Innovative recruitment through the ages – 3 of history’s best recruitment campaigns

Submitted on Tue 21 Sep 2021

Whilst engaging with a potential candidate pool via a relentless Instagram campaign may feel cutting edge, history has shown us that innovation, ironically, is nothing new when it comes to recruitment.

Whilst people may not have always used a recruitment agency to do it, people have been looking to engage with other people with a very particular set of skills (as Liam Neeson so succinctly put it) since the dawn of time. 

 So here are three of the most innovative recruitment campaigns in  history.

Julius Caesar c60BC Recruitment Campaign

JC did a fair bit in his time.  From conquering what was then pretty much the known world, ending democracy in the roman empire and even spawning a Shakespeare play, he also devised the world’s first finder’s fee. 

Although his status as one of the forefathers of the recruitment industry is often overshadowed by his other, more mainstream, achievements (such as being arguably one of the most gifted political and military leaders of all time for instance), JC’s contribution to recruitment shouldn’t be overlooked. 

As the Roman Empire expanded so too did its need for soldiers. 

As it covered numerous and more distant lands, its demand for soldiers to protect and win them increased. The Empire was faced with a bottleneck to its expansion in the form of an inability to attract suitable applicants (sound familiar?). So, in 60BC (approximately 2062 years before the invention of  LinkedIn), JC announced that any soldier who recommended another man who was subsequently recruited into the army, would receive a finder’s fee in payment.  Apparently the scheme was a massive success; the army grew, the empire expanded and Julius Caesar affirmed his place in the recruitment hall of fame.

Veni, vidi, tirocinium = I came, I saw, I recruited

British Intelligence Services c1942 Recruitment Campaign

It’s difficult to understate the importance of the efforts of Alan Turing and his team at Bletchley Park. 

It’s also quite difficult to understate the irony of how the society that Turing had played such a significant part in saving, then went on to persecute him due to his sexual orientation.  Sadly, following years of vilification, imprisonment and chemical castration, Turing committed suicide by eating a poisoned apple.

The method used to recruit the team, of which Alan Turing was a part of is an amazing example of guerrilla recruitment that shows as much innovation as the methods the team used in their work.

The Germans were communicating via a seemingly unbreakable code called Enigma.  The British needed to crack it.  Their code breakers were unable to dent it and so MI5 embarked on a secret recruitment drive.

A key part of this drive was to find people who had a certain way of thinking.

They did this by posting a crossword puzzle that required extreme lateral thinking in the Times newspaper and advertised a prize for anyone who solved it.  Anyone who claimed their prize, instead, found themselves being visited by MI5 and being offered a job at Bletchley Park. 

The team consisted of collection of odd balls, all very different to the military types who made up most of the intelligence agency. The team was so diverse that Churchill, on visiting, said “"I told you to leave no stone unturned to get staff, but I had no idea you had taken me so literally."

This diverse team was so successful that they were attributed with shortening the war by 2  to 4 years and saving millions of lives.  To say they won the war is an over statement, but only just.

The team that MI5 put together saved millions of lives, stopped the biggest slaughter in human history, spawned a movie with that guy from Sherlock Holmes, and (almost as an afterthought) pretty much invented the modern computer.  As far as recruitment drives go this one could be the worlds most successful.


Google c2004AD Recruitment Campaign

In 2004 Google was ‘A’ search engine, not ‘THE’ search engine.  There were lots to choose from and the thought that one would dominate the market so completely was an alien concept.  Without one of the world’s most successful recruitment campaigns you could now be finding holes in the historical facts of this blog by ‘Yahooing’ them, but you’re not. 

The team at Google knew that the way to market dominance was to hire the absolute best people on the market, Google engaged in a recruitment drive that targeted exactly the traits they were looking for in their company.

On the freeway they placed a plain white billboard with nothing on it but the words “(First 10 digit prime found in consecutive digits of e).com”

No company name, no logo, no sales pitch, no job ad, just a puzzle.  To everyone but the people they were targeting it looked almost meaningless.  Once solved, the puzzle took the genius to a web page on which there was another puzzle, then another and  another. 

After multiple layers of puzzles (none of which gave any hint as to where they were leading or why)  it was finally revealed that the  entire exercise had been a recruitment method of finding the smartest people in the world. Which was quickly followed by a job offer.  Who could refuse?

Needless to say Google managed to hire some of the smartest people on the planet and as a result of this recruitment drive became one of the most valuable companies of all time.  It’s all true, honestly. Go on Yahoo it. 


So, there you have it, 3 of the most innovative and world changing recruitment campaigns in history.  One of which helped spread the roman empire as far north as Britain, one of which saved millions of lives and one of which defined the Internet. 

Your daily Insta post about your team get togethers doesn’t look so innovative now does it? 



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