Technology Trends: Recruiting Passive Candidates

In a recent ERE article (Recruiting Lessons from the iPod) I made the case that recruiting must become more iPod-like. The point was that the iPod is more than a music player, it’s a music system. By tying together a very neat music player with simple player management software, an online store, drop-and-play plug-in sound systems, and a host of well-designed accessories, Apple quickly became the dominant name in the music industry. The lesson to be learned here is that the recruiting and hiring processes at most companies look more like a random collection of CDs and MP3 players when compared to the sleek, integrated iPod. In the same article, I also made the point that recruiters must be the catalyst for implementing these recruiting systems. We’ve developed an online evaluation you can take to see where you stand on having the requisite skills needed to be a complete recruiter. This is the type of person needed to lead this systematization effort. As you’ll quickly see, technology users and vendors are both culprits. In my opinion, independent technology solutions by themselves should be avoided. They cause more problems than they solve. This is where users have to be especially savvy. Technology that is not a complete integrated system winds up being under-utilized. This is why people are frustrated by the unfulfilled promises of new technology. An example will help illustrate this point. Let me use the new promise of name generating software is this month’s addition to the list of important ideas that are not quite ready for prime time. I’ll start off by admitting that I like and use these products. But they require lots of time and great recruiting skills to obtain real value from them. Here is the list of name generating software and tools I use today to find top passive candidates:

These products use a variety of different methods to generate names. They help recruiters extract resumes from databases, pull names from lists, and use super-clever techniques to search the Internet. The best tools quickly generate current titles, companies, email addresses, and phone numbers. All of them are worth checking out, and all have provided us with great names and leads for a variety of searches at all levels in all types of industries. None, however, are complete solutions. This is where the iPod comparison is useful. Here’s the rough sequence of steps you need to go through to convert a list of names into useful leads and ultimately into a worthy candidate. As you examine the list, you’ll quickly observe that the name generating piece is just a small step in the overall process. Of course, you need the names to start ó but what comes next is the hard part:

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  1. Generate the names of passive candidates. Each of the systems named above will generate useful names. You need to input a bunch of parameters, and the output is often an overwhelming list of names or links to resumes. Each system is different, and the information generated has its own unique format. None of these systems has universal applicability. This means you need to use them all depending on your search needs.
  2. Search through the list of names to see who to call. Except for pre-qualified competitive intelligence, this is very cumbersome and labor intensive. None of the vendors noted above have figured out a way to provide a short list of twenty great people to call first.
  3. Email or call the person to establish interest. It’s okay to email a person who has posted a resume online. Since most online resumes are outdated, do not call anyone. Instead, send a compelling email. In the email, you should describe your opening in interesting terms and ask the person if they’re open to evaluating it. Sending emails directly to just a name is spammish, but it might work if the email is compelling enough. I would not suggest doing this: it might give your company a bad name. If you call the person, you’d better leave a super-compelling voice mail.
  4. If the person calls you back, qualify the person. This is actually the most critical part of the process. What you say at this point will determine if you’re successful in recruiting or networking with the person. For more on how to do this, you might want to read my article The Best Way to Find Top People is Still Networking. Networking is a real art. The basic rule of networking: Never ever tell the person about the job until they’ve told you all about themselves first.
  5. Network with the person if they are not perfect for the job. Most calls to passive candidates from any list are networking calls. Only 1 in roughly 30 calls will result in a strong candidate. You can improve these odds by only calling pre-qualified people. That’s why who you call and what you say is so critical. Getting names of highly qualified people who don’t know you is part of the art of networking.
  6. Recruit the person if he or she is qualified. Now comes the tricky part. Just because you have a qualified person, that doesn’t mean the person is interested in your job. This is where great recruiting skills come into play. Recruiters must be able to fashion a compelling opportunity to entice the candidate to consider spending time to evaluate the job.
  7. Keep the person engaged throughout the recruitment and selection process. While getting a passive candidate to take the first step is the biggest one of them all, keeping them engaged the rest of the way is not insignificant. It requires more hand-holding, more information, more phone calls, and more involvement on the part of the hiring manager. Recruiters must be advisors, career counselors, travel agents, and go-betweens. Candidates and hiring managers alike must see the recruiter as the hiring expert whose advice is trusted and sought.
  8. Negotiate a competitive offer, since the person is passive and more discriminating. The best want more money, more benefits, and more options. If your comp plan isn’t in the upper-third, you’ll have trouble consistently hiring top passive candidates. While a great opportunity professionally presented can offset some of these needs, you must be competitive to get a big share of top passive candidates.

