Recently I discussed the slowdown in tech hiring, which is already reflected in today’s longer and more difficult hiring cycles as hiring managers are more selective with the quality of candidates. Recruiting and job seeking has become significantly more challenging as offers are given out only to candidates who meet all requirements without fail. Sahat Yalkabov, a software engineer at Yahoo, was rejected multiple times describes this trend in his post “F*** You, I Quit — Hiring Is Broken.”
I empathize with Sahat and others out there who are struggling to get offers. The environment of hiring and talent acquisition had changed from two years ago when Sahat got the gig on Yahoo. Back then almost every company needed to fill tens, sometimes hundreds of positions.
Today, only pockets of the tech industry still enjoy significant growth and hiring volumes; for example, autonomous vehicles, augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and deep learning. To satisfy hiring teams, talent acquisition professionals must find better and more creative ways to reach premier talent and generate their interest for the right opportunity. Can LinkedIn be an excellent recruiting channel to connect the right people with the right roles?
LinkedIn is a professional network where people connect, exchange ideas and expertise, manage relationships, and look for jobs. There are, however, two essential problems with recruiting on LinkedIn. It takes way too much time to reach the right candidate, and the response rate from people is very low, a lot lower than it used to.
Jason Webster, the current head of strategic accounts program at Glassdoor and ex-co-founder of Ongig said: “The majority of my industry contacts tell me that their [InMail] response rate is between 10-20 percent. By contrast, colleagues from big-name companies like Google have said that they fetch a response rate of 70 percent using InMail. That seems to be an anomaly compared to the norm” (OnGiG). Why? Do Google recruiters have secret methodology or technology that gives them an unfair advantage? Is the Google brand so attractive in the minds of premier engineers?
No. With simple hacks, I had a 40 percent conversion for engineers currently working at Google and similar big-name companies to apply for jobs with sometimes unknown startups. So the answer must be in the recruiting, not the brand. I’ve cracked the code.
For the past couple of months, I have been recruiting top talent from Google, Apple, Cisco, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and successfully generating interest and applications for placements in early ventures. I achieved 41.3 percent response rate and 36.1 percent acceptance rate with 994 InMails in a month and a half which is 22 times the number of InMails for Recruiter Lite, while spending only $119.95/month for my subscription. What I am about to unveil is a working strategy with proven results to recruit premier candidates, both technical and non-technical, as an educational guide for talent acquisition professionals and hiring managers who compete for top talent with limited resources and limited time.
This LinkedIn sourcing strategy has been proven to work for front-end and back-end junior, iOS and Android, architects, DevOps, data scientists, full-stack, hardware and software engineers to senior engineers to staff engineers to CTOs, both general and highly specialized. It also works well for sales positions like corporate account executives, director-level product managers, junior and senior user experience and user interface designers. This strategy will work for any role except for those so specialized that only a few people in the world could do.
Personal InMail Analytics from 3/11/2016 to 4/29/2016
For a more accurate example beyond my InMail Analytics, I had a month to fill a tough role with a demanding hiring manager for a startup that only wanted to hire Googlers. To add to the challenge, after each of the first four onsite interviews, the hiring team changed the requirements for the role. Counting inbox responses (where responses are measured by those who willingly gave their contact information via LinkedIn message to further discuss the opportunity) confirms a response rate of 35.45 percent (39/110) from Googlers and Google-caliber engineering talent. Of those who responded, 59 percent applied for the position after the initial phone conversation.
Within a month, I had 23 relevant and quality candidates solely from sourcing on LinkedIn (Note that this is a lower bound overall, considering the stringent demands of the role). The hiring manager appreciated the candidates and this sourcing strategy, saying, “Thank you for providing a constant stream of quality candidates week after week.”
Other hiring managers’ experience was similar, with several asking questions like “How do you find so many fantastic candidates?” or “Where do you get these guys?” — because speed and quality matters.
For those not familiar with LinkedIn Recruiter products, Recruiter Lite accounts come with 30 InMails for $119.95/month. One can add 10 InMails for additional $100/month. LinkedIn Recruiter Corporate accounts come with 150 InMails for $899.95/month and for each 10 additional InMails it is $60/month.
