The Probable Candidate

We hear a lot in the Recruitersphere about the potential candidate.

“Potential” candidates have traditionally been looked upon as job seekers but also as anyone not looking for a job who a recruiter might call and present a job to.

Those persons usually include the lower-hanging fruit easily observable on job boards and (today) on social media and semi-job board sites (like LinkedIn).

The probable candidate is the candidate who has been specifically chosen — who has been earmarked for a specific position.

The probable candidate is the candidate who, because he or she has been chosen based on very specific sourcing criteria, is most likely to possess the attributes your hiring manager most wishes to see.

Usually the company the probable candidate works for has been specifically chosen as a mining (the act of digging into for candidates) site because that company is most likely to contain the best talent available in the workforce today.

The nature (and beauty) of competition is such that companies know who has the best talent; they know who, among their competitors, are doing the best job.

The scribes in Marketing Communications probably won’t know.

The peddlers in Sales know. They lose out to them every day and it hurts.

The trumpeters in Marketing sometimes know. Their pain is sometimes keyed into sales but rarely carries the same fiscal responsibility up the conveyor belt to the CEO’s office and they rarely take the ass-whippings sales endure.

The mathematicians in Finance don’t have a clue.

The analyzers in Market Research should know but are probably too swamped in data to ever get out and talk to anyone but the guys at the top probably know.

The scientists in R&D don’t much care. They’re smart enough to tell you they do (if asked) but really, they don’t.  Just leave them alone to do their work.

HR probably doesn’t know. I’ll leave it to you to call them what you will.

The ones who do know are the guys at the top.

They don’t (usually) get there for being know-nothings (‘though there are exceptions to the rule.)

Ask them.

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They’re never too busy to help.

If you can’t ask them, find out who does the sourcing for the staffing department.

If it’s an outside resource they know, because all of their contacts have taught them who the best companies are in specific industries.

They source into them repeatedly.

Once you know where you’re most likely to find the best talent and you have the ability to call in and get every single person in the department — or the group — or the specific organization — top to bottom (and the only way you’ll do that is by phone sourcing — I promise you!) — you’ll then own the capacity to capture the probable candidate.  

Not only will you own the probable candidate, you’ll also own the probable candidate’s co-workers, his boss, and all her reports (more probable candidates.)

If one probable candidate isn’t interested in your opportunity, then you have the unique and lucky set of circumstances to be able to call the next probable candidate in that organization and present your opportunity and exhausting all the probable candidates in that specially chosen company before moving on to the next targeted, specifically chosen company.

What sets the probable candidate apart, many times, from the potential candidate is the fact that most probable candidates are more (better) concealed than their more visible and (and fast becoming fame-worn) potential counterparts.

I can’t write enough or exclaim enough about the great advantage this “ownership of the probable candidate” gives you so I’ll stop here and let you absorb and think about what has just been proposed.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.

Maureen Sharib has been a “Socratic sourcer” her entire sourcing career; from the moment she first picked up the faxed list of Silicon Valley high-tech companies that was her target list to “phone source” in 1996 to today she has instinctively followed this method of investigative sourcing using (mostly) the telephone.  She is a proponent of sourcing as a synonym for success and envisions the craft moving away from a dangerously drudgery-paced life-form existence to an exciting investigative/competitive place within organizations where practitioners co-exist within a framework of market research, human resources, and C-level future planning. She owns the phone sourcing and competitive intelligence firm, Inc. You can contact her at Maureen at or call her at (513) 646-7306.  If she’s not on the phone she’ll pick up!


21 Comments on “The Probable Candidate

  1. Maureen,

    It’s great to see you writing again! I’ve missed your blogs and articles. Great subject to discuss, I can’t wait to see the comments.

    Brenda Le

  2. Interesting new terminology, I must admit. So Potentials and Probables are the Passives, right? One question: what if you contact a Probable who is loyal to the company and sounds the alarm that the company, this source of great Talent, is under reconnaissance from recruiters? What do you do then? How likely is that to happen? I mean, a loyal employee might use that to leverage bonus points, to reinforce his status in the eyes of his boss…maybe even to negotiate a higher salary?

  3. Observing a department as a bunch of sitting ducks seems a little slap dash. As @John pointed out word spreads – asides from prompting an alarm, a little water-tank gossip will quickly dampen the appeal of being head-hunted once people discover they’re not ‘the chosen one’. Which it inevitably will when the whole office is getting the same call. Assessing probable departments is a great concept, but why not use the time it would take to call 20+ people and invest it in honing in on the best of the bunch?

