4 Things Recruiters Must Do to Hire Passive Candidates

If you missed ERE’s ER Expo 2005 Spring in San Diego, you missed a great event. You should attend one of these bi-annual event every year or so, just to stay on top of the latest trends. There is some great practical information presented by an extraordinary group of recruiting experts. At the last Expo, I made the case that corporate recruiters needed to be more like headhunters if they wanted to hire more passive candidates. Just so you don’t feel totally left out, here’s a quick take on four of the best ten things corporate recruiters need to do to become real headhunters. 1. Persist: Don’t take no for an answer. Most of the time, candidates and hiring managers make important hiring and career decisions with limited or incorrect information. Recruiters need to prevent this from happening in two steps: first, by delaying the time to decide, and second, by providing the correct information. The delaying part is done by converting a premature “no” into a suggestion that the candidate or hiring manager consider obtaining more information before making a final decision. This is hard work. To begin, you’ll need to convince the person that they’re making a wrong conclusion. Then, you’ll need to ask lots of questions to understand that wrong conclusion and suggest that additional information might help clarify the decision. Finally, you’ll need to get the person the right information. Examples will help here. When a top candidate withdraws prematurely from the assessment process, it’s usually due to the perception that the job is not a good fit. The recruiter needs to first check the validity of the conclusion and then make sure that the candidate has a full understanding of the job. You do this by treating the initial “I’m no longer interested” as just a request for more information. Start by asking if the candidate has considered the strategic and growth aspects of the job in balance with the short-term tactical parts. Ask the person if he or she would be open to reconsidering the job if it could be shown that there is more to the job than initially covered. Of course, then you must find the proof that the job really does offer significant stretch. On the hiring manager side, top candidates are often inadvertently rejected if they seem to be missing a vital skill or trait. Unless the assessment interview was extremely thorough, don’t automatically accept this conclusion as correct. Ask questions to confirm it first. Then ask if it could be demonstrated that the candidate was in fact stronger in this area then originally thought, would the hiring manager reconsider the decision? Again, you’ll need to get the information necessary to overturn the initial decision. But this is the basic process. If you believe candidates or managers are making bad decisions on superficial data, you must act as a go-between. It starts by not taking “no” for an answer. This is the hardest part of being a good headhunter. 2. Ask, don’t tell: Use a consultative, not a transactional, selling process. Recruiting passive candidates is more like career consulting than selling. From my experience, too many recruiters still use heavy-handed headhunter techniques to convince or push candidates into accepting offers. If you’re offering a great job, this is unnecessary. And if you’re not offering a good career opportunity, you shouldn’t be attempting to put together a match destined to fail. The way you find out if the career opportunity you’re offering is worthy is by asking lots of questions and doing lots of listening. This process is called solution or consultative selling. This is far different than the transactional selling model many recruiters still use. When a product has few customizable features, transactional selling makes sense. In this case, prices vary little ó usually based on volumes or standard options. A transactional approach is somewhat acceptable for an active candidate who is mostly interested in getting a job. It is totally inappropriate when hiring passive candidates. Recruiters first need to ask hiring managers a series of questions to better understand true job needs. It is impossible to conduct a job match analysis with a candidate without a total understanding of the job. By asking candidates in-depth questions regarding their skills and interests, a career gap can be created. If the job offers enough stretch to the candidate in terms of growth opportunities and challenges, moving forward in the process is appropriate. Establishing this gap can take multiple interviews and many discussions. This is the consultative selling part. You can’t tell a candidate that a job is a perfect fit. The candidate must learn this through the questioning and information exchange process. 3. Network proactively: Stop waiting and go out and ask for the names of the best people. Don’t wait for names of candidates to come to you; go out and get them. This is the heart of being an outstanding recruiter. It’s hard enough to keep a hot passive candidate interested throughout the hiring process and then negotiate a competitive offer. But it’s harder still to find enough top people to present to your clients. The absolute best way to get good names is to ask your best employees and your best candidates to give them to you. Here are some ideas you can try out. The next time you’re on the phone with a top candidate, just ask the person to give you the name of his or her boss. Then ask the person to describe why the boss is good or bad. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to get this information. (This is especially true if you follow the tip below on leveraging first candidate contact.) Try something similar with some of your top employees. When you meet, ask the person to draw a work chart for their previous company (boss, subordinates, peers, immediate co-workers, vendors, customers). Then ask the person to circle the top people on the chart and to describe their strengths and weaknesses. You’ll quickly have a few top candidates to go after. Then use the same networking technique with this group of referrals. 4. Establish first contact leverage: How you handle the first 15 minute discussion is the most important part of recruiting passive candidates. Three points have been presented so far: 1) persist, 2) ask, don’t tell, and 3) network proactively. These are all important when you first contact a passive candidate to discuss your opportunity. I’ve written a number of articles on this topic; here’s one on networking you should review if you want to hire more passive candidates. How you handle each call to a new passive candidate will determine your overall success recruiting these people. If you’re not getting at least 90% of the passive candidates called to say they’re interested in evaluating your opportunity, you’re not asking the right question. To top it off, if you’re not getting at least two or three top names from each of these passive candidates, you’re not networking proactively. (You should be tracking these metrics.) So if you can’t get a “yes” right away, you’re certainly not going to get any referrals. To get more yeses, don’t talk about a specific job right away. Instead, ask if the person would be open to exploring a new career opportunity. Then ask the person what they’d require in a new job to make it worthwhile to consider it. During this exchange, find out some details of the person’s background to assess fit with your actual needs ó including the creation of the work chart described above. If the person is a potential candidate, suggest that you call later to conduct a more detailed phone screen. Give a high-level overview of the job with just enough details to keep the person interested. Persist. Don’t take no for an answer. Ask, don’t tell. And if the person is not a potential candidate, then network proactively as described above. Pre-qualify each lead so you only call good people. Restricting your networking calls to only good people will increase your personal productivity by over 100%. Getting all yeses will increase it another 100%. If you’re not finding enough top candidates by networking, you’ll need to work on your first 15 minutes. This is the point of maximum leverage for a recruiter. Don’t lose it by not asking the right question. Why not conduct a personal skills audit of where you stand on each of these areas and then have your whole team evaluate each other? Here’s a self-scoring evaluation you might want to use to see where you stand on all ten essential recruiter traits. It’s getting harder and harder to hire top passive candidates as more companies realize this is their best sourcing channel. So if you want to hire more passive candidates, you’ll need to become a better recruiter. Just to stay even you’ll need better skills. Persist. Stop making excuses. Remember, good recruiting starts by not taking no for an answer, especially from yourself.

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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).


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