4 Shrewd and Low-Cost Ways to Recruit the Right Talent

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Finding and recruiting the right kind of talent is one of the top challenges of digital agencies. The traditional job ad won’t cut it. Getting the attention of those 10x individuals requires new tactics.


Updated on May 16, 2018: Once you’ve read this post, check out our second post with 3 more ideas!


Throughout our research to better understand the challenges that agencies face, one thing keeps coming up: the difficulty to find staff. This reflects the heyday nature of our times. Digitalization is in demand and there’s a shortage of people who can make that happen. The competition for great people is stiff.

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Recruiting and Hiring Can No Longer Be Side Jobs

You can no longer post an ad in the newspaper and expect responses. Recruiting people requires effort and creativity. You need to actively seek out those you wish to hire and you need to impress them.

Clearly, this isn’t a leisurely side job. Recruiting isn’t something to handle when the workweek is waning and when everything else had been taken care of and you sip that Friday afternoon microbrew IPA, agency style. No, recruiting needs to be taken seriously and done systematically. Just like marketing requires discipline to pay off. In fact, many of the strategies for attracting talent have more in common with your regular marketing than anything else.

This post presents four ideas for things you can do stand out as an employer and help your recruiting efforts. But before you jump ahead, you need to make sure you have a clear picture of your presumptive employees. My favorite tool to describe a group of people is the persona. These are generally used in UX and recently also in marketing. But personas work tremendously well for employer branding and attracting talent.

To save you some time, I’ve made a template you can fill out:

Free candidate personal template by Bondsai, a highly useful tool when recruiting.


⬇ Bondsai Candidate Persona Template (PDF)

⬇ Bondsai Candidate Persona Template (PPTX)

I recommend making one persona per group. What I mean by that is that the persona should reflect a group of roles within your company with similar requirements. You don’t need to create separate personas for “JavaScript developer” and “HTML/CSS developer.” It would make more sense to divide personas into “junior developer” and “senior developer” and then make sub-personas for specific skill sets such as “junior developer, frontend” and “senior developer, database.”

“You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.” ― Herb Kelleher

The persona should reflect attitudes and to some extent skills. I believe strongly in getting the right people “on the bus” as a principle for recruiting. The great candidates will adapt and learn as they go. That being said, it’s always better to hire someone with prior experience in what they’ll be doing at your company.

What you think you know – may hurt you when it comes to recruiting (man in kayak chased by shark, source avventureviaggi.com / © Thomas P. Peschak)
What you think you know – may hurt you (man in kayak chased by a shark, source avventureviaggi.com / © Thomas P. Peschak)

Don’t make the mistake to populate this template from what you think you know. Some tend to think that proper target group research consists of scanning people’s Twitter feed for keywords to determine their behavior. That will only lead to shallow and inaccurate conclusions.

What I recommend you do instead is talking to people. A good place to do that is to find local conferences, meetups or hackathons and come prepared with questions. Bring a colleague or two. Mingle with the attendees, then meet up before you leave and summarize your findings. Use what you learn to paint a picture of your target group.

You don’t have to build a complete set of personas to do the things listed below. Instead, use the insights gleaned from your efforts to sharpen your personas and your target group. This will help you become even better at reaching the right people.

1. Host a Meetup Attended by Your Target Group

Henrik Eneroth, service designer, speaking at the Stockholm Value-Pricing Meetup, May 2016. Meetups are great for recruiting.
Henrik Eneroth, service designer, speaking at the Stockholm Value-Pricing Meetup, May 2016.

The website Meetup.com describes itself as  “…helping people do more of what they love by finding and creating communities based on the ideas and activities that matter to them. Meetups are formed around a common interest, goal, or cause, and they are made up of regular, face-to-face gatherings.”

There are meetups on all kinds of topics, from cooking and knife-smithing to highly specialized software development. Meetups are very popular among developers and designers. Most meetup groups organize events between 4 and 10 times per year. Each group has a leadership team consisting of one or more organizers.

Budget: Inexpensive. You’ll have to pay for venue, snacks and overtime compensation for those of your staff helping out.

Timeframe: You’ll start seeing interest immediately and even more with repeat events and exposure.

