How to Build a Slate of Passive Candidates in 72 hours

A few weeks ago on these pages, I suggested that the ERE Expo wasn’t as progressive as it could be in bringing the most important trends to its recruiting audience. My concern was lack of focus on these areas:

  1. Limited (if any) discussion on the development of talent strategies, when the supply of top people is less than the demand. Everyone seemed more enamored with learning about ways to weed out the weak rather than attract, recruit, and hire the best.
  2. Too much on sourcing and not enough about recruiting and closing.
  3. Little on how to engage hiring managers fully in the process. This is odd since they make the decision on who to look for and who to hire.
  4. No emphasis on the unspoken 83% of the labor market who will not respond to your posting or apply online, regardless of how cool your Facebook page is. Of course, these are the passive candidates.

So in my own small way, I’ll use this opportunity to address the last three points above, by introducing “The Golden Rule of Passive Candidate Recruiting.” Using a high-tech, high-touch approach I believe it is now possible for a talented recruiter to build a slate 3-4 of top-notch passive candidates in as little as 72 hours from taking the assignment. As you’ll see, to pull it off, it requires the active engagement of hiring managers combined with reasonable sourcing skills, in combination with great recruiting, counseling, and closing skills.

Implementing the Golden Rule of Passive Candidate Recruiting

There are about 20 things involved in the process of meeting the 72-hour target. Following are the most important.

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  1. Don’t use job descriptions. During the intake meeting with the hiring manager, define success as a series of 5-6 critical performance objectives. Then ask managers if they’d meet someone who had achieved comparable objectives, but doesn’t meet all of the experience requirements listed on the job description. This is a critical step, and you’ll never make the 72 hour goal if you use job descriptions. The trade-off: you won’t compromise on performance or potential, just on absolute skills and experience. (Here’s a more detailed article on how to prepare these performance-based job descriptions.)
  2. Find the “ideal candidate.” During the intake meeting find someone on LinkedIn who is a high achiever or identify a fast-tracker inside your company. Fast-trackers always have less experience than their peers, so this is important. Then ask the manager if he/she would be open to meeting someone like this who is clearly a high performer, but with less experience listed on the job description.
  3. Use LinkedIn Recruiter to clone the “ideal candidate.” LinkedIn offers two easy ways to develop a prospect list of 20 or so people in less than 30 minutes. One is the “similar profiles” button to the right of the person’s name, and the other is on the right-hand side, titled “Viewers of this profile also viewed …” In less than one hour after the intake meeting you should be able to identify 15-20 possible prospects.
  4. Prepare creative and career-oriented job branded messages. Messages including voicemails, emails, and postings. The key to all of these is to lead with the employee value proposition and highlight the 2-3 big performance objectives. Tie these to the company strategy and vision. This is job branding and will attract a stronger group of candidates. Even passive candidates will check out the posting after initial contact, so this is important. Here’s an example of a this type of career-oriented posting.
  5. Ask the “yes” question to establish applicant control. Ask prospects if they’d be open to discussing a possible career move. Then, don’t describe the job; instead, ask them questions about their LinkedIn profile. Getting candidates to talk first is part of applicant control and essential for meeting the 72-hour goal.
  6. Convert your job into a career move. During the initial screen, look for gaps between the performance objectives of the job and the person’s experiences. Use these gaps to establish your opening as one worthy of continued discussion. For example, if your job offers a faster growth rate, more visibility, and some stretch, you’ll be able to use this as reasons for the candidate to move forward in the process.
  7. Connect, re-search, and Cherry Pick. Make sure you connect with everyone on LinkedIn during the preliminary call. If the person is not appropriate for your job, you’ll then be able to search their connections. Call the person back and ask about specific people who might be better suited for your opening.
  8. Follow the 80/20 networking rule. If a person is not appropriate for your opening, you must get 2-3 warm referrals via Cherry Picking. This is the critical to meeting the 72-hour objective. Warm referrals call you back, and since they’re already pre-qualified, you’ll find strong prospects quickly. Here’s more on how to Cherry Pick and network on LinkedIn.
  9. Search on achiever terms. One way to find great prospects quickly is to search on things your ideal candidate has done that would indicate the person is in the top-half of the top-half — e.g., B+ or better talent. This would include terms like award, patent, whitepaper, fellowship, scholarship, work-study, honor, and the specific names of honorary societies, leadership titles, and awards, among others.
  10. Find nodes. Find people who have worked with your ideal candidate, like project managers, customers, vendors, and professional associates. For example, partners in CPA firms know high-achieving accountants who have left their firms, and Agile Scrum managers know great Ruby developers. Connecting with nodes allows you to quickly Cherry Pick their connections as a means to quickly get your 2-3 high quality referrals per call target.
  11. PERP your ERP to create a Virtual Talent Community (VTC). Proactively get your employees to connect with their best former co-workers. Then when you search and Cherry Pick their connections you’ll have more than enough great people within hours after taking the assignment. These top-notch first- and second-degree connections represent a VTC and are far more valuable than a pool of random followers or a stack of resumes.
  12. Be SWK and an SME. Passive prospects will always check out your profile before calling you back. So make sure it’s clear you’re Someone Worth Knowing and a Subject Matter Expert. This is how you leverage your online identify and get even more referrals.

