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Use the 30% Solution to Turn Jobs into Careers

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In a recent blog post, I suggested that sourcing and recruiting can be described using the metaphor of a bus. In some ways this is a play on Jim Collins’ concept in Good to Great, describing the importance of getting the right people on the bus. In the case of passive candidates, most aren’t even willing to discuss switching jobs, so it’s up to the recruiter to convince them that a short drive (i.e., a discussion) is worthwhile.

At least to begin with, the passive candidate is in the driver’s seat. A good recruiter can suggest that it might be worthwhile to chat a few minutes, if the job opening represents a possible career move. If the candidate agrees to the conversation, the candidate is now in the passenger seat. At this point, most recruiters begin driving towards the destination, i.e., the job opening, and if it’s not appealing, the candidate gets off the bus.

Rather than discussing a specific job, it’s far better to have a more open discussion about the person’s background and the possibility of something better. At this point, the recruiter might have to make a detour or two. The conversation could lead to the original job, maybe to a slightly different position, to a potential future candidate for another job, or at worst, to a slew of strong referrals. None of this is possible if the recruiter goes into box-checking mode.

While I sometimes mention early on that my definition of a career move is at least a 30% increase, it’s not all compensation. Additionally, some of the increase might be in the form of a bigger job, while more upside might result from faster growth. Even if I don’t say this directly to the candidate, I always consider this as the minimum requirement, since it requires the potential candidate to consider both short- and long-term opportunities in balance. This is important, since there is a natural tendency by passive candidates to overvalue the short-term and ignore the longer-term potential when first contacted by a recruiter. This “30% Solution” concept is shown graphically in the diagram.

30 percent solution new


Here’s how the 10-minute discussion needs to unfold, based on the 30% Solution idea:

  1. Once the prospect agrees to a discussion, suggest that you review their LinkedIn profile together first, and then you’ll review the job to see if there is even potential for a career move. Most people will agree to this type of five-minute discussion.
  2. As you review the person’s profile you need to determine if your open position offers both job stretch and job growth. Job stretch means a bigger job and job growth that relates to the future upside opportunity.
  3. To determine job stretch, compare the person’s current role in terms of scope, impact, team size, budget, learning, visibility and importance to the open position. Targeting a 10-15% stretch factor is reasonable. If it’s too much more than this, the person would be considered too light, and if much less, the job would be perceived as a lateral move.
  4. To determine job growth, compare the person’s growth over the past few years to the potential in your open job. Some of the stretch factors come into play here in combination with your company’s business plans and the chance to make a big impact. A 10-15% growth factor is a reasonable target.
  5. After about 10 minutes, when you’re ready to switch the conversation to a discussion about the open position, find out the person’s compensation. This will give you a good indication of whether or not the person is in the ballpark.
  6. This is when it’s appropriate to mention the 30% Solution. More often than not the person being recruited is in the upper end of your range. In this case, describe your position highlighting the stretch and growth factors. Then ask if the person would be willing to have a more detailed conversation to validate this 20-30% stretch and growth increase, but also suggest that since the person is a bit light there would only be a modest increase in compensation.
  7. If you can’t come up with enough stretch and growth in your current job, but the prospect is strong, move to Plan B – offer a bigger job. In this case, float the idea that the job could be increased in scope for the right person. In this case, delay setting up a more detailed call, but say that you’re going to speak with the hiring manager and discuss the idea. If the manager is open to the idea, you’ll get back to the candidate and discuss the options.
  8. Connect with the person on LinkedIn. If you have LinkedIn Recruiter you’ll be able to search on the person’s connections. If the person ultimately isn’t right for your job, you’ll be able to obtain a warm referral who is. Then pick up this person at the next stop.

Recruiting active candidates is comparable to having a printed bus schedule, the exact fares listed, and the destination clearly described. When recruiting passive candidates, or anyone looking for a real career move, this type of process will backfire. Instead, passive talent expects a more leisurely route to a destination somewhat undefined. However, when you get there, you’ll both know you have arrived at the exact spot you intended.