How to Recruit Passive Candidates

Jul 2, 2010

We’re now working on a major survey with LinkedIn on determining the percent of its 70mm+ network that is active, passive, or somewhere in between. Recent data from the Recruiting Leadership Council (CLC RecruitingBuilding Talent Pipelines Survey) indicates that for a broad sample of the U.S. workforce, 15-20% are very active and around 20% passive, with the remaining 60% showing a mix of passive and active behaviors. Our internal research would indicate that higher-quality and more senior-level prospects are more passive than the population at large. Regardless, this means that a significantly larger percent of the workforce is passive rather than active. This is a critical and overlooked point when developing new recruiting and sourcing processes.

For example, while most companies want to focus on hiring more passive candidates, they continue to use processes that are based on how active candidates look for new jobs and how they decide to accept one over another. As technology improves (LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, Proactive Employee Referral Programs) it’s becoming much easier to identify passive candidates, but identifying names is not the same as attracting them, and much much different than hiring them. With the goal of hiring top performing passive candidates, here are some process changes you might want to consider implementing.

12 Things You Need to Do to Recruit and Hire More High Quality Passive Candidates

  1. Don’t take “no” for an answer. True passive candidates don’t want to talk to you. They’ll do anything they can to get rid of you. Don’t take it personally. Persist. You’re job is to get the candidate to see your job as a potential great career move.
  2. Be SWK (someone worth knowing). Top quality passive candidates will not talk to a recruiter who is not handling important jobs, isn’t well connected, and isn’t working closely with the hiring manager.
  3. Be an SME (subject matter expert). The best passive candidates expect the recruiter to know the job, the company, the industry, the competition, the market, and the compensation issues.
  4. Quickly determine the quality of candidate. Not all passive candidates are high quality people. There are plenty of not-so-great people who are not looking. Recruiters need to separate the best from those who aren’t, within 5-10 minutes.
  5. Find out the person’s job-hunting status. A passive candidate is someone who isn’t looking for a job, so ask right away to find out. If the person is looking, ask for how long and if they are getting serious about anything.
  6. Create an instant career. You must obtain some background info from the candidate before you describe your opening. This is a critical step and missed by most recruiters. During this five-minute period look for areas where your job offers growth and stretch. This is how you excite a person to get interested in what you have to offer.
  7. Ask for permission. Start your conversation by asking if the person is open to discuss a potential career opportunity. Be vague about the job and get some background about the person before you tell too much about your job. Present the “instant career” and ask the candidate if he/she would like to proceed and learn more.
  8. Eliminate the apply button, sell the discussion, not the job. Recruiters have a tendency to move too fast. This will turn off those who aren’t looking. That’s why it’s important to sell the next step in the process — an opportunity to learn more about the job — rather than then the end game (a job, with a specific title, in a specific location, at a specific comp range). As part of this, add a discussion about the job as the first step in your formal process to ensure you automatically detour the apply button.
  9. Quality of company. It’s much easier to recruit top quality passive candidates if the company is also top quality. If not, you’d better be able to quickly make the case that your company is well-poised to do something special and your opening is a critical aspect of this.
  10. Quickly determine quality of candidate’s current job. If you don’t have a great company brand, you’ll need to quickly establish that your opening in comparison to what the candidate is currently doing is why your job is worth considering. This is part of Step 5: create an instant career in the first five minutes of the discussion.
  11. Hiring manager involvement is essential. Top people want to work for other top people. If your hiring managers are not willing to be 100% committed and involved, your company has no chance of hiring any passive candidates, even average ones.
  12. Get referrals of other top quality passive candidates. Calling passive candidates who haven’t been referred to you is very time-consuming. For one thing, you don’t know if the person is any good and the person is less likely to call you back. Getting referrals from other top passive candidates is the real secret to passive candidate recruiting. Not only will they call you back, but you already know they’re worth calling.

Hiring high quality passive candidates makes great business sense. However, getting their names is the easy part. If you’re serious about hiring the best passive candidates, you’ll need to change the measures of success from speed to hire to quality of hire. That’s the only way you can afford to implement what’s described here. If you don’t want to make this shift from speed to quality, you’re better off spending your time in the active candidate market and hope for good luck. (Email me if you’d like to discuss a new approach to search based on leveraging your existing process to optimize passive candidate recruiting. This is part of a beta project using LinkedIn’s Talent Advantage suite of services.)

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