Understanding Passive Candidate Research

On October 3, the Wall Street Journal published a wonderful article by staff reporter Rachel Silverman titled “Shrewd Recruiters Search Through Thousands of Sites for Top Talent,” in which she describes various active mining techniques and the results they can generate. She discusses the merits of “flipping,” peeling back URL’s, and “anchor” searches to uncover hidden candidates. Upon reading the article, I was encouraged to see that these e-recruiting resources we have been discussing in the ERE for several years have made it to the forefront of general business news. What Rachel’s article didn’t cover was how to effectively implement and manage a passive candidate research campaign. The pitfalls associated with not having a well defined process can lead to wasted time, higher costs, frustrated recruiters and pissed off candidates. Here’s a quick 10 question yes/no quiz to help you assess the effectiveness of your active sourcing program.

  1. Are specific individuals responsible for Internet research?
  2. Are your researchers appropriately trained on the most efficient sourcing methods?
  3. Do you feel you have a high success rate in finding qualified leads through this research?
  4. Are the results shared among a team of recruiters?
  5. Are the results entered into a searchable database?
  6. Are they in a database that is separate from the “active” candidate database or are they flagged as passive in the general database?
  7. Do recruiters make notes in the database about their contact with these candidates?
  8. Do you view this as a long-term strategy for building a candidate pipeline?
  9. Do you approach these candidates differently than those that respond to job postings?
  10. Once a passive candidate becomes active, are they quickly moved through the hiring process?

If you answered “yes” to all of the above questions, then congratulations are in order! You understand the nature of this research and how to best benefit from it. If you answered “no” to ANY of these questions, then you are probably experiencing some frustration with your active sourcing program. If you answered “no” to many of the questions, and you are frustrated with your active sourcing program, then it is time to re-engineer the process. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*> Here are a few tips to help you get to “YES” on all the above quiz questions.

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  1. Utilize individuals that can focus on this research for at least 1/2 of their day on a regular basis. Active mining is extremely time consuming and requires dedicated, focused attention. Most recruiters are responsible for much, much more than researching the Internet. They barely have time in their day to have lunch or take a bathroom break, never mind focusing on Internet sourcing. If a company designates an individual who will be dedicated to this resource, the success rate will increase. An hour here and an hour there will only prove more frustrating than productive.
  2. Track the passive candidates differently than the active candidates. Leads found from an online directory, alumni association list, or through an e-mail search are only leads – and not really candidates in the purest sense of the word. Thus, they need to tracked and handled differently. Either track these candidates in a separate database or flag them separately in your current database – whatever your preferred method, track them differently than active candidates. Candidates found in a resume database (e.g., Monster, HotJobs, Joboo) are at least predisposed to the fact that recruiters may be contacting them. Individuals found through pure research are essentially “cold calls.” These individuals may not be considering a job change and they may not even know anything at all about your company. Hence, keeping them separate will help you remain organized and focused. If you keep good notes on all of your contact and correspondence then you will know exactly how to approach these candidates.
  3. Active Research is a long-term relationship building strategy, and not one that will staff entire departments in an accelerated timeframe. Active sourcing often results in “magic lists” of names and e-mail addresses of individuals who fit specific profiles. Sometimes there is a resume and sometimes not. For the most part, they are not actively seeking employment, are very, very busy, and do not want to be bombarded by phone calls and e-mails from a slew of junior recruiters. Only the most experienced recruiters, those who are best at selling your company opportunity, should be the ones that contact these potential candidates. Email messages and phone calls need to be well crafted or they will be deleted as “junk mail.” Our experience shows that less than 20% of those you find will actually respond to your emails or phone calls. Then, suddenly, weeks later, they will contact you. They had saved the email and something has changed in their lives and now they are ready to talk. While experienced headhunters are used to this type of behavior, many of the corporate recruiters, who are used to dealing only with active candidates, often feel frustrated and challenged by this. They want hires and results today, not a database of potential future hires. Hence, it is important to educate those who use these techniques that it is not “the answer” to the current economy’s recruiting woes but a tool to build a pipeline of some solid relationships for hires today or down the road.
  4. Once a “passive” candidate becomes “active”, the organization must be able to move the candidate through the hiring process at Internet speed. Our experience shows that the majority of companies struggle with efficiently managing their hiring process. Great candidates often get stuck in the “maze.” Managers aren’t available to interview, the procedures often require candidates to take a myriad of technical/behavioral tests, and rather than make a hire decision on the spot, companies would rather interview a host of candidates – all of which bog down the process. In the meantime, 5 other companies are courting the candidate. The one that moves the fastest wins. This is particularly true of candidates mined through active sourcing. Once a recruiter has been able to convince a “passive” candidate to consider a new position, the candidate needs to courted and moved quickly through the system or they will lose interest and confidence in the company to deliver what has just been sold as a fantastic opportunity.

To summarize, passive candidate research is a phenomenal tool for finding and hiring top talent. When implemented strategically, it is one of the most productive tools for building a pipeline of qualified candidates and relationships for present and future hiring needs.

Karen Osofsky (karen.o@tiburongroup.com) is a co-founder of TiburonGroup.com, an e-recruiting consulting firm that provides outsourced recruiting solutions to rapidly growing companies and new ventures. The firm provides a broad range of recruiting consulting, sourcing, screening, and strategy development services to help companies manage the front-end recruiting process. Tiburon Group is a Certified AIRS Solutions Partner.