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Hiring Cheats: How Bribery Can Help

Hiring Cheats: How Bribery Can Help

July 27, 2012

How much is a truly great employee worth to you? Right now, cash on the barrelhead. If it were possible for me to deliver you a person that was a perfect fit for your open hiring requisition, how much would you pay?

Headhunters provide a benchmark. If you are looking for a strategic hire, they can command $10,000 to $100,000. If it's the right person, that's a fair price – painful, but fair.

How does less than 10 percent of that price sound, and with a higher chance of success? Based on our experiences at Starsys, you have a recruiting tool already in place, just waiting for a “GO” from you.  Let me explain: 

After our fair share of embarrassing and costly hiring misses, Starsys eventually became quite good at sorting the wheat from the chaff through the traditional interview process. It was an arduous process, and we still found truly Great Talent only about one-third of the time. If we could find a stellar recommendation, that upped our changes to 50/50. But we wanted to do better.

During a period of growth when we were becoming desperate to find enough good people in time, we declared we would pay our employees a bounty for finding new hires. We had no idea we had just tapped into the mother lode. We found a previously undiscovered fundamental principal of organizational dynamics:

"High-Performing Employees Loathe Working with Less-than-High-Performing Employees."

and its corollary:

"High-Performing Employees Know Lots of Other High-Performing Potential Employees."

Our bounty added the right catalyst to what was already a locked and loaded recruitment machine. We created an underground railway of sorts for bringing talent into the company by rewarding our employees for finding the next great new-hire. Rather than a process that happened only when we had open requisitions, our employees became talent scouts that helped us develop a backlog of potential great new hires.

This was powerful mojo within the company that needed close monitoring: We had to get the amount of reward just right – too low and we wouldn't have people engage; too high and our employees "talent meters" would be compromised by short term financial gain.

We ultimately converged on a bounty that ranged between $500 and $2,000 per new hire depending on salary level. Even then we occasionally wondered if we had created a monster; we had one individual that collected $6,000 one year. My HR director would come in and point out we were "writing another $2,000 check to Tom." So we would stop for a minute, remind ourselves of the quality of his recruits, and write the check.

A word of caution: This approach will not work for a company looking to increase the quality of their workforce. Mediocre employees will recruit mediocre candidates. But if you have an existing, outstanding workforce that you want to replicate, this hiring cheat can really rock.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • You need to find your own "just right" price point. Although the value of a great new-hire far exceeds the reward that will motivate people, there is a tendency to go cheap. Don't do it. In general an amount that has you thinking as you write the check "Wow, that's a lot for just making an introduction." is probably about right.
  • Create a concise one paragraph job spec and post it in the lunchroom along with the reward. If it fits your culture, gin it up as a reward poster.
  • When the new hire is on-boarded, make a point of announcing who introduced the person to the company. It's a subtle way of reminding folks of the reward to be had. But don't present the check publicly; it will backfire. Trust me.
  • Hire when you don't need to. If an employee makes a connection to great talent, try to find a way to on-board them. Snap up those diamonds-in-the-rough when they appear. It will motivate your recruiters to always be looking, as well.

This hiring cheat is not a shortcut around thorough vetting; you will still have to rigorously interview potential hires. However, properly deployed, bribery can provide a quick path to great candidates.

Scott Tibbitts is the founder and former CEO of Starsys Research and a nationally recognized speaker on entrepreneurship and legendary corporate cultures. In 1988, he approached NASA with an invention made from hardware store parts. Starsys became a world leader in spacecraft devices, with products on 250 spacecraft and an unprecedented 100% success record. Scott is the co-founder of eSpace: The Center for Space Entrepreneurship and is currently working with telecom providers to deploy an invention that prevents texting while driving.

To schedule speaking engagements visit

Connect with Scott at or on Twitter @scotttibbitts.

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