In the off season leading up to the 2011 Major League Baseball season, Clifton Pfifer Lee shocked the almighty bottomless pocketbook bearers of the New York Yankees and the down home, feel-good Texas Rangers by signing a below-market-value deal to pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies. The move was not solely motivated by money or warm fuzzy feelings. He took less money and moved to a city with a traditionally aggressive fan-base where players with large contracts who don’t meet expectations are vilified. Philadelphia won because they did a better job of recruiting Cliff Lee. They were able to dial into what was important to him on a multi-faceted platform.


The losers in this transaction used familiar approaches to patch the hole created by the loss. The Yankees went on to “hire” from the unemployment line, bringing on such players as former stars Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and even clear has-beens Kevin Millwood and Carlos Silva. The Rangers decided to go the route of succession, attempting to restructure the organization by moving closer Neftali Feliz into the spot Lee would have occupied, and when that failed, promoting Alexi Ogando to the role. Both have had mediocre results and are still in search of someone like Cliff Lee. Philadelphia now has the best pitching rotation in baseball and are chosen most as the odds on favorite to represent the National League in the World Series. I’m not a sportswriter. My job is to deliver performance to my clients in the form of the Cliff Lees of the Internet, Digital, Mobile, and SaaS world, but I can tell you with certainty that the analogy here is applicable to the entire business world and how recruiters approach their job.


Recruit or Hire? That is the question.


There are organizations that are so solid top-to-bottom that hiring is the best route. When a fortune 500 giant needs 125 admins, they simply cannot efficiently deploy a recruiter to get out and headhunt. They need resumes in bulk, they need them fast, and they need to plug in people with basic skill sets to roles that are so systematic and defined that the likelihood of complete failure is next to nil. And if failure happens it is inconsequential to the company as a whole.

Let’s remove those enterprise size companies from this dialogue, because I don’t deal with those companies very often. Not because I’m anti-big business, I’m not. I love big businesses because they’re totally adept at what they do well. Our group is better suited to have a true impact on the process of recruiting and signing the best free agents in our clients’ respective space because we only take clients that value the recruiting process and have a clear understanding of what sort of value the right person can add to a relatively young organization. Our clients are early to late stage start-ups in innovative and rapidly changing competitive landscapes. They often are playing with borrowed money and failure by a key person can result in failure of the company’s ability to realize their vision and deliver their products, or ultimately land them in the start-up graveyard.


Regretfully, they don’t always get it. Occasionally the internal recruitment executives of an early stage company will be so drunk on their own early success and their multiple “Best Places to Work” awards that they believe the candidate should feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to even talk. The result, they send a junior administrator in to handle the first rounds of interviews, or they set a series of procedures that encumber the process so severely that any employed executive who’s currently delivering the goods under a different brand couldn’t possibly have the hours in the day to effectively navigate. The same folks who built a system based loosely on the “top-grading” ( philosophy for hiring have created a self-serving process designed to eliminate top-grade candidates as opposed to recruiting them. I wonder if Philadelphia made Cliff Lee complete an online assessment that included middle school math problems and didn’t allow for a calculator. If (and that’s an enormous if) the right candidate tolerates the early stages of the interviews, the tone of the process shifts from that of two mutually excited parties working to form a partnership to two combative entities competing to prove their grit. These early mitigating procedures, which have very little to do with a star candidate’s ability to excel in the hiring organization’s open role, inherently draw egos into the process.

Important information about the candidates’ needs should be extracted from every step of the process. How do they feel about relocation to your city? How do they balance their personal/ work lives? Is the challenge of an incentive based package exciting to them or do they prefer the stability of a base only package? What non-financial perks excite them? Does your Foosball/ video game room have any value to the candidate? How many times has this candidate been given stock options that never produced any monetary return?
The answer that the candidate provided in the little tiny text field on your online “application” to the question, “What are your salary requirements?” is a grossly inadequate amount of ammunition about a candidate’s thresholds for pain in areas applicable to successfully closing the deal once we arrive at an offer.


If you get to the offer stage and haven’t extracted all of the data that is important to this candidate throughout the process, you’re afforded two options:


1) Overpay

2) Deal with a rejected offer


Go through this with an entire pipeline of ringers and you’ll find yourself hiring out of need and lowering your standards. That confidence you had in your company’s “Thirsty Thursday” has wavered. Now you’re posting jobs all over the job boards looking for anyone who will enthusiastically take your position. I don’t suggest to my clients that they eliminate processes employed to determine the viability of a candidate while spending enormous amounts of valuable time wining and dining everyone who walks through the door. That would be horribly inefficient. I suggest the opposite. Clearly define your target and go after them. Recruit fewer candidates but spend more time recruiting them when they’re right and less time qualifying them. If you don’t have the internal bandwidth to do this make sure your contingent recruiters are providing results.


