Target The “Have To Be Asked” Candidate!

The forgotten target in recruiting is the currently employed person that will only consider another job when they are directly approached and asked the big question: Would you consider a job with our firm? I call them the “have to be asked” type. Let’s face it, most people are settled in their jobs. They appear to be loyal to their current firm, but part of that appearance of loyalty might actually come from:

  • The fact that most people are inherently shy and don’t like to look like they are aggressively searching
  • Their fear of rejection (either of not getting even a interview or for being rejected for the actual job), which keeps them from applying for external jobs
  • A general distaste for the unpleasantness and length of the job search
  • The fear that they would not be able to actually do the new job if they got it
  • The fact that there’s no “triggering event” to cause them to look for another job
  • The fear of being caught “looking” by their current firm, and the need to “lie” to get off work for job interviews
  • A feeling of disloyalty toward their boss (or firm) if they decide to begin looking on their own

<*SPONSORMESSAGE*> An Example Many great candidates need a push to overcome the comfort of their current job. Think of yourself, your spouse or a close friend as an example:

  • How many jobs have you stayed in too long?
  • Did it take the “pushing” of a friend or spouse to get you to apply for a new job?
  • Did it take a direct referral from a friend at another firm?
  • Did it take a direct phone call from a recruiter to stir your interest?
  • Did not wanting to update your resume keep you from actively looking?
  • Did you feel that looking for a job was disloyal?
  • Are you just too busy to actively search?

The “Have To Be Asked” Type These individuals are not the classic “passive” job seekers. They are just people that have to be asked directly before they will consider another job. When they are asked, they generally still will not start a comprehensive job search, but will generally only consider the one opportunity that comes to them. Who To Ask? Most recruiting is based on the premise that the applicant will actively look for a job. Some people, however, need some inertia to get them to even consider another job. These “have to be asked” people are unlikely to have a current resume or be on any job board, so finding them is a little harder. Some ways to identify them include:

  • Ask new hires (and current employees) at your firm who is a “have to be asked” person at their old firm.
  • Look for people who wear 5 and 10 year pins for long-term service.
  • Ask employees to seek out and refer these type of people through the normal referral program.
  • In case of doubt, ask anyone that you find to be knowledgeable during benchmarking at conferences or at product fairs.

Make It Easy On Them Getting “have to be asked” people to consider a move is easier if you simplify the application process. For example:

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  • Don’t require an updated resume.
  • Guarantee them an interview with a manager.
  • Instead of a formal interview, have a professional conversation with them at lunch or in an informal off-site location.
  • In the case of referrals by your employees, let the “have to be asked” person know that the process is quick and the odds of getting an offer are high.
  • Arrange for all of the necessary interviews to be completed rapidly and outside of work hours.

What To Ask? Some of the “lines” that may get them to at least look at your job include:

  • Would you are least have lunch and hear about the opportunity?
  • Someday we would like you to work for us. Can we start a dialog?
  • If you do decide to move on, it would be in your best interest to know what other firms offer.
  • At the very least, an outside offer might give you internal leverage to get a counteroffer.
  • Can we build a relationship, so that if you decide to move on, you will call us first?
  • We are building a “who’s who” database, so can we at least include you in it?

When To Ask? Assume everyone is a “have to be asked” person and encourage your employees and recruiters to show an interest in almost anyone that they meet that seems talented. The number of people that “have to be asked” is higher than you think and the worst that can happen is that you get a no answer. Conclusion If you find yourself with a shortage of candidates, you can dramatically increase the number by expanding your search beyond those that are actively looking to include those that “have to be asked.” They are harder to find and convince, but since most recruiters are not looking at them, the competition is less fierce. Once they are hired, you can also expect a low turnover rate because of their reluctance to actively search for jobs.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



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