How to do it:

  1. Search: Go to meetup.com. Using your persona and its interests, search for local meetup groups about those topics.
  2. Join: Join the meetup groups you find.
  3. Sponsor: Contact the meetup organizer’s and offer to sponsor an event or provide a venue in return for exposure.
  4. Attract: Help the organizer plan and set up the event. Order snacks and drinks. Order rollups and signage with your company’s name and why you’re a great place to work. Set up a table in the back staffed with some enthusiastic members of your team. If you can come up with a gimmick that draws attention, even better. Worst case there’s always free candy to fall back on as an attention magnet.
  5. Follow up: How many approached your table? How many did your team talk to? What did they talk about? Keep logs and take notes at the event. These will be invaluable as you optimize and improve for the next one. But also track how many that acted on it later and whether you received any job applications, messages or emails as a result.

2. Contribute to Open Source and Encourage Your Team to Do It Too

People working together, such as in an open source project, presenting an opportunity for recruiting.
People working together

The website opensource.com defines open source software as “software with source code that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance,” but that’s just half the story. What makes open source software so successful are the communities that form around open source software projects. By contributing to open source, you help market your company to a huge pool of talented prospective employees.

Budget: Relatively inexpensive. Expect to pay for some of the time your staff spends on it. But the returns are multiple and include improved employee satisfaction, learning and brand awareness. This is generally a very good investment.

Timeframe: 3-12 months depending on how active your staff is and how much attention they help create.

How to do it

  1. List: Make a list of the technologies or skills you need your prospective employees to master.
  2. Identify: Head over to github.com and look at the most popular projects using those technologies or at projects solving problems where those skills are needed.
  3. Enthuse: Gather your team and encourage them to become active members of open source projects. Use the list of Github projects you made as suggestions. Write a policy for how much of their paid time they can use.
  4. Encourage: Institute an open source day at work. This could be once per month or quarter. Make it an even with free food and perhaps a morning lecture by an outside speaker or expert. At our agency, this happened every two weeks and was called “innovation day.”
  5. Promote: In return for working on open source during working hours, ask your team that they sign their commits and messages with your company’s website URL. You can also request that they use an email signature with the line that you’re looking for new team members.
  6. Track: Find a way to track the results and the leads by asking those who submit interest or reviews on how they found you. Meet monthly with those taking part in the program to get an update. Provide encouragement and support if necessary.
  7. Evaluate: Follow up after 6-12 months and evaluate.

3. Talk at Conferences About Topics Your Target Group Cares About

I'm speaking at Drupalcon Copenhagen 2010 about project and software estimation (photo by David Mollière)
I’m speaking at Drupalcon Copenhagen 2010 about project and software estimation (photo by David Mollière)

Conferences exist in all sizes, from local “camps” to huge events that draw hundreds of thousands which presents a huge recruiting pool. For this to work, you need to target the right kind of conference. Making it into the exclusive constellation of speakers at major events like SXSW isn’t something you achieve without putting years or decades into building your brand as a speaker. It’s better to aim lower and perhaps go for local and regional events with a hundred to a thousand attendees. What’s important is that you’re reaching the right crowd for your recruiting efforts to pay off.

Budget: Medium. You will have to spend time preparing and practicing a presentation or speech. There might also be costs for accommodations and flights. This won’t yield results immediately so expect to have to do this for a while. You need to create recognition for maximum effect.

Timeframe: With the right people in the audience, almost immediately. Make it clear that your company is hiring. You can make it part of your introduction, before your presentation. Instead of bragging about clients, use the opportunity to introduce yourself and your company, and show your workplace culture. Be fun and accessible. I used to lead my presentations with pictures of the founders wearing a man-size Druplicon costume:

I always mentioned The Kitten Killers, our agency’s very own rock band:

How to do it

  1. Target: You know what skills you need. What you need to do now is to figure out where people who are good at that are hanging out. You can follow influencers in their field on Twitter and make a list conferences they mention or appear at. You can also attend local meetups to learn more about where that community gathers and how you can gain access as an employer.
  2. Focus: Make a list of conferences and organize them by size, number of sessions and speakers, location and dates. Put it all in a spreadsheet. Rank them based on how well they match your goal: talking directly to prospective employees.
  3. Learn: Select the conferences that best match your criteria and learn about what kind of material and speakers they’re looking for.
  4. Pitch: Prepare and submit session pitches that are personal and which fit their style and topics. Presentations don’t have to take a lot of time to prepare to be good. Speak about something you know well or often do. We often underestimate what we know and others don’t. Your knowledge is more interesting than it might seem to you.
  5. Earn: Do not enter as a sponsored speaker if possible. Sponsored sessions are avoided by hardcore attendees. Instead, earn your speaking slot by submitting an interesting proposal.
  6. Evaluate: Did your presentation lead to more job applications or people adding you on Twitter or Linkedin? Even if they didn’t, the work was likely not wasted. Presenting is a brand-building effort and the outcome can be hard to measure. So don’t give up just because you didn’t see immediate results on the recruiting front. The recorded presentation and its slides are things you can use yourself as content marketing. Speaking at an event is also a mark of authority which is valuable in itself.