Alternatively, I’ve heard that Pedro Martinez is still technically a Free Agent and Jose Canseco has been working on a knuckleball in the independent league.



VP & Sr. Search Consultant

Original Entry available at:Élever Professional

Views: 57

Comment by Richard Cialone on July 21, 2011 at 1:39pm

Well, even if you extract all the data about what a candidate wants, that doesn't mean you can provide it.  As Mick Jagger tells us, you can't always get what you want.


You also unwittingly highlight that companies all too often create arbitrary selection criteria, making them miscalculate the real abilities of alternative candidates.  For example, Freddie Garcia and Bartolo Colon, thought to be "has beens", are doing quite well, currently ranked 31 and 37, respectively, out of 110 MLB pitchers.  (Cliff Lee is 15th, but the NYY have Sabathia at 9).


Comment by Jeremy Spring on July 21, 2011 at 2:11pm

Richard, I'm doing my best to resist the urge to turn this into a discussion about baseball;) But you seem like a worthy adversary in a discussion about the game. Unwittingly or other, I think we're in agreement here.

I see Freddy and Bartolo as solid contributors in their "company".  But they will not be the game changers that distinguish a company from the middle of the pack.  As you point out with Sabathia, the Yankees have a long and illustrious history of dominant recruiting: A-Rod, Texiera, Burnett (who hasn't exactly panned out, but that's not the recruiter's fault;) Randy Johnson, Granderson, and on and on.


But has their leadership changed philosophies since el Jefe passed?  Since Tex and CC, they seem less adept at recruiting the winners and more willing to fill in solid, but not game-changing, employees.Maybe you should sick your Biz Devs on the Yankees!


Comment by Richard Cialone on July 21, 2011 at 2:27pm

Sure, Jeremy, I understand your point.  But what's the line of demarcation that defines "game changer".  I truly don't think there's a universal answer for that.  There are way too many variables that must be considered.

Lee has two teammates ranked higher than he, so is he really a game changer in that environment? Or, is he more valuable to a team that needs just that one more piece to its puzzle?  

But my original point was that, even if someone is universally considered a game changer, a company may not have the wherewithal to land that person.  For example, might a mediocre company in a mature industry land a top MBA graduate from a top school, when there are many other appealing choices to capture that game changer's attention?  Probably not.  Hopefully, they recognize that they don't have to goods to attract and retain that caliber of employee.  My observation is that too many don't, won't or can't.

Comment by Jeremy Spring on July 21, 2011 at 2:49pm

True.  We're in a lucky segment of the recruiting world because we're small and we don't represent many client companies that are on the fast-track to start-up rehab. 


To your point (and to extend the analogy one step closer to a painful death), the Rangers did not have "the goods" when they aggressively recruited A-Rod in 2001. So, to compensate they greatly overpaid and crippled their ability to build a contributing supporting personnel.


In the business of baseball, you can absorb a ten year period of mediocrity much more easily than an early stage company can.

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on July 21, 2011 at 3:21pm
As a Mariners fan any talk of A-Rod makes me kick things and say naughty words.  But back to the original post - totally agree and I'm glad I work for a company that doesn't have goofy processes in place.  We recruiters are trusted to do a solid phone screen and get them right in front of a hiring manager, in person if local, as soon as possible.  I've been told by several candidates that our smooth process and fast response has made an otherwise "mediocre" opportunity look better and better as they navigate through the so-called recruiting efforts of some of our big boy competitors.
Comment by Jeremy Spring on July 21, 2011 at 3:37pm

Amy, I didn't realize there still were other Mariners' fans around. From one M's fan to another, I feel your pain.  Thanks for the remarks.  Seems like you have a pretty sweet gig.


Comment by Amy Ala Miller on July 21, 2011 at 3:55pm

lol I've been a fan since moving to Seattle in 94 so I've experienced the highs and lows... well one high and many many MANY lows...  :)  Thanks for understanding.


Yep AWESOME gig - Now if only my hiring managers didn't need to be reminded constantly that that is indeed the "quick and painless" process!


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