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The 5 Most Important Passive Candidate Recruiting Rules

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In a recent LinkedIn Recruiter training course, I suggested that recruiters must follow these five core passive candidate recruiting networking rules at all times:

  1. Only deal with the top 25%.
  2. Sell the discussion, not the job.
  3. Put the compensation in the parking lot during the first call.
  4. Recruit first, network second.
  5. Follow the 5:1 networking rule.

I then read this blog post that disagreed with me and called out that compensation should be a driver of the conversation with passive candidates. With that in mind, I want to use this post to set the record straight and show you how following the 5 steps outlined above (including NOT leading with compensation) is the best approach to engaging with passive candidates:

Only work with the top 25%

You don’t have enough time to screen every passive candidate, but you do have time to network with the top 25%. So when you ask a top 25% person (begin with your highly ranked co-workers), “Who’s the best person you have ever worked with who does (name the job you need filled)?” you’ll get another top 25% person. In parallel, search on Achieverterms to get another list of top 25% people who you can email.

Sell the discussion and the next step, not the job

Passive candidates don’t care about your “amazing” job. It’s presumptuous and ill-advised to begin a conversation with generic hyperbole. Instead, ask the person if he/she would be open to having a short conversation about if one of your open positions represented a clear career opportunity. Most people will say yes. They’ll all say yes if you can mention the person who referred them to you.

Getting the “yes” is called permission marketing. The person has given you five minutes to make your case that one of your jobs offers a career move. Start by asking discovery questions as a means to better understand the candidate’s current situation rather than talk about your job. If your job represents a career move, describe why and suggest a more detailed conversation.

Put the compensation in the parking lot during the first call

If a candidate asks what the compensation is too soon, suggest it doesn’t matter if the job isn’t a career move. Then say, “Let’s discuss the job first and if it is a career move we can then figure out if the compensation package fits. Worst case we can network.”

As part of the conversation I define a career move as a minimum 30% non-monetary increase consisting of a more impactful job, faster growth, and/or a richer mix of more satisfying work. I then ask discovery questions about the person’s background to see if the open position offers this type of increase.

Recruit first, network second

There are three primary purposes of the first call with a passive candidate. First, develop a relationship. Second, determine if the person is qualified and, if so, recruit him/her based on the 30% solution idea. Third, get at least two top 25% referrals if the person is not a viable candidate for the open role.

The best way to develop a relationship is to demonstrate that the recruiter is a subject matter expert. And the best way to prove this is to recruit the person first using the tools mentioned above. If the candidate is not appropriate for the position, connect with the person on LinkedIn and proactively search on his/her connections for some top 25% referrals.

Follow the 5:1 networking rule

Not every passive prospect you call will wind up being a strong candidate for one of your open roles but if you do a great job of networking and getting referrals, every person you call will be a top 25% person.

Typically it takes five targeted calls to get one highly qualified prospect to present to the hiring managers. For most searches you’ll need 4-5 passive candidates to get one person hired. Doing the math, it means you’ll need to generate a list of 20-25 strong prospects to make one hire. However, as long as you follow all of the above techniques 80% of these people will have been referred.

When it comes to passive candidate recruiting, getting referrals is the name of the game. That’s how you increase both efficiency and quality of hire. But to achieve both you must work exclusively with the top 25%, use permission marketing, put compensation in the parking lot and conduct discovery on the first call, create the career move if the person is qualified and get two more great referrals if the person is not appropriate for one of your current openings. I refer to this process as the passive candidate recruiting machine. After two or three great placements, you’ll call it commonsense.