Approach Passive Candidates Differently

Mar 25, 2010

The truly passive candidate is a horse of a different color. Usually, they can’t be found anywhere on the Internet. They’re many times the result of someone calling into a specific company and asking who the person is holding a specific title or doing a specific function. The work is difficult and time-consuming and takes a special approach, one that few sourcers but many great recruiters possess.

I’m going to outline how and why approaching telephone-sourced names is very different from approaching names you’ve found on the Internet or persons behind the resumes sent to you each day.

We received a rather large order (300 names) in this week from a customer that we had done substantial work for (about 200 names) in the last half of 2009. Corresponding back and forth refining some of the current search’s details, I casually asked, “How many hires have you had out of the last names we sent?”

Expecting to hear, “Half a dozen,” or something close to that number, to my surprise this is what I received back from a circular sent through the team that asked:

“Do you recall, with your work with TechTrak, whether you hired anyone they provided?”

One of the recruiters said:

“Out of my searches thus far, we have not.”

Another said:

“No, I did not. I very rarely received a return call from the messages I would leave people.”

Alarmed and wondering what was going so terribly wrong, I asked that recruiter what it was he was saying when he called the telephone-sourced names we had sent. Sounding ill-fitting, he replied that he’ll typically say the following:

Hello, my name is ___________. I located your contact information online and have a very exciting (marketing/sales) opportunity to discuss with you. Please reach me at (___) ___ – ____ to learn more about this great opportunity, I promise not to take more than a couple minutes of your time. I look forward to speaking with you; have a great day!

I say ill-fitting because, although you may be thinking to yourself that the message sounds good (and ordinarily it might sound good) it is not being applied properly in this situation.

The situation I’m referring to is the first contact of a truly passive candidate. Remember, as I’ve written before, the truly passive candidate deserves an entirely different approach than what you’d use to approach someone you found on the Internet’s very popular social networking darling LinkedIn. When you call someone you found on LinkedIn (or anywhere else on the Internet) chances are they’ve been called before by recruiters about different job opportunities. Don’t kid yourself. You’re not Amerigo Vespucci.

Calling someone back who sent you their resume is another example of a technique that differs wholly from calling a phone-sourced name. Those job-seekers don’t ask questions when you call. They’re just so glad you called them they’ll generally tell you anything you want to know. There’s not a whole lot of challenge in engaging people who desperately want to be engaged.

The first thing most telephone-sourced people will say to you when you call is something akin to a surprised, “I’m not looking for a job!” or “How’d you get my name?” You must answer both of these concerns while at the same time capturing their attention, whetting what may be a sated appetite. It calls for an approach that engages them from their perspective.

Their perspective is that of a happy and satisfied employee who’s not looking for another job and is productive and fruitful in the one they have. Capturing their attention must be done within moments and overall must be done by surprise.

The following is an example of how we approach phone-sourced names. Bear in mind we are mindful at all times that the majority of these people are not looking for jobs.

When we “profile” a phone-sourced list we call through the field we’ve identified a minimum of six times before we even think about leaving a message. Most calls go to VoiceMail, and in our call sheets we detail what happens on each call. The following is an example of a divisional controller position for a billion-dollar division of a bank we phone-sourced and then profiled. There were about 30 companies on the original target list that yielded a total of 75 names that were later profiled. The call notes are in italics.

The client wanted only the group controller/chief accounting officer profiled at this company:

Company Name:




Mutual funds

Annual Sales (mil.): $344.9

Total Employees: 1,500

Employees at This Location: 900

*It appears that the CFO and Group Controller for ______ are out of Atlanta. Call to be transferred to either (Georgia Number): ___________

Name: CFO

Name: Group Controller/Chief Accounting Officer

Mar 15 10:40 Assistant answered; he’s on the other line

Mar 16 9:25 VM

Mar 17 1:56 VM

Mar 17 4:55 VM

Mar 18 10:51 Assistant answered and said he’s in meetings until after lunch — sometime mid-afternoon

Mar 23 2:22 In Europe this week — should be back next week

When you see “VM” it means we reached VoiceMail. We did not leave one. We rarely leave VoiceMail before half a dozen calls are made.

The following is an example that shows more of the consistent contact approach and some of the results from that approach. The client wanted both the managing director, strategy and finance group, and the corporate CFO names profiled from the corporate side. It became immediately apparent that both people had the same assistant answering their calls  and we’d have to go through her to reach them. In this case we left a message with her early on.

Company Name:




2009 Employees: 13,000

1-Year Employee Growth: 4.5%

Employees at This Location: 9,500

There are two CFOs here: one for the fund side, and one for the corporate side.

