Over the years, I’ve found these two metrics reflect a recruiter’s overall effectiveness:

  1. Candidates per hire: A good recruiter should only need to present 3-4 candidates to get a person hired.
  2. Sourcing mix: In order to maximize quality of hire and minimize the number of candidates presented, at least two-thirds of all candidates interviewed need to be referrals or passive candidates.

These two metrics are equivalent to taking a patient’s pulse and blood pressure to get a sense of the person’s general health. The idea is that whenever a hiring manager needs to see too many candidates to determine who to hire, it’s typically due to one of the following core problems:

  • The job isn’t very attractive for one reason or another.
  • The company has a problem, like a bad reputation or it isn’t very competitive.
  • The hiring manager can’t attract top candidates or doesn’t really know what he/she is looking for.
  • There is too much emphasis on active candidate sourcing (this is what the second metric reveals).

It’s typically a sourcing and recruiting problem whenever a hiring manager needs to see too many candidates AND when more than 75% of the candidates being seen are active candidates. If the company has a great employer brand and is attracting top tier candidates then sourcing is not the problem, but it’s one of the others noted above.

Improve your sourcing mix with a 40/40/20 program

When it is a sourcing problem, I advocate the implementation of a 40/40/20 sourcing program.

Basically, this means that no more than 20% of a recruiter’s effort should be spent on pursuing active candidates. About 40% should be spent on using “Clever Boolean” and similar searching techniques to find and pursue candidates found on LinkedIn or resume databases. The remaining 40% should be focused on networking and getting referrals of high quality passive candidates. This 40/40/20 mix is a good, balanced approach for a recruiter handling mid-level positions in talent-scarce markets.

If your ratio of candidates per hire is too high and your passive candidate sourcing mix is too low, here are some ideas you can try to quickly improve your results:

1. Create the career opportunity.

You’ll never attract a single passive candidate using a skills-laden job description. A performance-based job description defines a job in terms of performance objectives and future opportunities.

2. Identify nodes.

Consider LinkedIn a network of connections, rather than a database of names. Since you can search on your connections’ connections (with LinkedIn Recruiter), start your search by identifying the types of people your target candidate has likely worked with in the past. For example, sales people work with buyers, the best techies work with product marketing people and the budget analysts work with operations people. Once you connect with these nodes, you’ll be able to search on their connections and ask for referrals.

3. Implement a proactive employee referral program (PERP).

Instead of waiting for good employee referrals, seek them out. Start by finding nodes in your company, including those you don’t know yet. Connect with these people, search on their connections and ask them to qualify the best people you’ve identified.

4. Maximize passive candidate quality and engagement.

If you mention the referrer’s name, the person will almost always call you back. And if you only call the most qualified you’ll, boost your productivity and incoming quality by 10X!

5. Recruit first, network second.

While not every person called will be a perfect candidate, they will all be great contacts to expand your network and get even more referrals. You’ll get better results by trying to recruit the person first. This helps build the relationship. Then, if the fit isn’t right, connect with them on LinkedIn and search on their connections. Be proactive and ask them about some of their connections.

6. Conduct a career gap analysis during your first call.

Recruiting a passive candidate doesn’t start by selling your “awesome” open job. Only rookie recruiters do this. The best recruiters begin their conversation by getting the candidate to describe his or her background in some detail. During this 5-10 minutes, it’s up to the recruiter to find four or five factors (e.g., job stretch, impact, exposure, growth rates) that could represent a possible career move and warrant a further discussion.

Increasing your mix of passive candidates starts by getting high quality referrals. Of course, this is only the first step. You still need to recruit these people, get them assessed and then get them hired.

This is hard work and requires a skilled recruiter working in partnership with the hiring manager to pull it off. However, it will result in fewer candidates needed to be seen and a significant increase in quality of hire. The alternative is to present as many candidates as necessary to get one hired. Then hope for the best that the person works out.