At 29 I was Founder, Principal and sole Recruiter/Account Manager of a consulting firm: my agency quickly became one of the leading providers of Software & Hardware Engineering consultants in the area, reaching sales of $1 million per year. Being my own boss, some might think “Cool, he didn’t have to keep metrics and report them to a slave-driving manager”. Not true. Being my own boss just meant that I had to report to the most demanding perfectionist I’d ever know: Me. So I kept metrics on myself vs. my competitors: I found that I had 4 times as many placements per opening than they did. I also found that my consultants had their contracts extended 4 times longer than my competitors’ did. I like to think that was due to my being gifted with natural talent and brilliance, and I will continue to believe that.
But recently I was reminded of one of the primary reasons for my success. I attended a networking event; while there I went out of my way to introduce two people with synergistic needs. They were both grateful for my helping them find each other, and I suspect at some point in the future we will meet again and they will remember me and my help.
Which brings me directly to the title of this post: How “Paying it Forward” can help you build a candidate pipeline. I cannot count the number of times I freely gave advice, referrals, feedback and other forms of help to consultants and hiring managers – all of whom were clear about the fact that they were not going to use my agency for the topic they were asking about. They just wanted to pick my brain regarding the going rates/salaries or the availability of a certain skill set. I also cannot count how many times I had those same people in turn sent referrals my way: referrals that resulted in many, many thousands of dollars in new revenue for me.
All because of one single thing, which is at the core of this post: I was genuinely focused on and interested in helping the candidates or clients I was networking with. I called every consultant in my “circle” every 6 months just to say hi and ask them if there was anything I could do for them. I called every hiring manager I knew every 6 months, just to say hi and see how their projects were going. After a while a lot of them called me before the 6 month ‘check-in’ date. I had the advantage of being able to call almost any consultant I knew and openly ask them if they knew anyone fit for a position I was trying to fill: I was often referred to a candidate who filled my opening. I had the advantage of calling any of my clients, asking if they knew of any projects elsewhere that needed consultants, and they would tell me if they knew. I could even call a lot of prospective clients and get referrals; even if they couldn’t get me on their own company’s vendor list, they appreciated the value I added enough to refer me to other managers they knew.
Sometimes those referrals were on-the-spot or solicited by me making a return call. But just as often it would be months or more later. I often had new candidates call me months after a conversation I’d had (let’s say it was with Consultant Joe) and say “Hey, Joe gave me your name and number. I’m just finishing a contract at the XYZ company and I’m looking for a new assignment”. And I had just gotten in a requisition from a client which matched the consultant perfectly, which resulted in my closing a deal worth $20K in net profit (i.e. take-home income). Ca-Ching! That kind of thing happened frequently. The same kind of referrals came from clients as well, but usually it was new clients asking for consulting services.
The other great thing about my network is what I call the “Birds of a Feather” effect: exceptionally talented Technologists – candidate or client – tend to form relationships with other exceptionally talented people. They also tend to value their reputation and won’t refer you to another Technologist whom they know to be less than stellar. So if you build a network with exceptional and/or brilliant performers in it, you will get back more referrals to other exceptionally talented people.
So building a candidate pipeline by taking that extra step may be familiar to you already, or a new concept, or too “Old-School” for some: but it still works. People appreciate it when others show a genuine interest in them. They appreciate it when new people listen to them rather than ask them for a favor right away. They will forget the recruiter who called with a “send me your resume and what’s your rate/salary requirement” approach or reads from a pre-screening script before they hit the “end call” button. But they will remember for months the recruiter who called and showed a genuine interest in them. Whether you discuss career goals, hobbies, sports, vacation plans or the price of gas, it doesn’t matter. Listen, show interest, answer any questions, and always offer added value, like free career advice. You will be repaid ten-fold down the road.