Are Passive Candidates Becoming More Passive?

John Sullivan’s great article on innovative sourcing ideas should be read by everyone in recruiting. The essence: You need to be super creative to reach out to the best candidates ó who by and large all are passive. This requires a shift in resources, from waiting for people to apply to reaching out and getting them interested. The implications of this shift in sourcing are huge. Systems and processes designed for hiring active candidates will not work too well for hiring passive candidates. Since they don’t work too well now, imagine what will happen when they work even less well. This affects ATS design, interviewing and assessment systems, recruitment advertising, the application process, and the selection and use of job boards, as well as the role of the recruiter, hiring manager, and everyone else on the interviewing team. Passive candidate name-generating methods will increase in importance. The big ones include:

  • Proactive employee referral programs (ERP). Ask your best people to identify the best people they’ve worked with at prior companies. Of course, recruiters then have to call these people, determine if they’re good or not, and, if they’re good, recruit them or get more names of top referrals these people have worked with in the past.
  • Internet data mining. Peter Weddle and Shally Steckerl are two of the best at this. They can perform miracles in identifying the hard-to-find candidates for any type of position. Of course, recruiters then have to call these people, determine if they’re good or not, and, if they’re good, recruit them or get more names of top referrals these people have worked with in the past.
  • Purchase of competitive intelligence. I use R.W. Stearns for this vital task whenever I take on a critical recruiting assignment. Identifying target companies is the first part of what they do. Then through a myriad of counter-intelligence techniques, including the development of organization charts, they provide the current names of your competitors’ best people, including current phone numbers and email addresses. Wow! Of course, recruiters then have to call these people, determine if they’re good or not, and, if they’re good, recruit them or get more names of top referrals these people have worked with in the past.
  • Software tools. SearchExpo, ZoomInfo, LinkedIn, and AIRS Oxygen represent the best of this group. Using these tools, likely passive candidates can be identified with just a few search terms and a click of the mouse. Within minutes you can have a pool of potential candidates. Of course, recruiters then have to call these people, determine if they’re good or not, and, if they’re good, recruit them or get more names of top referrals these people have worked with in the past.
  • Referral tools. Jobster offers much promise in taming the employee referral process. It automates the name-generating piece of the puzzle, which most of the time puts a stranglehold on even the best ERPs. Of course, recruiters then have to call these people, determine if they’re good or not, and, if they’re good, recruit them or get more names of top referrals these people have worked with in the past.

As the shift to innovative sourcing takes place targeting the passive candidate, more recruiters will be needed to do the “of course” part of this process. And that’s really the point of this article. But this is what it takes to hire passive candidates. No matter how innovative you are in obtaining their names, this is only the first step in recruiting and hiring passive candidates. No matter how important a step, a recruiter must then pick up the phone, call these people and say the right thing, and get referrals from these people if they’re qualified candidates. To be even more efficient, recruiters should never call anyone who hasn’t already been identified as a strong person. Then, when you make the call if they’re not qualified for the job for some reason, you can get three great referrals. If you restrict your calls exclusively to good people, this process becomes efficient, productive and ó most important of all ó self-sustaining. I wrote an article a few years ago on calling passive candidates and how to get more names. You might find it useful as you begin the challenging and important task of recruiting passive candidates. To me, getting referrals is the core competency of recruiters who recruit passive candidates. Every job, even recruiting, has a deal-breaker component. This is the one thing the person taking the job must do to be considered successful. All recruiters should ask their hiring manager clients what this is whenever they take on a new search assignment. For salespeople, it’s probably not taking no for an answer. For engineers, it might be developing product specs with the marketing team. However, for recruiters, the deal-breaker job factors are cold calling, recruiting passive candidates, and getting great referrals. This is what it takes to implement any new innovative sourcing program that targets passive candidates. Now on to the big picture. There are some other trends emerging that will make hiring passive candidates both more important and more difficult.

  1. Everyone is starting to do it. As passive candidates get more phone calls from recruiters, they will become increasingly belligerent and it will be harder to get their attention on the phone. Recruiters will need to become even more aggressive (oh no!) as the demand for passive candidates increases with the supply remaining constant. This will take more time, more recruiters, more training, and even more innovative sourcing ideas.
  2. The economy is either slowing down or it’s growing. This is an interesting phenomenon. Here’s the basic concept: When the economy slows down, good candidates become reluctant to explore new career opportunities. The belief is that it’s better to weather the economic storms at the person’s current company until the economy gets stronger. There is now a belief that the economy is stalling. This could make good candidates less inclined to pursue other situations. To offset this, recruiters will then need to be more persuasive, aggressive, etc. The odd thing is that a counter-balancing effect occurs when the economy strengthens. While more good people are willing to explore new situations, this is offset by the increase in overall demand for this talent. The net effect is that there is always more demand for top talent than there is supply. Good recruiting is required to make up the difference. So it doesn’t matter if the economy is slowing down or speeding up; you’ll never have enough top passive candidates without great recruiters.

So, bottom line, if you want to hire more top talent ó who as a group are more passive ó you need strong recruiters who can do the following:

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  • Make the cold calls ó lots of them, everyday.
  • Influence candidates to proceed.
  • Get more names of top referrals from these initial cold calls.
  • Make more cold calls to these top referrals.
  • Convince managers to spend more time to meet with these potential candidates on an exploratory basis, even when the candidates aren’t totally convinced the job is appropriate.
  • Convince these candidates to stay open-minded throughout the hiring process to get the information they need to determine if the job is appropriate.
  • Make sure managers act professionally and know the job. Passive candidates look at the job match and the quality of the hiring manager as the two most important reasons for going forward. The long-term growth opportunity is third. Compensation is probably next.
  • Negotiate offers. Top people want great jobs, great careers, and fair compensation packages. Presenting this in a balanced form is an essential recruiter skill.
  • Deal with counteroffers. If the people are as good as you think, their current employers will want to keep them at all costs.
  • Deal with competitive offers. Once passive candidates realize they’re hot, many start looking at other companies.
  • Start over again and make more phone calls.
  • Do this all while you have too much to do.

So, if passive candidates are becoming more passive, recruiters need to become more active. It takes skills, motivation, the right set of tools, and the time to do it right. If you’re a recruiter, you need to demand the training, the tools, and the time. The motivation part is up to you. If you’re a recruiting manager, you need to build and develop the team and obtain the resources to do it right. This is leadership. Collectively, that’s why recruiting top people is the hardest way to make easy money.

Lou Adler

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).