and signing top candidates. Believe it or not, hiring should start with your strategic business plan.

Erika Weinstein is CEO and founder of eTeam Executive Search

On Twitter? Follow Erika Weinstein at @eTeamSearch. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.