Are You Missing Talent That’s Right Under Your Nose?

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Consider this: A vegetarian hired one of her most talented employees after buying a t-shirt at a Spam festival. Yes, this actually happened — at a Spam festival.

Related: How to Uncover Exceptional Talent

The vegetarian was Melanie Lucas, director of people services at Rose Community Management/Jonathan Rose Companies in Independence, Ohio. She told me she was immediately drawn in by an enthusiastic young woman selling t-shirts at the Spam Jam Festival in Hawaii.

“We got to talking, and she mentioned she was looking for career direction advice,” Lucas said. “We didn’t have any openings in Hawaii, but we hired her as a leasing consultant in California.” This HR professional probably never imagined she’d meet a potential employee at a festival dedicated to Spam. However, Lucas’s open mind helped her spot talent.

And her willingness to see people beyond their current roles has continued to help her find top candidates in unusual places.

Here are five other unexpected settings where real people have found some of their best hires:

1. Holiday parties

A holiday party in a warehouse doesn’t seem like the best place to meet an organization’s next lead infrastructure and security engineer, but for Bobby Kolba, chief of staff engineering at Textio in Seattle, the timing was just right.

After discussing some problems he was having at Textio with a fellow party attendee, he not only gained a new perspective, but also a new co-worker. “A resume has a list of skills, but it may not allow the person to showcase what they are uniquely good at,” Kolba said. “In an informal situation, I try to understand someone’s core motivations and values.

“So, when I talk to folks outside of the office, I am looking for people with a history of learning new things. I would encourage recruiters to look for people who want to push themselves and discover new areas of growth.”

Related: 4 Creative Tactics to Find and Recruit the Best Talent

Talking with people outside an organization about its problems can provide an outside perspective and get someone excited about joining and positively changing the company.

Paying attention to how an outsider talks about solving the issues a company is facing can help leaders find great potential employees.

2. Reference-checking

“A great place to find a future employee is actually through reference checking,” Ray Bixler, president and CEO of SkillSurvey in Berwyn, Pa., told me. Bixler said he firmly believes that talent attracts talent.

By this, he means that references listed on a resume or cover letter often come from a similar industry and focus area. Looking at every reference as a possible candidate opens the doors for employers and organizations to find new, targeted talent.

But, how do employers start career conversations with references?

“During a reference call, or when connecting with references online, ask if they’d be interested in hearing about new opportunities at your company — even if you don’t have a current opening,” Bixler suggested. “Doing this helps build your talent pool and open the door to start sharing information about your brand and potential opportunities.”

3. Jury-vetting

The next time employers consider making up an excuse to get out of jury duty, they may want to reconsider.

As Stephanie McDonald, owner of Hire Performance in Charleston, S.C., recounted to me, “I was sitting in jury-duty vetting and each person had to stand and tell the court their name, hometown and job title. As a recruiter, I was interested in who was in the room, and my ears perked up when someone mentioned they were in marketing.”

After quickly noting the juror’s name, McDonald reached out with a personalized invite on LinkedIn together with a note that said, “I’m on jury duty with you!”

This may seem like a bold move, but without taking risks, employers miss out on their next top talent.

“I explained my client’s company and mission and asked what they were missing in their current job,” McDonald said. “I worked with my client to slightly modify the job, to add those things the candidate was wanting to do, and they accepted the job.”

Recruit talent by finding out what’s missing from a person’s current job. This opens the door for employers to offer exactly what that person is looking for, making the career move an easy and fulfilling decision.

4. Travel

Lucas wasn’t just keeping her eyes and ears open for talent at that Spam festival. She occupied herself on a long flight from Los Angeles to Cleveland talking to a flight attendant who had been in the same career for 25 years. “We struck up a conversation, and she mentioned that she was looking for a career change, but explained how hard it was to find employment outside the airline industry, given her work history,” Lucas explained.

It turned out that, given the flight attendant’s personality, charm, conversational skills and enthusiasm, she was a perfect fit for a leasing consultant position Lucas had. Now, she’s one of the company’s top employees.

When striking up conversation with people, pay close attention to what they might say about their satisfaction with their current job. Even if their job history doesn’t align perfectly, their soft skills and traits could easily transfer to a new industry, giving employers a way to find new and unique talent.

5. Volunteer work

“We found a fantastic client success representative at a youth job-skills program for the construction industry called YouthBuild Indy,” Mike Seidle, co-founder of WorkHere in Indianapolis shared with me. After watching Seidle demo his team’s app, a woman named Brianna showed another student the app on her phone.

“She did a better demo than me and I helped write the app!” Seidle exclaimed. He added that he and his team weren’t taking any chances, so they made Brianna a job offer on the spot.

Volunteer settings are great place for employers to meet potential candidates who hold similar interests. But employers aren’t the only ones who can get out there and network through volunteering.

Related: How to Use LinkedIn Search to Find the Best Job Candidates

Get your entire team involved in recruiting with fun platforms like Teer1, which helps organize employee-volunteeri programs. Ask employees to let leaders know if they click well with someone or see potential room for growth within the company’s walls.

Heather R. Huhman

Heather R. Huhman

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, a content-marketing and digital-PR consultancy for job-search and human-resources technologies. She is the…

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