Since everyone will soon have instant access to the same people, active candidate recruiting will become even more problematic with quality of hiring becoming even more random. Since 83% of the fully-employed members on LinkedIn classify themselves as passive, this is where the future action will be, and recruiters who can implement the Golden Rule of Passive Candidate Recruiting will be in high demand. Expect the 72-hour Golden Rule to become the new normal, and those recruiters who can implement it become the new rock stars.

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).


21 Comments on “How to Build a Slate of Passive Candidates in 72 hours

  1. Lou, great thoughts and useful suggestions. However, I don’t consider a talented recruiter to be one who uses Linkedin exclusively for this type of search. I know you mention using other techniques as well but what stands out in your post is reliance on Linkedin (I train new recruiters to get away from Linkedin because EVERYBODY is on Linkedin).

    Linkedin used to be “great”; now it is barely “good”.

  2. Thanks Lou. Are you talking about the expensive LinkedIn Recruiter that gets you a 5-10% positive response rate WEEKS later on InMail messages crafted, edited, and reviewed by a number experienced recruiters?
    @ Paul: You are VERY right: “Linkedin used to be “great”; now it is barely “good”. It gets more and more restrictive (less useful) to recruiters- the only advantage I see of LIR is it gets you full network access, which used to be for free.

  3. Keith, this is why I love to comment/debate on it means talking with experienced recruiters who get it! When I say what I think about Linkedin to some other recruiters, they look at me wide-eyed, as if they just found out there really is no Santa Claus (I think…)

    I am personally a big fan of creative sourcing and recruiting, which I don’t consider Linkedin to be at all. Maybe at one time but no longer. Lou’s approach is the right one and I think the next step in the process is to utilize much more creative techniques to achieve results.

    Lou, thanks for the post. Just what I appreciate: nothing theoretical and lots of good “boots on the ground”, practical, and useful suggestions.

  4. Good stuff all – let me give my take on LinkedIn (for sake of openness they sponsor just about all of our recruiter training programs.)

    Too make recruiters use LinkedIn as a job board or as a db of names. To me this is a waste of time. I believe this is why it gets a bad name. To me LinkedIn is a network of people connected to other people. When I take a search I start by looking for people who are connected to my ideal candidate, pick up the phone, call them, connect with them on LinkedIn and then search on their connections. That’s how any search can be completed in 72 hours.

    I can’t understand how a recruiter doesn’t see the value of the this and isn’t willing to pay the premium price for these connections. Just closing one more search per year and the service pays for itself many times. Following the Golden Rule a good recruiter can double his/her production. I don’t see how this level of performance can be achieved any other way.

  5. My mailman is on LI. LI is old. Has become just another w pictures. Today’s recruiter’s, most of them, have no clue how to source, assess, cultivate, or close. Most of today’s recruiters are young, some old, but generally are as clueless as a horse in heat (sorry horse). Oh, the only one’s more clueless are the HRBP’s and their bosses, who think social media is the new answer. They also have their heads up their butts, in addition to their bosses.

  6. To those who don’t think LI is the place to be – you’re missing the point, it’s not about the names it’s about the connections. While Ty’s mailman is on LI, so are 13,628 partners at PriceWaterhouseCoopers who each know 300+ CPAs at their firms they’ve mentored over their 10 years at PWC. Just one of their partners in Chicago last year gave me two candidates for a Corp Controller job and a Sr. Director of IA that I placed. Both were on LI.

    I just found (today in 2 minutes) 148 scrum leaders in Silicon Valley (I had to look up the zip code so it took me an extra minute) who have led Ruby projects. If I need Ruby developers all I have to do is connect with them, search on their connections, and ask about the best 2-3 I’ve found. I can then call these pre-qualified warm referrals and recruit them.

    While I’m not linked to Keith H, I just looked at his LI profile and by clicking on “Similar Profiles” I found 99 people just like Keith. (no they’re not all cynics). I can then connect with these people and search on their connections to get warm leads.

    The point of all this, is that LI’s premium solutions (yes you have to pay) provide anyone with a 1 degree connection to anyone you need to hire. More important, if you’re a good recruiter and are not afraid to pick up the phone and connect with these people you can put together a slate of 3-4 prospects in 72 hours who are open to talk to a hiring manager about a possible career move. (BIG POINT: none are ready to apply, all they’re ready to do is talk! – so don’t sell the job, sell the talk.)

  7. Lou, – from an avid fan of yours.

    Once in a while amongst the huge amount of material published there are articles or insight that stand out. This post is one such on basis of it’s ability to deliver across any industry/role, direct application and simplicity, and ought in my view to be sitting on every single recruiters desk worldwide, – I consider it that good and exemplary, and you Sir is one of the true recruitment industry innovators and evolutionaires making ERE what it is, the place for learning and developing, – thank you.

    As much as great value in the original post, equally much in the follow up comments, providing further explanation/clarification.

