Candidate Relationships: What Are They and How Do You Improve Them?

The most successful recruiters recruit from the networks they have built relationship by relationship. But, building a network takes getting to know a lot of people. Recruiters are notorious for believing that the only possible way to know people is by “pressing the flesh” – meeting them in person, calling them on the phone, or having lunch or dinner with them. While these are all useful and time-tested, it’s also possible to get to know people and build relationships using the Internet.

By using technology to expand upon the small number of people you can meet and know face-to-face, a recruiter can become vastly more effective. Building electronic relationships with no personal contact is not only possible, it may even be desirous. Jack Welch, the former head of General Electric, has said that human relationships are declining in the selling of goods and services. What he means is that telephone and face-to-face connections between corporate buyers and their suppliers is rapidly being supplanted by Internet and email conversations. The same is also true of relationships with customers. Amazon, Dell, Lands’ End, and other retailers have developed sophisticated tools to build and maintain long-term relationships with their customers. Part of the problem some of us have with the concept of electronic relationships is that we don’t have a good working definition of what a relationship means. Fuzzy definitions lead to fuzzy thinking and lots of confusion and misplaced anger. “Relationship” is a strange word, and we use it to mean a wide range of things. For some of us, it means falling in love or having an affair.

Yet for others, it simply means having met someone briefly. A few recruiters I know say they have a relationship with a candidate after the first meeting, but others I know have rather elaborate hierarchies to define the level of relationship. Perhaps after the first meeting, the person is just a contact; after the second or third contact, the person might move up to a potential placement; and then, after several meetings, he or she might be elevated to prime candidate, key contact, or some other such designation. For most of us, the following four characteristics should work well to define what a recruiting relationship is all about.

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  1. There must be awareness of an employment opportunity and the creation of some level of interest on both sides. Through the use of recruiting websites, job boards, tools like Jobster, LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, and so forth, we can generate this awareness and generate a certain level of excitement in an organization or position. For large organizations, television may work, and radio and print are often options depending on the organization, market, and position. What limits building awareness and excitement is access to technology, time, and how well you penetrate the “noise” generated by all the competing information. Experimentation is the key to finding the right mix of media and tools.
  2. Awareness must then be followed by a one-to-one exchange of information. This can happen via email, the telephone, or face-to-face. What is important is that a candidate feels that someone knows him and what he is interested in doing. Amazon, in particular, is very good at this. When you buy a book or two from the company, its software is then able to identify other books you might be interested in reading. Each time you log in, you are greeted with suggestions of books that might interest you. This is both a powerful selling tool as well as a wonderful way to build a one-to-one relationship without any Amazon staff being directly involved.

    Many tools are now incorporated into talent management software that advises candidates when a new position of interest to them, based on a previously created profile, is posted. Candidate relationship management tools are slowly emerging to assist in automating this process and in helping recruiters manage the communication process with a wide array of candidates.

  3. There must be a bond or rapport established that makes the candidate come back to the site or recruiter for more interaction and communication. Examples abound. Online newspapers provide more up-to-date information than you can get from their printed versions, so people log in several times a day. Amazon offers a wide array of products, all easily purchased with their patented “one-click” technology, that entices people back two or three times a week. Recruiting sites can offer those who have relationships an earlier awareness of open positions or preferential interviews. Other tools for building bonds include blogs and newsletters. Frequent communication that gets more and more personal raises the depth of relationships and increases the likelihood of a potential candidate accepting an interview. Only the imagination limits what recruiters can do here.
  4. Finally, there must be a reward or a potential reward for entering into the relationship. All relationships that work are two-way, with each party getting something from the interaction.

    Many years ago, Cisco pioneered the “Make a Friend @ Cisco” program in which interested potential candidates could set up an email correspondence with a Cisco employee who had a similar job to the one the candidate was seeking. This established communication – and yes, relationships – with hundreds of people. Cisco got some great candidates, and candidates got both in-depth information and “insider” insight into Cisco. Even individual employees got something: the recognition and ego satisfaction of being a Cisco employee who could communicate with others.

    Emerging Web 2.0 websites offer technology that allows candidates to communicate with each other and create self-sustaining communities that can be monitored by a recruiter. The recruiter can also participate and direct potential candidates to news sources, product information, or other websites that offer interesting information about the company, position, or products.

    Rewards can also be tangible. Interested members of your online community might be enticed to refer friends or other professionals in return for access to special information or reports that are normally not for free. Again, what’s important is to understand that no relationship can be one-sided and that both parties have to feel that they’re getting value from it.

Learning to leverage relationship techniques and tools will make you a much more effective recruiter and will enhance your ability to reach corporate hiring goals. It may also reduce the number of recruiters a firm needs to meet the same volume targets and to redirect recruiters to the increasingly tough job of selling their company to a candidate.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


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