Understand How Your Customers Buy Before You Start Selling to Them

Let me make a few points about sourcing:

  1. Sourcing good candidates requires a consumer market-driven attitude at every single step in the recruiting and hiring process. There are about 20 touch points during the online recruiting process. These are things like ad copy, ease of finding your jobs, the application process, the time to call back, the quality of the interview, and everything else where the candidate has an opportunity to decide to apply, continue, or pull out of the process. If any one of these steps is improperly executed, you have the potential of losing good candidates for dumb reasons. From what I’ve seen, most companies are only effectively addressing about half of these touch points.
  2. Stop recruiting active and passive candidates. The best candidates are neither active nor passive; they are those that fall in between. This is the sourcing sweet spot, and it’s filled with the best candidates imaginable. Finding them isn’t all that hard ó if you know some basic consumer marketing concepts.

Before we get further into this topic, some quick definitions so that we’re all on the same page:

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  • Active candidates are those who are aggressively looking for work. They’ll do whatever it takes to find a job, and they’re not particularly discriminating. The best people are under-represented in this pool. Unfortunately, most companies inadvertently focus too much time and energy on finding the few stars available in the active pool. The pool of active candidates represents approximately 15% of the workforce.
  • Semi-active candidates are those who look for work on a infrequent basis ó either on a particularly bad day or as part of some type of long-term career planning process. These people are much more discriminating. They won’t hunt for jobs, waste time applying, or consider something run-of-the-mill. However, they will consider something that is easy to find, seems compelling, and offers something better. The best people are over-represented in this pool, and while semi-active candidates represent about 20% of the workforce, only a small percent of these are looking at any one time. Internet recruiting strategies need to be designed to cater to this group. Part of this redesign includes search engine optimization, also known as reverse engineering. More on this simple yet powerful idea in a moment.
  • Semi-passive candidates are those who are open to exploring something significantly better, but need to be contacted directly. These people are very discriminating, and given the variety of great Internet data mining tools now available, they are being contacted in increasing numbers every day. While the best are fully represented in this pool ó and it’s huge, about 40%-50% of the labor force ó it takes a good recruiter to pick up the phone and recruit them. The best people are fairly represented in this pool. Since the pool is so large, it becomes very time consuming to blindly call everyone. The key to successfully recruiting semi-passive candidates is to pre-select who you call and what you say when you get them on the phone. You want to make sure everyone calls you back, says yes to your offer of exploring a new opportunity, and gives you great referrals if they’re not suited for the job. (Here’s my networking article on how to do this yourself if you’re so inclined.) The other option is to use strong third-party recruiters who have ready-built networks of strong semi-passive candidates. Getting third-party recruiters to join together and share their networks is another interesting way to address this pool. Hireability.com is offering something like this at reduced rates, and it’s probably worth checking out.
  • Passive candidates are those who don’t want to be called, so don’t bother. These are people who really have no intentions of leaving, and if they do it always takes great jobs with major compensation premiums. If you have both to offer and can’t find any good semi-candidates, then you have no choice but to target the true passive candidate. The best people are fairly represented in this pool, and it represents about 20-25% of the workforce.

Internet recruiting is all about targeting semi-active candidates. To be successful here, you need to use a variety of recruiting tactics including a great front-end career website, jobs that are easy to find, a super quick application process, compelling jobs, a great search engine that separates the good from the bad, and a process that insures some type of call back to all hot prospects within 24 hours. But that’s just part of it. Understanding how semi-active candidates look for jobs is the other part, and this is where search engine optimization techniques come into play. (Here’s the article I wrote last month on this topic.) The best candidates are now using the major search engines and the job board aggregators (like WorkZoo.com or simplyhired.com) more frequently to find jobs, bypassing the job boards as the first step. So if you want semi-active candidates to find your jobs, you’ll first have to learn how they now look for them. It all has to do with keywords. First figure out what types of keywords your candidates would most likely use if they were looking for a job in your area. (e.g., jobs, product marketing, software, Dallas). Type these into your search engine and see which jobs show up. If yours don’t, you’ve got a temporary problem. To solve it, open the jobs that do show up in the top 10 and see why they came to the top. It probably has to do with the job title, how the job description was written, where the ad was placed on a job board or company site, when it was placed, some hidden keywords, or some more clever techniques that map to the way the search engine finds and ranks information. Joel Cheesman, the CEO of HRSEO.com, can help you here if it isn’t obvious what to do. He’s the industry expert on this stuff. This is what I refer to as reverse engineering: figure out what your best candidates are likely to do to find jobs when they get in the mood. Then modify your Internet advertising programs to fit this pattern. That’s it. In no time you’ll have more great candidates applying, as long as you’re offering great jobs. (This is one of the other 19 critical steps involved in setting up a recruiting system.) If your company is not an employer of choice, top people aren’t going to go to your website to look for a new job. They’re also not going to put your company name in a search engine. So to figure out how to attract top people, you might want to ask some of the recent top people who you did hire how they found out about the job and why they eventually accepted an offer. Here are some of the things you’ll most likely discover:

  1. They first had to learn about the job, probably through a referral. If not, the second most likely reason is that they were searching for a job in some way (like a job board, job aggregator, or search engine) and found your listing close to the top.
  2. If something about the title or the short description was compelling, they checked it out.
  3. If the job description copy was unusual in some way, they decided to apply. Unusual could simply be not negative (e.g., “don’t call us” or “must have 10 years of experience”). Unusual could also be a real positive (e.g., “check this one out if you want to push your .net experience to the max”).
  4. If they could apply in a few minutes, they probably did. Too many companies make it a burden to even read the job descriptions. More good candidates will explore, check out, and apply for jobs if it’s easy to do all of these things. This is why web analytics are very important. Check the opt-out ratios on every page of your hiring process to close open holes here.
  5. They were contacted quickly. The best people, especially those who are just seeing what’s out there, are going to be picked up by the company that calls them first and moves the process along quickly.
  6. The hiring process was professional. A culture of professionalism is an essential part of every hiring process. Weak interviewers, lack of understanding of real job needs, closing too soon, sloppy administration, and unprepared managers are huge turnoffs.
  7. They accepted the job for four primary reasons: 1) the job was a great fit, 2) the hiring manager was a great leader, 3) the company had solid long-term prospects, and 4) the comp and benefits package was fair. The most important of these is the job fit, and the second the manager. Without these, it doesn’t matter about the company or comp plan. Unfortunately, too many companies focus too much on these latter two and not enough defining the real job and making sure their managers are real leaders.

How many top people do you think you’ve lost by not having a process like this in place? If you want to hire better people, start by understanding how better people make career decisions. Understanding the customer is the first step in designing products and developing marketing plans. Somehow, too many of us in recruiting have forgotten, ignored, or never learned this basic concept.

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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