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The Recruiting Funnel

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Just like sales, there’s a comparable funnel for recruiting, moving potential prospects and candidates from first contact, through the assessment process, and ultimately into great hires. This is shown in the diagram.

I recently wrote an article for ERE describing my 20/20/60 sourcing plan. This plan represents the idea that a blend of sourcing programs should be used to ensure your company is hiring the best active and passive candidates possible. The recruiting funnel offers a graphical means to describe how to optimize this type of program.

Recruiting FunnelThere are two big assumptions behind this funnel concept. First, if the demand for talent is greater than the supply, you’ll need to emphasize passive candidate recruiting and sourcing. This is referred to as a talent scarcity strategy. This is represented by all of the steps, or layers, shown in the funnel graphic.

In a talent surplus situation, the assumption is that there are plenty of good people in the talent pool: the top level in the funnel. Assuming the assumption is correct, all you need to do then is force everyone who’s interested in the job to formally apply and become official candidates. This is the “Active Path” represented by the shortcut handle on the left. Once in this pool, the objective is to screen out the weak with the hope that a few good people remain to become finalists and ultimately great hires.

Recognize that for this active, or surplus, model to yield top performers, a number of conditions need to exist:

  • First, the person needs to be actively looking
  • Second, the person found your posting or job listing somehow
  • Third, the person is willing to accept a lateral transfer
  • Fourth, the person is a top performer, or at least meets your minimum hiring standards

This is a rare set of circumstances, and will only work, even in the short term, if a talent surplus actually exists. But even if the process works in the short term, a true top achiever will be unwilling to remain in a less-than-ideal job for too long. To minimize this potential problem, even in a talent surplus situation, the focus should be on offering career growth opportunities, not lateral transfers. This is why I suggest that traditional skills-infested job descriptions be replaced by performance profiles for both active and passive hiring processes. In a talent scarcity situation the active candidate shortcut will not work at all; in fact, it will be counter-productive. For one thing it will be difficult to maintain quality of hire standards, and for another, hiring managers will delay hiring anyone, hoping a star will soon emerge.

In a talent scarcity situation, recruiters and hiring managers actually need to talk with people and convince them that what you have to offer is better than what they either have now, or are considering. This is represented in the funnel by the extra two steps: getting high-quality leads and referrals, and converting these people into prospects. A prospect is someone who is fully qualified, but needs more information before agreeing to become an “official” candidate.

A number of important steps are required to work through the lead to prospect to candidate passive path properly. One, making sure the prospect pool is filled with enough highly qualified people; and two, strong recruiters who can contact these people and covert them into prospects and ultimately into candidates. A recruiter who is deeply networked in a niche specialty is one way to get great referrals. Getting referrals by proactively searching on your co-workers’ connections using LinkedIn Recruiter and getting them to vouch for the person before calling is another way. (Note: we cover exactly how to do this in Recruiter Boot Camp and the LinkedIn Recruiter Master Course.)

Since these referrals and warm leads aren’t looking (that’s the definition of a passive candidate), it’s important to slow down the process. That’s why the two extra steps are mandatory. This starts with an exploratory career discussion rather than trying to force-fit the person into a specific job opening. Then if the person is qualified and interested, it’s important that the prospect has a chance to talk with the hiring manager on an exploratory basis before becoming a candidate. The hiring manager needs to be proactively involved in this step, both qualifying the person and then getting the prospect to commit to becoming a serious candidate by demonstrating that the opening represents a true career move. You might need to modify the job a bit to pull this part off. Passive candidate recruiting requires the close partnership with the recruiter and hiring manager, and while it takes some extra effort, it’s worth it, especially if quality of hire is improved.

Of course there’s more to passive candidate recruiting than just this. In fact, much of the “how to” will be covered in my new book, The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired, which will be published in December, 2012. (Email to be added to the mailing list.) In the interim, I’d suggest reading through some of these articles to gain a better appreciation for passive candidate recruiting.

In a talent scarcity situation you don’t have a choice of which path to take down the recruiting funnel, at least if you want to maximize quality of hire. While passive candidate sourcing and recruiting might seem more challenging to begin with it, higher quality hires clearly justifies whatever extra effort is required. In fact, a case can be made that passive candidate recruiting using this recruiting funnel model results in higher quality hires at a lower cost and much shorter time to fill than taking the active candidate shortcut. The key reason: defining quality of hire up-front and using a direct recruiting process is more likely to produce great hires on a consistent basis rather than waiting for top people to find and apply to your postings. While you need to be more active finding and hiring passive candidates, the recruiting funnel offers a simple means to explain your options and show you how to get there.