    Love or hate Linkedin – no doubt that one massive opportunity for seeking candidates directly or indirectly and one not to be underestimated.
    Similarly if you couple this methodology by active search on say Twitter via application SocialBro then there is every chance of being able to tap into the passive candidate market.

  8. @ Paul: Thanks.

    @ Lou I: ISTM that “building a slate” is sourcing, not recruiting. If I can do it quickly, I can look on LI Basic, find the folks’ company, and call ‘em on the phone. If I can’t find ‘em quickly: NEXT- there are many more I can find quickly. If I don’t have the bandwidth, I can use my $6.25/hr sourcers to ”build a slate” and if I need the hard-to-find, I can have Mighty Mo or Irina do it for $40/name. For a fraction of the annual cost of LI Recruiter, I can get excellent results from the sourcing pros.

    @ Ty: You said it. As I frequently say:
    The hype will continue as long as there are slick hucksters with high-level connections ready to sell the latest (or OLDEST) recruiting snake oil or “magic bullet” to desperate and not-yet insolvent recruiters and their superiors who fail to recognize that in most cases they are futilely “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic” of their companies’ ill-conceived, over-blown, grossly-dysfunctional hiring practices.

    @ Lou II: There NOT 99 other Keith D. Halperins- I am the last of the w********k m*********s. I afflict the powerful, and empower the afflicted. I’ve seen it all, I’ve done it all, and I’ll tell some- FOR A PRICE. YOWZA! 🙂

    I am strongly in favor of recruiters investing in whatever tools they can afford that will cost-effectively help them. IMHO, unless a recruiter absolutely, positively needs to see the full LI network from the inside (there are a number of partial work-arounds, though) LI R ISN’T ONE OF THEM. If somebody else is paying for it, get it by all means, my recruitaz!


    Keith “They Say I Am So Tight, I Eat Coal And S*** Diamonds” Halperin

  9. @Keith – I didn’t say identify 4-5 prospects ready to talk to hiring managers, I said have 4-5 prospects who are fully qualified and interested in talking with the hiring manager about a possible career move. Identifying candidates is about a 5 minute task, that’s why you need the other 71 hours and 55 minutes to recruit these people, network with them and overcome X number of objections along the way. This is what great recruiting is all about.

    Equally (maybe more) challenging: there is a heck of a lot of work required to convert these prospects into candidates and then get them hired with a modest comp increase. On May 8 I’m hosting a webcast on this whole topic, and I expect to see you there –

  10. Thanks, Lou. ISTM that if they’re interested in your position, they’re no longer passive. Finding enough passive (or as I prefer to say:”slow”) candidates and converting 4-5 of them into active (or “fast”) candidates within a 24-30 work hours seems reasonable.

    I looked on your site for the webinar and see that LinkedIn is one of your sponsors- you’re giving them good return for their investment here on ERE. When do we hear some good and useful things about another of your sponsors: CareerBuilder or maybe BountyJobs?



  11. @Keith – let me go real slow with this. I know PhDs sometimes don’t deal well with short words.

    First, they start as passive, the recruiter gets the person open to talk, the recruiter qualifies the person and asks “would you like to have a preliminary exploratory call with the hm.” If the person agrees they become “prospects.” At this stage they’re fully-qualified, and open for more discussion to determine if the job represents a career move. It is now up to the recruiter and hiring manager to jointly evaluate the person and see if the person can be converted to a candidate. This is the hm/recruiter partnership I’ve spoken about earlier. When they agree to proceed to a full-blown assessment they move from the prospect to candidate classification (oops, sorry, too many syllables), class. .

    Keith, no offense on this one – but you should go out and talk to people on LinkedIn who aren’t looking and see if you can convince them to talk to you about a possible career move. You’ll then see the value of LinkedIn in finding people quickly and what it takes to recruit people who are not looking. I call these people passive candidates. You can call them whatever you want, but it takes skill to get them hired, without paying a big premium.

  12. Thanks, Lou. Don’t know what Ph.Ds you mean- my dad was Dr. Halperin (gone more’n these dozen years ago), and he bein’ a teacher man, appreciated plain and simple talk, havin’ to be around college administrators and such-like vermints lackin’ the capacity, don’t ya know.

    I agree with you: getting outstanding people who aren’t interested (not just not looking) to become interested in an unexceptional position with a non-employer of choice at a middling comp is a a very valuable skill I would love to possess To be able to do that QUICKLY too, would be close to priceless. If someone can do that, they’d be able to write their own ticket. Of course, if they COULD do that effectively, they’d be able to make far more on contingency than they would internally or on contract, so unless you’re talking to contingency or agency recruiters, you’re basically giving corporate recruiters the skills they need to leave their current employers and make lots more money: $80k/yr vs. $360k/ yr ($120k placement @ 25%/mo) or even $180k/yr. ($120k placement @ 25%/ 2 mo)…



  13. Lou – great post and follow up comments. The only change I would make is that tools like LinkedIn, when used properly, can generate slates of great active and passive candidates. It seems to be less about ‘active’ or ‘passive’ and more about gaining access to the entire candidate pool to find the ‘right’ candidate!

    Keep up the great work!

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