This is the fourth week of our search for a VP Operations at an East Coast healthcare organization. We’re now heavily into the recruiting, assessment, and selection process. This article describes what it takes to recruit top passive candidates. Remember that passive candidates are those we called directly and convinced to consider the job opportunity. As you’ll discover, getting a “yes” to the “would you be open to consider this opportunity?” question is the easy part. Keeping them involved is a key factor in what it really takes to be a good recruiter. But before we get to that, a recap is in order. Here are some of the key steps involved in a search of this level: 1. Get the assignment. As a small retained search firm in Southern California, we needed to do a lot of marketing to get asked to conduct executive-level retained searches on the other side of the country in a specialty in which we had no expertise. One thing we do is prepare performance profiles as soon as we hear about an open assignment. As a result of this, it was very clear to the CEO that we knew the job and what it took to achieve success. In this way, we demonstrated our expertise before signing the contract. 2. Demonstrate that you can build an instant network. Using a few online databases (AIRS Oxygen, SearchExpo and Eliyon) we put together a list of potential candidates to demonstrate that getting names was easy. We also called the CEO and showed him how we would recruit him. This real exercise was all the proof he needed to know we could handle an assignment of this level. 3. Develop and implement the sourcing plan. We used semi-sourcing techniques to build the candidate pool. We now have eight screened candidates in the pool. Three came from a great ad we put on 6FigureJobs. The rest came from cold calling the database lists. For this assignment, SearchExpo worked best since we were able to identify and call people immediately. However, Eliyon and AIRS Oxygen also proved useful. 4. Use advanced networking techniques to find more top passive candidates. Networking is the best way to find top passive candidates. Doing it right can save lots of time and establish your reputation as knowing all the key players in the industry. Here’s one technique you might want to try. First, when you call someone whom you don’t know, start with, “Would you be open to exploring a career opportunity if it was clearly superior to your current situation?” Most people will say yes. At this moment, the recruiter has more leverage than the candidate. Don’t give it up by telling the person about the job. Instead, ask the person to describe what a “superior” position would look like, or obtain a quick overview of the person’s background. This is a good way to develop a professional relationship with the candidate, and in a few minutes you’ll know if there’s a good fit. If not, you need to convert the call into a networking session. Since you now have some candidate history, ask for the name of the best person the candidate worked with or for at a prior company. You can prime the pump, if you use the databases to obtain several names at each company. Then just ask the candidate if he or she knows any of the people listed. This is a great way to demonstrate your apparent industry knowledge. If the candidate knows some of the people, ask about their qualifications. This is important, since after a few calls like this you can quickly be in position to restrict your networking to only top candidates. It’s also a great way to save time. When everyone you’re networking with is a strong person, you can quickly generate some great candidates who are well-suited for the job. 5. Recruiting. There’s a reason why recruiters are called recruiters ó not ad processors, sourcers, travel agents, or data administrators. If you’re not recruiting, you’re not a recruiter, and I suspect you’re not dealing with the best people. Since top people always have multiple opportunities, recruiters spend much of their time convincing and persuading them to stay involved, urging them on to the next step. Sometimes when you call a person and ask my favorite introductory recruiting question (above), people say yes, proceed a little bit into the process, but then back out. This just happened on our search ó and to make matters worse it was with our top candidate. We were just getting ready to set up the first interview when the call came in. “I’m no longer interested in pursuing this opportunity,” was the essence of the message on the voicemail. On top of everything else, we had already pre-sold this person to the hiring manager as an example of our best work, and arranged a few possible interview times with the CEO. Recruiters dread situations like this, but it’s really what recruiting is all about. The recruiter’s primary job is to keep top candidates interested in the job while minimizing fallout at every step. Since top people always have other opportunities, they always have doubts. They sometimes get counteroffers, and they frequently change their minds. Rather than get depressed when this happens, recruiters need to recognize these times as opportunities to demonstrate their recruiting skills. Here’s one technique you can try. When you call the person to hear the bad news, listen for a few seconds and then ask, “Are you aware you’re making a major career decision with basically no information?” Then proceed as follows when the person asks what you mean. Go on to say that often people who aren’t looking for work use limited or short-term information to make long-term decisions. Then describe the benefits of going through with the 90-minute interview (learning about the company, discovering your relative worth, gaining more industry knowledge) versus the cost (90 minutes of time). The goal of this call is to convince the person to move his or her decision-making criteria to a longer term growth and opportunity perspective rather than focusing on short-term inconveniences. This way the two opportunities ó even the cost of not going forward ó can be evaluated properly. We convinced the top candidate of the value of gaining more information before pulling out, and the person is now scheduled for an interview next week. 6. Assessment and selection of final candidates. In order to minimize interviewing mistakes, we are personally leading many of the interview sessions. At the end of the interviewing process, we’ll also lead the candidate debriefing session. This will ensure that facts, not feelings, are the basis for the final selection decision. 7. Negotiate the offer and address client and candidate concerns. We’ll cover these critical issues in the next article in this series. 8. Post-offer acceptance. It’s not over until it’s over. We use a very formal on-boarding process which consists of a series of meetings and a formal review of the performance profile with the hiring manager and new employee. We want to use the on-boarding process to clarify job expectations, get the candidate quickly up to speed, and minimize the chance of counteroffers or competitive offers. That’s all there is to hiring top people. Doing this once is tough enough. Systematizing this type of effort across an organization is far more challenging. Once we’re done with this search, we’ll use some of the lessons learned to show how “best practices” can be scaled throughout a company. One key area is the degree of involvement the recruiter needs to have with the client and candidate. If you’re not a partner in the process, recruiting is then more about beating the odds than conducting a professional business process.