28/03/2012 - 10:38

Finding top talent with teamwork

28/03/2012 - 10:38


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Finding good recruits is always a challenge.

FINDING good recruits is always a challenge. Finding a large number in a short space of time is especially challenging. Add in the tight labour market conditions in Western Australia and the task may seem insurmountable.

But that wouldn’t stop Ajay Prabhu, COO of Singapore-based QuEST, a leader in global engineering services. His experience holds valuable lessons for businesses anywhere in the world.

Last November 30, one of QuEST’s strategic customers in Connecticut 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 holidays coming up.  

Companies I talk to around the world are hiring aggressively.  However, it’s always taxing to find enough quality candidates to fill the pipeline. And, without a large enough pool of quality candidates, the likelihood of hiring ‘A’ players drops dramatically.

Though QuEST has undergone tremendous growth since it was started by two college graduates in 1997 – today it boasts 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 US would have been strained to find the highly specialised 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 centre was divided into eight 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-placed team, $30 per person, and for the third-placed 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,” Prabhu said. “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 US 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,” Prabhu said, 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 maths 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,” Prabhu said. “It was Christmas time, after all. A lot of people gave extra effort; it really brought the team together.”


Verne Harnish is CEO of Gazelles Inc, an executive education and coaching solutions provider, and author of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Fast-Growth Firm.


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