Let’s talk about lateral hiring. If you’re unfamiliar with the term or the process of lateral recruitment, that’s alright. Many recruiters are not particularly au fait with the lateral hiring process, because its typically carried out by senior HR executives, senior leadership, or external specialists like head-hunters. The process is fairly similar to head-hunting, which we’ve covered before. Its an effective strategy for hiring for positions that require very specific or niche skills and expertise.

Unlike when you’re recruiting for most open jobs in your organisation, where you would advertise a position through your website, social media channels, and job boards, as well as within your internal talent pool, the lateral hiring is very different.

Businesses don’t tend to advertise the position when engaging in lateral hiring – organisations undergoing this process are not expecting people to apply for these roles. Candidates are not coming to you – with lateral recruitment, you are actively searching for someone with the right skills and expertise to fill a certain role. The candidates you would be approaching are often passive – as in, they are not actively searching for a new job.

This makes the process a little bit clandestine – a little bit hush hush.

If you’re still scratching your head about what lateral hiring is, don’t worry – we’re about to get into it. Let’s take it from first principles.

What is Lateral Recruitment?

So, what is lateral hiring and how does it differ from typical recruitment and the normal hiring process?

Lateral recruitment refers to the process of hiring new employees who are already in a similar role at a different organisation. It is used for positions that are typically more difficult to fill, such as senior executive positions. It is most commonly used for roles that require a very specific set of skills, experience, or expertise.

The term lateral refers to movement at the same level – in the context of recruitment, it describes someone moving into the same role they currently hold, but with a different organisation.

Lateral hires are typically already proven in the position that is being recruited for. They may also have some familiarity with an employer’s culture and procedures, but this is not particularly necessary.

As noted above, this differs from more traditional recruitment methods because it is usually a much more confidential process. Whereas usually, an organisation will advertise open roles, expecting candidates to apply, and once those applicants are screened, potential employees are shortlisted, leading to interviews and eventually a new hire. This is not the case will a lateral hiring process.

Instead, there is usually a small group selected internally – recommended to be made up of an organisation’s senior leadership and management team – while most other employees and staff completely unaware that the position is being recruited for until after the hiring process has been successfully completed.

This group will screen and negotiate with candidates with the requisite skills and expertise for the role they are looking to fill. This level of secrecy is beneficial first to the candidate – who is unlikely to be openly looking for a new role – and to the organisation. Businesses who are engaging with this type of hiring process are typically doing so because they are looking for an expert in a particular field to help with expanding the business or making other major changes. Or because they are recruiting for a position that they have a desperate need for, and don’t want to signal that to the market or to competitors.

But those aren’t the only benefits to lateral recruiting. Let’s dig deeper.

The Benefits of Lateral Hires

Firstly, lateral hires can prove to be more efficient than employees recruited in the more traditional manner. This is because they have the skills and expertise to immediately step into a role and hit the ground running. Lateral recruits require less time and resources in the form of training to get up to speed in their new roles.

If you are hiring for a team that is already struggling for capacity, or for a role in which there is a shortage of talent available, this approach can have a major impact – bringing in someone who can hope to make an instant difference, with minimal onboarding and little handholding from the beginning.

Further, the experience that a lateral hire can bring to a role can also lead to them bringing new ideas and a fresh perspective to their new employer. Because new hire has already done this role with another company, they may have different ideas about how to accomplish their required responsibilities.

A lateral hire may also be recruited specifically because the role they do does not currently exist within an organisation. This might mean that there would be nobody to train or manage someone to do this role, and it could also be that the role they will do is critical for the organisation. Lateral recruiting then brings new skills into the organisation, building on what can be achieved and making an organisation more resilient, productive, and agile.

And because these hires are typically brought in to work on a critical initiative, the major benefit is often that the hiring organisation gains the skills and ability to complete this important project.

How to do Lateral Hiring

For all that I have written about how the lateral hiring process differs from traditional recruitment, the end goal is still the same: to find the best talent to fit the role.

But since you are not advertising the open position, you are essentially looking for someone who is already established in their field. You have to negotiate with them and convince them why they should come and work for your business.

So, let’s break down what you would need to accomplish to ensure a successful lateral hiring process.

Define your needs

You will need to understand the goals of your organisation, and how the lateral hire would be able to help you achieve them.

This also means clearly defining the role they will need to do; the experience and skills necessary, and what that job will entail.

Research prospective candidates

Lateral hires are passive candidates – they are not looking for you, so you must find them. These people may be perfectly happy in their current roles and with their current organisations. This means you may be required to cast a wide net, and thoroughly research the people you would want to approach. Look at the track records and the professional successes of each individual you investigate and shortlist the most impressive or the ones who feel like the best fit for your business.

Define why they should want to work with you

Part of that investigation is trying to understand what might convince the person to join your company.

Most lateral hiring occurs at the executive level, where salaries tend to be similar across businesses and sectors. Money might not be the deciding factor in why they choose to join your business.

It could be your values or mission, or employee value proposition. It could be the opportunities for growth available at your company. It could simply be the flattery that you are creating a position in your organisation  specifically for them.

Whatever it is, you’ll need to know how you are going to sell your business and what you can offer to make it attractive to this new hire.

Make Contact

Finally, once you know what you need, who you need, and why they should join your business, you will need to contact the candidate discreetly.

Extreme care and caution should be taken – these will be people established in their roles and with their current employers.

First contact is a delicate operation, and you don’t want to arouse any suspicion from their current employers that could lead to a counter-offer which could easily scupper your recruitment attempt.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to negotiate a compelling package and make an offer.

Is lateral recruitment the right move for your organisation? Well, its going to depend on the role, the need, and most importantly, on your business itself. Some companies will benefit more from this approach than others.

If you want to learn more about how Hireserve could help to improve your recruitment efforts, why not book a demo today.

About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, and The Guardian, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.