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Best Advice for Finding Excellent Jobs and Excellent People

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This post is going to summarize the advice I’ll be giving to a few hundred recruiters next week at a LinkedIn event for staffing firms in New York City. If you’re a job-seeker, don’t fight or complain about the advice, take advantage of it. It has to do with how recruiters should find people for their open jobs.

Over the past 60 days I’ve been taking a survey of how the best people in any field find new jobs. The big finding, which isn’t surprising, is that they found their current job through some type of referral. The other equally important point: few of these people were actively looking. They were proactively contacted by someone who had been referred to them. Given this fact, my advice to recruiters is to spend more time getting great referrals rather than cold calling, posting jobs or sending emails to people they don’t know.

My advice to job-seekers is pretty much the same: spend more time networking (60-70%) rather than responding to job postings. Here’s a recent post on how to do this and an introduction to a video series covering the full topic in depth.

If 90% of the best people find their jobs through networking, recruiters should be spending 90% of their time networking and getting these referrals. It starts by appreciating the power of the concept expressed graphically in this diagram.

LinkedIn consists of three types of people: those in your network (1st degree connections), those connected to those in your network (2nd degree connections), and everyone else (3rd degree connections and beyond). You obviously can instantly connect to anyone in your network, and if you’re good at getting referrals, you can find some outstanding people who are their 1st degree connections.

Doing the math, you’d need 42 strangers to find one qualified person vs. proactively seeking out one pre-qualified referral.

These connections are invaluable since they can instantly become acquaintances just by mentioning the name of the person who referred them to you. The big deal about acquaintances is they call you back. Even better: they’ve already been pre-qualified for your opening. Why else would you call them? Now all you need to do is have a discussion to determine if your opening represents a career move. The problem with strangers (those in the 3rd degree and beyond) is only 10% or so will call you back, and of these, less than 20% will be qualified. Even less will be interested in what you have to offer. Doing the math, you’d need 42 strangers to find one qualified person vs. proactively seeking out one pre-qualified referral. That’s a huge difference and why working with acquaintances rather than strangers is a game-changing advantage for recruiters. (You’ll be able to watch the stream of the June 17 event to hear the collective gasps when I describe how to do this using LinkedIn Recruiter.)

… use the first 5-10 minutes of your first call to conduct a “career gap analysis.”

Of course, you’re still left with the challenge of converting these people into interested candidates for your open positions. To do this you’ll need to use the first 5-10 minutes of your first call to conduct a “career gap analysis.” This is the difference in what your job offers in comparison to what the person is now doing. I tell job-seekers that in order for a job to represent a career move they should get a 30% increase. But, and it’s a very big “but”, the 30% is not all in compensation. The 30% is a combination of job stretch, job growth and any increase in total rewards. Job stretch relates to how big the job is in terms of scope, impact, size of team and budget, and visibility. Job stretch refers to the growth rate of the underlying business in comparison to the candidate’s current rate of growth. Total rewards consists of short- and long-term compensation and benefits in comparison to what the person is now receiving. This “30% solution” is a good way to evaluate any move by considering the short- and long-term benefits in balance.

Unfortunately, most job-seekers (especially those not looking) never find out about the stretch and growth piece since they become overly fixated on compensation. When candidates push me on this, I just suggest that if the job doesn’t represent a career move, the compensation increase doesn’t matter. This is often enough to have them agree to a preliminary career discussion. Recruiters, on the other hand, are overly fixated too, but in this case it’s on the person’s list of qualifications.

Surprisingly, all of these problems vanish when you call referrals. Just the fact that you have a common acquaintance, the conversation is not about rushing to fill a specific job, it’s about determining if the job represents a possible career move. Equally important, since the person has been pre-qualified, the person’s absolute years of experience and list of qualifications are less important than the person’s track record of past performance. Just as important, compensation takes its rightful place in the discussion: after the job and career opportunity are better understood.

Collectively, that’s why recruiters should focus more on getting more acquaintances rather than force-fitting some person into a role they know little about. Job-seekers should do the same.


Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He’s also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. You can continue the conversation on LinkedIn’s Essential Guide for Hiring Discussion Group.

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