That’s a lot of stuff to do. Now, to add further complexity to the simple idea of hiring more passive candidates, consider that few corporate recruiting departments are geared up to handle passive candidate hiring needs. Here are the issues that need to be considered:

  • Do recruiters have the time to handle steps 1-8 above? It takes more time to find, recruit and hire passive candidates.
  • Is the recruiting department organized properly to hire passive candidates? Not every new hire needs to be a passive candidate.
  • Do the recruiters assigned to handle passive candidate recruiting have the skills to handle steps 3-8? Anyone can search through a list to figure out who to call. It’s what you do next that determines if a company is successful in hiring passive candidates.
  • Is your candidate tracking system designed to handle the needs of these passive candidates? Exporting and importing data is only a part of this. Passive candidates don’t normally have resumes, and even if they do they won’t apply on line. So somehow the info has to get into the system.
  • Is the comp plan designed to hire top passive candidates?

This is where the iPod comparison really comes into play. None of the candidate name generating software addresses steps 2-8 above. In fact, they’re not even thinking about these issues. Yet all of these steps are required to convert a name into a strong candidate. On top of this, few companies have organized themselves to handle the needs of passive candidates. Creating a recruiting system to hire more passive candidates requires strong technology, a recruiting organization designed to handle passive candidates, and strong recruiters with the time to do the necessary work. To a lesser degree, there are similar challenges involved in finding and hiring any top person, whether the person is active or less active. Don’t look to technology to solve the problems of inadequate resources or untrained recruiters. Hiring top people requires more than just the latest technology. It requires an iPod-like system of integrated hardware, software, and properly designed and implemented hiring processes. All of the technology vendors noted above are fully capable of moving towards more integrated system solutions. To get there, though, they need real leadership and direction from their users ó not vain hopes and misguided ideas. Users of technology must become better users. Buyers of the technology need to become better buyers. Sellers of technology must become more than technology vendors. They must package their technology into integrated system solutions. This is the challenge of the recruiting industry, but one that must be achieved if hiring top people is ever to become a systematic business process. [Note: As mentioned above, if you want to learn more about recruiting systems, you might want to take our Recruiter 10-Factor Evaluation. This quick online self-evaluation will allow you to rank yourself on the ten most important recruiter competencies. If you want to become a better recruiter, check out our new online Recruiter Boot Camp. This is where you’ll get a chance to really learn how to put these ten core skills into practice.]

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 “Technology Trends: Recruiting Passive Candidates

  1. Lou Adler has often been a welcomed contributor of thought-provoking articles for ERE. On January 21, 2005 he published an article: Technology Trends: Recruiting Passive Candidates .
    At the end of this article, Mr. Adler notes 2 of his consultative offerings: Recruiter 10-Factor Evaluation, and Recruiter Boot Camp. The latter is a fee-based Online offering priced at $1200 per subscriber. Is it now proper for knowledge contributors to ERE to also advertise their offerings within the published article? If so, this seems to violate common sense separation of editorial content and advertising content. I object.

    Richjard White

  2. ‘Technology that is not a complete integrated system winds up being under-utilized. This is why people are frustrated by the unfulfilled promises of new technology.’

    Just to refine the point- the internet is the ‘complete intergrated system’ Our computers and software provide the techical parts that connect to it. If we look at the system, then we can see a little more clearly how to utilized it and why some technology misses the mark.

    Lou is correct in his assement that name generating software is not ready for prime time. The problem is more fundamental that Lou suggests. It is not that this software is not integrated, the most fundamental problem is that it is a tool that is not focused on the task at hand. It is like trying to hit something far away with a shotgun when what is need is a precision target rifle.

    After all the goal is not to just generate names, it is to generated names that go with the kind of person we are looking for. Why should I try to google names, when the internet browser provides as why to view member lists of professional organizations that match my hunted profile exactly? Which source will help you reach your goal of finding the right kind of name? This is just one example, but I think you get my point here. Focus on the goal, not the tool.

    Technology is sometimes mis-aimed and misused. Trying to make a shotgun do the work of a high-powered target rifle will never work. But I would not call the shotgun under utlized in this instance. It is not the right tool and it is aimed at a target that it can not possiblily hit.

    The first step in making technology work, is to use the right tool to accomplish a focused task, with the user having the proper target in mind.

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