June 24, 2008

Cisco – Innovative Recruitment methods

In 1995, Cisco, found that despite hiring an average of 1,000 people every three months during the year, the company still had hundreds of openings. The recruitment pressure further increased the following year, when Cisco hired more than 1,000 employees every quarter. When Cisco’s sales soared, the company planned to double its workforce.

The management realized that it had to adopt innovative recruitment practices to bring in the best people. They adopted the first of its kind online recruitment called the ‘Friends program’. Cisco recruiters also began to target passive job seekers. These were the people who were content and successful in their existing jobs.


Cisco was founded in 1984 by a group of computer scientists at Stanford, who designed operating software called IOS (Internet Operating System).

In 1985, the company started a customer support site from where customers could download software. In 1990, Cisco installed a bug report database in its site. The database contained information about potential software problems to help customers and developers.

By 1991, Cisco’s support center was receiving around 3,000 calls a month which increased to 12,000 by 1992. In 1993, Cisco installed an Internet-based system for large multinational corporate customers. In 1994, Cisco launched Cisco Information Online, a public website which offered company and product information. By 1995, it introduced applications for selling products or services on its website. This was done mainly to transfer paper, fax, e-mails and CD-ROM distribution of technical documentations and training materials to the web to save time for employees, customers and trading partners, besides broadening Cisco’s market reach.

In 1996, the company introduced a new Internet initiative, ‘Networked Strategy’ to leverage its enterprise network to foster interactive relationships with prospective customers, partners, suppliers and employees. In early 2000, Cisco introduced the Integrated Commerce Solution (ICS), which provided a dedicated server fully integrated into the customers’ or resellers’ intranet and back-end ERP systems.

In mid-2000, Cisco entered into a distribution agreement with FedEx to manage orders and maintain inventory levels in a cost-effective way. ‘The Cisco City’ in San Jose, emerged as one of the biggest Internet economy industrial parks with around 13,000 employees.

Cisco believed it required the best people in the industry to remain the Leader.


The company followed a policy of hiring ‘top 10-15%’ people in the networking industry. This was a mechanism to remain the industry leader.

Its vision statement was, “Attracting, growing and retaining great talent is critical to sustaining Cisco’s competitive advantage.”

The company began to use newer techniques like the ‘build-the-buzz’ strategy, which was centered on the primary market for its products, i.e., the Internet.

Cisco’s recruiting team identified the candidates whom they felt the company ‘should hire,’ and then figured out the way those potential candidates did their job hunting and designed hiring processes to attract them to the company. The recruiters targeted even passive job seekers–people who were happy and successful in their current jobs.

Cisco changed the way it wanted advertisements in newspapers. It listed specific job openings and featured its Internet address in its ads and invited prospective candidates to apply. This helped in directing all job seekers to its website where it could inexpensively post hundreds of openings and provides information regarding them.

Since most people visited Cisco’s website from their jobs, the company could identify their place of work. The company attracted happily employed people through focus groups. These focus groups targeted senior engineers and marketing professionals in other companies and found out how they spent their free time. These insights helped the recruiters.

The website also offered features through which applicants could fill their resumes online or create one with the help of Cisco’s resume builder.

The focus group’s exercise ensured that a candidate would approach the company if he had been informed by a friend about better opportunities at Cisco. This led to the launch of the friends program in April 1996. Cisco also organized art fairs, beer festivals and certain annual events in which people from Silicon Valley participated. These places proved to be very ‘fruitful hunting venues’ as they attracted young achievers from various successful infotech companies. Cisco recruiters mingled with the crowd, collected business cards from prospective candidates and spoke to them informally about their careers.

More than 1,000 Cisco employees volunteered for the Friends program, attracted by the referral fee, which started at $500 and a lottery ticket for a free trip to Hawaii for each prospect they befriended and who was ultimately hired.

In this program, Cisco employees were matched up with people who approached the company as prospects and who shared similar backgrounds and skills. The Cisco employees then called the prospects to inform them in their own words about life at the company.

Cisco also found that applicants and recruiters were not totally comfortable with, the time-consuming recruiting process. To speed up the process, Cisco hired in house headhunters to identify qualified candidates for managers.

It encouraged internal referrals for recruitment through a program called ‘Amazing People.’ This facilitated the employees to refer their friends’ and acquaintances for positions within Cisco. Employees earned a referral bonus if the company hired the person they referred. After streamlining its recruitment policies in 1996, Cisco conducted an Employee survey to find out how the new recruits felt on their first day at work.

This exercise stemmed from the company’s belief that new employees typically treated the first day as ‘the most important eight hours in the world.’ Cisco launched Fast Start, an employee orientation initiative. It installed software, which tracked the hiring process and alerted the team about the new recruit’s arrival. As a result, every new recruit started with a fully functional workspace and a whole day of training in desktop tools.

Fast Start not only eliminated all problems but it also enabled new recruits to know about ‘life inside the company.’ Every new recruit was assigned a ‘buddy’ who clarified all doubts and answered questions about Cisco. New recruits also had a two-day course called the ‘Cisco Business Essentials,’ which covered company’s history and business units. The managers of the new recruits received an automatically generated e-mail two weeks after their new recruit arrival. It reminded them to review their departmental initiatives and personal goals.

Reaping the Benefits

Cisco believed that its new recruitment philosophy should also be made a part of the overall corporate culture. Cisco’s job site was recording around 500,000 hits per month. The company generated a stream of reports about who visited the site. Cisco’s hiring cycle also came down to 45 days. The recruitment costs were also below the industry average. Referral rates at Cisco were twice the industry norm. The retention rate of the Company had also increased.

Analysts claimed that Cisco’s innovative and aggressive recruiting initiatives were to a large extent responsible for the company’s expansion at 40% per year and recruiting 250 employees every week.

Industry observers feel that other players should also modify their recruitment policies to take advantage, like Cisco did.



  1. I discovered your homepage by coincidence.
    Very interesting posts and well written.
    I will put your site on my blogroll.

    Comment by Dan Waldron — June 24, 2008 @ 9:16 am

  2. My coworker used CISCO to get his certification, and I’ve never seen such a knowledgable person when it comes to computers. I don’t know a lot about IT, but I know that their certification programs are bar none.

    I actually like going over their forums for computer questions.

    Comment by Andrea — June 24, 2008 @ 4:41 pm

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