Obviously, you want to hire more top-tier candidates. And often, those are passive candidates. But at the same time, you don’t always (if ever) have the budget to pay enormous salary premiums.

The good news is, it’s possible to hire the best without spending a fortune if you have these three things:

  • An offer that is a career move, not a lateral transfer. If your job doesn’t represent a true career move to the person being wooed, he/she will want a hefty compensation increase to make the move. And if the move is made on this basis there is a greater than 50/50 chance the person will be demotivated within a month or two, become disengaged as a result and start looking for a new job within a year. This is called the Vicious Cycle of Underperformance and why passive candidate hiring must start by defining the job as a series of 5-6 performance objectives that offer the new hire a combination of job stretch, faster growth, more impact and a mix of more satisfying work.
  • A fully engaged hiring manager. The best people want to work for the best managers. It’s not just the other way around! If a manager can’t, or refuses to, clarify job expectations up front as a series of big challenges and opportunities, he/she won’t hire any great people above the staff level. Google’s Project Oxygen recently revalidated the importance of clarifying expectations up front as originally espoused in the best-seller, First, Break All of the Rules – What the World’s Best Managers Do Differently.
  • A skilled recruiter to orchestrate the entire process. Since passive candidates aren’t looking, the recruiter must engage them at the top of the funnel and ensure they get hired at the bottom. This requires a “No, NO” mindset on the first call, and a “Yes, YES” negotiating ability when competing against counter-offers and competitive opportunities. Your open job will rarely be the one that offers the most money, but it must be the one that offers the best career opportunity.

As you know, number three is critical – and that’s where I want to focus. Without the skilled recruiter, it won’t matter if the quality of the job is strong enough or whether the hiring manager is fully engaged. Given this as a starting point, here are a few concepts recruiters need to master in order to become master conductors.

1. Don’t accept “no” for an answer on the first call

When a candidate tells me she/he isn’t interested in changing jobs, I say that’s why I’m calling. I only want to attract people who won’t consider anything other than a remarkable career move to change jobs.

2. Don’t ask questions that can be answered by “no”

You can avoid most "no" responses by asking people if they’d be willing to explore a situation if it were clearly superior to their current position and the career trajectory they’re now on. Most will say yes if you don’t mention the specific title by saying you’re handling a few different positions.

3. Put all objections and concerns in the parking lot

Acknowledge all concerns but ask: if they can be overcome, would the person at least be willing to chat for networking purposes?

4. Offer a 30% increase

When they ask about compensation, say it doesn’t matter if the job isn’t a career move. Then describe a career move as a minimum 30% non-monetary increase consisting of more stretch, growth, satisfaction and impact.

5. Get the candidate to talk first

Don’t start selling your job as soon as the candidate indicates she/he is willing to talk. This is like selling a great hamburger to a vegetarian because the person says she/he might be hungry. Review the person’s LinkedIn profile to see if you can find the 30% and if so, suggest another discussion.

6. Use the 1-10 interest test after the first interview

After every interview ask the candidate how your opening stacks up to a counter-offer or other jobs the person is considering. Whatever the number, ask what it would take to get to a “9,” meaning your opportunity is number one on the person’s short list. Then make sure you address all of these issues before making an offer. That’s how you get to be number one when it comes to making an offer.

7. Don’t make offers that aren’t going to be accepted

Test every aspect of your offer before formalizing it. Start by putting the compensation package in the parking lot and asking if the candidate wants the job. If the answer is yes have her/him explain why. If she/he can’t fully describe the 30% opportunity,, don’t make the offer until she/he can.

Hiring any great person is hard, but we all know it’s worth the effort. Unfortunately too many hiring managers balk when realizing how much work it involves. During the intake meeting when a manager tells me he/she wants to hire a top 10% or top 20% person I say great, let’s start by defining a top 10-20% job. This is the critical conversation you must get right or everything else you do later on won’t matter.