Talent Acquisition

By: Verne Harnish “Growth Guy”

Mar 1, 2012 1:00:00 PM ET

“Things tend to get slow after Thanksgiving in the U.S.,” noted Ajay Prabhu, COO of India-based QuEST, a leader in global engineering services. “However, this year was different!” Last November 30, one of QuEST’s strategic customers called Prabhu requesting 100 more technical workers by January. For a team that had been adding about 20 a month, this was a challenge, especially with the Christmas and New Year’s holidays coming up.

Companies I talk to around the world are back to hiring aggressively. However, it’s always taxing to find enough quality candidates to fill the pipeline, especially after the hiring drought many companies have experienced the past couple years; seems everyone is either out of practice and/or their referral networks have dried up. And without a large enough pool of quality candidates, the likelihood of hiring “A” players drops dramatically.

Though QuEST has seen tremendous growth since it was started by two college graduates in 1997 – today they boast 3,500 engineers across the globe with revenues of $175 million this year and $300 million next year – its four member recruiting department in the U.S. would have been strained to find the highly specialized design and stress analysis engineers and manufacturing, support, and supply chain engineers required by their client’s January deadline.

One Month RACE

So Prabhu brought this challenge to the entire company. The executive team quickly huddled after the phone call and came up with an end-of-the year mini-theme called RACE (Refer A Candidate & Earn). The program, launched on December 5, aimed to hire 100 engineers by January 6.

Supporting the effort, the engineering team appointed a program manager; the head of engineering lent his administrative assistant to coordinate RACE; and the marketing team churned out several eye-catching posters.

To add some excitement, the company offered a $500 bonus to anyone referring someone who was hired. In addition, it created some team rewards. The entire engineering center was divided into 8 teams of roughly 50 people each, with the teams picking their own name and logo–which added fun to the whole effort.

For the team submitting the highest number of referrals, the reward was $50 per person for dinner and cocktails at a restaurant of their choice; for the second place team, $30 per person; and for the third place team, $20 per person for dinner and cocktails (A burger and a beer, I guess!).

The key is keeping the rewards modest, so it creates some friendly competition among the teams and employees. You don’t want people arguing over a referral. Yet the individual bonus was high enough to help many employees pay-off their holiday credit card bills early.

350+ Referrals

“The results were astounding,” exclaimed Prabhu. “350 plus referrals and 100 plus offers with 10 days to spare!! The energy and enthusiasm across the board was palpable.” And given the recruiting momentum created by this clever theme, Prabhu extended the deadline to January 31..

“Our U.S. customer was skeptical when it first gave us the surge order, but seeing our results the customer was even more confident in our capabilities to meet their demands, so the client loaded us up with more opportunities,” explained Prabhu, thus the reason for the extended deadline.

By involving everyone in the recruiting process, people from all walks of life were referred (the team reward was for number of referrals, not just hires), from PhDs in engineering to math and English teachers to insurance professionals. “One particularly interesting referral was a high-school science teacher, someone we might have never found,” noted Prabhu. Looking for a career change, she had made it to the last round of interviews at the time of this writing.

“All this happened spontaneously,” said Prabhu. “It was Christmas time, after all. A lot of people gave extra effort; it really brought the team together.”