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Feb 9, 2011

By Jennifer Prosek

I rarely read a resume from the top down.

Of course, I’ll look at the candidate’s most recent employment line and scan his or her objectives section. But then my eyes drop down to the bottom.

I’m looking for that first job or those early jobs. Often that’s the nugget of information that’s going to tell me if the person whose resume I’m holding is destined to be in my Army of Entrepreneurs.

If you took a look at the bottom of my resume, you’d see I bagged groceries when I was 15 and clocked night and weekend shifts as a customer service rep later in high school. On the resume of my managing director, you’ll see he once did weekend stints servicing the blast furnace of a steel mill. Another senior staffer at CJP worked collections for a credit card company.

What do these early jobs tell you? They aren’t glamorous or high-paying. They have little to do with our day-to-day mission at my firm. But they are important signposts for anyone hiring today.

Those are hard jobs. They are “dirty” jobs. And the people who do them possess a certain kind of work ethic. A person who successfully works a dirty job as a youngster — and knows enough to leave it on the resume later — is a good candidate for the AOE. This is someone who knows about hard work and its rewards.

That’s just one of the tricks I’ve picked up over the years that helps me hire and retain the right people for my Army.

In this chapter, I’ll address the topics of recruiting and retaining personnel. Any manager will tell you that recruiting is a huge challenge. But recruiting for an Army of Entrepreneurs is especially difficult. It requires a system of inquiry and investigation that will tell you not just about the skills an individual may possess, but about his or her inner personality traits that will suggest a successful future in an entrepreneurial environment.

It’s not easy to find the right people for an Army. It takes a good bit of detective work and a willingness to do things differently. But when you’ve hired right, anything is possible.

Creating a talent pipeline

One way to hire smart is to never do it in a panic. This means creating and nurturing a constant pipeline of potential candidates. You may not need an individual right away, but you need to know that person now. Knowing who is out there and fostering an early relationship is the way you can make the right match at the right time.

Here’s how to create a great pipeline:

  • Talent-spot constantly. Recruiting is not an event-driven task. It requires an ongoing commitment from senior leadership and a programmatic approach. You must see candidates as frequently as once a week to ensure a large enough pipeline of talent. A smart company will see 20 candidates for every one hire. When hiring for your AOE, that number can double.

Why? Because you are now looking not just for those who have the talent and aptitude to perform the job, you are looking for people who might help you grow the company. That’s a higher bar to clear and it will require a more rigorous and time-consuming review process. Assess your recruiting process and make sure it is active, ongoing, and forward-looking. You should be looking to identify candidates and get to know them over time, even before you have the job to offer.

Never get caught in the trap of recruiting only when you need someone to start in two weeks. That’s when you’re vulnerable to making a mistake, overlooking a weak work ethic, or forgetting to sell the job. Event-driven recruiting is a risk to the organization and also brings down your potential for building an Army of Entrepreneurs.

  • Engage the staff in talent spotting. It was an eye-opener when I realized that I was not my firm’s best talent spotter. I would have argued that point to the death. After all, I’m the leader; how can I not be the best talent spotter? But the truth is, I’m not. And I realized that after seeing the person in my firm who is the company’s best talent spotter do his best work.

It’s important to open the talent-spotting process to the rest of the company. Encourage them by setting up a paid referral system for bringing in top talent. Your best talent spotter may be out there, just waiting for you to acknowledge his or her talents. Some companies take this process to extremes, offering far more than the standard four-figure bonus to an employee who brings in a key hire. Different companies may need different strategies to make this work. But it’s critical that your staff members consider smart recruiting to be part of their jobs. Make it part of a manager’s responsibilities.

I make it a point to discuss recruiting issues in our weekly company blog so that everyone knows I consider it a priority and they should do the same. Too often, staffers assume that recruiting happens someplace away from the daily hum of the business, in some corner of the HR department. In fact, recruiting should have the same priority as marketing and new business. It is to everyone’s benefit, and therefore it is everyone’s job.

  • Be creative in job creation. One way to build a pipeline for full-time employees is to create ways for promising young staffers to get a taste of your company on a part-time basis. We have an ongoing system of internships that allows students to come and work for us. We offer training and credit and they give us a chance to train and “test drive” a potential hire.

When I see someone who has entrepreneurial potential, we can make the effort to stay in touch and then reach out when a full-time slot opens. We make an effort to be creative in our internship offerings. For example, we aren’t just a summer job. After all the summer interns went back to school, we created a full-time, 90-day internship as a way to draw talent and come up with potential new hires for down the road.

The person your firm may need desperately in two years may be halfway to her undergraduate degree right now. If you create a relationship, and you understand the other individual’s personal and professional goals, you may be in a position to make a smart hire at the right time.

  • Don’t hire only in flush times. Staff should not be an economic indicator for your firm — up when times are good and down when they’re not. If that’s the case at your company, you are missing the strategic element of staffing. It’s not just about having enough warm bodies in the building to handle the workload. The right staff is what drives your company forward, and that’s doubly important when the economy is struggling.

Always be open to hiring the right person for the right job, even if the economics are not ideal. It may be the best move in the long run. I have often made strategy hires that at the time raised eyebrows. What’s she doing? Hiring this high-priced talent in this economy? But I know what I’m doing. I’m making sure we are bringing in the talent we need to be successful.

  • Measure your results. Like any other effort, recruiting needs to be measured to determine what’s effective and what’s not. Edith Onderick-Harvey, founder and president of Change Dynamics Consulting, says that measurement of recruiting allows you to create a return on investment on your efforts and to adjust when something is not working as planned.  As the saying goes, you get what you measure.”



Excerpted from Army of Entrepreneurs: Create and Engaged and Empowered Workforce for Exceptional Business Growth by Jennifer Prosek. Copyright 2011 by Jennifer Prosek. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association New York, NY. Used with permission All rights