The Virtual Pipeline

The sourcing strategies and tactics you decide to use are fundamentally a function of the economy and the supply of available candidates. In previous articles, we’ve used a model to demonstrate how to design your sourcing processes to attract the active and partially-active candidates. Before describing some ideas for developing sourcing programs for passive candidates, here’s a quick review of that model. As many of you know, I host an online discussion group where we explore these topics in great depth. It’s exclusively for those in recruiting or HR management, and is sponsored by POWER Hiring, and ERE. If you’d like to be part of this group, send me an email ( for all of the details. I’ll be presenting much of this information at ERE’s Expo 2003 West in San Diego in March, and would like to meet you there. This is one event you won’t want to miss?? if you plan to be on the leading edge of recruitment management. The diagram shows the comparative size of the active and passive candidate pools. The basic premise is that as the economy strengthens, the number of available top candidates in the active pool will shrink and more costly sourcing programs targeting passive candidates will be necessary to find strong candidates. In a slow economy, great advertising, a great career website, strong systems and a solid employee referral programs should be sufficient to meet most of your hiring needs. This is pretty much a high-tech Internet solution (see Part 1 of this series). As the economy strengthens, it’s important to develop alternative sourcing programs that target the partially-active candidate. These are those candidates that are employed, but who will casually explore something if it’s attractive. The keys to hiring from this pool are more prominent advertising, reducing the hurdles to apply, compelling job descriptions, and processes in-place to ensure immediate personal contact with a recruiter. For partially active candidates, the sourcing solution is a balance of high-tech and high-touch (see Part 2 of the series) Sourcing the truly passive candidate involves more high-touch work?? so the quality of the recruiter is more important than advertising, the career website, or tracking systems. Professionalism is the key, not speed. It’s important to design every phase of your sourcing process by first understanding the mindset of the candidate you’re targeting. The best candidates are different than average candidates, and this is the first difference that must be taken into account as you design your sourcing and hiring systems (see my article on why the best are different for more on this important topic). The gap between the best and the rest is further widened when the candidates are passive. Here are a few of the important things you should consider when building sourcing processes for top passive candidates:

  1. They’re not looking for jobs online. Great advertising won’t work unless it’s part of a grand networking strategy.
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  3. They’re not easy to find unless they’re at the executive level. Sometimes just getting their names requires lots of sleuthing.
  4. The don’t have time to talk to you. How you leave voicemails and make first contact will determine your ultimate success. This is where professionalism really counts.
  5. They are already successful. After a few years in the workforce, the best have already done some remarkable things. Use this concept to both find and then assess them.
  6. Money is far less important than the challenge inherent in the job. Make sure you have created job profiles that clearly describe these challenges and the impact on the company and the person taking the job. (Note: these job profiles, a.k.a. “performance profiles,” are the topic of my next article.)
  7. If they eventually decide to talk to you, they will first check out the company’s website. Review this through the eyes of the best. Make sure the company vision is well articulated and that the job description, if it’s on the site, is compelling. See #5 above.
  8. They take longer to decide. They consider more variables, and they will always decide with or get advice from others. You need to take the time to create a compelling career opportunity, not rush towards a close. Hiring the best is always a solution, not a transaction.
  9. It will not go smoothly. Something will always come up to prevent the process from moving forward. Overcoming these obstacles is why highly-skilled professional recruiters are essential.

To address these needs, three basic building blocks are required to form the foundation of a strong passive candidate recruiting process. These are summarized below. Great Recruiters Great recruiters are essential if you want to hire top passive candidates. A high-quality recruiting team is the key determinant of a successful passive candidate sourcing strategy. Recruiters need to call these people, quality them, network with them, overcome their concerns, coordinate everything with the hiring manager and the interviewing team, overcome their concerns, conduct references, and then negotiate a fair offer that will never be exactly right. This is how third-party recruiters earn their fees. So if you want to bring this process inside, you need to find the best recruiters you can, and then invest heavily in their training. Great Networking Great networking is the key to finding top passive candidates. Getting names of top people from other top people is the first step in finding the best candidates. Anyone who has tried it knows that recruiting passive candidates is extremely time-consuming. To compensate for this, recruiters must maximize their use of time by talking only to top candidates. This means you must pre-qualify every person you are going to call from the person providing the referral. It also means you must ask for names of only the best candidates. Networking must be very proactive, whether it’s through your employee referral program or through direct candidate sourcing. How you go about getting these names and pre-qualifying them is what networking is really all about, and rather than repeat myself here with more details, I urge you to read my article on networking. A Virtual Pipeline of Top Candidates Recruiters who are industry or functional specialists have an advantage, since they can tap into their network of passive candidates and present top people within days of getting a new assignment. You can come close to duplicating this by creating a virtual pipeline. This pipeline starts by either buying names, direct sourcing, or through Internet data-mining. Using the Internet, it’s relatively easy to identify key people in any function at any competitor. However, I recommend paying for the research to generate the candidate target list, since this is such a time-consuming part of the hiring process. R.W. Stearns, among others, does a great job of this at a reasonable fee. With this list in hand, a professional recruiter with strong networking skills can develop a pipeline of passive candidates within days. To my mind, this is a better technique than developing a pipeline of candidates before you need them. A virtual pipeline is much more cost effective, and it doesn’t take much longer to find and present top passive candidates. Sourcing systems need to be flexible enough to quickly handle changes in candidate supply and demand. If you’re targeting active candidates, your advertising should be compelling enough to attract the largest pool possible, combined with filtering technology to bring the best to the top of the list. As the economy recovers, it will be important to shift your focus first towards the partially active candidate. This requires a more proactive employee referral program, more highly visible and compelling advertising, plus systems that get the top people on the phone with recruiters in hours after applying. Targeting the true passive candidate requires professional and aggressive recruiters who can network with anyone. These recruiters must be able to create a pipeline of top candidates within days after taking a new assignment. When all of this is combined with good forward-looking metrics, everything is in place to make hiring both a formal business process and a strategic company asset. This way, hiring the best can become more than just a lofty goal.

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).


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