Sourcing and Recruiting a Mobile Workforce

While completing the research for the third edition of my book, Hire With Your Head (Wiley & Sons, June, 2007), I found out a lot has changed. The thing that stands out most is the profound increase in workforce mobility in the U.S. labor market.

Company loyalty has declined. Changing jobs for short-term and superficial reasons is on the rise. Turnover is on the increase. Accepting counteroffers is now acceptable and expected.

The hidden job market is no longer hidden. The barriers and prohibitions to leaving a company are no longer present. Everyone can now find the new jobs and new opportunities.

Passive candidates are no longer hidden, either, which is an even bigger problem if you’re trying to compete for them. Anyone can now find them on ZoomInfo or LinkedIn.

These changes will have a profound effect on how companies design their sourcing and recruiting programs. From what I can tell, most companies are not handling this increase in workforce mobility too well. The bad news: things will get worse as the baby boomers start retiring en masse.

To address these changes, recruiting managers need to understand how the marketplace for talent is shifting, and then develop flexible sourcing programs to respond to these changes.

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Segment Candidates Based on Their Need for a Job

Many years ago, I wrote an ERE article on semi-sourcing. In it, a distinction was made between active and passive candidates and the difference in candidate quality within each group. Knowing how these people looked for jobs then became the basis for developing targeted sourcing programs for each group. These groups are described below:

  • Very Active. These are people who need a job and are aggressively looking. They tend to be less discriminating and focus on short-term issues, like compensation and benefits, when considering a new job. This pool represents about 15% to 20% of the total employment market. People in this group are either unemployed or severely under-employed. The best people are under-represented in this pool. Traditional boring advertising is sufficient to attract and hire this type of person.
  • Semi-Active. These are people fully employed who want a better job. They look infrequently, generally on bad days, or just to test the market. However, while they use job boards, they are more selective. Compelling advertising and systems designed to bring these people to the top of the list is a key aspect of hiring them. This pool is big, about 25% of the employment market, and it’s growing. It doesn’t take much anymore to get someone to considering leaving and start looking. This is the sourcing sweet spot, since the best people are over-represented in this pool. To capture them, your ads need to be visible and you must move fast. Corporations should implement programs to excel at sourcing people from this group.
  • Semi-Passive. These are people who want a better job and a better career. They are not actively looking, but they will accept a phone call to discuss future career opportunities. Who you call and what you say is a critical part of hiring these types of people. The best people are fairly represented in this pool, but it takes more effort and time to find them. This pool includes about 25% of the employee market, and it’s growing as well. Semi-passive candidates want to be found and pursued, so they’ll post their names on LinkedIn and somehow get their profiles listed on ZoomInfo. Make sure when you call or email you have something compelling to offer, though, or else your efforts will be fruitless.
  • Very Passive. These people don’t want another job. It takes lots of effort and time to call and convince them to pursue your opportunity. The best people are fairly represented in this pool, but it’s not worth the effort if you can find an equally strong person using some lower-cost approach. These very passive people represent about 30% of the market, but it’s declining. Everybody seems open to explore new opportunities, which is not necessarily a good thing.

Sourcing Ideas for Semi-Active Candidates

If you want to maximize candidate quality and reduce cost and time to hire at the same time, you need to be great at sourcing from the semi-active candidate pool. But there’s competition here, so you’ll need to become a semi-active sourcing expert to hire a disproportionate share of the top people in this pool. Here are some quick ideas on how to pull this off:

