How to Hire Passive Candidates, Part 4: The 30% Solution

Over the past few weeks I’ve been focusing on what it takes to hire more passive candidates. Here’s a quick take on the key themes:

  • Passive candidates don’t look for new work the same way active candidates do. For one, they are more discriminating. For another, they look infrequently. Unfortunately, most companies design their sourcing, hiring and recruiting process around the needs of active candidates. So if you’re not finding enough talented passive candidates, this is probably the reason.
  • By definition, all passive candidates are fully employed, but there are three broad levels of passive candidates. There are those that look on job boards when their jobs get frustrating ó to attract this group, you need to offer compelling jobs and be able to contact them within 24 hours. Another group would be open to explore a better opportunity if they were personally contacted. The final group is comprised of people so well entrenched in their careers that it would be very difficult to pry them loose.
  • Different recruiters, resources, and organizational structures are required to meet the recruiting needs of each type of passive candidate.
  • Since they are fully employed, all passive candidates are looking for better jobs, not just another job. To have a chance of recruiting the more passive candidate, you have to offer a better job in combination with a better career. Consider this: 90% of online job descriptions describe equivalent jobs, not better jobs nor better careers. Even passive candidates who are recruited through networking or through the employee referral program will eventually read these online job descriptions. The lack of proper messaging in the job description actually prevents companies from hiring enough highly talented passive candidates.

Even when they do look, passive candidates use a different set of decision-making criteria when deciding to accept or reject an offer. The 30% solution can help you better understand how to recruit passive candidates. The 30% Solution Passive candidates, and even active top performers, use a multi-level approach when deciding to accept or reject an offer. When putting together offer packages, it’s vital for recruiters to understand how these more discriminating people decide upon what’s important. There are three basic components to this:

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  1. The short-term tactical stuff. This includes the compensation and benefit package, relocation expenses, geography, convenience, the commute, and the quality of the health club and cafeteria.
  2. The intermediate-term job content. This addresses the scope of the job in comparison to the person’s current job or other opportunities. Included as part of this are the challenges in the job, the size and quality of the team, the title, the impact they can make, and what the person will be doing most of the time. Obviously there must be a good match here. The best people want job stretch; they want to do work that they enjoy and that taps into their existing skills and abilities.
  3. The long-term career opportunity. This has to do with the learning aspects of the job, how the person will grow in the job, and what future opportunity the job has in terms of potential and promotions. Much of this is dependent on the company prospects, and the quality of the hiring manager and management team.