How is it possible to send so many InMails without a LinkedIn Recruiter Corporate account and spending over $10,000 each month for InMails? A lot of LinkedIn “Power” Recruiters just connect to the person first and wait for the connection or wait for the email read confirmation or look for a sign of online activity before sending an InMail … a common best practice among Google and other top recruiters. Why? If the person does not want to connect with us in the first place, then the chances that they will respond favorably to a recruiter’s InMail is next to zero, wasting all those expensive InMail credits. According to the LinkedIn 2015 Global Talent Report about 51 percent of people on LinkedIn are somewhat interested or not interested to hear from a recruiter, whereas 43 percent are very interested.
The report also states that “followers [and by deduction your connections] are 81 percent more likely to respond to your InMails than those who do not follow you.” Pro Tip: Create a short post about the opportunity on your LinkedIn before sending invitations to connect.
It is possible to grow anyone’s LinkedIn from 0 connections to 3,000+ connections under one month without getting restricted by LinkedIn. Be very careful not to come across as a connect spammer. Have a genuine reason to justify the invite to connect with anyone to respect the LinkedIn Community Guidelines. I advise against any automated LinkedIn connection tools. High-volume connection invites should be controlled and limited to at the very most 200-300 invites per day and 3,000-4,000 invitations per month. I have been enjoying about 60 percent acceptance rates. Sending a connection request works as a probing signal to see whether that person is open to communicating or not. Clean up any one-month-old invitations every week in the LinkedIn Connect Hub.
The beginning of all sourcing begins with cleaning up and completing your LinkedIn profile to look and feel like a professional recruiter, or better yet executive search recruiter. Most people connect and respond to executive search recruiters even if they are not executive level yet. Make your profile and profile picture likable. Second, get the Boolean search optimization process down cold. If the Boolean search is a tough nut to crack, use tools that have Boolean search recommendation as a good starting point. Take on a data-driven approach to perfect the Boolean search by testing results and counting the accuracy, experimenting with the Boolean string, re-testing, and optimizing again. Here is an example Boolean string to search for Java Web Application Engineer on Spring/Groovy/Grails that shows 9 out of 10 relevant profiles.
Two pro tips: Bookmark the Boolean search to connect with more people another day. Use current title in the Boolean search to improve the results accuracy significantly. Do not use the default “current or past” parameter because combined with the negative keyword operator “NOT” it does not work as intended. For example, people with founder titles only in the present or only in the past will still show up in the search results. Beware of this small LinkedIn design flaw of not having a “current and past” option.
Augmented LinkedIn Boolean Search Results
While optimizing the Boolean search, you want to get 400 to at most 1,200 search results because LinkedIn results are capped at 10×100 results. Add more restrictions like zipcode-based location with radius or industry or current/past company or negative keywords when there are too many results. Relax restrictions or add relevant keywords if there are not that many results. LinkedIn’s search accuracy is capped by its technology, so no matter how complete the Boolean string is, the search results are never going to be 100 percent accurate.
For this strategy to work, hit at least 80-90 percent accuracy in the search results. Six degrees of separation explains the difference between first, second, and third connections on LinkedIn. Note that LinkedIn always shows first connections in the first couple of pages even though first connections are unselected. To experiment and improve the Boolean search, quickly glance over the first page’s results with second connections, then tenth and twentieth-page results, and see if the titles are actually what you are looking for. If everything looks good, make a deeper check and review a couple of profiles randomly. Analytics speed up this whole process with domain expertise, years of experience, and peer ranking directly in the search results. Use negative keyword operator NOT (keyword1 OR keyword2) for not relevant titles or keywords that appear often.
To connect with people, use regular LinkedIn search. To reach out to the first connections go to “View in Recruiter” from the search results. Under relationship filter apply “Any” to clear out the settings and then select “1st Connections.” The first people who connect are likely going to be active seekers, but after a few days, there will be enough first connections to whom we can send a free InMail.
