A Service Level Agreement for Hiring Passive Candidates

As recruiters make the shift to hiring more passive candidates, having a formal service level agreement (SLA) in place with their hiring manager clients becomes more important. While I don’t do as much recruiting today, I still never take an assignment without having a formal agreement in place with the hiring team as to what each person’s roles and responsibilities are in the search process. I use this agreement both to establish my professionalism and to insure that the hiring manager and the other members of the interviewing team don’t do anything that would compromise the search process. The key points of this mutual agreement are summarized below. You might want to use parts of it to establish a template for working with your clients. Working with passive candidates requires another level of support, effort and commitment by everyone involved in the hiring process. This type of SLA might also be useful tool to use to get everyone to understand what it takes to hire the best.

  1. Get formal agreement regarding true job requirements. When taking an assignment for a new position, you need at least 30 to 45 minutes with a hiring manager to completely understand the job needs. Only a small part of this is a review of the traditional job description. The focus should be on getting the hiring manager to describe the five or six most important things a person taking this job will actually do. I refer to this as a performance profile. It consists of the major performance objectives (e.g., lead the design effort for the CRM module) and some of the big tasks and challenges (e.g., develop specs with marketing, build the team, complete project in half the normal time). This is the information a recruiter uses to recruit, convince, and close top candidates during the hiring process. Recruiters need to move away from the use of traditional skills, personality, and experience-based job descriptions and focus on what the person will actually do once on the job. (Here’s an article you can review for more on this.) In my opinion, if a recruiter and hiring manager can’t agree on actual job needs, the idea of recruiting a passive candidate is non-starter.
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  3. Jointly develop a candidate profile and networking map. A candidate profile is a quick summary of a typical strong candidate’s background. From this you can identify links to people who could give you good referrals. On this profile, list likely employers, vendors, customers, associations the person would join, conferences the person would attend, places the person might write articles, and forums and blogs the person would participate in. Use this information when you’re searching on any of the networking sites. Hiring managers know a great deal about these connections, so making their involvement part of the sourcing process is essential.
  4. Jointly develop a sourcing plan and provide ongoing status. The purpose of an SLA is to get the hiring manager to commit to a level of involvement early in any new search. If you do the planning right up front, you’ll prevent the waste of days and weeks at the end. It only takes an hour or two, but this is a worthy investment that you need to push to arrange. During the planning session, present your advertising for review along with the performance profile. Make the copy of both compelling. This will help attract and maintain the interest of less active and passive candidates. The sourcing plan should include a list of major and specialty job boards, resume data banks, a list of potential internal candidates, a proactive employee referral program, some creative campaigns, and a networking program. You don’t need to start these all at once, but getting the hiring manager to understand what it takes to hire a top person and agreeing to a timeline is an important part of the process.
  5. Work together to obtain an initial list of potential leads. The hiring manager needs to give you a list of any person he or she has worked with anywhere in the recent past who might know a good person. In fact, the hiring manager should agree to personally make some of these calls. The hiring manager should also ask everyone in your company with information like this to give you this same information. These people should identify strong people they’ve worked with at previous companies, even if they only know a little about the person. This is the essence of a proactive employee referral program. If you already have a lukewarm list of quality people to call, networking is a breeze. Getting hiring managers to help put this together is a critical aspect of an SLA. (See my networking article on how to work this list.)
  6. The recruiter agrees to submit only qualified candidates. The recruiter must agree to submit only qualified candidates, based on a comprehensive evaluation. If you’ve prepared a performance profile and conducted my all-in-one-question interview, this is not a problem. Recruiters need to be better at interviewing than their hiring manager clients. This way, recruiters are seen as value-added experts in the hiring process. Don’t renege on this responsibility, and commit to presenting only qualified candidates.
  7. The manager agrees to pre-arranged interview schedules without approving resumes. Hiring managers must agree to see any candidate you recommend. This is a huge timesaver. Once you’ve identified a good candidate, just set up the interview with the manager in a pre-arranged time slot. Then send the hiring manager a resume and a formal write-up indicating why you believe the person is qualified. This is a big responsibility with a big payoff, so you must do a good job of sourcing and assessment. When you commit to sending in only the best, the manager must agree to work closely with you throughout the process to pull it off.
  8. The hiring manager agrees to invest additional time in recruiting and evaluating potential candidates. It takes more time to hire passive candidates. Sometimes hiring managers need to meet good candidates on an exploratory basis. During these meetings or phone conferences, managers need to provide information regarding the challenges and growth opportunities in the job. Managers need to agree to conduct these meetings with little urging on the recruiter’s part.
  9. The hiring team agrees to a formal and immediate evaluation. The hiring manager and everyone on the interviewing team must agree to conduct a formal, performance-based interview and to submit this evaluation within 24 hours of the interview. The evaluation process must be deliberative and formal. Hiring a person should be treated like any major capital expenditure. Putting this into the SLA is the first step in recognizing that the assessment should be formal. If managers aren’t too good at interviewing, they should also agree to get the training necessary to do it right.
  10. The hiring team agrees to conduct a formal debriefing sessions. One way to neutralize the effect of weak interviewers is to conduct team evaluations. This way, the better interviewers’ views prevail and weaker interviewers learn how to make better assessments. The recruiter should lead these sessions, soliciting everyone’s feedback. (Here’s a 10-factor candidate evaluation form you can use to summarize these results.) Getting the team to agree to this upfront is another way to ensure that a formal process is used to evaluate candidates.
  11. The hiring team agrees to allow recruiter to lead the development of a performance profile, lead at least one panel interview, and lead the debriefing session. You need courage and expertise to pull this off, but if you get the agreement you’ve just taken on a major role in the hiring process. All good third-party contingency and retained recruiters do this. This is what being a partner in the hiring process is all about. Recruiters need to control all aspects of the hiring process to ensure that the best person gets the job within the shortest possible timeframe and at the lowest cost. This doesn’t happen by chance. It requires active participation by everyone and direct control by the recruiter.
  12. The recruiter and hiring manager agree that there is no need to see more than three or four candidates who meet the basic standards of competency. If you do everything suggested so far, you’ll only need to see three or four candidates for most positions. If the first one or two candidates are far off the mark, then the recruiter and hiring manager need to agree to meet and review the job requirements, sourcing plan, and assessment approach. If you’re filling many of the same positions, like sales reps or customer service spots, you might get this sendout-to-hire ratio down to less than two per hire. If you’re always handling unique positions, then four or five sendouts per hire is probably more likely. Getting agreement on this point prevents the hiring manager from seeing too many candidates and forces the manager to agree to the job specs up front.

This type of SLA covers lots of ground and requires the recruiter to add a great deal of expertise to the process. If it seems overwhelming, try it out with one or two positions ó working with one of two hiring managers. Hiring passive candidates requires new skills and roles. Working closely with hiring managers as a full team member is one of them. You’ll know you’ve arrived when hiring managers expect you to do all of these things and then heartily agree to actively participate. This will be a great day.

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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