Recently, a former IBM employee told me about part of the interview process when he was working there. He said each job applicant had an interview form, and at the bottom of the form was the question "would you hire the candidate independent of the known need?"
I love this question. It should make you think more critically about the organization and about every potential employee you meet.
Most companies don't have the luxury (financially and organizationally) to hire a bright, skilled candidate if they don't match the job opening. If you are looking for a embedded Linux engineer, why would you hire an electrical engineer? But wouldn't it be nice to grab talent when you see it!
Recruiting unemployed hotshots is a 'hot' strategy in this poopy economy. However, the small and mid-size companies I've worked with haven't had the luxury to hire folks that weren't already in the 'plan' (not even with a good economy). Start-ups often don't have the right 'plan' - you just don't know exactly who you will need and when.
I think this is where the HR function needs to add value. Independent of immediate need, how can we utilize top talent? Can we reorganize organizational inefficiencies and do things differently? Can we pull work in-house from contractors or other outsourced services? We certainly want to stay away from unnecessary cash burns, but why is this candidate appealing if we weren't looking for them originally? If we can't hire, maybe it's a contracting deal, tapping into their expertise for a small client specific project. You create a connection to them and keep them learning about the company.
Our intern program has flourished independent of known need. When we weren't looking for interns, we came across a competent go-getter with just the right technical match for most of our current projects. Even when he went back to school he contributed directly and significantly - and has come back to work with us every break since then. When we began looking for Java developer interns, we found a sharp electrical engineer. We weren't thinking of the great new hardware she could develop or resources she could provide. Thinking independent of known need has helped us.
I guess this isn't brain surgery - don't we all go through these steps when we meet a talented person? But I really liked hearing about "Independent of Known Need." It's helped me look at every applicant in a new light.