4. Have Conversations With Prospective Team Members Through Social Media

Those using social media for recruiting should try to establish genuine conversations with prospective employees.
Those using social media for recruiting should try to establish genuine conversations with prospective employees.

Social media and networks are often seen as yet another distribution channel. Another digital megaphone to make it into the inboxes of your targeted market segment. But they can be so much more than that. Smart recruiters use them to create a genuine dialog with prospective candidates.

Budget: Low. You will need to set aside some of your time every day to work on this. You need to be genuinely helpful, not just another nuisance. But it will yield results.

Timeframe: Potentially long. This doesn’t work overnight. You need to have patience and a strategy. Expect 6 months at least before you see direct results.

How to do it

  1. Find: Use the keywords and skills from your persona to find people who talk about those topics. You may not necessarily want to hire those who talk (i.e. the influencers). Their followers may also be super relevant. Networks you could consider are:

    Using tools like Buzz Sumo and ContentGems you can find trending articles by keyword.

  2. Interact: Go read what they’ve said or done. Make genuine comments or tweet at (@twittername) them. Be interested. People are tired of headhunters abusing the Linkedin’s inMail feature to bother them. Don’t do that.
  3. Help: Approach people from the point of “how can I be of assistance?” Answer questions they might have or suggest tools or applications they might be interested in. Do not pitch. Just be a decent genuine person.
  4. Be patient: Building relationships takes time. Once these people feel they can trust you, you will appear as a potential employer to them.
  5. Analyze: Did you see any tangible outcome? When and how? Does this fit your personality and natural style? What groups or types of people do you connect with most easily? Is there a way to identify candidates that are more likely to respond? Modify and adapt as needed.

Bring Out Your Selling Savvy and Be Patient When Recruiting

Just like sales, recruiting new team members is a process that takes time. Leads that you make through the tactics above need to be nurtured and trust needs to be established. It doesn’t happen overnight and you cannot expect someone you just met to seriously considering switching jobs. Sometimes the timing isn’t right. An established process helps you build trust over time and ensure you stay top of mind when the opportunity presents itself. We will return to the idea of the recruitment pipeline in later posts on this blog. Sign up for our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss them.

Get Organized and Bring Foresight to Recruiting Using Applicant Tracking Software

OpenCATS is a free, open source applicant tracking system, making recruiting easier.
OpenCATS is a free, open-source applicant tracking system.

Putting in all this work won’t do much good unless you have a structured way to track the prospective employees. Listing them in a spreadsheet along with key skills and contact details is the bare minimum. Connecting to them on LinkedIn is an easy way to stay on their radar as they’ll see your updates. Our own application, Bondsai can also be used to build and strengthen relationships with prospective employees. Regardless of what tools you use, it’s important to stay in touch to remain relevant.

So-called applicant tracking software allows you to maintain a pool of candidates in a more structured way. There are open source alternatives that you can run on your own server. However, setting up such a system may seem time-consuming. As with all such tools, organizational implementation and designing and adopting a process for using them is usually the greatest hurdle.

A strategic perspective also pays off in order to establish a pool of candidates with the right skills in well in time before you need them. Having a bit of foresight in your recruiting efforts means better chances you’ll have access to talent when you need it.

Updated on May 16, 2018: Once you’ve read this post, check out our second post with 3 more ideas!


Are you ready to try this in your business? If not, why?

Please post a comment. I read all the comments.


Photo Credits


Author: Jakob Persson

Jakob is the founder and CEO of Zingsight, the company behind Bondsai. He's been involved with the web for over twenty years and has previously co-founded and grown a web agency from 4 to 70 people. Jakob holds degrees in media technology and cognitive science. He consults in product design and management, and business development. Jakob is an experienced skier and a learning scuba diver.