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Lateral Hire
Struggling to hire hard-to-fill roles? Lateral recruitment turns many traditional procedures of recruitment upside down. These tips on lateral hiring will help your organization find the niche talent you are looking for.

What Is a Lateral Hire?

Lateral recruiting is the process of hiring an individual or professional from another organization who is currently working in the same or similar capacity to the role that your organization is filling. The purpose of a lateral hire is to bring someone into your organization who already possesses a specific skill set and has experience within a desired similar background. Lateral recruiting may also be called headhunting. Lateral hiring is often used for high-level professional roles like business executives, doctors, and lawyers where a specific niche skill set is required for the role. Here we will explore how lateral hiring is traditionally used to fill niche roles, but you may also find that this information is pertinent and valuable for hiring a broad array of roles in a competitive labor market. Lateral recruitment differs from traditional recruitment in a few areas that are important to note. It uses a simplified model of traditional recruitment, in which the role is identified, requisition opened, job posted, incoming applications reviewed, candidates interviewed, and a job offer is extended. Lateral recruiting spends more time proactively reaching out to passive candidates.

Why Is Lateral Hiring Important?

Lateral hiring can bring many key advantages to your organization.
  • Expertise. Key skills and competencies are identified as needed to succeed in a given role, initiative, or project. These areas of expertise and skills are required to successfully complete the expectations and projected areas of impact for a role. Bringing on a lateral hire empowers your organization to bring these skills into the organization ready to be implemented and operationalized.
  • Time to onboard. Since lateral hires do not need to be upskilled, their time to onboard and become productive is significantly decreased. One way to look at a lateral hire is they are ready to “plug-and-play:” they are ready to make an impact and add value right away.
  • Execute on critical initiatives or projects. Lateral hires are often brought in to work on a critical initiative, mission, or project when executing on deliverables is critical and specific or niche skills are required.
  • Net skills gained. One reason a lateral hire may be selected or needed is if the skills required for a role do not currently exist within your organization. Bringing in a lateral hire may bring in net new skills to your organization that you do not currently possess.

Tips for Effective Lateral Hiring

A lateral hire can be tricky to navigate, but if done successfully, the value they bring to your organization can also be a fulfilling career move for that person. Here are the steps to finding a qualified lateral hire.

Tip 1: Define Your Industry or Niche

One of the great benefits of bringing on a lateral hire is targeting an industry leader from a competitor. Lateral hires are not required to be from the same industry, but they often are because the main reason for bringing in a lateral hire is to add relevant required skills.

Tip 2: Define the Required Experience and Skills

The only way to successfully hire laterally is to clearly define and communicate the required skills. The more clearly you can define the required skills and competencies a role needs, the more accurately you will be able to hire someone who will make the impacts you seek. In order to define the required skills for a role, start by listing the required outcomes or expected results you want to see from this position. Then you will start to be able to identify the skills necessary to achieve those results.

Tip 3: Hunt for Prospects

One of the primary differences in lateral recruitment is that you will probably be searching for your lateral hire rather than waiting for them to apply. It is possible to have inbound applicants for a lateral hire, but the primary process for finding a lateral hire is to go out and find them. Online tools make prospecting for lateral hires easier, but lateral hires are likely already engaged and (possibly) happy in their employment and are therefore not likely to be active on popular job boards. In order to find a lateral hire, you need to go where they are. LinkedIn is a great tool for finding professionals. Networking events in your industry facilitate introductions to professionals who may fit a role you are looking to fill. Internal employee referrals are a great resource to lean on in finding lateral hires. This process benefits from understanding and utilizing the hidden job market.

Tip 4: Do Your Background Research

Because you may not have their resume to tell you what their experience and skills are, you will spend more time researching a potential lateral hire's qualifications and skills. You need to learn what they currently do within their organization and the skills they are using to accomplish those results. The other reason it is important to research a potential prospect is to understand if your position will interest this person. You will only be successful in bringing on a lateral hire if you have something of value to offer them, whether it is a specific project or mission within your organization or something else that will entice them to make a lateral move.

Tip 5: Contact Potential Prospects

Cold-contacting potential prospects takes courage, research, and grit. Make sure you accurately identify people who could be a potential fit; you may harm your brand if you reach out to people in a manner that is seen as spam. You need to be able to clearly express a strong why making a lateral move to your organization makes sense for their career development. If you are able to connect the right role with the right person, your next step is to engage them with information that will provide value to them.

Steps to Follow for Lateral Hiring

Here are the steps that will build a pool of potential prospects for a lateral hire.

Step 1: Identify and Define the Need

  • Clearly identify the role you need to fill.
  • Define the vertical or industry your prospects may be found in.
  • Craft a job description that fine-tunes your search. Clearly list the expected areas of impact, competencies, and skills needed.

Step 2: Structure Your Prospecting and Advertising Process

Create a plan to find potential candidates. Most of this process will probably require proactive outreach or cold contacting, but it may be possible to post your role for incoming applications. Create a list of people who could potentially fill your role. Lateral hires usually come from passive candidate prospecting, but local laws and regulations may require you to post a job externally. In addition, it’s always possible that a lateral hire could apply to your organization.

Step 3: Build a Shortlist of Potential Prospects

After you have built a pipeline of prospects, narrow the list down to those who are the best potential fit. Sources include:
  • Passive prospects you will contact.
  • Referrals are an invaluable resource. Your organization may not currently have someone with the skills needed to fill a needed role, but you probably have someone who knows someone who has the right skills. Treat referrals like gold. A best practice in soliciting employee referrals is to clearly communicate the qualifications and skills you are looking for so your people can accurately identify appropriate people in their personal networks.
  • Applicants, if you decide to post the job.

Step 4: Contact Passive Prospects and Referrals

Contacting passive prospects is not easy because you are reaching out to them when they have not applied. However, if you do your research and have a true opportunity for them, you only have something to offer when reaching out.

Step 5: Interview Your Candidates

Clearly define what your interview process will look like. In general, you want to do as few interviews as possible to still make an accurate decision and help the candidate feel confident in accepting a potential offer. Avoid the common error of losing a candidate you are interested in only because a competing organization moved them through an interview process more quickly than you did.

Step 6: Negotiate The Offer

Offering a job to a lateral hire can be tricky if you are not able to offer a bump in pay. Whether or not that is the case, you need to take the time to actively listen to the candidate throughout the interview process to understand their motivators. If you can align the position with what motivates them, you have a better chance of successfully negotiating your offer of employment.
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Tyler Fisher, PHR

Tyler Fisher, PHR

Tyler empowers Talent Acquisition professionals, HR business leaders, and key stake holders to develop and execute talent management strategies. He is igniting the talent acquisition process through: team building, accurate time to fill forecasting, driving creative talent sourcing, and fine-tuning recruiting team effectiveness.
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