How to Achieve the Recruiting Performance Trifecta of Quality, Cost, and Time

I’m going to contend that with new tools now available, “true” passive candidate recruiting can maximize quality, reduce time to fill to weeks, and minimize cost per hire. Top-tier third-party recruiters are already using all of these techniques, so they’re proven and doable. What is surprising is why their corporate counterparts have yet to step up to the plate and do likewise. Now’s the time.

Let me start with three basic points:

Point 1: active candidate recruiting leaves a lot to chance, primarily quality-of-hire and time-to-fill, primarily since hiring managers will procrastinate as long as possible to find their “ideal” candidate. This waiting time is random, unless the supply of top people is greater than the demand, or the manager becomes pressured to decide. Of course, the longer the wait the more the cost.

Point 2: The lack of a correct and agreed upon definition of pre-hire quality adds more randomness, time, wasted effort, and cost to the process. No one uses the job description for measuring quality and we’ve all had hiring managers confidently say “I’ll know the person when I see him.” This is a problem with passive candidate recruiting, too, but it’s more like playing the lottery when you’re only sourcing active candidates.

Point 3: passive candidate recruiting emphasizing direct networking techniques, i.e., calling pre-qualified referred prospects, reduces the time to find prospects to a few days.

How to Achieve the Recruiting Performance Trifecta

With this as background, here’s a basic passive candidate recruiting process that will maximize quality of hire, minimize time to fill, and reduce cost per hire:

1) Get agreement on quality of hire by everyone involved before you start the search. In my search practice, I define it along these three dimensions:

  • The prospect possesses the “achiever” pattern. This indicates the person is in the top-third of his/her job class. While these are different for each job there are many obvious clues on the person’s resume or LinkedIn profile. Some clues include a series of industry or company awards and honors, a work-study fellowship, rapid progressions, special leadership roles, patents, whitepapers, or industry conference speaker.
  • Define on-the-job success up front. We work with managers before starting a search, defining what the person must do to be considered successful. As part of this, convert every competency or “must have” into some measurable task. Prospects then must have a track record of accomplishments comparable to what’s described in these performance profiles.
  • Skills, academics, industry, and experience are subordinated to the above two factors, with the only proviso being that the prospect has “enough” of these to accomplish the tasks listed in the performance profile.

2) Get the hiring manager to agree to have an exploratory phone conversation with every prospect the recruiter recommends. During this 30-40 minute session the hiring manager has three objectives. First, review the prospect’s profile and biggest accomplishments in comparison to the performance profile. Second, describe the job and its importance. Three, if appropriate, offer the prospect an opportunity to interview onsite. The recruiter might need to support this later effort.

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These two prerequisites are essential. They put some critical control parameters around quality and time. The exploratory meeting also passes “ownership” of the prospect to the hiring manager. Even more important, when the prospect and hiring manager meet for the first time after the phone call, the impact of first impressions is minimized. Collectively, this reduces time spent on meeting weaker candidates and increases the likelihood good people won’t be eliminated due to improper assessments

In my Golden Rule article on these pages a few weeks ago, I described how to produce a slate of highly-qualified passive prospects in 72 hours using LinkedIn Recruiter, so I won’t repeat them here. However there are some big points worth highlighting again.

  1. While it’s easy to identify possible prospects, this isn’t the objective. With LinkedIn Recruiter this can be done in 30 minutes. Instead, the recruiter must personally contact these people, qualify the person, and get the prospect to agree to the exploratory call.
  2. The only way you’ll make the 72-hour target is if 80% of your outbound calls are to pre-qualified warm leads. This means that most of your 72 hours (i.e., three working days) must be networking calls, not cold calls. There is not a single researcher or sourcer who ever worked in my search firm for more than three months who didn’t become exceptional at this. The Golden Rule article describes how to do this using LinkedIn Recruiter.
  3. Recruiting leaders need to track some metrics to ensure every recruiter/sourcer is hitting their targets. Specifically: warm referrals per call, warm call to cold call ratio, quality-of-prospect per call, hiring manager conversion from exploratory call to onsite interview. These metrics have to be in real time (daily tracking) in order to implement the necessary training and follow-up to ensure the metrics are achieved.

Managing the top of the sourcing-recruiting-hiring funnel this way will go a long way toward achieving the recruiting performance trifecta of maximum quality, minimum time to fill and lowest cost. In future articles I’ll describe how to complete the task of getting these high-quality prospects hired at reasonable compensation levels.

In my mind the key message here is that by engaging hiring managers in the process and defining pre-hire quality, you force hiring managers into a decision-making process, rather than allowing them to endlessly wait for their “ideal” candidate to show up. Shortening the time to fill this way by defining quality also reduces cost, so all of the big three metrics are optimized using the same approach. Recruiters are not let off the hook here, though. Networking is the key to passive candidate recruiting. Calling pre-qualified warm leads is the only way to take the randomness out of the active candidate “post-and-pray” sourcing approach or the “dial for dollars” passive candidate technique used by most corporate recruiters.

From an intellectual standpoint, the real reason all of this works is that you’ve made quality and time the primary drivers of the process, rather than secondary results of other process changes. Too many companies start with reducing cost as their primary emphasis hoping quality and time will improve as a result. This is comparable to a dog chasing its tail. Maybe it’s time to switch dogs.

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).


4 Comments on “How to Achieve the Recruiting Performance Trifecta of Quality, Cost, and Time

  1. Lou, outstanding article! Specifically the first point “Get agreement on quality of hire by everyone involved before you start the search”

    I took issue with your golden rule article as I didn’t feel it was particularly creative (Linkedin usage is too ubiquitous and a crutch for many recruiters). Whatever a recruiters philosphy is, however, you simply WILL NOT have success no matter how creative you are if you don’t employ at least the first of these points!!

    Your three dimensions you state next are, in my opinion, what will separate great recruiters from good recruiters. Using these will reduce your recruiting efforts significantly as they allow you to get candidate selection right the first time without having to regroup and look again and again for the “perfect” candidate.

    Imagine, “work smarter, not harder” Wow! What a concept!! We may say it but relatively few of us actually do it.

    Thank you, Lou

  2. Thanks again, Lou. IMHO, one additional thing is necessary- setting
    realistic expectations. As Ronald Katz eloguently and concisely said a couple of days ago: “I would tell managers, ‘Fast, cheap, good. Pick any two.'”

    Happy Friday,


  3. Thanks, Lou. IMHO one other thing is necessary- setting realistic expectations. As Ronald Katz eloquently and concisely put it two days ago: “I would tell managers, ‘Fast, cheap, good. Pick any two.'”

    Happy Friday, My Recruitaz!


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