For the foreseeable future, I’ll be using this weekly ERE column to write exclusively about the challenges of finding and hiring passive candidates. Feel free to comment, send questions, or suggest topics. Recruiting less active and passive candidates will become the focus of attention as corporate recruiting resources are shifted away from pursuing active candidates. For example, at ERE’s recent conference in San Diego, a company called Jobster made its launch. This new offering raises the bar on the importance of using referrals to hire more passive candidates. While you should check this service out, don’t ignore other important name-gathering tools and techniques. Shally Steckerl and Peter Weddle are whizzes in using the Internet to generate names of passive candidates. I use LinkedIn, Broadlook, AIRS Oxygen, SearchExpo, and ZoomInfo regularly for every search we conduct. I also use competitive intelligence (purchased names of potential candidates from targeted companies) to insure we have identified the best candidates. But name-generation is only a part of the whole search process, no more than 50%, and you can waste of lot of time talking to the wrong people or saying the wrong things. To get good results from any of these name-generating or referral tools, you need good recruiters. Passive and less active candidates have unique needs, and their needs must be understood if you want to hire more of them. How these people look for jobs, consider evaluating them, and decide to accept offers is fundamentally different from how active candidates do the same things. For one, passive candidates are more discriminating. They want a better job, not another job. So if your job descriptions are boring, you won’t hire many passive candidates. For another, top less-active and passive candidates are interested in the short- and long-term growth aspects of the job in balance. They want both job stretch and job growth. Once you contact these people, you must make the case that the job you’re offering is worthy of consideration. Of course, there is much more involved in the recruiting of top passive candidates than this, but the role of the recruiter can be quickly seen as a critical factor. As the use of these name-generating tools becomes more prevalent, it’s important to measure and monitor their effectiveness. The following four metrics can quickly tell you how well these name-generating passive candidate programs are performing. 1. Quality Rate: Who You Call It takes a lot of time to call a candidate and present an opportunity. Even if the person has been referred, networking is a time-consuming process. A strong candidate will not proceed unless the job offers both growth and stretch. So before you call anyone up, make sure the person is worthy of this extra effort. A worthy person is someone who is either a potential candidate or knows a potential candidate. A potential candidate is someone who has already been identified as a top person doing the right type of work with the right type of company. Someone who knows a person like this is also someone worth calling. In this case, the person called must be pre-identified as an “A” player (“A” players know more other “A” players) in the right type of company, doing work that would put the person in contact with a potential “A” candidate. Getting this information takes a lot of preplanning, but it’s worth it. You can be three to five times more productive if you call only worthy people. In just 10 to 15 calls, you can obtain dozens of great referrals and a few great candidates. This can be done in a day. It would take a week to get the same results calling an unscrubbed list. 2. Contact Rate: The Percent of People Who Return Your Phone Call Getting the person on the phone is critical. Don’t expect good candidates ó even if they’re referred ó to apply on your company website. While a few will, for the most part these won’t be the stars you’re after. The best need to be contacted and convinced to consider your opportunity. The voicemail or email message the recruiter leaves will then be critical. Of course, if you can mention the referring person’s name the callback rate should be high, 80% or more. If the name was identified through the Internet or in some confidential way, the natural callback rate is closer to 20%. So you need to develop some creative voice/email pitches. Something like “Your name has been mentioned to me as someone I should contact on a confidential search for a senior-level marketing person” will get you started. Track the contact rate and modify your pitch until you get at least 80% of the people to call you back. An 80% callback rate is four times more productive than 20%, so don’t ignore this important process control metric. If you spend a lot of time identifying and calling pre-qualified people, you’ll need to make sure most of them call you back. 3. Acceptance Rate: The Percent of People Who Are Willing To Discuss Your Offer It is critical that everyone you call says yes to your offer to explore your opportunity. Remember that the only people you’re calling are worthy of your call. These are people who have already been pre-identified as someone who would be a strong candidate or someone who knows a strong candidate. Most of the time, you’ll be calling people who know other strong people, so getting these referred names will be the real purpose of the call. Only one in five or so will actually wind up being a candidate for your open position. The call needs to be positioned with this in mind. Before you make the call, recognize that no one you don’t know will ever give you the name of a top person right off the bat. In order to get a person to give you a name of a top person, you’ll need to establish both your professionalism as well as the fact that you have a great opportunity worth considering. I’ve written about this before, so check out my article on networking for more on this topic. It takes at least 10-15 minutes of professional discussion before anyone will give you the name of anyone else. Initially, don’t tell the person much about the job. “Would you be open to exploring a senior-level engineering position leading a major company initiative?” is both vague and tantalizing. With a pitch like this, you should get at least 80% of the people you call to say yes. Before you say anything more about the job, get the person to tell you something about him or herself. If the person is a potential candidate, give a two-minute overview of the job and suggest another call to discuss the job and the person’s background in more detail. If the person isn’t a potential candidate, but knows someone who is, you’ll need to proactively begin to get referrals. 4. Referral Rate: The Number of Pre-Qualified Leads One call to a worthy person should yield at least three to four good referrals or candidates. Getting good referrals is the heart of effective recruiting less-active and passive candidates. So you’ll need to track the number of referrals like a hawk if you want to get the most out of a passive candidate sourcing program. While you can identify and hire some people using the techniques described above, you’ll be able to leverage your effectiveness three to four times by getting more top referrals. Once you’ve established your professionalism (this can take anywhere from 15 minutes to a few phone discussions), you’ll need to proactively ask for names. Don’t ask “Who do you know?” and don’t let the person say they’ll contact you later, after they think about it. Instead, try something like this during your contact call. Ask the person called to describe their team members ó their supervisor, staff, coworkers, vendors and customers. If the person has worked with design engineers at a prior company, ask who the best engineer there was and then find out why. If the person is too light for the job, ask about their supervisor and find out if this person is strong or weak. Obviously, there are many more ways to get names of top people, but proactively asking about current and former team members must be part of this. This is the only way you’ll be able to get enough referrals of top people from every call. You can hire plenty of top passive candidates at reasonable effort and cost if you only call the right people, ask the right questions, engage them, and proactively ask for referrals. Done properly, this becomes a self-sustaining candidate-generating methodology. Done improperly, it’s a waste of time, effort, and money. Don’t begin using any passive candidate program without understanding what it takes to recruit and hire these top people. The new passive candidate name-generating tools are great when used properly. Understanding and tracking their performance by using these four metrics will help you use them properly and tap into the vast pool of passive candidates.