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Recruiting Passive Candidates 101

Lou Adler
Dec 19, 2011, 2:41 pm ET

This will be my shortest, and my last article for ERE. At least for 2011. Regardless of the timing and its length, it may very well be my most important article this year, at least if you want to hire top people who are not overtly looking for another job. It consists of a few pithy ideas you need to embrace if you want to be successful recruiting passive candidates.

Adler’s Holiday Missives 2011 on How to Recruit Passive Candidates

Bridge the Gap on First Contact. Recognize that for passive candidates “Criteria to Engage” is different that the “Criteria to Accept” an offer. On first contact passive candidates decide to engage based on “Day 1” criteria. This includes the job title, the company, the location, and the compensation. However, when deciding to accept an offer, top passive candidates use “Year 1 and Beyond” criteria. This includes the career opportunity, the importance of the work, the hiring manager and team, the compensation and total rewards package, work/life balance, and the company mission and culture. Being able to bridge this gap on first contact is the difference between hiring great people and wasting your time.

Recruiting Workflow Active vs. Passive: the recruiting process to source and hire active candidates is fundamentally different than what’s required to hire passive candidates. Passive candidates go slower, take more time to decide to become a candidate, and won’t follow traditional approaches. Most companies use a “surplus of candidates” model to design their workflow. If you want to hire top-notch passive candidates in any volume, you must use a “talent scarcity” model –otherwise your efforts are wasted. (Here’s a link to some upcoming webcasts that gets into this in more depth.)

Job Descriptions vs. Performance Profiles. Unless you have a big employer brand, passive candidates will only consider career moves even to engage in a short exploratory conversation. So if you tell the person about the job before you know anything about the candidate, you’ve lost the opportunity to recruit the person, make the job bigger, or get referrals. Since traditional job descriptions describe lateral transfers, they must be banished as part of a talent scarcity talent acquisition approach, and never, ever discussed in the first 30 minutes of the conversation. Here’s how to do this.

Consider the Pace — It’s Much Slower! For top people, especially passive candidates, the decision to change jobs is a strategic decision based on more “Year 1 and Beyond” criteria rather than “Day 1.” As shown in the graphic, this takes extra time. To pull this off recruiters must use consultative selling every step of way, fashioning a career move for the candidate as part of the process. Unfortunately, too many recruiters use a transactional sales approach trying to fill reqs by offering lateral transfers with a salary bump — all Day 1 stuff. Note: when dealing with passive candidates, for a recruiter being “results-oriented” needs to be more about advancing the process along the path and hiring top talent vs. getting positions filled quickly. (Also note: this is where a common competency like being “results-oriented” can have a totally different meaning on-the-job and typically results in the wrong type of recruiter being hired.)

Applicant Control. This is one of our core recruiter competencies described in our Corporate Recruiter Competency Model. The keys: stay the buyer, get the candidate to sell you, and you determine if you’re interested in the candidate before the candidate has a chance to say no. You must maintain applicant control to ensure the candidate makes a “Year 1 and Beyond” career decision. Here’s how to establish and maintain applicant control.

Don’t call anyone who won’t call you back, or isn’t qualified. For the newbie recruiter, LinkedIn is a database of 140mm+ names. For a seasoned headhunter it’s a one-degree connection to every top person on the planet. If you know how to network, you’ll be able to find out about every one of your connections’ connections and pre-qualify each one before calling. Then only call the best. They’ll call you back, too, if you mention how they got their name. Done properly, you should be able to generate a short list of qualified candidates in a few days. Here’s more on how to do this.

If you’re interested in improving your passive candidate recruiting game, start by reengineering your processes from a scarcity of talent perspective. Part of this is hiring recruiters who use a consultative approach to recruiting vs. a transactional sales approach. We’re hosting a number of webcasts in 2012 describing this difference. After you attend them, try out the ideas. You’ll discover they work. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, “when you come to a fork in the road, take it, otherwise it’s déjà vu all over again.”

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Lou. Such information would be a bargain at twice the price, and as some of our relatives may have said: “If your eye falls on a bargain: pick it up.”

    Happy Holidays, Everybody!

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  4. Kevin Dalton

    Interesting indeed, and accurate from my experience. Remember, timeing is everything. So many organizations today, includng my employer, are in very slow, gradual downsizing mode, punctuated with periods of terror that ripple throughout when another group of colleagues is eliminated – then everyone settles down. Catching talented, loyal but nervous professionals just after the terror period, but before things settle down again is the key I would think. I am searching for a recruiter who specializes in Sales/Marketing/PR. I have 2 decades of very successful experience with a top global company out of DC, where I was responsible for over 25 million annually. Any assistance would be most appreciated –

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