  4. John and Selina:

    I love these concepts.
    John – do you really think a candidate is canny (wiley/foxy) enough to leverage bonus points – use the fact s/he’s being approached – to garner a higher positioning within his or her company? Let’s hope so! That what God gave sense to mules for. But going beyond that and addressing Selina’s very good question how would we hone out the best of the bunch in twenty candidates? Remember, all twenty are likely to be pretty good themselves because we’ve chosen the specific company they work for because the company is known not to hire slouches/deadwood in the first place…let’s have this discussion!

    Selina, what really happens (in my experience) as you go down the line picking off the team members is a certain relief is expressed when you do get to them (they know they’re not being left out (for one reason or another.)

    Your mileage may differ but oftentimes nobody has the data to take the mileage with!

  5. Maureen I appreciate the speedy reply!

    Fair point, being the only one in the department not getting a call would probably leave me feeling a little left out too, but I’m not sure if the relief of finally being contacted would prompt me into accepting an offer. It would however, highlight the fact that all of my colleagues decided against it.

    Also, choosing an department won’t mean you’re the first recruiter to have targeted them as probable candidates. When contacting professionals who are regularly on the receiving end of unsolicited recruitment calls/mails, why would one opt for the recruiter who’s blazing through the pack, as opposed to a personal approach?

    In my experience, people jump ship when they feel like they’ve been chosen not only for their skills, but for reasons specific to them – there’s an element of flattery needed to persuade really great talent, which is just lacking from this kind of blanket technique.

  6. Thanks Maureen 🙂 “do you really think a candidate is canny (wiley/foxy) enough … to garner a higher positioning within his or her company?” Absolutely!! I’ve done it, or rather tried it…but I was working for the best but only international retail employer on my Island and couldn’t go anywhere but London afterwards…as it was I did get a bigger Bonus that year.
    When I first started out in Business one of my aspirations was to be headhunted. It took years to finally happen and when it did it was not a Company that I considered a step up, which is why I used it to leverage Bonus Points. But there was also the Feeling that Selina outlined…when I heard that a couple of my colleagues…who I had trained, get offers…that’s when I learned more about needing the right contacts and exposure. Admittedly, if I knew I was down the line though, it would end up nagging me once I had taken the opportunity and had settled in the Job, thinking….where would I be if Katie had taken this Job instead of me…

  7. ….and don’t forget too that many canny passives/potentials/probables will be testing the market and their marketability, or benchmarking their skills in relation to possible future salaries. So my concern for you Maureen would be wasted effort…to be led along thinking you had a candidate for a mandate when she is only dipping her her pedicured toe into the pool of possibility.
    Saying that…the strategy is a wise one to toil in rich soil to get the best crop, rather than looking for the star in a cloudy night company…

  8. A bell went off for me when I read your comment John and then I clicked on your name and see that you’re probably in Europe? And then I clicked on Selina and saw that she is too? (in Germany maybe??) and then I caught the disconnect I was feeling in your take on this thing and mine (the thing I most miss about the old ERE were the member profiles where we could look at and get to know each other on a more personal level-now it seems all we get clicking on one another’s names are swooshes away to impersonal websites where we work – big sigh – ) is maybe a cultural differential? The United States is a BIG BAD place – there’s not much room for the lily-livered.

  9. Maureen: great conversation. i remember the olden days when i could call into a company and the voicemail system would list everyone in the office. i’d start there and begin dialing into each name. very good strategy then and now.

    i would NOT assume that everyone in the office is yacking it up about the recruiters calling them. many people are scared someone will find out and assume they’re looking for a job.

    @selina: you’re very misguided to say, “being the only one in the department not getting a call would probably leave me feeling a little left out too, but I’m not sure if the relief of finally being contacted would prompt me into accepting an offer. It would however, highlight the fact that all of my colleagues decided against it.” 1. you don’t actually know why you didn’t get a call. 2. one doesn’t accept an offer merely because they are called. 3. you also don’t know that your colleagues didn’t accept an offer unless they told you. more than likely they may not be a fit…

  10. Hi Maureen, Yes I am British but living in Zurich, Switzerland working for a tech startup Company that offers semantic Job matching technology for private individuals, companies and recruiters. I particularly like participating in ere because of the broad variety of Topics that I am both learning about and wish to share my experiences with…not just to promote my company’s Service…I actively try to avoid that in comments now. I hope you welcome my comments and thoughts, they are provided honestly and sincerely.

