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The 7 Steps for Recruiting Hard-to-find Passive Candidates

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I just completed a search for a director in Silicon Valley for an important technology role. After posting a very compelling ad and conducting a quick, traditional Boolean search on LinkedIn Recruiter, it became apparent that the demand for talent for this type of position was much greater than the supply.

To get around this, I had to immediately implement a proactive passive candidate recruiting (PCR) effort.

Here are the 7 steps I took to find the talent I was looking for:

1. Used out-of-the box Boolean to find some “one-offs.”

One-offs are people who have done comparable work, but not identical work. In this case, I looked for project managers in different industries who worked in comparable technologies, vendors who might have implemented similar solutions with their clients, and consultants who worked on these types of projects. Within a few hours, I was able to identify about 40 potential prospects who lived with 20 miles of the client.

2. Prepared a compelling email (InMail) and voice mail campaign to obtain initial contact.

I got an over 50% response rate after two emails and 75% after four emails. More than half of these were willing to engage in an exploratory call. The subject line was compelling, but the real key was suggesting the idea of engaging in a short networking conversation that had the potential to lead to a more in-depth career conversation. A link to a very compelling job posting (this is not the actual ad for this job) and my LinkedIn profile was part of the multi-part push. We also left voice mails for everyone who didn’t respond after the first email to boost yield.

3. Used to schedule 15-minute exploratory conversations.

I didn’t want to lose anyone due to scheduling conflicts, so this calendaring tool made it easy to arrange a short call. Based on this effort, I personally spoke with 14 people.  Each of them claimed that they were not looking for a job and that they were perfectly satisfied with their current positions.

4. Put compensation in the parking lot at the beginning of the first call and looked for a career gap to justify a second call.

When I started the call, I suggested that we should not discuss compensation unless the job represented a real career move. They agreed and we instantly got right into reviewing the job in comparison to their accomplishments. Of the 14 who agreed to the first call, seven were worth another call and they all agreed. After the second call, five were strong enough to present to my client. I used both calls to determine the gap between what they were doing now and moving towards to what the new opportunity represented. Since the gap offered plenty of stretch and the potential for faster growth, they all agreed to have an exploratory call with the hiring manager.

5. Had the hiring manager conduct a 30-minute exploratory call with five prospects.

My client, a Sr. VP, agreed to have a phone conversation with anyone I presented. He also agreed to meet them all, although he wasn’t sure they were a perfect fit based on their LinkedIn profiles and resumes. The goal of this call was to qualify the person, determine interest, and convince the prospect to meet in-person for a formal interview. The VP was impressed with each one and all were interviewed personally. Four agreed to become serious candidates and went through a series of formal interviews with other executives.

6. Debriefed every candidate after each round of interviews.

The first purpose of these calls was to focus on identifying and overcoming concerns. The second goal was clarifying the career gap by emphasizing the actual work, the impact it had on the company’s success and the potential for continuing upside growth. As candidate’s gained this insight, they understood that their current jobs were not nearly as good as they originally thought and they openly vocalized this point. This is a common occurrence, but always fascinating when it happens. It takes effort to get to this point, but it’s the essence of passive candidate recruiting.

7. Completed the process and closed the deal on career growth, not compensation maximization.

This post describes the negotiating process in detail, but the key is to test every component of the offer before ever presenting it formally. If a candidate says she or he has to think about it before giving verbal acceptance, you’ve rushed the offer process. While you want the person to think about it, there is no need to extend the offer prematurely. The most important thing is that the candidate fully understands the career opportunity the new job represents, not the size of the compensation package. (Here’s a link to the full negotiating handbook.)

They key to successfully completing this process was persistence. None of these people would have been found, recruited, seen or hired without diligence, full knowledge of the job, and advanced passive candidate recruiting selling skills. I’ve met many recruiters who have the selling skills and advanced knowledge to be great, but they fall short when it comes to persistence. Yet, this the key to passive candidate recruiting – it’s the most important trait a recruiter needs to possess to find, recruit and hire the best people for any job.

* image by Me2