How to Recruit the Best Passive Candidates

Passive candidates are, by definition, people who are not currently looking for a job. Despite this, most people in this category would be willing to discuss a new career opportunity if it offered some significant upside opportunity.

Since people in this category aren’t looking, you need to contact them, usually be phone. Getting them to call you back is far less than certain, and in most cases, those who do call you back aren’t appropriate for the job at hand.

Remember, just because someone is a passive candidate doesn’t mean the person is talented. Even if the person is talented, there are a host of factors that need to be addressed before the person is considered a viable prospect. These include things like location, compensation, and job fit.

However, if you can get past all of this and have found the perfect passive candidate for your job opening, make sure you don’t blow it using unsophisticated recruiting skills. I’ve written previously about the fact that top performers use a multi-factor process when deciding whether to accept one job offer or another. Recruiters and hiring managers can use a similar approach when recruiting these same people.

Too many companies, managers, and recruiters emphasize the wrong things when closing and negotiating offers. If you’re seeing more counter-offers being accepted or candidates rejecting your offers for different reasons, it could be because you’re not using a sufficiently broad multi-factor closing process.

There has been a wave of recent media coverage on recruiting, hiring, and developing top performers that sheds great insight into the idea of using this type of broad-based close.

For example, the lead article in the August 20 Business Week was titled “The Future of Work.” It highlighted the idea that learning, the opportunity to grow, and the quality of life were more important than compensation when younger professionals were comparing jobs.

In the September 17 Wall Street Journal Online, there was a series on how major companies fared this past year in recruiting the best MBAs. One key point showed that more information was less important than more personalization. This reinforces the idea that both recruiters and line managers need to be more involved in order to differentiate themselves and their jobs in order to attract to the best.

The lead story in the October issue of Fortune magazine was “How to Become a Great Leader” and what the world’s best companies are doing to develop their own.

Do you think a top passive candidate would be willing to explore a new opportunity that offered the chance to get on a faster career track with a company that was recognized as a leader in developing talent?

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Even if your company is not one of the companies mentioned in these articles, don’t you think that your candidate should evaluate your opportunity from this same benchmark? This is one of the primary factors that the best people consider when comparing opportunities. You might want to use it as part of how you get candidates to look at the complete opportunity your job represents.

Done properly, you’ll be able to position your offer as the best among the rest. You’ll also reduce the potential of a counter-offer in the bargain.

With this in mind, here are the top 10 factors I’d want my candidates to consider when evaluating my opportunity in comparison to others the person is considering:

  1. The job fit. It’s important that the primary emphasis of the job taps into the candidate’s real motivating interests. If the fit isn’t right here, nothing else matters.
  2. The job stretch. The new job needs to offer immediate stretch. For a manager, this could be a bigger team or a more critical project. For a staff person, this could be working on new technology or learning new skills. For an executive, it might be a chance to be in a new market or handle a new challenge.
  3. Opportunity for future learning and growth. The long-term or strategic aspects of the position need to be directly addressed. There is a need to demonstrate that the person will be offered additional opportunities to stay on a faster track as long as the person performs at a high level.
  4. The chance to make an impact. The work must be important. People will take lesser roles or offset compensation if they feel they’re part of something bigger.
  5. The hiring manager as mentor. This could be the most important factor of all. Working for a mentor and true leader is a critical factor on every top performer’s decision list. Proof is required as well as the hiring manager’s involvement in the recruiting process.
  6. The quality of the team. The quality of the person’s future co-workers, and likely new friends, is a critical aspect of on-the-job success and satisfaction. Emphasize this factor during the hiring process.
  7. The company’s prospects and strategy. Even if a company is not on one of the “best places” lists, it must still demonstrate it’s a great organization with a strong future. If the job itself can be tied to a major company strategy, it’s even better.
  8. The company culture. While everyone can’t be Google, make the comparison. As part of this, address your unusual approaches to work, any non-traditional benefits, and anything that makes you unique in your industry.
  9. Work/life balance. You can’t just talk about it, you need to prove that your company endorses it. This could be in the form of testimonials and open discussions. While people will work hard doing work they enjoy, quality of life is an important aspect of the decision-making process.
  10. The compensation and benefits. As long as the compensation and benefit package are competitive, you don’t have to overpay. In many cases, compensation becomes a bigger issue when companies haven’t differentiated themselves on the other factors involved in the decision.

If your job is not clearly superior on the first nine factors described above, tell your candidate to walk away from it. Of all of the factors listed, compensation correlates the least with job satisfaction. This is a great closing point. Emphasize it again and again.

Tell your candidates not to accept the job with the highest compensation, but the one that scores the highest on all of the other critical factors. Why not prepare a table that includes all of these factors? Include on the table your job opening, other opportunities the candidate is considering, the person’s current job, and a potential counter-offer.

During the interviewing and recruiting process, collaborate with your candidate on accurately filling in the table. If you’re offering the best career opportunity it will stand out and you’ll certainly be able to increase your close rate as a result. Even the process of completing the table will help you retain candidate interest throughout the process. In fact, use the idea of getting more information as a way to entice reluctant candidates to come back in for another round of interviews.

Recruiting top-performing passive candidates is hard work. Too many recruiters waste their time focusing on the wrong issues. Recognizing how top people make career decisions provides a roadmap on how to make the hard work involved productive and worthwhile.

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 Recruit the Best Passive Candidates

  1. Lou,

    Great Article. Can you expand on your comments related to ‘Job Fit’. What specific items does this include and what would be an example conversation to test the candidate’s real motivating interests?

    Thank you,

  2. I would add that it is also very important to passive candidates to pay fast and to be able to communicate effectively on their level especially since Craigslist, Facebook, MySpace, Jobster, Indeed, Zoominfo and Google are starting to surpass the ‘old’ ways of recruiting like Monster, CareerBuilder and HotJobs. The job market youth of today and tomorrow want to communicate with somebody current and progressive. If you are coming across as a horse and buggy in the current autobahn Web 2.0 world you will end up the way of the dinosaur. If you source and find the candidates on a progressive current medium you will already have a connection with them. All the candidates I have sourced have come through Craigslist, Facebook, MySpace, Jobster, Indeed, Zoominfo and Google and so have my clients. Most of the time when I am approached from people off Monster, Careerbuilder and HotJobs they are either foreigners that are hard to understand and communicate with or shotgun recruiters and clients who aren’t taken very seriously. You would be surprised how many recruiters and clients I’ve talked to who have never even heard of or used Craigslist yet. Actually now that I think about it I’m giving away my edge here, nevermind 😉

    Gregory J Masley CNE,CNA,MCSE
    Masley And Associates

  3. Great article, Lou.

    I particularly like the idea of creating a comparison chart for the candidate. Here’s an additional thought. Let the candidate rank the order of importance of the factors to see what’s truly important to them and why. Then you are able to custom the best fit.

  4. Could you please elaborate on how you found the candidates on Craigslist, Facebook etc. I have never used those sources.


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