  11. @Carol it depends on the corporate culture and how Close you are to your colleagues. For example, in my office that I referred to, we had a really close Team who were mostly friends outside of work too, and we discussed salaries and work related personal issues and that included being approached by Headhunters – especially the in-house creative team because that department was winning awards left and right for their adverts over companies like Ogilvie and Saatchis. So if the team is close then trust me….they will talk and it will get round those small inner groups – especially over a beer when People feel most conspiratory.

  12. @ Maureen well spotted – I am, and it would appear John is also, based in Europe. This could well have something to do with the difference in opinion. However, what’s also cropped up is that asides from living across the pond we both work for tech startups, in pretty close-knit teams.

    The observations I’ve made have been from the point of view of a non-recruiter, having worked and currently working in an environment where co-workers are generally pretty open and honest with one another.

    The topic of headhunting (particularly amongst developers/programmers) isn’t an unusual one, but then again startup culture (as opposed to corporate) is relatively transient, and therefore the topic is naturally a little less taboo.

    @Carol – I appreciate your opinion. Perhaps the above will explain the sentiment of that sentence a little better.

  13. John: Of course I welcome your comments – commenters are a poster’s dream and I cordially than you for them!


    Let’s not make this into a Bad American topic when the subject you raised in your original question, “…what if you contact a Probable who is loyal to the company and sounds the alarm that the company, this source of great Talent, is under reconnaissance from recruiters? What do you do then? How likely is that to happen?” and the dread that ripples through it is what really lies at the heart of this conversation, isn’t it?

    Maybe I’m overly sensitized to this as I get a lot of,” Well, what do I say when they’re mean to me?” questions when I’m training phone sourcers and my answer to all this is, “Pull up your big girl panties, get over it and do your job,” but as I recognize this isn’t necessarily a politically correct answer to a psychologically loaded dilemma I’ll try to be as gentle as I possibly can be and suggest that if the temperature is too hot maybe one should get out of the kitchen?

    The sight of blood spilling on the carpet isn’t up everyone’s alley but that’s where disruption happens and it’s the job of recruiters to do the [blood] letting.

    Even here, across the waters this is a controversial subject; however – I assure you there are those reading this, early this Tuesday morning in C-suited offices, nodding their heads in accordance.

    You do have a way with words, John. As far as that prima donna, “dipping her pedicured toe into the pool of possibility” the kind of companies I’m talking about in the article have a way of chipping that nail polish off the toe with hard work so there’s usually not a whole lot of those cupcakes to deal with.

    That’s my experience.

    Selina – you’re not a recruiter? I was assuming you were – thanks for your input! We don’t get a lot from outside our hermetic world and it helps a great deal to open our eyes (once in a while) for those whose eyes will be opened.


    John, does this apply to you too? Are you also not a recruiter?

    Once again, I appreciate your comments (and do take them to heart!) but I need to understand more about from what direction/experience platform they’re coming.

    TO ERE Editors: If this isn’t a reason to reinstitute Member Profiles I don’t know what is!

  14. OH MY GOODNESS- it’s not Tuesday, it’s Wednesday, and John I wanted to THANK you, not “than” you! I suppose the flu has something to do with all this… (packin’ it all in and going back to bed now.)

  15. Maureen, Looks like there’s a market for pedicures in the US 😉

    My question was really about stating the obvious. Having worked in Ad sales I’m used to “no interest”, “no time”, “no budget”, “oh, it’s you again” and now in the field that I’m in: Marketing and Business Development of a revolutionary new Technology that semantically matches skills and Jobs criteria….ooops, I couldn’t resist…But basically there’s your answer to the other question. I’m not a recruiter. The Service I or rather my Company provides is Jobs and skills matching, using tech that’s not widely known about yet – Google have only just introduced it into their engine. I get to read a lot of articles about issues that I find relevant to what we do and the best ones appear hERE in ERE…;) So if the Editors are watching over us, I’d be happy to fill out a Member Profile in the hope that Readers of my comments will look me up and ask me about what I do and why 🙂
    Oh God…is it Wednesday already????

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