The war for talent is more competitive than ever. One of the best places to find top performing candidates is with your competition, which often brings more than just a quality hire to your company.

In heavily networked communities where employee referrals drive the majority of key hires, leveraging your employees’ social capital to attract and retain the best talent from competitors is critical. Here are a few ways to make sure your hiring strategy is the most-forward thinking in your industry:

1. Go through your employees
A recent study by ERE shows that a passive candidate that receives a job invite from a friend — rather than applying through a job board — is 54 times more likely to be hired. A message coming from an employee is highly valuable, and this is reflected in the referral bonuses available for a successful hire (ranging from $1,000 to $25,000). Targeted employee referral program tools can suggest good candidates from your competitors within your employees’ networks.

2. Bring down the walls of your company
Knowing what it’s really like to work at a company without physically going to visit the location can be very difficult to convey.

A recent interview with a fast growing startup confirmed that allowing candidates to experience your company firsthand makes a big difference in whether they join. They suggested that of all of the great candidates who were indecisive when they came to visit their office in-person and meet the team, 95 percent of the time they would accept the offer. Publishing employee stories and video testimonials can help candidates get to know a company – make sure this doesn’t look scripted, otherwise it could have the reverse effect.

3. Make them an offer they can’t refuse
Use all the industry information available to understand what the financial compensation and benefits are for their current position. For many candidates, a pay increase along with a few unique benefits will be enough to grab their attention. Add to this the potential for more interesting and challenging work.

4. Recruit teams, not people
When you do make a key hire from a competitor, take a leaf out of some of the rapidly growing tech companies (Google and Facebook, to name a few). On their first day, encourage them to invite the team they were working with. Ask them who they would like to work with again. It’s been proven that an employee is likely to stay in a role longer after a successful referral is made.

5. Reward all referrals
Have a scheme whereby if an employee refers a candidates, regardless of the outcome they receive a small reward. Companies like Accenture have been particularly successful offering smaller but more attainable bonuses (such as $250) if a referral makes it through to the interview stage.

6. Emphasize culture and development
In numerous studies it has been determined that the reason an employee leaves one company to join another is the culture and development opportunities. The more specific you can be with what opportunities your company delivers over their current company, the more an imminent move will seem like the right option.

7. Look for signals that a competitor’s talent may be looking for a change
Employees leave a digital footprint when they are looking to leave a position. Actions such as updating their online resume information, adding more contacts on social and professional networks, and more regular posting can all be strong indicators that an employee may be looking for a new job. Several recruitment tools allow hiring managers to understand who may be looking for a change within competing companies.

8. Make a good first impression with the right candidate experience
Recruitment can feel a lot like dating — and many of the same laws of attraction apply. Show the candidate you care and treat them with courtesy. The experience of the application process can often be the first impression they get of how your company operates on the inside, so make sure it’s a good one.

9. Check the non-compete requirements
In the state of California for example, much of the knowledge transfer and mobility of labour can be explained by the virtual absence of non-competes. This means any of your competitor’s talent can begin working for you immediately after completing their notice period at the last job. Make sure the same rules apply in your area.

10. Keep an eye on where your competitors are advertising
Placing an ad on similar sites for similar roles can be the ideal way to compete for talent before they candidate even joins a competing company. This will slow down a competitor’s talent acquisition, along with giving you more options.

Passive candidates are the Holy Grail of new recruits… and they’re often aware of this. To cut through the noise of recruiters, the improved candidate experience that comes employee referrals can be the best way to break the inertia that keeps them in roles in which they’re not fully satisfied.

The attraction of better quality candidates becomes your gain along with your competitor’s loss – including all the best practice, industry-specific knowledge and network that they bring. Tie that with research that suggests employee referrals perform better and stay in roles longer, you’ve created a hiring strategy that becomes a sustainable competitive advantage.

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