I learned an important lesson about recruiting from an Indian driver-for-hire named Ramesh.

The year was 2005, and I was criss-crossing India with colleagues on a business trip, studying India’s rural postal system.

We set off to meet various officials, often driving to out of the way places. Navigation was difficult. Ramesh would:

  • drive a bit
  • scratch his head when he got to an unexpected intersection
  • get out of the car and ask for directions from a nearby local – often with a lot of banter and clearly making a new friend in the process
  • and then get us a bit closer to our destination

When we got to another confusing spot, he’d stop again, flag down another local, make a new friend, get directions, and get us another step closer.

And we always got where we needed to go.

(Yes, GPS would have been a godsend. But at this time, in this part of the world, not so realistic.)

I think of Ramesh often when I recruit. I’ll contact hundreds of people. Many will say, “I don’t think I’m quite right for the role, but let’s talk anyway.” So we do. Some of those people end up being VERY interested and land in the job of their dreams. Dozens offer helpful tips that lead to finding “the one.” Many have become friends. It’s a lot of fun. And so, so helpful.

So I’m surprised when other people don’t avail themselves of this approach.

Case in point: I received this message recently:

Dear Erica,


My name is _____ from Company _____. We are looking to hire a head of recruiting in Boston. You’re a great candidate. Could you please email me your resume and/or your availability to speak?
Interesting, I thought. I doubt I’d want this role, but I’ll listen, and I may be able to point them to the right person. So I replied:

Hi, thanks for reaching out. Not sure this is the right fit for me now but happy to talk with you to hear about what you are looking for. And I can likely refer you to others who are right. Feel free to call me tomorrow.
Guess what happened?


Just a few days later, it happened again – a different company, a different recruiting role, and the same messages back and forth.

Want to guess what happened the second time?

Again, nothing. Because of my experience in India, and my experience as a recruiter, I knew that they were missing an opportunity. (And if I’m honest, bruising my ego just a tad in the process.)

But perhaps they have gotten enough responses from people who are actively looking for just that kind of role and who will respond with a resume instantly.

This ‘spray and pray’ tactic works best when the talent is plentiful, interested in making a move, and already excited about the company.

Does that sound like the analytical marketing talent that you need to reach?

If so, great.

If not, you may need a different approach. You may need to find those needles in a haystack by making friends with THEIR friends along the way. You may need to find ways for people who are passively curious to dip a toe in to explore a new role, even if they won’t jump in wholeheartedly yet.

So what’s the net here?

  1. Assess who you’re trying to attract. Are there many of them, do they know about you already, and are they likely to respond to a ‘spray and pray’ outreach? Or are they rare flowers who will take some wooing and creativity to reach? Looking to hire people with skills in marketing analytics, data science, or general management? These people are likely in this second camp.
  2. Come up with the right approach and allot time accordingly. How will you prioritize who to contact? Who are the connectors that will help lead to the right hire? What will you do if you get stuck?
  3. Be a connector yourself. Take a call when someone you know is looking to hire talent like you, even if it’s not the right fit. You never know where it’ll lead.