Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Reverse Recruiting: Reframing HR Recruiting with a Sales Lens

John McMahon, a past client turned to friend and colleague, called a few weeks ago with an idea that  is worth sharing. Every once in a while someone reframes a current problem in a way that, in a flash, makes perfect sense. Which is exactly what happened in our conversation.

While we talked, we shared notes about the workplace. About the challenges employers have to find (and keep) the talent they need, from entry-level. For example, KFC is offering $1000 sign-on bonuses in my area, restaurants are shuttered due to lack of help, and I fear my upcoming flight might be canceled from lack of a crew. 

Here was John’s phrase that is buzzing in my ear: Reverse Recruiting.

Here is the reframing:

Our typical recruiting model awaits an opening and then works hard to find new talent, encourages them to apply, and then runs them through a selection process designed to be efficient but often lacking in humanity for efficiency. Far too many searches are run by algorithms and keyword resume searches. These mechanical machine searches can never capture essential traits like resilience and integrity, and accountability. They miss potential. These algorithms and machine searches overlook non-traditional candidates that deserve a shot.

We treat recruiting as a shopping excursion: see what is in the market, select the “best,” and make an offer to buy. We negotiate salary and onboard the new employee. They do their work. And when they leave the organization, we start the process over. With another search for new people.

In the “employee as disposable” mindset, we treat employees who leave as disposable commodities. At times we even “blackball” them. We walk them to the door, revoke their system credentials, and hardly even wish them well.

Given the “churn” in the labor market, with the “great resignation” and the trend for workers aged 25 to 34 to only stay 2.8 years (see Rasmussen University study), this creates an ever-spinning carousel of HR work that never seems to get anywhere. It just goes round and round and round again.

The question John posed turned this process upside down. In our conversation, he asked:

What if we saw and treated recruiting and retaining the human beings in our organizations the same way we look at customer acquisition and retention? How would a top-notch sales professional approach this?

Intrigued, we listed ways to look through a sales prism that might change traditional HR in your organization.

  • Sales wisdom teaches us that a warm lead is better than a cold call. As such, we might stay in touch with the good employees that have left our employ, those who left for other jobs, and retirees. You know these people. They know you. When they return, their ramp-up curve is a fraction compared to brand new folks. And often, they bring even more to their jobs: experience from other industries or companies, a broadened perspective, or new job skills.


  • Sales wisdom is to make the buying process as seamless as possible. What if past employees could fast-track the selection and onboarding process. What if you didn’t run them through the gauntlet of new hire bureaucracy? What if they could rejoin your company quickly, easily, and with welcome arms?


  • Sales wisdom is to nurture clients over time, knowing that the bigger the sale, the longer the sales cycle. Over time the employment process might begin with high school or college interns. Cast your net broadly (after all, these people can offer high value when their salary levels are the lowest) and nurture them and their careers. Mentor them. Develop them. And if they choose other opportunities for their first-time jobs, stay in touch. Invite them back. 


  • Sales wisdom tells us that the best customers are the ones we already have. It would have us consider our current workforce as an asset and not a balance sheet liability. We would treat these “customers” (AKA employees) as valued contributors to our organization. We would recognize them. Celebrate them. Enable them to grow and contribute even more. (Fast fact: OC Tanner research reports that 79% of the people that leave their employers do so due to a lack of appreciation. 65% report that they were not even recognized one time in the past year). 


  • Sales wisdom knows that customers buy on value. Understand that people have choices (even the choice to disengage from employment) and that we need to bring value and be able to articulate and deliver on that value. We know why people leave for other opportunities; typically, bad bosses, unhealthy cultures, and lack of development. All those things are fixable. 


Let’s be clear. I am not suggesting a revolving door. I am not suggesting welcoming back toxic employees or those that did not perform. I am suggesting nurturing a long-term relationship with people who possess the talents and skills that you value over time. I am suggesting reframing selection and retention into a sales-based, longer-term perspective. I am suggesting investing in relationships and people for longer than the duration of their paid employment. 

I am suggesting that you recognize that some people need to leave to care for children or aging parents or to go back to school or even to travel the world. Rather than writing those folks off, you pause (rather than terminate) their employment. And that inviting them back (reverse recruiting) may be a brilliant thing to do. 

Is it easy? Hell no? But very little that is worth doing is.

If you’d like to explore innovating in your HR practices, creating healthy work cultures, or equipping your leaders with the skills they need, reach out! Evergreen Leadership can help.

If you’d like to meet John and explore how he works with clients to help companies create cultures that embrace and harness the power of everyone in the business, find more here.


More to explore

3 Responses

  1. Great article and something that every business should consider, regardless of size. You don’t have to have an HR department to see the wisdom, and the value of this approach. It is what we who are sales professionals and sales leaders have been doing for a long time in recruiting for our teams and organizations! This is something that I have been preaching to my clients (small and midsized businesses) for 6 years since I started my consulting business.

    Bravo for asking great questions that are leading to greater answers…and sharing them at large!

  2. A timely, thought-provoking article which I will share with others given the challenges we are having with recruiting and retention. I love the approach. We have had numerous people return after leaving and they become great advocates for the company often sharing how much better our organization is from others. Helps people appreciate where they are and curb the exodus.

    1. Just talked to a leader of a $3MM company who had to turn down an additional $2MM in sales due to not having enough talent. Having the right people is not a “nice to have” – and merits some new approaches! I remember when we were at RRD, we were happy to welcome people back, because they could share that the grass was not always greener on the other side of the fence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Evergreen Leadership