Monday, August 27, 2007

Book Review: Recruit or Die

I picked up Recruit of Die: How any Business can Beat the Big Guys in the War for Young Talent while back in the US on my recent trip. Despite me not being a recruiter, it offered two appealing reasons to read it - one of the co-authors is one of my favorite bloggers, and it repeatedly mentions my future employer.

The more I read about the labor market, the more it seems like there are two diametrically opposed trends.

•Increasingly scarce talent, and talent that demands more and more
•Increasing offshoring, and offshoring that eats into more and more professions

Workers at the bottom and middle of the scale are worrying about something taking their jobs - whether that thing is a cheaper employee, an outsourcing firm, a computer, or a robot. But workers at the top are enjoying the good times. Globalization is increasing, not decreasing, the opportunities for them.

Lest you think corporations have all the leverage in hiring, this book is written toward all the corporations struggling to hire top undergrads. Clearly it is difficult for lots of them, and as the book notes, the stakes are high, and getting top people can have huge positive effects on a company.

It goes through the gamut of problems that recruiters face getting top students, offering anecdotes, constructive criticism, and advice. Here are some of the best tips for companies:

•Create "rotation" programs, where employees switch areas of the company every few months. People love the idea of doing lots of different things and getting exposure to lots of different aspects of business.
•Focus on what people do after your company. Students don't imagine staying at your company forever, and if people go on to do bigger and better (or just different) things, highlight that.
•The main thing recruiters don't do that would make the biggest difference is not getting to know the prospective employees. You need to do much more than have a booth at the career fair and hand out brochures.
•In promotional materials, focus on why someone would want to work for you, but avoid generic riff-raff.
•Recruiting goes beyond when you hire someone, since they have younger friends and your company will get a reputation at the school. Often the best way to get good new people is to improve things for your existing people.
•Don't mention your retirement benefits! Young people are SO far from thinking about that right now.

This book is full of good points. If I were a recruiter, I would definitely buy a copy now.

While this book ostensibly only benefits recruiters who will be able to get top candidates, it offers some interesting insights to non-recruiters as well:

•Young people are increasingly undecided and want to put off their decisions as long as possible.
•Subtle psychological points have big affects - people want something that is hard to get, and they love when a company is truly interested in them.
•Just based on prestige, the top names have a major recruiting advantage. This winner-take-all game applies to other aspects of society as well.
•Because companies need to devote lots of resources to effectively recruit at a school, it makes sense that they focus on a limited number of schools. This will frustrate you if you go to one of those lesser schools, but there is always applying at-large.

Granted the book is not perfect. It is heavily skewed toward the experience at MIT, where the main author works. Also along those lines, I thought it could have gone into more detail about how to get the top students from lesser ranked schools. If these students are underrecruited, then there are some diamonds in the rough waiting for your company's effort. Also, the rote repetition of the top companies' names - Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, Google was perhaps a bit too frequent, especially in the introduction. They mentioned those companies' names so much yet had not a lot of content about them (with the possible exception of Microsoft).

Still, this book really struck a chord with me as accurate. The tools that the book says to use on recruiting students would mostly have worked on me. I chose my employer for lots of the reasons that the book says young people are choosing employers.

•leads to good options in the future
•flexible and builds skills that apply to a lot of career fields
•frequently varying work

In a way this book only confirms what others have complained about - that my generation expects the world, expects amazing job opportunities, and to be coddled and cared for (the WSJ called it "The Entitlement Epidemic"). This book would seemingly confirm that, but with the caveat that for top undergrads, they can demand that. Employers that want them need to take notice. Recruit or Die tells them how.

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