Leadership

The surprising approach LinkedIn is using to woo top talent

The LinkedIn offices are shown at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The LinkedIn offices are shown at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

LinkedIn, the employment social networking site, has a surprising strategy to lure in top talent: Giving prospective employees the chance to show off their musical prowess in an open mic night.

The company-sponsored talent show is the brainchild of Lesley Toche, the diversity program manager at LinkedIn. Toche, who was formerly a recruiter at the company, tells CNBC Make It that the idea came to him when he was planning a networking event to recruit more diverse hires.

He wanted to refrain from the typical networking events, which involve a lot of standing around and talking.

"I couldn't help but think of how to make it more lively and more fun if we were going to be targeting blacks and Latinos," says Toche. "Open mics are very common and a safe space within the black culture," he says.

Plus, hosting an open mic would be a great way to really distinguish the company's brand, says Toche, and "show the LinkedIn culture versus just talking about it."

The company held its first open mic event last November and welcomed about 100 attendees. The event was broken up into two parts: One hour of networking upfront, followed by 90 minutes of the talent showcase.

Toche says he pre-identified the talent, which included singers, dancers, musicians and stand-up comics, before opening up the showcase to the audience.

"It really brought everyone together," he says. "[Current] employees said the event made them feel proud to be at LinkedIn."

A post shared by John Dunson (@johndunson7) on

On average, the company hires about three people at a typical networking event, says Toche. At the first event, six people were hired to fill open roles.

One of those hires was Cayman Lowe, who now works for LinkedIn as a relationship manager. At the time, he was living and working as an account manager for a children's education startup in New York City.

Lowe tells CNBC Make It that a college friend, who was working at LinkedIn's San Francisco office, called him and invited him to an open mic on the West Coast.

"I wasn't looking for a job but I wanted to see what my friend did at LinkedIn," says Lowe. He booked his tickets and arrived in San Francisco two weeks later.

The relationship manager says that he was a bit nervous walking into the event but was immediately put at ease.

"There was such a level of energy. The interaction was relaxed and communal. It was very informal and laid back," says Lowe."It felt like an event that was very authentic and didn't feel like a forced culture."

Lowe adds that the people who were performing "really resonated with me and didn't feel premeditated."

His decision to join the company was bolstered, he says, when he went out for drinks after the event with a few LinkedIn employees.

"They acted the exact same outside of the work event," he says. "I was able to talk with people about open jobs and hear stories about their career trajectory. I felt like it was a good fit."

Lowe, who had just gotten married in September, says he started interviewing for open positions about a week after the open mic. The most difficult part, however, was getting his wife on board because she had a "pretty sweet job" in New York City, he says.

"She was freaked out but was very motivating and supportive. We were both a little nervous," Lowe admits. "But this felt like an intelligent risk and a great opportunity to take that risk."

Lowe says he was hired a few months later.

Since then, the company has had four open mics in different cities. The headcount has doubled, averaging 200 - 250 attendees, says Toche.

The first two events were for sales professionals, he says, but they recently started doing events for engineering professionals as well. This is particularly notable because blacksand Latinos comprise a small percentage of this field in Silicon Valley.

Although the company's open mic targets engagement within these two communities, everyone is allowed to attend the event and apply for open positions.

Toche explains that as LinkedIn's recruiting has gained momentum, they are now looking to expand the company's open mic to other locations, including Dublin, Ireland.

Other companies have also implemented unique hiring strategies to showcase their culture, says Toche. He points to Twitter, which held a poetry night, Lyft, which had a live band perform for prospective hires and Netflix, which gave job seekers a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on in their studio.

"It's about figuring out what works for your company. It's really important that you find the style and event that reflects your culture," says Toche. "At LinkedIn, it's about creating a space for our employees where they feel like they belong so we showcase our company in an authentic way."

Like this story? Like CNBC Make It on Facebook.

See also:

Microsoft and LinkedIn HR execs reveal the right time to bring up salary in an interview

LinkedIn HR exec says this is the No. 1 mistake people make during the hiring process

How to impress your boss in 7 seconds