Apr 29, 2011
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

As many of you know — I announced it at the ERE Expo in San Diego — I’ve decided to bring recruiting back to recruiting. This is my new old mission. Somehow this has been lost in the past few years when overall candidate supply exceeded demand. Hiring top talent is not the same as finding top talent. While sourcing is a step in this journey, it is only a step, and one getting easier each passing day.

Consider this: at the current rate, by March 11, 2012, everyone will be connected by one degree of separation with everyone else either via LinkedIn or Facebook. (FYI: I define sourcing as the process of name generation only. If you pick up the phone and call a person who did not apply, and convince him or her to consider your position, you’re recruiting. If the person applied for a job and all you’re doing is qualifying the person, that’s screening, not recruiting.)

While sourcing is getting easier, recruiting these now-more-visible folks is getting harder. This will become even more challenging as the demand for top talent accelerates, and everyone makes a wholesale shift to contact the same passive candidates you’re contacting. In this case, good recruiting skills will make all the difference as to who attracts and hires the person.

Here are some interesting stats by way of a LinkedIn survey we conducted in late 2010, to validate this point. First, only 8% of the fully employed professional pool of candidates were actively looking and open to considering a lateral transfer. Another 10% were causally looking, but only interested in a better job than the one currently held. Everyone else needed a significant bump in compensation or a significant career move to even consider engaging in a conversation. Without a big employer brand, recruiters need to make the case that the jobs they’re representing offer something better. This is the first step in real recruiting.

As part of this “bring recruiting back to recruiting” mission, I put together this quick list of things modern-day recruiters need to be able to do to recruit top passive candidates. While they’re all important, which ones would you select as your top three?

  1. Know the job
  2. Know the industry and competition
  3. Partner with the hiring manager
  4. Market the job via voice and email
  5. Network, network, network
  6. Accurately screen and assess talent
  7. Recruit and influence top prospects
  8. Negotiate and close the offer
  9. Don’t take no for an answer
  10. Sell a career move, not a lateral transfer

Your top three might be different, but here’s mine.

Although the ability to partner with the hiring manager is essential, it’s second on my list, since in order to be a partner you need to know the job. That’s why knowing the job is first on my list. Third on my list is not taking “no” for an answer. To some degree these three in combination with all of the rest all represent a chicken-and-egg-type problem. (You can download a flyer with a more complete version of this Recruiter Circle of Excellence you see in the graphic, including a ranking scale, on the Recruiter’s Wall.)

Without knowing the job, there is no way either a hiring manager or a top candidate will respect your judgment or be swayed by whatever eloquence you manage to muster. Without knowing the job, persistence won’t help much, either. It will be like pushing on a rope. While there’s more to it than this, this is the reason I consider real job knowledge as No. 1.

Job knowledge is not simply knowing the list of skills and responsibilities listed on the job description. It’s understanding the actual work the person actually needs to do to be successful. For example, having a CPA, 5-10 years in corporate reporting including SOX, and strong international reporting experience is not knowing the job. Moving the company to the international financial reporting standards in two years, building a team of eight staff and professional accountants to assess and upgrade the current, cumbersome domestic SEC and SOX reporting process, and quickly developing a worldwide set of accounting policies, is knowing the real job.

Without this type of detailed job knowledge, you’ll get little respect from the hiring manager, and top people with other things to do will dismiss you out of hand. Of course, to obtain this critical information you need to get it directly from the hiring manager. One way to better understand the job is to ask these questions during the intake meeting:

  • What are the big things the person will need to accomplish in order to be considered a top performer?
  • Why would a top performer who is not looking, who is fully employed, and has multiple opportunities, want this specific position?
  • What are the biggest challenges the person will face on the job?
  • What are the big areas of leadership and/or strategy the person would need to successfully handle?

After you have these answers, then go through every critical skill on the job description and ask, “What does the person need to do with the skill as part of the actual job?” For example, for strong communications skills, you might get something like “make weekly presentations to the design review committee.”

If the manager asks why you need to have this information, tell him or her that this is the information passive candidates who aren’t looking need to know in order to decide if they just want to enter into a conversation. Then as a real zinger, ask the hiring manager if he or she would agree to see a person who could perform all of the work listed, but didn’t have exactly the same background listed on the job description. If the manager says “of course,” you now know the job. In parallel, you are moving toward partnership status.

If the manager says no, persist and ask the questions again, or read this article before you ask the questions again. The key: do not start looking for a candidate until the hiring manager says the real job as defined is correct, and also agrees to see all candidates who have done comparable work. Otherwise everything you do afterwards will be problematic.

With this “new age” job profile in hand, start contacting passive candidates and ask this question: “would you be open to talking about a possible career move, if it was significantly better than what you’re doing today?” They all will say yes. If not, persist and ask the question word-for-word again. When they say yes, you must then get these candidates to tell you about themselves first. Use this time to determine if the candidate is highly qualified and would see your job as a career move. If so, recruit the person. If the person is not perfect for your spot, network and get three names of some great people who are perfect. This is where persistence and all of the other skills listed in the Recruiter Circle of Excellence above will come into play. But if you don’t know the job, and aren’t a partner with your hiring-manager client, all of the persistence and skills listed won’t help much.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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