  1. Visible advertising. If your jobs can’t be found, they’re worthless. To test your job visibility quotient, conduct a Google search including an open job title, a few required skill terms, the word “jobs,” and the name of the city. If your job isn’t on the returned search listing, put it on the boards that do show up and then figure out why some other job outranks yours. Better: contact to find out how they’ll clone your site and make it visible to everyone using search engine optimization techniques.
  2. Compelling advertising offering better jobs. While it’s important that your jobs be found, it’s more important that they’re compelling. So if you’re just posting traditional job descriptions, don’t waste your money on any search engine optimization techniques. The best semi-active candidates are looking for better jobs, not another job. To differentiate your jobs, make the point quickly with an outrageous title and a first paragraph so compelling the person can’t wait to respond.
  3. Simple application process. If the person decides to apply, make sure the resume is parsed into a completed application process. According to, you’ll get a 75% completion rate this way, versus 20% if the candidate has to fill in the application from scratch.
  4. Instant response. Make sure you’ve set up your automatic searches to bring this person to the top of the list by screening on performance terms, not just skill words. Email me if you don’t know how to do this, but the point here is you must call the person within 24 hours of applying. Speed is of the essence when recruiting semi-active candidates. You’ll know you’re too slow if the candidate says she’s taken another job by the time you called.
  5. Massively upgraded career web site. Most company websites are designed to eliminate unqualified candidates, not to attract the best. A career website is the critical hub of a company’s hiring efforts. A survey of over 500 candidates we took a few years ago showed that about 65% of all candidates checked out a company’s web site before applying for a job that they found on a job board. Half decided not to apply because the career section was poorly designed. Even passive candidates will check out a company’s career web site before getting too serious about a job. If your career website is weak, you’re probably losing good candidates for easily corrected reasons.

Sourcing Ideas for Semi-Passive Candidates

You might want to try these ideas in parallel. They’ll help you hire more of the best semi-passive candidates available.

  1. Compelling advertising offering better jobs and better careers. A good job is not enough to attract semi-passive candidates. They’re looking for a career move that will enable them to obtain four to five years of growth in only two or three years. This is a great pitch if you can prove it, but watch out. Once you get a semi-passive candidate into your game, she’ll find some competing jobs using the simple Google search process described above.
  2. Implement a proactive employee referral program. Ask your best people for the names of the best people they’ve ever worked with. Then call these people and recruit them. They’ll listen if you have a better job and a better career to offer. Don’t bother making the call if it’s just another job.
  3. Become a targeted networking fanatic. How many people are you connected with directly on LinkedIn who are potential candidates for your open jobs, or know them personally? If you’re not a power user on LinkedIn, JigSaw, and ZoomInfo, you’re not networked enough to hire semi-passive people. I talked to an agency recruiter last week who makes one $100,000 placement per week in one narrow field and gets a $25,000 fee for each one. Everybody in the industry knows he is the best in his field. He’s my prototypical fanatic.
  4. Get your hiring managers committed and involved. You can’t source and recruit top semi-passive candidates alone. Hiring managers must take the lead role here. This means they must clearly understand real job needs; they’re willing to spend time conducting exploratory meetings; they conduct in-depth interviews; they know how to recruit and close, not just sell and charm; and they can point to other top people who they have developed.

We’re undergoing a major increase in workforce mobility. To compensate for this, every aspect of your hiring process must change if you want to hire and retain more top people. Retention is now as important as hiring. But you can’t solve one problem without solving both.

The solution is to offer great jobs that grow and change with the person. While this effort starts by posting more compelling jobs, it certainly doesn’t end there. But that’s still a great start.

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).


1 Comment on “Sourcing and Recruiting a Mobile Workforce

  1. Lou, with interest I read your remarks about the ERE article you wrote many years ago. I noticed in the employment market categories you remarked that some were ?increasing? and one was ?declining?. Tracking your keen discernment into today, I offer the following metrics as recent that support your perceptive observations of yesterday.

    I?d suggest your ?Very Active? category of yesterday, which you pegged at about 15 ? 20% of the total employment market, has increased to between 20 and 25%. Your ?Semi-Active? group has also increased from about 25% to maybe even as much as 35%; your ?Semi-Passive? group has continued to expand from your estimate of 25% to probably around 30% today. The largest difference I see in today?s employment market is in the group you pegged as ?declining?, the ?Very Passive? has indeed done so, from your 30% (several years ago) estimate to around 10 – 15% today.

    Your exhortation to all of us to continue to grow and change within our industry hopefully will be widely heard. I agree with you that opening a door is just the beginning ? closing it is every bit, if not more so, important!

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