Name: Managing Director, Strategy and Finance Group

Mar 15 10:41 Long phone system waits — company may be having phone trouble

Mar 16 9:29 Assistant takes his calls and answers “VP Strategy & Finance;” press zero for Regina. He’s in London/out this week/she’s not sure when he’ll be back

Mar 23 2:23 “You’re nice to call/I’m very flattered/this is an unusual call — we have very good things going on here so now’s just not the right time for me — would be happy to pass along to others though.” Sent job description to him by email.

Name: Corporate CFO

Mar 17 1:56 Regina answers for him — He’s in a meeting from 1-2, 2-3, 4-6. I told her I would call him back later in afternoon between or after his meetings — she said “fine.”

Mar 17 6:00 Company closed at 5:30 and there was no way to navigate phone system to him after hours

Mar 18 10:52 In a meeting; left message w/Regina. He called me back in the afternoon and said most of the people he knows are at his own company — sees this as a step down for him but he’d be happy to pass along — send job description to his email address.

The following is an example of one company where we reached (and profiled) someone. The client wanted both the CFO and SVP finance/controller profiled. The legend shows the results:

Company Name:




2008 Sales (mil.): $680.1

1-Year Sales Growth: (34.9%)

2008 Net Income (mil.): ($154.7)

2008 Employees: 1,186

1-Year Employee Growth: (21.6%)

Name: CFO

Mar 15 10:54 Out of the office for a family emergency — assistant is not sure when he will be back

Mar 18 11:00 VM

Mar 23 2:30 VM — he’s on other line

Name: SVP finance/controller – under him are divisional controllers if you want them.

Mar 15 10:52 VM

Mar 16 9:36 VM In middle of a meeting — can I call him back in ten minutes (9:47)?

Mar 16 9:47 VM I left message and he called me back at 10ish …  profiled, interested in talking further

Here’s a result that shows a possible business opportunity for a recruiter working in this space. The client wanted both the SVP/CFO and the VP finance profiled:

Company Name:




2009 Sales (mil.): $651.9

1-Year Sales Growth: (6.7%)

2009 Net Income (mil.): $99.0

1-Year Net Income Growth: (11.7%)

Name: SVP and CFO

Mar 15 10:45 No longer with company. Last day was last Tuesday, Mar 9

Name: VP Finance

Mar 15 10:45 VM

Mar 16 9:35 VM

Mar 17 1:58 VM

Mar 17 4:56 VM

Mar 18 10:54 VM

Mar 23 2:29 VM

Sometimes it takes several attempts at differing times on different days to reach these telephone-sourced names. When you do get them to answer, remember that you have only a few moments to capture their attention.

Hi. This is Maureen Sharib. You don’t know me, but I’m calling you from Cincinnati, Ohio, on behalf of a company called ___________. They have an open position for a divisional CFO role that will be reporting to a global CFO and they’ve asked me to contact you to see if you might have an interest in talking about this opportunity at this time.

When I just hear silence I continue:

“Nobody said you were looking for a job. The intent here is to locate and talk to persons who are happy in their positions with the idea that these people are likely to be the most productive.”

If that doesn’t move them, then there’s a pretty good chance you’ve got a dud on the line and you may as well cut bait as fast as possible. But usually, 9 times out of 10, at some point in the above exchange they begin to talk. That’s all I need. Once they start talking they usually spill the beans.

Recently I saw a tweet that reiterated this principle:

Research indicates that it takes an average of eight attempts to reach a decision-maker.

If that’s so, why would these people be any different? They’re decision-makers for their own careers. It’s going to take some time to reach them.

To circle back to the hapless recruiter’s message that he’d been leaving for telephone-sourced names, it’s now pretty apparent to see why the message isn’t working.

Hello, my name is ___________. I located your contact information online and have a very exciting (marketing/sales) opportunity to discuss with you. Please reach me at (___) ___ – ____ to learn more about this great opportunity. I promise not to take more than a couple minutes of your time. I look forward to speaking with you; have a great day!

The great majority of the people he’s calling are not looking for a job, so his message isn’t resonating.

Because these people aren’t looking for new jobs I want to be in control of the process and own the element of surprise when I call.

I want to address the surprised objection in person when they say “I’m not looking for a job” or “How’d you get my name?” rather than having them think it while listening to a voice message left on their VoiceMails and deleting it as a result of their (negative) thought process.

Hammering an early question across like “Why do you want to work for us?” won’t work because they’ll back up and say something like:

“…Uhh, well I didn’t really ask to work for you — you’re calling me — remember?”

Likewise, talking about salary may be a little premature but you’ll be surprised how many ask you what your new position pays. It’s a perfect opportunity to find out what they’re earning now, if you’re after that kind of information.

Remember to frame your questions in a “first-touch” sort of way for better results. Asking them to tell you a little about themselves usually opens the floodgates. At this point, your job is to listen.

If you’re only calling telephone-sourced names one time and leaving a message for them, you’re making a huge mistake in your approach and throwing good money down the drain. These people need to be courted and wooed. If that’s too much trouble for you, maybe another line of work would be more appropriate.

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!