How Speed and Snowmen Can Help You Hire the Best

Dec 18, 2002

As many of you know, at POWER Hiring we spend much of our time ferreting about in other people’s hiring processes to see what works best and what works least best. We then collectively develop plans to make both the best and least best a bit better. One thing we’ve discovered is that too much time, money, and effort are spent chasing active candidates. The snowman illustrates this point. Let the head of the snowman represent the active candidate pool. This is 15% of the total. The body represents the 85% passive candidate pool. Another five to six percent of the active pool are represented by temporarily active candidates. On the figure, it’s where the head and body overlap. These are the people who get frustrated at work one day and look for a new position the next. If they don’t find anything compelling, they take themselves off the market. This simple model is a good way to think about your sourcing programs. Of course, cost per hire increases as you move into the passive candidate pool. It takes more effort to find and hire these candidates. But if you set up your sourcing systems properly, you can minimize unnecessary expense. Using the snowman as a guide, consider this: Where are the best candidates?? in the snowman’s head or the body? On an absolute level, it’s pretty obvious that there are more top candidates in the passive pool than the active pool, simply because it’s more than five times larger. Percentage-wise there are even fewer top people in the active pool, so sourcing for the best here is very competitive. Not only is it comparable to finding a needle in a haystack, but you also need to move very fast to prevent the competition from getting the needle before you do. There are some fine candidates in the active pool, but you need compelling advertising plus an ability to move quickly to hire them. Otherwise, the best will be quickly snapped up, and you’ll be left with only the middle-third of candidates to choose from. Without speed, you’ll lose the few top candidates who do become available to your more fleet-footed competitors. Now consider how much of your recruiting and advertising budget (include everything like money, time, effort, systems) is spent going after and managing the data for the 15% active pool. You might want to flip the snowman on its head to get a rough sense of this. If you’re like most companies, approximately 85% of your recruiting effort is focused on going after 15% of the available candidates. And this is a pool of candidates we all know is not stocked with top performers. If you’re spending most of your money going after the 15% pool, you need to know if you’re doing a good job of it. The quick answer is in the results. If you’re hiring plenty of great candidates, you’re doing a good job. If not, you’re not. And if not, then it’s time to change how you recruit in the active candidate pool. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Move faster. The best are snapped up quickly, so be quicker than everyone else.
  • Better, more compelling and more visible advertising. Advertising should treat candidates as customers, addressing the needs of the best, not the rest. This is the only way you’ll get top people to respond. Read your ads to see who you’re really targeting. Here are some examples of good ads.
  • Use better filtering methods to focus more on performance characteristics, rather than just skills. The best candidates deliver more results and get more promotions, so make sure your screening tools look for achievement terms when ranking resumes. Achievement terms could be things like awards won, recognition received, promotions, or just more action verbs in the resume (e.g., built, created, developed, completed, achieved, won, led, overcame, President’s Club, Rookie-of-the-Year, promoted, etc.). Engenium is a search engine that allows you to do this quickly. RecruitMax has this powerful search engine built into its applicant tracking system. ePredix offers a series of screening questionnaires that accurately identifies these achievement traits. This will help speed up the process by identifying the best quickly.
  • You need to make sure that all top candidates from the active pool speak to a recruiter within hours after applying. Since they’ll be off the market quickly, this will allow you to hire more of them when they do become available. Time per hire is a good overall metric, but when you’re going after the best, hours and days count. Consider adding a “speed-to-hire top candidates” to your management metrics. Then develop a fast-track system that recruiters and hiring managers use whenever a top candidate enters into the pool. This means a phone call from a recruiter within hours, a phone or in-person interview with a hiring manager within a day or two, and an offer within a week. If the candidate is interviewing with other companies, move even faster. You might be able to slow the process down for more complex or higher-level jobs, but getting these candidates quickly to talk to a recruiter is still very important. The best candidates need more information and more personal hand-holding. This is where recruiters must excel. They must be able to influence the candidate at every step.
  • Like most of you I’m not a big fan of resume databases, since it takes too much time to find good candidates who are still on the market. However, resume agents that give you just the new resumes on a daily basis can be a source of top candidates. Make sure you fast-track a candidate the minute you see a strong resume. This means calling the person by 10 a.m. on the day it’s received. If you do this as part of a daily regimen, you’ll not only find a few good candidates, but also drive down your speed-to-hire.

(Note: As many of you know, POWER Hiring has started a “Recruiting Metrics for Corporate Management” monthly online discussion group. How to best measure speed-to-hire is one key topic. If you’d like to be part of this important discussion group email me at with your title and company info. Since we’ve had so much interest in this program, we need to restrict the discussion group to corporate recruitment and HR management personnel.) Similar tactics need to be developed for each active candidate sourcing channel (e.g., employee referrals, career fairs, college recruiting). The key is to recognize that the best candidates don’t apply for or decide to accept an offer the same way typical candidates do. (See my article Don’t Diss the Best: The #1 Rule for Finding More Top Candidates for more on this.) The key in every case is to quickly identify the best candidates then implement some type of fast-track processing system. Working the passive candidate pool is significantly different. In this case, time is not the critical variable?? candidate quality is. How you find, network with, cold call, influence and close these top passive candidates requires much stronger one-on-one recruiter skills. We’ll get into some of these in my next article, but in general you must make sure that all of your active sourcing channel programs are optimized to get the best results possible. If you still can’t find enough top people, then you need to quickly move to recruiter-intensive passive candidate sourcing techniques. Hiring the best, whether they’re from the active or passive pool, always requires a recruiter to intervene. So despite all of the tools, techniques and tactics available, I strongly believe that if you’re not an employer of choice, the quality of your recruiting team will ultimately determine the quality of the people you hire.

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