Putting an offer package together requires consideration of all three of these areas. Unfortunately, too many companies put too much emphasis on the short-term issues. This is where the 30% solution can help. Assume that a top person needs about a 30% improvement to move from their current position to a new job. From what I’ve seen, this is a pretty good target. However, this improvement can come from all three of these areas ó an increase in compensation, an increase in job stretch, and an increase in long-term growth. For example, a salary increase of 5-10% is acceptable if it can be shown that the job offers 10-15% stretch coupled with 5-10% company or career opportunity growth. When crafting offer packages, recruiters need to make the case that the overall growth in the job is far more than just the salary and comp components. More important, they can’t wait until the end of the interviewing and selection process to begin this recruiting and offer-crafting process. It must start at the beginning. In fact, it should start with the first call. [Note: You can find out if you have the skills necessary to recruit these passive candidates by completing my recruiter diagnostic evaluation. This interactive tool allows you to benchmark your current recruiting skills against the best in the business.] Using the above as a guide, recruiters must be very careful when making the first call to a person identified as a potential candidate. Start the call by asking the person if he or she would be open to exploring a situation that’s clearly superior to their current job. Most people will say yes. Then it’s important to avoid telling the person anything about the job (see my article on how to network for more on this). Instead, ask the person what would motivate them to consider something better, or what they would want in a new job. Then ask a few questions about their background. This allows you to begin the recruiting or crafting process. Expect lots of resistance as you recruit passive candidates, but keep the 30% solution in mind. Remember not to take no for an answer. If a candidate decides to opt out of the hiring process for any reason, it’s important for the recruiter to understand exactly why. Generally, it’s based on short-term tactical information. This has to do with the title, the company, the compensation, and the location of the company. Recruiters must then switch the candidate’s decision-making criteria to the intermediate and longer term criteria. This requires two key steps: 1) knowledge of the real job and the career opportunity, and 2) the ability to convince the candidate to stay open minded. The real job is not the job description. The real job is what the person will do, including a clear definition of the projects and responsibilities, the big problems to solve, the challenges to face, the resources available, the team involved, and any needed changes and improvements. The real career opportunity includes an understanding of how the job fits into the company strategy, the growth prospects of the company, the leadership abilities of the hiring manager, and the quality of other leaders and managers in the company. It’s important that recruiters know the real job and the real career opportunity. This will be important at they try to convince a top passive candidate to stay involved. The second part, convincing a person to stay open minded, is what recruiting is all about. From now on, if someone says “no” for some short-term tactical reason, suggest to them they might be making a long-term decision using short-term data. This will get their attention. Then go on to say that there are three parts to every career decision. First are the short term tactical issues, like comp, benefits, and location. Second are the intermediate term job scope and job stretch components. These consist of the actual job duties, the challenges involved, and the impact the person could make. The third part involves the long-term career growth aspects of the job, including the company’s future prospects, the importance of the job to the company, the hiring manager and leadership team, and the visibility of the job both inside and outside the company. Next ask if the person would like to give consideration to all three of these dimensions. Most will say “yes” when presented with this logical framework. This is a basic model of how to keep passive candidates involved throughout the hiring process. The balance of the hiring process then involves collecting and sharing information about all three components. This approach needs to be integrated early into the interviewing process, not left to an end-game presentation where you sell the company and the job. By then it’s too late. While you can keep a top passive candidate interested in pursuing the job by describing this three-step evaluation process, the candidate needs to learn the actual substance in a variety of ways. Describing the job and career opportunities through a website and collateral material is one aspect of this. During the interview, asking candidates to provide detailed examples of major accomplishments related to some of the challenges involved in the job is another. Learning how other top people have been promoted and pushed into bigger jobs is also important. Another prerequisite is a hiring manager who clearly knows the job, conducts a professional interview, and develops a good one-on-one relationship with the candidate. The company vision and strategy statement linking the job to a major project is also very helpful. This multi-pronged approach to dispensing information is how you convince a top passive candidate that the job you’re offering is more than another job; it’s a true career opportunity. While there are other ways to convey the 30% solution, the most important is recruiters who won’t take no for answer. Every top person has doubts and concerns. Until they are convinced that the job is worth their time to continue evaluating, they will tend to overvalue the short term tactical information. Getting them to think long term is the 30% solution.

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).


2 Comments on “How to Hire Passive Candidates, Part 4: The 30% Solution

  1. As usual, great stuff. Its amazing how many great candidates will get bored and take a ‘lateral’, or even a lower base (!), which means the non salary challenges and perks can be the determining factor. I’ve seen big company candidates take big cuts, excited about a smaller, faster growing co or Start-up. And small company candidates excited about bigger companies.

    In the spirit of Don Hewitt (of 60 Minutes fame, ‘Tell me a Story’), I was fascinated by your high level search you were relating to us last year. What happened? Whatever it was, it is still part of the story, and either I missed something or was left hanging.

    Suspense is the spice and frusration of life, right? So what’s the story here?

  2. Amazing stuff! Too many recruiters are fixated on the short term issues – money being most prevalent among them. Recruiters are sometimes hurting their own companies by always emphasizing and throwing money at the passive talent. Most articles and surveys of passive talent typically list money as 3rd on the list of things they will need to make a change. Why then do recruiters fix on it? I think the answer is simple. Throwing money around is easy! The other stuff requires hard work (sometimes lots of hard work). It takes having relationships with passive talent before you try to recruit them and it takes technique and sales/marketing/decision influencing skill that most corporate recruiters are completely lacking.
    At FirstMerit we have great candidates from our footprint competition who continually take less money because our Talent Acquisition Consultants are very skilled at leveraging the non-salary related benefits. We also have relationships with really inner core passive talent that we will want to hire 12 to 18 months from now.

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