Networking Semi-Candidates

As many of you know, I advocate (and use) a policy of sourcing that emphasizes semi-candidates. Semi-candidates are either semi-active candidates who look on the job boards infrequently, or semi-passive candidates who don’t look at all ó but want a recruiter to call. I suggest minimizing sourcing active candidates, since the administrative and data management aspects overwhelm the system. True passive candidates, as a rule, should also be avoided. They require too much convincing and too many top-notch recruiters to easily scale up for a corporate recruiting department which already has too many assignments to handle. Semi-candidates, on the other hand, are the sourcing sweet-spot. There are plenty of top people in these groups who can easily be found and hired with well-designed systems and well-trained recruiters. In these previous articles in this series, I made the case that by using systematic sourcing techniques, hiring top talent could become a Six Sigma business process:

In this article, I want to expand on the importance of networking as the most important and cost-effective means of finding top semi-candidates. Some background and examples will help set the foundation for my case. I’m in the process of completing a search assignment for a division general manager. There were five top candidates presented. I found one of the candidates in three days, using a very creative ad campaign on two sites that catered to those making over $100,000. This is how you target semi-active candidates. I found two other candidates using two top researchers who direct-sourced comparable companies. Finding these passive candidates took about four weeks, along with the associated research costs (not cheap). I found two other candidates through networking. This took maybe two hours. These weren’t even my networks. Instead, I tapped into two people who I knew would know top people perfect for the job. More background: I’ve just taken a quick poll of ten corporate and third-party recruiters, including an evaluation of my last 10 years of placements. Over 60% of the final candidates hired came through networking. My two favorite corporate recruiters just told me they get over 60-70% of their best candidates through networking. This is probably not statistically valid, but I’m convinced that if you want to hire top people consistently, you should be emphasizing the networking of semi-active and semi-passive candidates. If you don’t already have a network of top people to call upon, here are some things you can do immediately to develop an instant one. (We’ll describe some great ways to create an ongoing network of semi-candidates in my next article.)

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  1. You don’t have time to talk to the bottom two-thirds. Networking is not about talking with everybody. Recruiters don’t have time to talk to unqualified people. This is a 1 in 100 shot. You need to improve your odds to 1 in 10 or better. You must only call someone who you already know is a strong person. This way, all you need to do is find out if they’re interested in your job opening. You do this by pre-qualifying every person before you call them. This saves 90 calls. Properly done, you’re now down to 1 in 10.
  2. Pre-qualify all candidates before you call them. You must ask the person giving you a name of a potential candidate why they think the person is qualified for the job. This allows you to narrow the field immediately. You don’t have time to talk to everyone. Ask the referrer to describe the person’s accomplishments, work ethic, awards won, promotions, track record, and greatest skills. Also, find out if the person is actively looking. Ignore them if they are. They’ll bog you down. Only target semi-candidates. That’s why you have to push to get these names, but that’s what networking is about.
  3. Engage first, network second. No top person will give up the name of another top person unless they trust you. This is a pretty involved subject, but if you’re trying to network with a top candidate you’ve just recruited, you must first get the person’s profile. My article on networking (The Best Way to Find Top People Is Still Networking) provides tips on how to do this. The key is to not reveal any information about the job until you’ve found out something about the candidate first. Then, if the candidate is strong but not appropriate for some reason, you can network with the person. From what I’ve seen, most recruiters talk too much, trying to sell the job at the beginning of the call. Since even most strong candidates aren’t appropriate for the job (this is the 1 in 10 factor above), you lose a great networking opportunity by not engaging and creating trust first.
  4. You must ask for names of top semi-candidates. After you’ve set the foundation for an open dialogue by engaging for the first 10 minutes, then just ask the person who the best people are he knows for the job (don’t ask who he knows who’s looking for a job). Also, only ask for these names from a person you’ve already determined to be a strong person, since top people hang around with other top people. One way to get names of these other top people is to have the person draw an organization chart of a previous company. Then ask who their best peers were on that assignment or team. Once you get their names, pre-qualify them. If the person you’re talking to is reluctant to give you this information, tell them you just want to do some networking. You need to be assertive at this point. There are other ways to do this, but they’re just variations on this theme ó first find top people, engage with them, recruit them, and then network with them.
  5. Turbo-charge your ERP. Your best employees are a great source of other great people. Set up a plan to meet with every top person in your company who would know the type of person you’re trying to hire. This could be through trade associations, alumni groups, or previous companies. Use the org chart technique mentioned above to get names at previous companies. Tap into association leaders. Find the names of people who make presentations at industry meetings. Tell them they’ll receive the hiring bonus if the person is ultimately hired. Only ask for names of people of semi-candidates, which means you need to know if they’d be open to talk, but are not actively looking. Don’t forget to pre-qualify them. Then, when you call them, make sure you engage first, network second.
  6. Get names from top candidates. Every time you meet a hot candidate, ask the person for other names using the org chart technique. This is super easy if you have multiple job openings for the same position. Always pre-qualify and try to stay away from active candidates. This is why you must peel the onion and find out if a referred person is actively looking or not. These names are easy to get, but usually are not the best people. Generally speaking, the harder you work to get the name, the better the person will be ó since you’ve purposefully asked for the best person the candidate knows.
  7. Leverage other people’s networks. This is a great way to quickly get top people. I network with other recruiters and professional business associations. Once you get an assignment, find out who knows the best people and then contact these highly-connected resources. This is one way to instantly get the names of the best semi-candidates available.

Networking semi-candidates is by far the best way to find top people quickly and efficiently. For moderate volumes, I would even contend that it’s a far more effective technique than the compelling theme-based advertising program I recommend. Yet few companies have evolved into making networking a formal part of their recruiting processes. Implemented properly, this is an untapped sourcing channel that can provide a steady stream of top performers. If you’re not now finding at least 50% of your new hires through networking, this is a vast opportunity just waiting for you. As the economy recovers, this will be an important source of top talent. Sourcing semi-candidates is a great way to find twice the talent in half the time.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).