By: Joe Grimm

E&P’s Annual Career Guide

by Joe Grimm

There is a story about a man whose job it was to raise money for a charitable organization. A friend boarded a plane and found the fund-raiser sitting in first-class. Surprised at this extravagant waste of the charity’s money, the friend later asked the fund-raiser why he flew first-class. Matter-of-factly, the fund-raiser said, “There’s no money in coach.” Capitalized and captive, first-class prospects more than made up for the cost of the tickets.

If you want to raise money, go where the money is; if you want to find talent, go where the talent is.

As scarce as good talent is, it is even rarer in certain specialties – marketing, new media, editing, and business reporting – or for leadership positions. The intersections of scarce specialties, such as marketing director or business editor, are especially tough.

Recruiting scarce talent requires selective tactics.

At a convention job-fair table, for example, one first-year reporter after another will sit down for an interview, and you won’t meet an assignment editor all day. Where are they?

They may be at the convention, but they feel they have outgrown the job fair scene, and won’t walk, r?sum? in hand, table to table, queuing up for 20-minute interviews-in-a-can. Supervisors are more likely to be attending workshops, or running them, and you can buttonhole them there, but let’s not leave the job fair just yet.

While the top talent may not be sitting on the visitor’s side of the tables, they’re at the fair, running the interviews from the home side. Experienced recruiters know that some of the best prospects at the job fair may be the people doing the interviews. The interviewers have been asked to recruit because they’re respected, trusted, and good ambassadors.

Subtlety and discretion are the watchwords. At the Unity ’99 job fair in Seattle, one recruiter from a Top-Five newspaper plopped down across the table from an assistant metro editor recruiting for her own paper, openly handed her his business card, and scampered away. He never realized that he had plopped down next to the recruiter’s executive editor, who was talking with her. The ham-handed move could have been embarrassing or even dangerous for her, and made the card-passing recruiter look silly.

Another place to look for managerial talent at a job fair is in the aisles. Although they may not be there to circulate r?sum?s, they’ll come to see what’s going on and to check in with old friends. They may be recruiting casually, like you, too. A recruiter with a sharp eye can spot someone, chat a little, and set up a meal or cup of coffee for later.

Scouting workshops

Away from the job-fair floor, workshops can attract specialists. At its 1997 convention, also in Seattle, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists foreshadowed Regis Philbin with a workshop entitled, “So, You Want to Be an Editor.” Recruiters who had slipped into the workshop to scout talent had to laugh. Almost everyone else in the room was also a recruiter, doing the same thing. After the workshop, a recruiter followed one of the few nonrecruiters to ask her about her interests, and they exchanged cards at the elevator.

At a Unity ’99 workshop for business reporters, one journalist was so turned off by the frenzied flurry of job postings and announcements that she remarked, “I was there to learn. If I wanted a new job, I’d go to the job fair.” A recruiter with a little more finesse attending another workshop passed around a signup sheet for people who wanted more information, and left with a sheet of contacts and an excuse to call them afterward.

This is the best use of a job fair: to make new contacts and to nurture existing ones with some face-to-face conversation. To attract scarce talent, commit to building relationships that you will nurture. This is called relational recruiting.

Tonnya Kennedy, one of two deputy managing editors hired in recent months at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, was at the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader when Virginian-Pilot Editor Kay Addis heard about her and called her out of the blue about a job.

Kennedy had not been at the Herald-Leader very long and was not interested in moving. Kennedy and Addis parted on good terms. Later in the year, they met at Unity ’99 and chatted briefly. The relationship that began with that cold call grew, and when Addis called again, some months after Unity, Kennedy was interested enough to go see more.

Barbara Grandison-Jones, home-delivery sales manager at The New York Times, was in a Newspaper Association of America mentoring program when she got a glimpse of how recruiting can happen at the highest level. Grandison-Jones saw it happen as she attended a conference in 1997 with her mentor, Judith Roales of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. The St. Pete Times was in negotiations to purchase a clutch of free weeklies, and Roales stopped another person attending the convention and told him, “I need you to run some papers.” The prospect declined, but Grandison-Jones thought, “So this is how it happens. A job was proffered, but declined. It could just as easily have been accepted.”

Networking and relational recruiting become more important the higher you go into supervisory ranks. One transparent tactic – and it is meant to be see-through – is to call potential candidates for a job, describe the opening, and ask whether they know anyone who might be interested.

If they can’t think of anyone, they say so. If they can offer a candidate, they’ll do that. And if they (as you had hoped all along) are interested, they can say that, too. This approach keeps the relationship fresh, it lets prospects know that they are under active consideration, and it lets them decline without saying no.

Career mentoring

Career mentoring can be a form of relational recruiting. A prospect who comes to trust a recruiter will consult him or her at critical junctures, and ask for advice. By cultivating mentorships with people who show promise, it is possible to build a pool of people who may seek jobs and experiences that might prepare them to one day work with the mentor.

Recruiting cannot be the sole motivation for such relationships, however. Healthy mentorships are meant to help people grow their careers, not to fill job openings at the mentor’s company. The mentor must not distort the relationship, take advantage of the relationshp by advising ill-timed moves, or withdraw from the relationship if it becomes clear that it will not lead to a hire.

The trade press can provide leads for initial contacts that could lead to hires. Watch for news of promotions, fellowships, awards, and the appointment of new leaders in professional associations.

In the old economy, departures were seen as disloyal acts and punished with no-return policies. With new-economy turnstiles spinning, smart employers get their best ex-employees to come back. Former employees should be considered a talent pool. The advantage of tracking ex-employees is that we know their strengths and weaknesses, and they know the company and likely would return to some relationships. Getting a good person back can be a tremendous boon, and can encourage others to stay.

Gail Bulfin, training and reader editor of the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., says the paper has hired back 10 former employees who have been to places where the grass proved not to be as green as it once seemed. At the San Antonio (Texas) Express-News, a staff expansion promised to change the character of the paper enough that it made it easier to recruit ex-employees who had gone to larger papers.

Seminars attract the specialists that other companies value. Organized events such as conventions and trade shows can, too. Award ceremonies attract the best in the business. All can be opportunities for low-key recruiting. It is out of place and clumsily overt to announce your business at the top of your lungs. Listen to what people are saying, and then find a way to chat with people off to the side. Try to start a relationship that you can pursue afterward.

Of course, no recruiter can attend all the meetings and conventions that are held, and they would be out of place at many of the seminars that exist. It is wise, then, to enlist help. When staff members attend conventions or seminars where there likely will be other good prospects, ask them in advance to keep a sharp eye out for talent, and ask them afterward who they met.

Raul Reyes, now with The Dallas Morning News, was with the San Antonio Express-News and looking for auto writers in January when he boarded a plane and flew to Detroit to scout talent at the North American Auto Show. When he told me he would be recruiting at the auto show blocks from my own Free Press’ door, I was embarrassed to say I had never done that. I hurried over, put out the word in the pressroom, and we landed a business reporter.

Joe Grimm (grimm@freepress) is recruiting and development editor at the Detroit Free Press.

E&P Annual Career Guide:



Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher.

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