Pro Tip: Save this search in a project to get notifications on people who just connected and we have not contacted yet. Another Pro tip: free InMails can be sent to second connections who have premium accounts. Review everyone’s profile before sending an InMail to make sure there is a good match. Use tools that augment profiles with further analytics for deeper review. To save time, craft an appealing and straightforward InMail template. Make sure it’s an upfront and killer message that encompasses all points that people care about.
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Hire for what’s next with Greenhouse.
Here is an example of a data-driven title that people appreciate: $180K + Equity + Mountain View, CA + Principal Software Engineer + Full Benefits + VISA Sponsor
This message encompasses all of the decision-making aspects of a job seeker, whether active or passive in the order of importance, and leaves only work life balance, flexibility, culture, and leadership undetermined. People often make the first decision based on their three to four priorities. Get those cleared up with the first message. Individuals who decline giving thanks for reaching out providing a reason like “I am happy where I am” or “just got a job not ready to make a move” etc. 87 percent of people who accept the InMail are interested in discussing the role because it already satisfies their core requirements, which could be salary, could be location, title, benefits, visa sponsorship.
There are going to be a couple of people who ask whether the opportunity can be remote because to them working from home is a core priority. Whether they accept or decline, mostly everyone will want to keep in touch with us, because we are approaching talent as a recruiter who is trying to help them find a better job. Some tools can contribute to estimating people’s compensation and avoid awkward messages whenever the current salary is higher than offered.
Start the body of the message with something personalized. Use templates, but personalize the first line(s) of the message. Some good introductions: recognize their skill and experience or tell the person that we have shown their profile to one of our colleagues or one of the team members or the hiring manager who liked it. In this way, we will answer the questions that half of job seekers want to hear: “Are they looking for someone like me?”
Crafting message content is the most important determinant of response rate from both premier candidates and passive seekers. It is the difference between 25 percent and 40+ percent positive response rate. Company branding matters. Just like a candidate’s first impression matters to the interviewer, so does the company’s first impression in the minds of the candidate matter. What people read and feel from the message about a less-known business matters. Paint a picture of who the candidate would want to be, the best they can be, and how this opportunity will help them achieve it. Find something about our client’s company that we are excited and passionate about. Passion sells, and the message should sell, hard. Anything and everything that is exceptional about the company should be briefly mentioned in the message. Is the team made of all Stanford Ph.D. data scientists? Is the CEO a very successful entrepreneur? Is the product meaningful? Does the company’s mission touch our hearts?
Find the reasons why we would want to accept the offer for the presented opportunity ourselves. Keep the message short and sweet, add a little mystery, and leave room for curiosity to do its work. Don’t ask for resumes and don’t give a job application link in the first message. Give people the company name regardless if it’s in stealth or not because it’s something people want to know. If funding is exceptional, mention it. We want to have the best introduction about the company as possible.
If people respond, the next step is to ask for an email to send them more information and schedule the initial phone call. Even though we can find contact information easily, always ask first. Treat people like we would want them to treat us. Among all the spam, the human element and permission-based contact in all our interaction with others are so important. It will set us apart from every bot that just bombards candidates with non-relevant emails, and it sets up the initial call to be a success.
My colleagues and I think that you would be a great fit for our role of Principal Software Engineer at XYZ-company, a $15M SEED-funded startup (99 percent of seed stage startups don’t raise more than $1M) located in Mountain View, California, and founded by very successful serial team of entrepreneurs and gurus in the analytics space. Our CEO was recently featured in Forbes’ 30 under 30: [Link to article without shortening]
$180K + Equity + Mountain View, CA + Principal Software Engineer + Full Benefits + VISA Sponsor
Take care —Jane
Finally, remember that the whole process matters. We must have a solid recruiting strategy and hiring process. From the moment when we make contact with the initial message to the moment when the candidate gets an offer, through onboarding and beyond, treat the candidate as a person, with honesty and decency. Answer their questions, give constructive feedback, and follow up, and you will create a lasting relationship that goes beyond any one role.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.