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How to Slow Dance–and Other Recruiting Tips

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The trick to seducing passive candidates is simple: Move slowly, study their moves, and make certain they’re leading as much as they’re following.

An HR leader in the U.K. just phoned, asking me how to use the One-Question Performance-Based Interview to assess passive candidates. The problem is, as everyone who has attempted the same feat knows, passive candidates don’t want to be interviewed. I advised that he learn to dance, slowly.

Recognize that passive candidates won’t agree to an interview until they know something about the job. And if they find out the job doesn’t meet their criteria, they’ll opt out before the interview ever beings. This is where slow dancing is important.

Learning to Dance and Other Passive-Candidate Recruiting Tips

Step One: Convert your job into a career move.

Recognize that top people, whether passive or active candidates, will be turned off by traditional skills-infested job descriptions. Instead, describe the job as a series of four or five performance objectives, being sure to include the big potential challenges–and impact of the role. Emphasize the employee value proposition, describing why the job is important and the big benefit to the person hired. Here’s a sample.

Step Two: Learn the One-Question Performance-Based Interview.

In an earlier post, I suggested that the most important interview question of all time is “Tell me about your most significant career accomplishment.”

Step Three: Ask the universal yes question.

When you get a person on the phone, ask “Would you be open to exploring a new opportunity if it were clearly superior to what you’re doing today?” If you don’t get a yes, practice until you do. This is an important dance step, because you can’t tell candidates much about the job right out of the gate; you’ve got to entice without the benefit of details. Right after the yes, say “Great. Let’s review your LinkedIn profile for a minute or two, and then I’ll give you a quick overview of the job.”

Step Four: Look for mini career gaps in the candidate’s background.

In order for your job to represent a career move for the candidate, you’ll need to find three or four inherent factors that meet the person’s career needs. A few examples include learning new skills, managing a bigger team, being part of a more important project, or contributing to a faster-growing company. Of course, there can’t be too much of a stretch, or the candidate will be considered too light, so seeking a balance here is necessary.

Step Four: Use the “pull-toward” move to get the candidate excited about your opening.

Before you ask the question in Step Two, describe one of the job’s major performance objectives and why it’s important to the company’s strategy or mission. Then ask the candidate to describe his or her most comparable significant accomplishment. When candidates find the challenge interesting, they are eager to fully explain what they’ve done.

Step Five: Use the “push-away” move to get the person to sell you.

Expressing legitimate concern can often make the job even more appealing from a career-move standpoint. Here’s an example: “I’m a little concerned you haven’t managed as big a team as this department needs. Despite this, can you please tell me about your biggest management accomplishment? I want to see if there is a fit that isn’t too much of a stretch.” When candidates find the idea of taking on this challenge appealing, they will try to convince you they’re qualified. As important, they will be more forthcoming about their background than they might have been otherwise.

If you’re a bit clumsy dancing this way, try out these first cautious steps, then get the complete manual (listen to the sample audio tips for some quick lessons). You’ll know you’re leading properly when your once-reluctant partner attempts to convince you that he or she is fully qualified. Recruiting passive candidates is not about selling them on how great your open job is; it’s about getting them to sell you on why they’re qualified. That’s what slow dancing is really all about.